Many years ago I went through a series of significant losses and traumas. I was having trouble remembering that ” Now is not Always “. Depression can be so profound that it feels permanent, pervasive and personal. I forced myself to cope enough to parent and fulfill other responsibilities, using sheer endurance. But I knew I was running on empty.
When the world you’ve known, or the lifestyle you’ve led,and sometimes even the sense of who you are is taken from us or left behind by choice there is a period in which one can feel lost, wandering without a map. For most of us, that creates anxiety. I’ve found that it is useful to develop a curiousity and state of ” wondering ” rather than of lostness and ” wandering “. “I’m lost. I don’t know where I am . I don’t know which way to go. ” and self-talk like these are debilitating and self-hypnotic. To think in terms of ” I wonder where I am ? I wonder where I’d like to go from here . I wonder how to get there .” promote curiousity, creativity and a remembrance of self-reliance and self-resilience. Further statements of ” wondering ” might be, ” I wonder who might support me, guide me, coach me ?” which remind us of our family and/or community resources and resilience.
So that summer, when I was feeling deeply ” down in the dumps ” ,I ” wandered” away from my career for a while and began ” wondering ” what was next.
I took a job working for a landscaper. I was assigned to work on a country property which had a huge mountain, literally, of livestock manure that the owner wanted cleared out , cheaply. My job was to bag the manure and haul it down to the roadside for sale to gardeners. I was paid minimum wage for my labour , and half of any manure sales I made.
Naturally, while wading through several decades of barn waste in the midst of Depression, it was easy to self-admonish with more statements to myself that life was a big pile of sh*t, that all one really does is wade through sh*t, and so on. Life had provided me a great metaphor to use to feel justified in being depressed and angry.
Tuning into the anger about my losses and traumas got me shoveling that manure into those bags much more quickly than I had while soaking in depression. Eventually I was making pretty good money selling the manure, so that it was easy to joke , ” hey, this sh*t is useful ! “. The physical labour and it’s rhythmic pace were very good for me. My mind and heart became a bit clearer every day and I started noticing, and then fostering, a curiousity about my next steps. It was very elementary at first,, questions like , ” I wonder what I’ll do next . Do I really want to be doing this job in the rainy winter ? ” and so on.
But as my awareness grew of how perfect the metaphor of the manure pile had been for my depressive and angry state of being, I began playing with the metaphor of the renewal of the property. The area where the mountain of manure had been was being converted to a huge flower, herb, and berry garden. Where once had been a pile of sh*t an oasis was emerging.
We all use negative metaphor in our self-talk, lines like , ” My stomach is in knots.”, or “” I feel like I’ve got the weight of the world on my shoulders. “. It can be useful to move on to a metaphor that provides an antitode to the pathologising negative metaphor. so, for example, if one has an image of having one’s stomach in knots, it is useful to begin thinking in terms of un-knotting or cutting through the knot.
The next step is to begin to implement lifestyle practices that diminish the negative and promote the positive. In the ” stomach in knots ” example, one could reflect on what pulls the knot tighter, and how to loosen it, or on whether to pause and un-ravel it or to slice through it, and to decide what lifestyle practices and/or attitude shifts will produce this eased effect.
In my own example, as I came to muse on the lovely outcome of shovelling out the sh*t, I began reflecting on what to shovel out of my own life, and what value to find in the aftermath of a mountain of sh*t. What could I create, and why would I do that became interesting, challenging and satisfying questions to be curious about . I shovelled some stressful factors out of my life, and adjusted my attitudes to the ones that remained. I salvaged, cleaned up, and re-invigorated values, relationships and lifestyle pursuits that had been buried by the experiences of loss, and I developed new interests and projects.
I was back… and glad of it.