Oh, how I love metaphors! Have you ever talked with someone that told you their “plate was full” and they couldn’t possibly take on another project? I’m sure you have. I’ve said it myself. Have you ever looked at a person that said that and thought, “Not as full as mine, and I seem to find time to help.” It seems we don’t all have the same size plate, the same appetite, or the same strength to carry it with.
From the outside, my life looks simple and full of time to take on new projects. But to me, my plate is balanced perfectly and I work hard to keep it that way. I don’t have too much to do because I’ve made the choice not to, and when I make other choices, like adding to my plate things I think other people would like me to do, I’ve learned by experience that it never ends well.
Here’s a question for you. What if we’re not born with an empty plate at all? What if we have one, we know it because we can feel it in our hands, but the goal of living is to figure out how big the plate is, what’s already on that plate, and how to balance it so it’s easy to carry? When we take more onto our plate before we’ve figured out how to balance what we already have, or even know what we have for that matter, we cause ourselves stress.
Why would people around us give us more to put on our plate? Because they haven’t learned what’s on their plate and how to balance it, so they’re passing it to you. “It’s too much for me!” they say, and they pass it to you instead of letting it fall to the floor.
Many days, I know what’s on my plate and I can balance it easily. When someone offers more, I politely decline. “No, thank you. I have enough.” Some days I see friends and family with their plates so piled high, I feel bad and wonder, “Well, maybe I can take some of that off their plate and help.” When I do, I quickly become overwhelmed and drop it all. It’s not a good feeling.
Some days, overwhelmed friends with plates piled high, see my relatively empty plate and think, “She has barely anything and I have so much! Take some of mine, you have to help me.” I feel guilty and try to help, take too much on and ultimately fail us both.
What if instead of passing items off our full plate to someone else, we just dropped those items away and let them go? What if we did less? What if we produced less? All of us? What if we just did without those things instead of insisting that they exist and that someone pick up the ball?
What if we prioritized mastering the art of doing what we need to do for ourselves first? And then started adding more of what we want until we are at a place of balance for us alone? And allow others to learn and do the same at their own pace, with their own plates? It seems like we would all get more done and feel better about our lives at the same time.
And then there are more questions. Do we think the plate is empty when we first realize we have a life to live? We think we must start fill it with things to feel productive. What if we spent our childhood just learning the size and weight of our plate and how to balance it with the essentials we are born to do on it? What if we are overloading our children with responsibilities, more for their plate, before they’ve mastered what they already have? Could that be the real curse of losing a free and peaceful childhood? Could that be why depression and anxiety are on the rise?
The desert in the summer can feel like a snowstorm that barricades you inside your house and forbids your exit for days at a time. There’s nowhere to escape to, at least nowhere outside. The sanctuary of an air-conditioned house, car, or movie theater all seem like fine alternatives to most, but what if you desperately crave to be outdoors? Early in the morning, before the sun completely rises, or late in the evening after it sets, are the only times one can feasibly be outdoors and even then, it’s still so hot. It’s oppressive after awhile and she dreams of hooking up the trailer and driving north until the weather is more to her liking.
Staring out at the desert landscape, she wonders…this would be a good time of year to read more. Then it starts…yeah…read more and write more…waste more time. Great.
It’s that feeling again. The one that scares the crap out of me. The one that I know scares the crap out of anyone I express it to. It’s like drowning, you want to reach out for help, but then…maybe you should just let yourself drown. You’re worthless anyway.
I write in my journal on these days. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it only relieves the pain for a few moments, like taking ibuprofen for a headache that’s not just a headache.
When I was younger, the feeling used to last for weeks, sometimes a month. Now…it’s usually a day or two before I’m climbing back out of the basement of my soul, shaking my head and wondering what happened. I read the previous days journals filled with angry scribbles and marvel at it. Who was that woman? I worry about those entries. What if my family found them and realized how sick I really am? What if I scared them with my darkness? What if I inadvertently influenced them into thinking they may have inherited this from me?
There are times when I sit with my phone in my hand. What if I just texted someone? What if I just said, “Hey friend. I’m feeling like a miserably worthless piece of crap. I’m a big fake. Nothing I do matters. And if anyone found out who I really am, they’d walk away forever (and rightly so) and warn everyone else to run the other way when they see me. I’m afraid of myself at the moment. And I need something. I’m not sure what that is. Can you help?”
Can you imaging getting that text? What would you do? Send platitudes of reassurance?
“You’re not. You’re wonderful. We all love you.”
“Have you considered getting professional help?”
“I’m worried about you.”
