It may come as a surprise to those who know me or rely on me for their emotional stability, but from time to time I too suffer from bouts of depression and anxiety. Every therapist does, just as every healthy person experiences mood vacillations. Like waves in the sea, our moods cycle through positive in-the-moment feelings to swells of anxiety to troughs of depression and back again. Just as every day at sea and every ship is different; we all need to learn how to navigate our own personal sea of vacillating emotions. For me, physical activity and later learning to play guitar took me out of the day-to-day struggle and gave me a purpose and goals to strive for. Neither was easy and still aren’t. I struggle each day to stay the course and search for improvement.
Philosophers have extolled life as a journey not a destination. That journey has meaning only if you give it purpose. To have purpose something must be worth striving for, and striving is not always easy. For me, and I hope for many of my clients, the basic purpose in life is striving to better oneself and/or the small circle of the world around us. By choosing to give our lives purpose, we make it easier to overcome obstacles in our paths. Experience has shown that overcoming obstacles in one facet of our lives empowers us to believe that no obstacle is insurmountable; even that which is hard can be accomplished. It may seem counter-intuitive, yet by pushing oneself into a zone, a place, were anxiety or depression is temporarily put aside, the brain learns how to deal more effectively with each state.
So how to start? First, this has to be one’s own decision, not someone else’s expectation. In this way your “hard thing” only needs to be something slightly harder or somehow different from what you are already accomplishing. As long as you choose to do it you’ll be reaping the rewards of your efforts.
To make the decision to try, look inside yourself for what you desire to change in your life. Desire for change is the catalyst for all that follows. From here the willingness to do something hard to create change begins to make sense and becomes motivating. For some, doing something hard could mean going to a gym or taking regular walks or, when that seems just too much, your “something” may be calling a therapist. Any challenge is still a challenge.
I found my something hard in an endurance event in Georgia in the form of an 86 mile race on inline skates. (Rollerblades TM for the uninitiated.) At my best, this event took me just under 6 hours, which translates into 3 hours of cruelling uphill climbs and 3 hours of blistering downhill charges. There was almost no way to train for an event like this without finding a place, a zone within myself that kept me saying “I can do this, just keep going, I will do this.”
I found my desire to do something hard within myself during training. There I found a place, a desire, that I did not know existed, a place where the day-to-day no longer mattered, where I could push myself just a little bit more each day. Putting one foot in front of the other became my only focus. Over my skating career, I completed the event nine times, overcoming the odds, overcoming my body and most importantly my mind.
My story is in no way meant to imply your hard thing needs to be physically grueling. For many simply calling a therapist to start the journey can be very challenging in and of itself. My tale is meant to illustrate that therapy exists so we can face new and different challenges in our lives. In 1961 President John Kennedy, in his famous speech launching to race to the moon, stated, “We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard;” Kennedy reset the country’s narrative; we are a people that together do the hard things. Like Kennedy, look for ways to reimagine your personal narrative. You may already be living a difficult existence, overcoming obstacles every day. Do you give yourself credit for being strong? Are you trying to go it alone? Are you looking for support from others?
Research is showing that while dramatic interventions, such as taking LSD in a controlled environment or skydiving in Dubai, can rewire our brains, so can simple activities such as walking by and concentrating on moving water. And while we often blame our bodies for our inactivity, science has demonstrated that our minds give out long before our bodies are ready to. So walk that extra mile, get the bike out of storage and, if needs be, call a therapist to help build that desire to do something hard.