The toughest years of my depression by far were 2008-2010. Coming out of the fog of that internal war, I realized I had become inflexible. Depression had stolen nearly all my flexibility. My parents, those lovely people I adore and trust, would call and offer to take the kids off my hands for a few hours, and I would shut down. Over time, my mom began giving me loads of lead time. She would call and suggest an outing with the children and offer me time to think about it. Husband, on the other hand, found it much more workable to simply not tell me when his job took him on a day trip to Tulsa, because he knew it would turn my day inside-out. I could not manage any sort of decision, any variation from the standard. After so many years, the flexibility has become more supple again, though it is an active discipline I must continue.
This year’s theme further entrenched the notion that discipline means becoming more flexible but not stretched beyond recognition.
I have found that you either know what I mean or you don’t, and there’s not a lot of middle ground. Maybe you have experienced extreme inflexibility in yourself or in someone you love. And it alters the ways in which you interact with people, ideas, and institutions on the most commonplace matters.
In the throes of deep depression, flexibility may not be the priority. First, make sure you are safe and that you have the things you need from professionals and from your loved ones. Then, venture out within that realm of safety.
Outside of a depressive episode, flexibility takes work. For work to get done, it must be a priority. One approach I did not find personally helpful is the yes approach: say yes to everything for an hour, a day, whatever. This was too much, too aggressively for me. I did not look forward to any part of this. But it may be a terrific practice for you to gain flexibility, if you are accustomed to saying no to most things.
Carving flexibility into my routines was the best fit for me. I rely on a daily schedule for those days I wake up and cannot remember how to person. I rely on a two-week menu and grocery plan so that a plan exists for food for my family of five up to two weeks at a time. These are adaptations that have served the survival portion of my life, but I have found they are under serving the thriving that I’m attempting now. The schedules and menus looked like discipline to me before, but truly they were coping mechanisms, fail safes for life inside depression.
Building in flexibility was difficult. It required me to let go, to grant swaths of time to states of being rather than specific tasks. A block of time might go from “Write 2000 words; check in on social media; sketch” to “Create”. If this appears to be a slight shift and a bit ridiculous, you are probably right in your perspective. In mine, it was huge. It was a nod to the belief that I would wake up, look at the schedule, and know what Create meant. More, that I felt safe unleashing what Create might mean. I did the same process for mine and the boys’ schedules so that we all had higher autonomy within a structure.
And I kept both copies. The detailed, inflexible copy exists for bad days. The other one is a map I use when I wonder if I’m getting lost. Most days now, however, the order of my day doesn’t matter. I can skip or rearrange tasks and it doesn’t feel like chaos. It feels natural.
Spontaneity may never be my strongest suit. But for the first time in a very long time, I feel it pulling at the threads of my mind: Maybe I’ll walk around the lake; I’ve barely been anywhere – we should travel. The tugs toward a more flexible, full life are welcome.
Practicing flexibility is a discipline in its own right. Even for those who flex with tremendous ease – who are at risk for over-stretching. Being flexible in practicing any discipline presents opportunities to rest and grow in steps without snapping back or apart.