Living with depression
I’ve lived with depression officially for 15 years but in truth probably closer to 20.
I’m all good with that. It’s part of me. We manage. I know how it works and what to watch for and what to do about it.
And when I’m having a low day/week/time, everything feels like too much.
Everywhere I look, there are things. Things I need to do. That I feel like I can’t do.
It makes me want to cry, sleep, eat and or drink myself sick. None of which are helpful, but some of which I still do sometimes.
The POWER to do ONE THING!
When I have the presence of mind, what I tell myself is to pick one thing.
I’ll shower. That’s all I need to do. Or I’ll do the dishes. That’s all I need to do. Or I’ll pick up that thing off the floor that’s taunting me. Or I’ll drive to the supermarket and just get milk. Cos even though we really need a full grocery excursion, we can’t do without milk right now, so I’ll just get that. I don’t even need to put on a bra.
Cos who the fuck cares what I look like? Only me.
These are the mind games I play with myself to survive the low times.
Pick. One. Thing.
Because one thing almost always leads to one more thing. And before you know it, you’ve adulted for a time. And the day passes. And tomorrow’s a new day.
So even if you’re not depressed, what’s one thing you can accomplish today? One simple thing? One thing you’ll be able to look back on as you go to sleep and pat yourself on the back and say, go you, you did that thing?
What can you accomplish today?
My true home is on Great Barrier Island, where my ancestors lived.
I only get there a few times a year, and when I do, nature has done its best to take over.
Elephant grass up to our waists. Manuka seedlings, thistles, and rushes have their roots deep into the clay.
The job is simply too big for me. I look around and there’s so much to do that I don’t even know where to start. Left to my own devices, I just wouldn’t.
That damn elephant
And yes, I get the idea that you eat an elephant one bite at a time. In my mind, each bite of this clean up, if I do it alone, would be too small and insignificant to even be worth it. There’s no way I’ll ever get all the work done.
But as we arrived on our last trip, my dad pulled out the lawnmower and mowed a track between the house, cabin, toilet, and generator shed. That made a difference.
Carver Boy grabbed a slasher and started on the elephant grass. I did the same and cleared the track to the waterhole.
Within a couple of hours, we could see some progress, and we could function. We could get from A to B. And each cleared space, each cut manuka, each clump of rushes levelled, did two things: made the task seem achievable, and revealed the next level of clean up that could still be done.
Within 2 days, the house looked like someone lived there – with a lawn, clean drains, and nothing overgrown in sight. Far more work than I had even thought possible.
The miracle of many hands
It felt miraculous to me. Because on other trips, when it’s just me and my kids, it’s too overwhelming and we don’t even attempt it. I look around and it depresses me.
I sat on my deck with a well-earned glass of wine feeling so, so grateful for the help. Feeling so, so proud of what we’d accomplished. And feeling relieved that, because of our combined efforts, the next few weeks of this stay was going to be so much more enjoyable.
And I thought about how much more we can do in our lives when we have help.
And how we find it so, so hard to ask for help.
We are grateful when people around us ask for help, but we feel that to ask for help ourselves is a weakness.
Depression is a part of my life
It has been for decades.
I manage it.
One of the things depression looks like for me is a feeling that even the simplest tasks are too much. I look around me and all I can see is things that need to be done, and I can’t face them.
Have a shower? Too hard.
Get dressed? Too hard.
Answer an email? WTAF.
I want to sleep for a week.
We all need help
But when I have help, that changes.
The company of one of my daughters, or Carver Boy, or my Fairy-God-Ninja, Mandy, makes some things possible.
And each thing I accomplish lifts my spirits. I get help (for me – this usually means just some company) to sort the laundry. I get help while I write a list of things that I think need to be done, so they don’t feel so endless. I get company while I clear out some emails and work tasks so the weight is lifted.
When I first hired Mandy I literally had her sit with me once a week just to keep my motivation up – to not let the lurking depression raise its head and climb onto my shoulders. In my calendar those days said, “Mandy babysits Shelly.”
When I’m planning out a big project or a hefty document, I get help. I talk it through with someone as I brainstorm. It gets me out of my head.
What’s in your life that you look at every day and it feels too big?
What could you do with that thing if you had help?
What might help look like?
Who could you ask?
We all need help.
Is it time for you to ask for some?
I once had a friend staying with me, and she was worried about a small decision my daughter made. She later told me how stressful the visit was, because of that one thing.
Let me explain a bit more (while still respecting the privacy of both my friend and my daughter).
The one thing.
My daughter’s behaviour didn’t harm anyone.
It didn’t inconvenience anyone.
It was not made or carried out in anyone’s presence.
It didn’t impact on my friend’s ability to do anything.
It didn’t create any consequences my friend had to live with.
I was 100% unconcerned with the decision my daughter had made. It didn’t inconvenience or worry me. It was completely fine by me.
So when my friend later told me how stressful it was for her, and how it impacted on her ability to enjoy staying with us, I was blown away!
It wasn’t hers.
She didn’t own it. She CHOSE to be concerned. She CHOSE to be worried about the decision my daughter made. I was incredibly surprised that my friend didn’t have the self-awareness to realise she was feeling stressed about something that she simply didn’t own.
How do I deal?
One of my go-to responses to stress is to write a list – itemise the things on my mind (which is where stress lives, of course).
