Growing up in Southern California, the beach is unavoidable. As a fair-skinned, redheaded girl that got a painful sunburn in approximately 20 minutes of exposure, let’s just say I was never a big fan.
As a teenager, I made one attempt at learning our state sport. You can probably guess why. It involved a sandy-haired boy that spent all his free time in the waves. I remember standing in my jeans and a t-shirt, watching him while the waves soaked the rolled-up cuffs of my Levi’s.
He was able to persuade me to go out into the water a few times. He taught me to duck the waves as they came in and paddle out to where the surfers waited their turn.
He told me, “Duck under and keep swimming. That way they don’t push you back.” Afraid of not being able to see underwater, I always came back up too soon and many times was tumbled further back toward shore than I had swum. Evenings around a beach fire wrapped in a blanket were more my style.
Fast forward ten years and I’m 26, married with small children, searching for ways to cope with my growing bouts of depression and anxiety. My therapist, a tan and slim Californian herself, explained to me, “Think of it as the waves. When you notice the anxiety start to swell, try to visualize ducking under and holding your position until it passes over you.”
I went home telling myself, “See it, take a deep breath, and duck under the turbulence until it passes.” I can do this. It sounds simple.
I kept practicing and sometimes it worked. I’d feel the swell start to build, that emotional reaction, so I’d take a deep breath, quiet myself, and duck under to come up on the other side. I’d smile and think, easy peasy. Why didn’t I think of this before?!
Then another wave would come and I’d have to take a shorter breath and duck, come up for air, and another wave would follow. Not having enough time to recover from the last, I’d start to panic and choke. I’d scramble to the surface and tumble in the wash. In my fear, I’d lash out at those closest to me.
I cried to my husband in frustration, “Why would I think this would work? Even if I could get on top of my wave of emotion and ride it, why would I want to? Where will that wave lead me? Crashing on the shore?”
While I did spend a considerable amount of time trying to master my depression and anxiety by “surfing,” I was always on the lookout for a better way, a method or analogy better suited for my personality. Daily meditation ended up being far more useful for me, visualizing my moods as clouds or weather that I can watch pass by.
And then I heard the Icelandic word “gluggavedur,” or “window weather.”
Window weather is when it’s just nasty outside so you go indoors where it’s more comfortable. Instead of being frozen or scorched by the elements, we build ourselves a shelter. We hunker down in bad weather with a nice cup of tea and a blanket, watching the storm pass outside our windows.
Hearing about it during my morning meditation on the app “Calm” made my heart smile. That morning I started to think of ways I could create a habit of noticing the “bad weather” and making myself more comfortable while the storm passes. What does it look like in reality? I’m not sure yet.
This past weekend one of those nasty sad storms came over me. I woke up gloomy and when I asked for extra attention from my loved ones, I didn’t receive it the way I expected. It was no one’s fault. It was just one of those things, a misunderstanding or a miscommunication, but it started the snowball of sadness I know all too well.
Again I tried to let it wash over me and pass, but then another wave came and another and soon I was curled up in a ball crying into my pillow. My sweet husband tried to comfort me with a little love and reminded me it would pass. I withdrew from the day and everyone in it, but every time I tried to come up for air another wave would crash into me.
So what could I have done instead? Maybe I could take the day off. Make some popcorn. Watch a movie. Read more of my books. Journal. Go for a long walk. Work in the yard. These are all things I already do regularly to stave off that feeling of worthlessness, but I’ve always done them thinking of them as ducking under that wave. When they don’t work, or another ugly feeling sends me rolling backward, I get angry and frustrated with myself.
Can I do the same things but with a different attitude? I’m not ducking anything. I’m calmly watching out the window from the warmth and safety of my home. When I look up from my activity, I don’t see another wave coming at me and ready myself to do something. Instead, I can look out my window and see that the storm still rages and go back to my quiet activity for awhile.
As I sit here writing, a late winter storm is passing over my desert landscape. From inside my warm and dry home, I think, maybe it’s time to go out and sweep the porch or go for a walk, but when I look out the window the storm rages, so I go back to my indoor activities.
This just might work.