Resurfacing - The Way Back Up
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
After I wrote Ripcurrents and Remembering, I got pulled deep underwater. As much as I knew it was coming, and even though I am used to seasons like these, it doesn't get easier. I am sure everyone reading this has had seasons in life where things feel muddy, where you lack vision, motivation and energy. Maybe you haven't experienced a full bout of depression or maybe you have, maybe it lasted weeks, or months or even years. No matter how long that heavy season held you underwater, do you remember what helped you resurface? Was it nature, therapy, friends or family? I have found myself so grateful to be above water that I forget to note what really helped me make my way back to the surface and when inevitably I get pulled under again, I find myself flailing, desperate for a way back up.
This time it's taken a lot of fighting, clinging to my resources and wondering how much longer I can hold my breath. BUT today I'll make a list of what works, and maybe it will be a lifeline of great proportions the next time the rip current takes me under. I hope it helps you find your footing and gives you the strength to push off the bottom and launch yourself up to a place where you can breathe again. This is why we have exit signs, when you are in a panic, when things are scary and confusing, we need to know the way out. Let this be your exit sign.
THE WAY BACK UP:
DON'T SHAME YOUR COPING METHODS
We all know this moment. All you can manage to bring yourself to do is watch days on end of your favorite TV show, order comfort food and stay in your PJ's all day and then suddenly it's like someone in the back of your mind handed a megaphone to the voice of shame. Before you know it, the dishes and the laundry piles up and all you can hear in your head is how lazy you are, how much you let down yourself and your spouse and your boss and how you are just the worst for not "handling" this better... whateverthefuck that means. I know you know this moment... and I am begging you NOT to shame these perfectly normal ways to self-soothe. Give yourself permission to soothe yourself, to cope, and to rest without it needing to be productive.
What would happen if we let ourselves off the hook, if we recognized these coping mechanisms as valid options and allowed them to be in our depression toolbox along with exercise, meditation and nature. What if we stopped shaming ourselves and practiced the art of empathy and compassion right here, right now, in the middle of the TV and takeout binge? What if we gave the megaphone to the voice of love and it sounded a lot more like this, "Oh that TV show is so fun, I bet it will brighten your spirit! Oooo, that food smells amazing, so nice to have a comforting meal during a difficult time. You're not a robot sweetie, its okay to take a day off, I know you'll get to the dishes and laundry when you feel up to it"? What if we listened to the voice of love?
USE A LIFELINE
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire rules absolutely apply when you're feeling underwater, right?! Two of these lifelines specifically can really be useful during times of anxiety and depression: 50/50 and Phone A Friend.
50/50 was a lifeline in the game where two of the incorrect multiple choice answers were eliminated so the player only has to choose between two remaining answers and most of the time the elimination makes the right answer very clear. A great way to support yourself is to take things off your plate. Eliminate what isn't necessary at this moment so you can really focus on what needs your attention right now; making space for rest, for self-care, and rescheduling some things so you can get outside and just take some much needed deep breaths.
Phone A Friend seems obvious when you are going through a difficult season, but it can be one of the hardest things to do. I find it really hard when I'm deep in the muck of the moment to ask for help. Maybe it's that shame voice again with the megaphone telling me no one wants to be bothered with my drama or maybe it makes it all real if I call someone and cry; whatever the reason, it proves to be difficult for me so I have some tips for you: Choose wisely who to share with, make sure they are someone who is a good listener, someone who will give you space to share without trying to instantly fix you. Once you know who to connect with, try this pre-written text to make it that much easier to actually hit the send button:
"Hi Friend, I've been feeling underwater this past week and I could really use someone to talk to, do you have some time in the next few days to chat?"
Simple as that, Phone A Friend, I promise there are people who love you and are willing to hold space and listen while you share or verbally process some of the things you're feeling. On the off chance that they say they don't have time, DO NOT take this personally, they might be just as underwater as you. Go back to your list of lovely people and send the text to another friend.
One of the most important and tried and true ways to help myself resurface is to start small. Quite literally, lower your expectations of yourself. This is a scientific process called a positive feedback loop. Your mind and body is much more willing to keep showing up when it has regular positive experiences of a healthy habit. If the bar is too high like "tomorrow I'll run 5 miles and weed the entire backyard," there is a much higher chance that you won't complete the task and you get stuck with failure feelings. Your body and mind put this memory into the file labeled "Fitness" and "Yard work" and I guarantee it will be 100 times harder to make it happen next time you try.