And then I categorise:
- what’s mine?
- what’s not mine?
I look at the what’s not mine category and often that’s all I need to do – acknowledge I’m carrying stress about things that aren’t mine and that I can’t influence.
That simple awareness (and the fact I’ve written it down and acknowledged it) is usually all it takes for me to let something go.
I basically roll my eyes at myself and go, well duh, that’s not mine. I cross it off the list and it’s gone.
I know. Sometimes it’s not that easy!
If it’s not that easy to do, then I think about what meaning I’m attributing to that thing that’s not mine, and see what I can shift there.
Sometimes it’s just a shift I need to make in my thinking. Other times I might need to act so that I can cope with the things that are not mine, but that are impacting on me nevertheless.
Then I look at the what’s mine category and plan out what I can do about it and when, and what I need so I can action that.
Stress management 101 (according to Shelly).
OK, I need to take you on a little bit of a journey to explain what I mean here, so bear with me.
I have a background as an educator. I trained as a high school English teacher. I started teaching at universities at 21 years old. I worked in indigenous tertiary education for 7 years.
I now train adults for a living.
Trainer. Teacher. Educator. Facilitator.
In the education sector we have strong feelings about all these words.
In the school of education, we frown on the word ‘train’ because there’s a history of seeing teaching as a vocation rather than a profession.
In indigenous education we prefer the word ‘facilitate’ because it rejects the ‘empty vessel’ pedagogy that has such close links with colonisation.
When teaching adults, we are less likely to use the word ‘teach’ for similar reasons – working with adults requires a more co-constructive, facilitative approach than a teacher-student model.
I make good money as a corporate trainer because that is what companies are looking for. When adult participants come into a room with me they want me to teach them things. They are looking to me to have the expertise I can pass on to them.
But here’s the curveball: in a lot of ways, what I’m delivering to people when I train, teach, educate, or facilitate, is CONNECTION.
I teach people how to connect with other humans, because that is the foundation for all the other things we want to achieve.
Want to write better documents (Business Writing)? Connect with your readers.
Want to teach people better in the workplace (Train the Trainer)? Connect with your trainee.
Want to work better with other cultures (Cultural Competency)? Build a connection with those people.
You won’t hear me distil it like that in a training room.
So what does this have to do with marketing? And writing?
When we name a product or service, it’s natural to come at it from our own position:
- What do I call this thing?
- What is it, from my professional perspective, that I’m providing?
- What words are acceptable in my industry?
- What words will my peers see value and credibility in?
But that’s a mistake.
We also name our products and services based on the outcomes we know they’ll provide to people.
That’s also a mistake.
Because, ask any trainer or consultant and they’ll tell you:
What these people need is X, but they think they need Y.
If I try to sell them X, they’re not interested.
But if I sell them Y, they’ll buy it, and that gets me in the door so that I can give them X.
If I only deliver Y they won’t be anywhere near as satisfied as if I give them X.
In a nutshell?
Ask yourself what your market is looking for.
What do they think they need?
And then label your product or service as that.
What are you putting energy into resisting?
What might happen if you just roll with it?
I’m what you might call ‘highly strung’ (uggh). Me earlier in life was a basket-case. Control-freak, stressed out, ready to blow up over stupid shit on a regular basis.
I really struggled to get through each day and eventually had some real challenges with depression.
Then my husband died.
If you ever need something to help you reconsider what’s important in life, death will do it.
Of course, the grief and growth since his death has been a long and winding 20-year journey. But ultimately what has happened is this: I’ve learned to roll with things.
I’ve learned that if I want to cope with life, I have to release my death-grip on the reigns.
I have to roll with shit.
I have the most beautiful partner today. While my carver boy gets a good deal of credit for that, cos he’s a good, good man, I also give myself credit for a bunch of things, and learning to roll with stuff is one of those things. It means I don’t try to manage him or control how our life together works. It means I’m accepting of the twists and turns. It means I got more patient (and faaaaark, has that been a ride!).
Most people today consider me fairly chilled (although high-energy). They’re surprised when I say how much of a stressed-out control freak I used to be.
So here’s the thing. Or the things.
There are some things we shouldn’t let go of – some things we do want to manage and influence. Like the fact that my family needs to eat. I’m not going to just roll with them going hungry. Or the fact that we need to be safe while we drive. I’m not going to just roll with breaking the law or risking our lives.
But the timing of that trip in the car? I can roll with when that happens. Who comes in the car and what they wear or what they bring with them? I can roll with that.
What we eat and when? I can roll with that. We can’t all sit down to a meal of meat and 3 veg at 6pm? I can roll with that. Someone wants to eat weetbix instead? Go for your life.
Trying to manage and control things is EXHAUSTING.
And it means that you’re setting yourself up for stress, disappointment, upset, and maybe anger and rage, if things don’t go the way you tried to make them go. The odds of things not going to plan are HUGE.
So I wonder what you’re resisting right now? What’s taking up your energy? What are you giving power to because you’re laser-focused on it happening a certain way?
Choose one small thing.
Now what might it look like if you just rolled with it? What’s the worst that could happen? What might you gain? How much happier might you become? How much lighter might you feel?
Roll with it.
Let those swells bring you safely and gently onto a shore where the sun is shining and you can get some rest.