Your mind is like an unsafe neighborhood; don’t go there alone
~ Augusten Burroughs
I have battled anxiety and depression most of my life. I call it my flu because it doesn’t stay, but like any virus it has power. I respect it, and I realize that when it comes it wants to destroy me. Today, at the ripe old age of fifty-one, I’ve never been more comfortable with my flu and it’s never been buried so deep. I haven’t been this healthy or happy since I was a child. There are many reasons for this. I’ve picked out a few hoping perhaps they will help someone. After writing them down, I realized how intentional I must be in order to be well.
I had to start by no longer engaging in things that bring on my flu. It took years, but I identified things I did to sabotage my life and I stopped doing them. I’m careful about what I read and watch. If it’s dark and negative, I might briefly dip my foot in, but I no longer plunge into treacherous waters.
Necessary endings – Dr. Henry Cloud has a book which, in a nutshell, urges readers to move on from situations and people who aren’t healthy for them. Yes, even family. This is so hard. I have found that people who make me feel terrible or mock my faith cannot hold a place of importance in my life. I just can’t anymore. You can still love and pray for people from a distance.
Help others – When you’re in the middle of hell, the natural reaction is to withdraw from everyone, to retreat into your own bubble. Resist this. Incredible blessings come when you turn your attention away from you and onto other people. Do something for someone. Anyone. Anything.
Medication/herbs – I discovered an herb called St. John’s Wort. Lifesaver.
Health – Sleep. Eat right. Drink water. See your doctor regularly.
Ask for help – Many years ago, depression was taking a physical toll on me. I was working in my yard and suddenly my bones exploded in pain. I dropped to my knees and burst into tears. My parents stopped by unexpectedly to see the kids. They waved and went straight in the house. I whispered, “Mom, please help me.” But I never said a word. That was a mistake.
Talk about it – Find an ear. Not someone to fix you, but to hear you. Don’t make excuses about this. Wisdom and empathy are as near as your local Assisted Living facility.
Play your game – I pop a lot more ibuprofen than I used to, but I play basketball. I’m in love with this game. I love high fives with total strangers. I love how there’s no black, no white, no Left, no Right, only athletes and want-to-be athletes with one common goal: Winning. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain that trigger a positive feeling in the body similar to morphine. I can’t get out of the car when I get home, but that’s another issue.
Prayer/meditation – I talk to God a lot. The hills I climb are no surprise to Him. The reason no one will ever talk me out of being a believer is because I’ve heard His voice. Years ago, I was alone at sunrise on a Florida beach as happy as I’ve ever been when I sensed a very real voice ask me, “Why are you so hard on yourself? I’m not.” The thought of this gives me chills. I felt His smile. I know His truth.
Gratitude – It’s unimaginable to me now, but I went years without ever thanking God for anything. Years. Luckily He doesn’t require a thousand “I’m Sorrys.”
Forgive – Others and yourself. Baggage is heavy. Let it go.
Laugh A LOT – Dance like a dork. Act the fool. Embarrass your kids. Make memories that will carry on far longer than the things that ail you.
Fall in love with your life – Hate your job? Quit. Hate your city? Move. If the season has changed, change with it. Love yourself enough to make new beginnings.
Maybe age is mellowing me. Maybe it’s wisdom. But I have learned that if I’m not intentional about the things I can control, I become a target of sickness. Not only am I living with my flu, but I am grateful for it. Without it, I surely wouldn’t understand and I might not empathize with people. I know what it’s like to wake up and instantly cry for absolutely no reason. I know what the headaches feel like — the ones that come with more despair than pain. And I know what it’s like to try and win this battle alone.
Michael J. Fox once said that if God ever tried to make a deal with him that he could be perfectly healthy again, but he’d have to go back to the person he was before Parkinson’s disease, no way in hell would he do that deal. I feel the same way. My flu is mine. It’s a hot ember that lies dormant, and while I respect its power, I refuse to throw gasoline on it. I control my life.