You want to tap into the positive feedback loop and remind yourselves that you are capable of completing tasks, caring for yourself and doing the hard work of resurfacing. Small could be anything, I usually start with something that is fun and easy, like doing a face mask, or painting my nails, or simply taking a nice long shower or soaking in the tub. Next on the list is one errand, think of a quick grocery item you are out of: "Pick up milk" or "We need trash bags," and then go forth and complete the task.
This might seem silly... but I'm serious, start way smaller than you think and enjoy the positivity that come from checking them off the list. Remember you can go back to your hibernation after completing one small thing or if it feels nice you can continue finding small things to do. Every time you complete a task a feeling of success washes over you, slowly but surely regaining your self-confidence, tapping into the positive feedback loop, building momentum and remembering that YOU CAN if you want to!
You knew it would be on the list but it is certainly not easy to commit to when you're underwater emotionally, BUT it is one of the mostly powerful tools for me. Movement can decrease levels of stress hormones in the body called Cortisol, effectively calming the nervous system and can increase happy hormones like endorphins that can improve your mood and other bodily functions like digestion. All the other tools I've offered in this blog apply here. When you know you need to get moving but don't know how to start:
1) Don't shame your coping methods. If you don't want to do the cycle class you usually do or can't bring yourself to commit to a full 75 min Vinyasa Flow THAT'S OKAY. Try hard not to shame yourself for choosing something different and remember to tap into the positive feedback loop. Choose something you know you can complete.
2) The 50/50 lifeline. Think of 4 movement options that sound even remotely doable or enjoyable and then eliminate 2 of them and slowly add the ones that remain to your day or your week. Resist the urge do any counting of calories burned, distance or speed tracking. Move your body for the love of movement, do it because it feels good, let that be your only goal, to feel good.
3) Phone A Friend. This one is a powerhouse. Schedule time to go on a walk with a friend, take a restorative yoga class together or do a bit of hiking! It is so much easier to get moving when you are in good company. Not only do you get all the benefits of moving your body but you get some incredible quality time with someone you care about and who cares about you!
4) When all else fails, Start Small. Go on a short walk around your neighborhood or park, find a place to sit and just enjoy being there. Breathe and watch the world around you, the kids on the playground, the squirrels, look for birds or watch the clouds, anything to get you into the present moment. Maybe you have a dog that would love to join you! Maybe leaving the house isn't making the list yet, that's okay! Put on one of your favorite songs or a fun playlist and MOVE your body. You do not have to be a good dancer, no one can see you, this can be your little secret (someone take the megaphone away from shame voice QUICK!) Just move and don't stop till the end of the song comes. This boosts endorphins and other happy hormones, let the music lift your spirits!
TAKE HEART and TRUST
In seasons of sadness, I find myself in resistance first. I'll do anything to dig my heels in as if I have some kind of magical powers and can stop a wave from coming. I don't want to feel all that sad and scary stuff, I'd rather keep moving without having to swim in the waters of old grief and cyclical lessons but these efforts always seem to prove futile. Acknowledging the wave is rising is the only way to keep your wits about you when it hits--so chin up darling, eyes on the horizon, you can do this. Take heart in the fact that you've done this before, most of us who struggle with anxiety and depression have been here before, this isn't new territory. Trust that you will weather the storm and arrive on the other side with a deeper understanding of yourself. One of my favorite writers, Pixie Lighthorse offers us this beautiful excerpt:
“Soothe my desire to numb out and activate my miraculous systems for coping. Circulate my blood while I navigate this strange territory. Help me stay open. Help me trust that I can get through this. When I sense that I am contracting, help me lean into trust. Mellow my heart’s rhythms when it engages in a race with my thoughts. When change is threatening to unhinge me, untether me from my illusions of safe harbor. Help me remember that the earth anchors me, that I am equipped to handle what will unfold, that I have seen dissolution before, and made it through. Ease my need for comfort at the expense of presence.”
WOW - take a moment to read that again.
So much wisdom in this one paragraph, I have read it so many times that I could practically recite it from memory. It has been a light in the dark, a reminder of my resilience and a call to stay present even when checking out seems like a better/safer route. Take heart and Trust. "You have seen dissolution before and made it through," and you will again, the surface is near, just keep swimming.