I experience my pain as fire in a living room. I’m upstairs going about my routine when suddenly I detect the faint scent of smoke. First, I wonder what that smell is, then I wonder where it might be coming from. I wait for it to dissipate. Then if it doesn’t, I feel something might be wrong, but I’m not for certain, so I shrug and continue on. Meanwhile, it grows stronger and stronger and stronger until I can no longer ignore it. By that time, it’s already overtaken my whole body, and I can’t escape, so I succumb to it. With a full hold on me, I worry I might die, so I struggle to find a way out. Anxiety sets in as I fight against it, then I choose to give up. It has me.
Smoke and pain differ on one degree: unlike a raging house fire, I know pain won’t actually kill me. When things have gotten particularly bad, I’ve even repeated that mantra to myself as I cried. This won’t kill me. This won’t kill me. So when those moments of emotional pain come on and I feel them take over, I hold on to the simple knowingness that eventually it will clear. Eventually, I will get up from where it made me collapse. I will breathe again unrestrained. I will feel alive once more. The calm will return and so will my life.
I hate when people suggest, “learn to love your pain.” I don’t love it and I don’t know that I ever will. Grief for me has been a really shitty experience in many ways even though I also see there are plenty of ways adversity has made me grow. I am thankful for that, but I’m also not going to pretend that my pain is beautiful. In reality it looks like I’m having a simultaneous allergic reaction to cats, peanuts, and seafood while watching Titanic for the first time during a break-up after I just got a paper cut on that space between my thumb and pointer finger.
Even though those waves of pain are brutal, merciless, and far from beautiful, I accept they are a part of my human experience because they are happening. If it’s cloudy outside, I can’t usher the sun to come out, right? I also know from experience that I am strong enough to survive them. I know that it’s not permanent. And above all, I know that there are ways I can take action to feel better whenever it comes around. And that’s what makes me feel alive: the pure and simple fact that when life sucks I can choose to take action and do something to feel better.
I have no idea if this list of suggestions will be helpful to you at all, but I know two things from my own truth. One, it’s important to have tools to take action on, otherwise the energy of “what do I do? What do I do? What do I do?” tends to make things worse. Two, these things continue to work for me. Life is all one big experiment, so choose something here that sounds interesting to you then try it out.
If you have other suggestions that aren’t on the list, please share them in the comments because I’d love to try them myself!!
Get multiple forms of support
When you’re sailing through rough waters, it is crucial to your well-being to feel loved, supported, and accepted as you are. It also will help you grow out of the experience to juice all the lessons by talking through what you are feeling. That said, I think there’s two forms of support that you need:
1. The support of friends who love and understand you.
2. The support of a third party who doesn’t know you, so either a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a life coach.
I hear a lot of resistance come up around seeking counseling based on all the stories we tell each other about what that means. I.e. if you see a psychologist you are crazy, too weak to handle your own problems, or broken. Well, fuck that because seeing a counselor also means you’re taking full responsibility for how to you choose to feel. You’re being brave by sorting through things that have happened in your life in order to show up better not only for yourself but also for other people. It means you believe in creating a great life with the support of others.
Heck, we take our cars to mechanics, we hire people to scrub our heel calluses off, we even bring people on board to bake someone else’s birthday cake on our behalf. Why is seeing a psychologist any different?
Whatever you are facing that is causing you to feel less than ideal it’s crucial to get support. You do not have to go through this alone. So in addition to getting help, reach out to people in your community and tell the truth about what you are feeling, even if that is scary. I guarantee they will actually love you even more for speaking up. People want to support you, they just have to be clued into how.
Identify drainers and energizers
Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper, then on one side write, “drainers,” and on the other side write, “energizers.” Then, do a quick brain dump and write down about all the things that suck the life out of you and do the same to jot down all the things that put an extra bounce in your step. Afterward, start doing fewer of the things that drain you and more of the things that energize you. I mean, obviously you still have to pay your bills, but you get what I mean.
These actions can be simple. For example, spending long periods alone drains me whereas spending time with people energizes me. If I am down and out, I spend more time with people, even though my natural tendency when I am feeling like shiz is to isolate myself.
If you want to play around with this, download this FREE drainers versus energizers worksheet. I made it pretty just for you :).
Perform a life autopsy
Look back on the history of your existence and write down the answers to the following questions with at least three specific examples each:
1. When did I feel most alive? What was I doing?
2. When did I feel most excited? What was I doing?
3. When did I feel most fulfilled? What was I doing?
4. When did I feel most satisfied? What was I doing?
After you answer those, set them aside for a day, then go back and do an analysis. What are the common trends between your answers? How can you infuse your life with those things right now where you are currently at (instead of putting them off in some distant future)? When I did this, I found out that almost all of my answers included me being outside connecting with human beings.
