Some weeks ago, my therapist suggested something, and it’s stuck with me since. We were talking about how easily I slide into depression, and he said something like, “Do you think there might be an addictive component here?” He wasn’t diagnosing. He wasn’t accusing. He was just speculating. But it’s been a very fruitful avenue for me to consider since then.
I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but it’s still fresh in my mind. Am I addicted to being depressed? I think there may be some truth to that. For one thing, I have certainly made depression part of my self-identity. Look at me! I’m the depressed pastor! I’m so unique! I have made peace with the idea that I will always live with this, that there is no hope of a cure, only management — and my therapist has suggested that that might not be true. He told me he believes that there may be a time when I’m not going through these same patterns over and over again, and that really surprised me. Shook me, honestly, because I had to look at myself from a different standpoint. Could I be something other than the depressed pastor? After all, pastor isn’t who I am — it’s what I do for a living. I can imagine a time when I’m not employed by a congregation. It’s an important piece of me, at least right now, but it’s not my identity. Can I view depressed the same way? It’s something I have, at least right now, but it’s not my identity.
So I’ve been looking at this from the standpoint of addiction, and I’m considering whether it’s helpful to view myself as a recovering depressive. (Something like a recovering alcoholic, who is never free from the addiction, but who can with work be free of its control.) And my therapist and I have been working on how we might view our work now as recovery work. To push the metaphor a bit further, I suppose I could view my time at the partial hospitalization program as “rehab,” and now what I’m doing as the ongoing work of staying dry.
I’m not suggesting that all it takes is willpower to stop myself from being depressed. But what I am exploring is whether perhaps, through willpower and the help of coping skills and of other people, I can stop myself from diving into depression when it occurs. Perhaps I can stop myself from embracing it so much. Perhaps I can stop myself from curling up in it like a blanket, allowing it to envelop me. I will be honest, there is a comfort in feeling depressed. It’s a dark and cold comfort, but it’s comfortable.
So my therapist and I are working on identifying what my triggers are — what starts me on the downward spiral that leads to melancholic misery? Recognizing these triggers won’t prevent them from happening, but may give me an easier time of catching them when they happen. (I kind of think I succeeded in this a few days ago, as I wrote about in another post). And I’ve also developed something I’ve called my “Rhythm of Resilience.” It’s a collection of things that I’m doing on a regular basis which I hope over time will help increase my ability to persevere through tough things, and provide some practice of the skills I can use to avoid a relapse.
Since we’re getting close to New Year’s, I thought it would be a good time to talk about what my Rhythm of Resilience actually looks like. It’s a time when many of us are making resolutions, and thinking about how we can live differently in the coming year, so now is a good time for me to revisit this plan, and it’s possible that you might want to take one or two items from it yourself to add to your plan for next year.
I’ve divided it into several categories, like concentric circles. I am committed to doing certain things every day, every week, every month, and every year. Today I’ll tell you about my daily pattern. I’ll write about the others in one or more future posts.
My daily pattern includes the “three W’s,” Wake, Walk, and Write. The second and third are easy to define. Walk means getting 10,000 steps or more each day. I have worn various pedometers (currently a Fitbit on my wrist) for almost twenty years, and there have been times in my life when I’ve been really good at getting my daily steps in. In fact, in my late twenties, I was able to lose about sixty pounds only by walking. (I’ve found that my metabolism unfortunately works differently not.) But even if it’s not an effective weight-loss tool anymore, I know that regular exercise like this is good for me in a number of ways, including my mental health. I can’t say I’ve ever really conciously noticed this, but perhaps it’s not a coincidence that 2021 was a really bad year for getting my steps in, and it was also the worst year of my mental health in decades.
Write means what I’m doing right now. I have learned that journaling and blogging are really helpful for me. I think they enable me to get my emotions out in a productive and fruitful way. Writing is something that comes easy to me — I can turn my thoughts and feelings into words on the page. And I’ve found that I surprise myself sometimes by what I write. I think perhaps there are thoughts in my head that I can’t fully get access to without getting them out in some way. Sometimes I think that perhaps I don’t really think in English, but in some strange internal monologue language (maybe we all do?), and when I force myself to translate it, things crystallize in a new way that enable me to see something much more clearly. I’ve found that this is equally helpful for me whether I write in my journal (which nobody but me reads), or in a private email to someone I trust, or in this public blog. So my daily goal is to do one of those three things each day.
Wake is my morning routine. I spend about thirty minutes each morning walking around the family room in our house. During that time, I spend fifteen minutes meditating, trying to quiet my mind, and stay focused on the present. When thoughts and memories pop up (as they do with alarming frequency), I try to gently put them to the side and keep my focus on where I am and what I’m doing. Some mornings I focus on my breath, sometimes I turn my attention to the soles of my feet, sometimes I try to visualize a river floating by. Some mornings it’s really, really hard to stay focused, but I remind myself that success isn’t the point. The point is the practice.
After my fifteen minutes, I spend about ten minutes praying and reading scripture. I have an app on my phone that gives me a set of daily readings, connected to the church year. I read through these devotionally, asking God for wisdom and and open mind to hear what they might be saying to me today. Sometimes I get flashes of revelation, other times a sense of comfort, other times not much of anything. Again, though, it’s the practice that’s important.
The final five minutes of Wake is what I call the wild card. I spend a few minutes doing some other sort of helpful practice. For a while, I was spending that time repeating to myself, “I love you, and I will do what I can to keep you safe.” I’ve also tried practicing grounding skills in that time, tactics that help keep you present in times of great anxiety.
How have I been doing with this daily routine? Pretty good, actually. Not perfectly, but good. I’ve probably done Walk and Write at least 90% of the days since I started about six weeks ago. Wake is at 100%, I think, although the wild card part has been hit-or-miss. Some days I haven’t used those five minutes all that well, and I have skipped that portion a lot too. I have to remember that one missed day of these things is not a tragedy. I can afford to slip up a little bit, but I think I need to make sure that skipping any of it doesn’t turn into a habit. I’m proud of myself for sticking with it so far, and I plan to keep it up.