All of which only make the feeling worse. Now I’ve shared the misery. That’s how wonderful I am!
You know what does seem to help? Confirmation. In these moments, I crave just one person that is strong enough to throw the ball back when I lob it at them.
“Yeah…life can really suck. What’s the point of any of this shit? Let’s go get a drink!” Knowing I can be the ugliest me to someone and it doesn’t make them sad or want to run in the other direction? Priceless!
This time the feeling took me quite suddenly after weeks of positivity. There were so many productive days in a row, weeks even, and then so many wonderful people experiences to go along with it. Then one morning…bam…a text before I wanted one, a positive comment on Facebook…and I’m headed down the rabbit hole with Alice, looking for trouble.
Weird the things that trigger it.
Years of struggle have taught me one important point. It is not logical. It has no rhyme or reason. It is not reality. That realization is what has seriously quickened my turnarounds the last few years. I have reminders everywhere.
“Depression Lies To You” on a paper bracelet I wore for a few weeks years ago, sits on my bathroom counter.
“Watch for the fork in the road.” On a Post-It note above my computer.
“Look at actions not words.” Watching the acts, not the words people use usually makes me happy.
This time I will add “It’s all temporary.” And “Take a deep breath and wait for it to pass over you.”
“A scene change is needed,” I think as I wash the dishes after lunch. Staring out at the bright sky and hot sand outside my window, “But where?” I glance at the thermometer. “107” it reads. Sigh. I need to be outside! Suddenly it dawns on me and my heart brightens just a bit.
“Hey babe?” I holler into the bedroom office as I grab a towel for my hands and head back there. Why do I do that? I know he can’t hear me.
“Sweetness, what time will you be done working?”
“Half an hour or so. Why?”
“Maybe we should drive up to the mountain and take a hike as the sun starts to set. It would be cooler and then we could get something to eat together before we head back. A date!”
He looks up from his laptop, his boots up on the table turned work desk. “I had planned on kegging my beer after work so that it’s ready for the party on Saturday.”
Sinking heart again. “Oh yeah!” I say brightly. “Well, maybe tomorrow.” And I go back to the dishes.
As I’m drying off the last plate and wiping down the kitchen sink, there he is, “When did you want to go? Maybe I can hurry and finish?”
Ahh, my sweet love. He’s always trying to make me happy, which sometimes makes me feel worse, but not this time. An hour later, water bottles in hand, a few nut bars in a bag, and we’re driving across the desert in the direction of the moutains.
“Babe. I have something to scary to say that I need to say out loud, but promise me you won’t be scared or sad. I’m ok. It’s just something I need to voice.”
“I think I understand why people with severe depression kill themselves. I can feel it. I feel worthless, like everyone around me would be much better off without me.”
I get the look, the worried one, the one that makes me not want to share the feeling, to keep it inside where it rots and festers and gets worse every day until I explode in anger and frustration about something completely unrelated. Why would I torture the ones I love with this feeling? Better to just sit with it and hope I suddenly die somehow. Then no one needs to worry about how to fix it. But this time, I keep talking. If I can’t share my burden with this man, the man that has loved and supported me for the last twenty years in ways I cannot possibly explain, then there is no hope.
“I know it’s an irrational feeling. I know it’s in my head. I know the reality is far different. I sit with it and look at it from every angle. I have no idea what triggers it but I’ve learned what helps me stop it. Sometimes I write and that helps. Burn those journals when I die, by the way. Or maybe I’ll write a disclaimer on the top of the box!
“The truth is that I what I really want, what I think will really help, is to say it out loud. I want to be able to say all the ugliest things, the things that scare me, the stupid, angry, nasty things I feel about myself at those moments, and have someone just say, ‘I can understand that and I love you anyway.’
“I don’t want you to fix it. I don’t want you to worry. I don’t want sympathy or ‘No, hun, that’s just not true.’ I want agreement, acknowledgement that these feelings exists and that they suck.”
We talked and laughed all the way up the mountain, an hour’s drive of open communication and joy, punctuated by me trying not to get car sick on the winding mountain road. By the time we started walking, I was already feeling so much better. At the top of mountain, standing on a rock overlooking the valley, I took a deep breath. “This is what I needed. Just to speak it out of me. Walk in the sun. And be surrounded by trees. And you.”
It was the change in scenery, the acceptance and love of one of my favorite people, and some exercise that stopped the downward spiral this time. I know next time it may not work, but I know something will and know who I can grab when I need help.
For you out there, depression sucks ass. I love you. I know it sucks. Let’s go yell from the top of a mountain, “This too shall pass.” Even when Gandalf says none shall.