Channel your jealousy
Start paying attention to who makes you feel jealous. It doesn’t even have to be people you know, it can be people on television or a friend of a friend. When you notice your jealousy, punch that person in the throat. Just kidding, don’t do that. Instead leave that innocent person alone and say, “oh, hi jealousy I was waiting for you!” Then ask it, “what does that person have that I really want?” Write it down. Then ask yourself, how can I create what they have for myself right now?
For example, I recently felt jealous of a friend who was spending a lot of time with kick ass women and through that I realized I wanted more quality time with awesome ladies in my world. I also wanted to make new friends. So, I called up someone I knew and said, “hey, let’s have a girls night this week and cook dinner together.” Then, I invited another girl out for coffee that I really wanted to get to know better. It felt amazing.
Jealousy is an awful feeling, but it’s such a powerful tool and you can use it as a compass to direct you toward what you truly need and desire.
Identify what you imagine you want then find a way to create something like it
I don’t know about you, but I can get so hung up wanting something that it actually pains me. Earlier this year, for example, I felt I was ready for a great relationship. I was so motivated to find it that I began dating like crazy, thus began my first-ever foray into online dating. It was literally like next, next, next, next, next. Then, I’d find someone who I liked only they wouldn’t like me or someone would like me and I wouldn’t like them or we didn’t like each other. Feeling overwhelmed, I stopped to reevaluate.
I asked myself one super important question: what do I imagine a relationship would give me that I really need and want?
Then, I made a list:
Shared experiences and stories with someone
Something to look forward to
Next, I reconciled with myself by realizing okay, I still would like to find a great relationship, but I recognize since I am holding out for someone who feels like a “hell yes” it might take some time.
So, next I asked myself: how can I create what I need and want out of that experience in my life RIGHT NOW?
Then, I made a list of actions I could take that would give me the aforementioned things I desired. Here’s what I came up with:
Get a pet
Volunteer at an animal shelter to walk dogs
Go to my favorite yoga class (the one where at the end of class the teacher massages each of us with essential oils)
Buy more plants for my house
Ask friends for validation or when someone validates me, really pause to absorb it
Plan get-togethers with friends
Take partner dancing classes
Schedule group hikes
Work in my garden
Plan a romantic date for myself and potentially invite a girlfriend
Plan photoshoots with people just for fun
Regardless if it’s a relationship or a trip to Tahiti, ask yourself what you really really want then go through this process and start taking action. My friends who believe in the law of attraction say that once you are in the energetic flow of what you desire you are also more likely to bring in exactly what you want. Secretly, I believe this too.
Bonus observation: if you look at this exercise from the perspective of a relationship, it also means I am not relying on someone else to complete me, which is pretty dang sexy.
Define your fundamentals
I first heard about “doing your fundamentals” through my former life coach and current homie Jacob Sokol (thanks Jacob!). He likes to call them “the fundys,” which I also like :). It is a really simple, yet groundbreaking concept that is extremely effective if you are going through depression.
Doing the fundaments: identifying basic actions you can do every single day that you know make you feel either good or on top of your shit.
For example, my fundamentals include:
Making my bed right after I wake up in the morning
Washing my hair every other day
Keeping my wood floors swept
Taking vitamin B and D supplements
Standing in the sunshine for at least 30 minutes per day
Connecting with someone in person at least once per day
You get the point.
When I’m down and out, having achievable daily goals makes me feel a sense of accomplishment, which can in turn make me feel better about myself. Sure, I might have spent half the day emotionally eating kettle corn, but at least I got dressed, washed my hair, and stretched my back. Check and check.
A few other suggestions
In case I haven’t suggested enough tools for you to experiment with yet, here’s a few other things I find are helpful to lift my mood when I am traversing depression:
– Engaging in hardcore workouts (I used to practice Krav Maga, a form of self defense martial arts)
– Making play a priority by scheduling fun things to do just as if it were work.
– Treating myself to simple things that bring me joy like painting my toe nails funky colors and hanging out with dogs.
– Sharing my truth openly with people I trust.
– Spending time in the sunshine and/or barefoot in the grass.
– Journaling about what I am grateful for, what I look forward to, and what I am proud of myself for.
– Envisioning someone I love and letting all the things I love about them cross my mind.
– Analyzing my diet to see what I can eat more and less of to feel better. For example, coffee and alcohol make my depression worse versus drinking more water and generally eating healthier make me feel better.
That’s all for now. I am sending you magnetic rays of love and compassion for where you’re at in your life right now. I support you in your quest to living out this crazy thing called life.
Also, if this post was helpful, share it with others who you feel might benefit from these tools.