She described it perfectly.
My friend was talking about the delicate balance between making progress and falling into self doubt, and she put precisely into words how I feel about living with depression.
I walk a constant tightrope.
One misstep and I may wobble a little, have to flail my arms about to regain balance and keep going.
Or I may fall off completely.
I may fall all the way to the net and have to start completely over back at platform one.
And there is a part of me that hates that. There is a part of me that hates this part of me, that screams, “it’s not fair that my brain makes me so damn vulnerable all the time!”
I want a wider line. I want more leeway so that I don’t have to always be vigilant. I want my path through life to be a sidewalk, or a country road, or even just a matted down cow path so that just once in a while I could look up and enjoy the view without fear of falling to my death!
Instead, I walk the line.
And in return, I am granted a few rare gifts.
1. I avoid the comparison trap.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
I cannot afford to spend too much time looking left or right. I mean, I am certainly tempted – but managing my depression means paying close attention to what I need to survive. I simply don’t have a whole lot of energy or attention span leftover to obsess about what’s happening on someone else’s path.
The comparison trap results in jealousy, low self-esteem, and a constant chasing of dreams that are not your own.
2. I appreciate the net.
I have no illusions about being superhuman or immortal. I know that I will fall from time to time.
And when I do, I know from experience that there will be a net to catch me. That net is my husband, my kids, my mother, and my closest girlfriends.
I have fallen into their gentle embrace too many times to take their support for granted.
3. Self care is not optional.
I see friends of mine who put off good self care. They put themselves last, promise to rest later, and go years without really and truly nurturing themselves. They manage.
That would kill me. Literally.
I can choose to take care of myself as a preventative method, or be forced to take care of myself in order to come back after a fall. Either way: self care is inevitable.
I will rest. I will listen to my body about what it wants to eat and when it wants to move. I will make connection a priority.
I am simply not built for martyrdom. Thank God.
4. I have to share the pain sometimes.
The worst part of depression is the overwhelming despair it can unleash. It is bigger than me, more than I can contain inside my own little body and head.
I have to let it out. I have to.
And that’s why I write and tell stories and stand up on stage and share my most vulnerable truths.
People have said it’s because I’m brave. “Thank you for being so raw and honest.”
But people like me don’t choose raw and honest. Raw and honest are our release valves; we let out the ugly so that it doesn’t consume us with its hugeness.
And in that release, our curse becomes our gift.
We let others know they aren’t alone. We give perspective; our darkness reveals what is light. We flash the world our insides and those who have the option to stay cloaked now know that opening up is not a death sentence.
5. I value happiness.
Perhaps the greatest gift that depression has given me is my appreciation for happiness.
I don’t think that depression is the opposite of happiness. Happiness is a choice; depression is a combatant.
But in fighting to stay alive, to stay on the line, I’ve come to demand more than just not dying.
I want this struggle to be worth it. I want every fall and every climb back out of the abyss to mean something, to have been in pursuit of something more than middling.
I want to see where the line is taking me.