I don’t know about you, but I’m a natural Eeyore. My glass is often half-empty – even when there’s plenty of drinking left. Tiggers – (like my husband), leave me dizzy and bewildered. All that joy and bounce – there’s simply no need. Yet all too often, I’ll use my natural disposition as an excuse: justification for acting lumpy. The thoughts go like this: I’m a melancholy person – not just a misery-guts. I’m over-burdened: not over-committed. I’m depressed, rather than just sad.
I’ve been thinking about this recently whilst negotiating some mental potholes. I’ve had depression in the past and it’s very different from sadness – but it can be hard to tell the two apart. Why does it matter? Because this distinction changes my thinking – and sometimes the outcome too.
What’s motivating me as I make my decisions? In many cases, it’s fear – but this same fear can cause the scenarios I’m so desperate to avoid.
Let’s take depression as an example. If you’ve ever felt depressed, you’ll know that sinking sense of nausea when the warning signs return. What will I do if I can’t get out of bed? How will I cope if ‘it’ happens again? These are the underlying fears, but they’re rarely acknowledged, let alone spoken. Instead I ‘manage’ them by keeping busy and pretending that nothing is wrong. But my strategies for self-improvement often cripple me instead. I exhaust myself by taking on too much. I don’t sleep or eat properly. I stop taking time off. Then I’m too tired to fight the negative feelings – and guess what, I’ve proved my own inadequacy.
Or how about the opposite: writing myself a sick note from anything that’s difficult. I can’t do anything so I won’t set myself up for failure by trying. I sleep all day, watch junk TV and turn to food for comfort. I withdraw from others and from my usual routines. I become increasingly isolated and lost in my own head.
In both scenarios, I’ve let my anxieties dictate my feelings. Instead of staving them off, I’ve made my fears into facts.
But what if I had a choice?
Instead of going down the same old ‘coping’ paths, what if I could go in completely the opposite direction? Like addressing my anxieties rather than avoid them?
What if my fears could be positive bridges to change, rather than dead ends into despair? What if I challenge the old habits instead of accepting them?
What would happen if I faced my panic instead of trying to conceal it? And have I the courage to name it before the Lord, recognising that sometimes ‘fear’ is different to ‘sadness’? What if this means I need to take responsibility for some of it – my reactions at least? Will I face in myself what I’d rather avoid?
To fight? – or to fold?