My mission? I have three:
1 – To be more present in the present moment
2 – To take more risks
3 – To allow myself to dream (big)
If it’s true that life is a dance between positive and negative impulses then I think it’s fair to say that my life has veered towards the negative with much more regularity than the positive.
Call it genetics, call it temperament or character, call it family dysfunction or trauma or whatever you like. Perhaps the truth lies in the intersection of all these things. But putting aside, for the moment, where it all originated, interrupting the pattern in my mind, the habit that draws me to want to find fault with my day, my partner, my life – that’s a pattern that I am more than willing to leave behind for good.
So much of my life has been consumed with avoiding the dangers inherent in life itself. Present me with and adventure and I’ll list 10 things that could possibly go wrong, and 10 more reasons why we should put the adventure aside entirely. It’s not that I don’t like spontaneity. In fact, I can be quite adventuresome and impulsive if you catch me at the right moment. But when my mood shifts, spiralling down into the abyss that is depression, it’s all I can do to get out of bed and brush my teeth, let alone take a shower and get dressed for work.
Learning to leave behind the habits that depression has instilled in me is a little like learning to walk again after your leg has been in a cast for months. The muscles have atrophied, the sense of balance needs readjustment. And walking takes practice, every day, until it becomes second nature again.
With relearning to walk, comes the slow acquisition of confidence. Living in depression does little for one’s self-esteem and, speaking as someone who has wrestled with depression since before my teens (I’m now well into my thirties), learning to trust that I will be OK is not as easy as it sounds. Risks mean danger, and the last thing someone suffering from depression wants to deal with is uncertainty.
The way I coped for many years with this fear of uncertainty was to limit my exposure to people, experiences and things. I lived a minimal existence, barely scraping the surface of life, really. I avoided conflict with my enemies (and my friends), I practiced non-attachment to things, which meant I bought only what I needed and barely that. I lived quite comfortably in a 300 sq.ft. apartment, even after I stopped being a dead broke student.
As for experiences, I had no desire to dream big. Dreaming only led to disappointment. And I had enough unpleasant emotions to contend with without seeking out disappointment. And in my view dreaming was pretty much begging to be disappointed sooner or later.
But I learned from a good friend and partner that dreaming can save you. When the dark night of the soul descends, dreaming can mean the difference between slicing open you wrists and sticking around to live another day. Like anything, dreaming can have its negative side. It can serve as an escape from facing or experiencing the present moment. Or it can become just another reason to feel crappy over what you don’t have.
But I’m learning that for me, allowing myself to dream is crucial to my healing. It sets me in motion towards, well, something. And while being in motion can sometimes cause a commotion, can lead to pain or disappointment, the flip side is it can lead to events you never dreamed possible.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s worth the risk.