During the school holidays I babysat a friend’s kid for a day. I’d already booked Lucy into the gym creche so I could get a workout in. It was easy enough to add the eight-year-old to the booking. However he wasn’t eight. He was a very offended ten-year-old. It’s funny how age makes up such a big part of your identity as a kid but these days as a thirty something I often struggle to remember how old I am. My birthday is in two days and I think I’ll be 35. I’m not actually sure.
Life hasn’t turned out how I expected it to. In my early twenties most of my friends got married. It’s quite normal in the church crowd. I waited patiently for my prince charming, he either never showed or I scared him off when he did show up. Of the four girls I was bridesmaid for, only two of them are still married. While I still want the fairy tale, I have a much better understanding of what makes a desirable relationship. Dating in your thirties is scary. It feels like I’m fishing in a very shallow pond.
My romantic life aside, there’s so many other things that I expected to be different when I reached my mid-thirties. It was never a clear expectation, just this vague feeling. I was hoping to go on and complete post grad studies after my psychology degree. But losing one parent and having the other be diagnosed with a terminal illness was a major distraction to my studies. My grades were not reflective of my potential and it took a lot longer to finish the degree then I would’ve preferred. My career is kind of in a no man’s land right now. I’ve got a job that’s great for what I need, but I’m not entirely sure what the next step is. There’s so many other things about my life that aren’t what I thought they would be.
I used to wonder what my life would’ve been like if I was raised in an environment without domestic violence. As I’ve grown up it’s become clear to me that depression is a common trait in my extended family. Combine the genetic predisposition with emotional and physical violence, my poor brain didn’t have a chance. Even with years of therapy, there are still days I wake in a dark cloud of depression. Thankfully, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become better equipped to deal with the cloud when it turns up.
The psychologist that introduced me to Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT) will always have my thanks. ACT encourages patients to be present in their world without investing in the emotions. It’s so much more than that, so google it. There’s heaps of free resources. Anyway, back to the psychologist.
One of the greatest things she ever said to me was ‘motivation is a falsehood. Don’t wait until you’re happy to do something. Do it sad if you need to. But just do it’. That changed my life. I’ve learnt that while depression can turn the world grey it doesn’t have to stop me from doing stuff. Doing stuff won’t cure depression. It’s a ghastly beast to battle. But at least my washing gets done or bills paid, life is a little less messy then if I had submitted to the black dog.
Another strategy I employ on the bad days is the strategy of the non-negotiables. A good friend shared this with me, it’s what he used on his bad days. What he did was to pick three things that set the standard for a ‘good’ day. No matter what else happened as long as those three tasks were complete he could spend the rest of the day hiding from the world because it was a good day. At first it seemed too simple. But then I started doing it and it worked. My three things are leaving the house, do some form of exercise and to talk to a friend. From experience I know that if I stay at home on a sad day my emotions are just going to spiral downward. I also know that I always feel better after exercise and talking to someone. Remaining immobile and hibernating in my head is a recipe for disaster.
I hope I’m not coming across as though I have the answers. There is so much pretentious and tokenistic advice out there. I know that continuing to hope for a better day is hard when you’re deep in the darkness. Sometimes it’s a long and lonely fight just to feel ok. But please, do what you can to hold on. Because it will pass and you will be ok.