Letting Go of the Magical Answer

Imagine you believe that a fountain of youth actually exists. Wouldn’t you be tempted to forgo taking care of yourself physically in favor of searching for that fountain? All the obsessive time and effort would be worth it — if you find it. If not, with each passing day, your ability to age gracefully slips away. You’ll look back with regret at all the time wasted in your brief life.

For a long time, I believed in a similar fountain — one that was equally tempting and destructive. I believed that my depression was caused by certain problems in my life and that if I solved them, depression would never return.

But what I haven’t realized (up until now) is that it’s often the other way around. My depression skews my perspective and makes formerly manageable challenges seem impossible. The problem hasn’t changed, just my brain’s perception. It seems so obvious now.

So what does it look like if I give up the idea of  “the fountain?” The next time I feel depressed, instead of trying to immediately solve the problem (whatever I think it is), I will try some simple mindfulness exercises. Hopefully, these will create just enough of a shift to tilt my brain back to balance so I can see clearly. Then if there really is a problem, I can address it without depression clouding my judgment. It’s the millions of small decisions that ultimately make the difference — just like making healthy choices every day is better than searching for a fountain of youth.

I want to bring myself back to the present and create a sense of connection — to my body, others and the environment. This will take me out of my head, where thoughts about the past and future conspire to overwhelm me. Since it’s difficult to get motivated when I’m in the midst of depression, I will do easy things like stepping outside to the balcony, listening to a guided meditation, calling someone, taking a shower, walking in the park or playing with my cats.

I am consciously choosing to be mindful of my illness — not constantly chasing the dream of a life without depression. There is no magical answer that will solve all of my problems and cure my depression. I need to do the hard work every single day of staying aware and catching myself before I fall too far.

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Jumping into the Present

There will always be something in my life environment that’s incomplete, imperfect, unsettling, or in progress — providing a great excuse to procrastinate, avoid, worry about, or sabotage personal aspirations. I have a tendency to discount the present, like many of us do, thinking that the future holds my “real life” — when the important stuff will begin, when I’ll get it together, have it all figured out. I’ll move from this unpleasant “limbo” directly into my future, like gracefully stepping into a Double Dutch game already underway. As soon as I get inside the ropes, I’ll be in perfect rhythm, responding to my environment with ease and agility. In my mind, it’s an immediate transition. That’s when my life begins.

However, it doesn’t work that way. In life, it isn’t possible to stand outside the game. You have to jump all the time, responding to the ropes whether you want to or not. If you stop, you get tangled up — but the ropes start right up again. I have to accept that I am in the game at this very moment — this is my life and this is my present environment. It won’t ever magically transform into the perfect setting for Zen Cara to suddenly emerge, jumping rope while juggling. But if I pay attention to the ropes, I can at least avoid skinned knees.

Maybe someday I will breakdance while doing Double Dutch. But this fantastic feat won’t arise until I jump — a lot — within ropes that go too slow, too fast, at an uneven pace, or maybe with frayed edges that trip me up. After a while, these conditions won’t matter as much because I’ve learned how to pay attention, anticipate and prepare. It will appear like the ropes are ideally suited for my amazing gymnastics, but truly, I’ve just worked with the ropes, as they were, and practiced. Never stopping, always jumping.