Discipline: Depression and Anxiety

Trigger Warning: This post contains an account of suicidal ideation and intent.

You know how people say you should never pray for patience?

We all know that we will be faced with something problematic until our own response becomes settled. Praying for it expresses desire, a great jumping off point. But regardless of our desire, problems personal to our own journey will still be there. We just won’t look them directly in the eye, because avoidance is a pure drug.

Both Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline) and Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) discuss the fundamental need for desire. Desire bears notice. Notice moves action. Action creates space for change. Change is the fruit of desire.

I am moving to Florida. How’s that for burying the lede? Months ago, I had no idea this would be my life today. Months ago, I only began to grapple with this notion of discipline as a way of making space. I remember feeling unsettled when my spreadsheet blossomed into this thing of vast possibilities. What disciplines should I study? What teachers should I heed? What areas of my life should I approach with discipline? What do I even mean when I say ‘disciplined parenting’ or ‘disciplined writing’?

Desire found me. It rooted itself within me. Notice pushed me upward, out of my comfortable existence in an undisciplined life. Action took a little longer to begin.

I was nervous that I’d somehow do my own theme wrong. Or maybe I was nervous that change would in fact follow.

It has. And per my usual modus operandi, I wrangled other people into that change. I am now part of a ‘sacred circle’, as Ms. Cameron puts it. We are journeying spiritually-creatively together. It’s amazing to not be alone.

My work product improved alongside my efficiency, when I focused on my job.

Then the offer came to my husband. And we accepted it. And then I had acceptor’s remorse. And then I completely spiraled.

I reversed course, jumped back to my former frenemies: anxiety and depression. Before I knew it, suicidal ideation joined this not-so-sacred circle. Then intent.

Monday of last week I nearly went to the emergency room. I probably should have. What I did was also helpful, though. I told my husband everything. He took me seriously and kept me safe.

After all these years, you would think we’d be better mind readers. I have worn masks so often and so long to cover the anxiety and depression that we both almost forgot my real face.

I wanted him to be magically imputed with knowledge of my head space. He wanted me to magically clear of muddy thinking. We returned to my counselor. He learned some new words that I’ve been grappling with for a long time, like cognitive distortion. He learned that ideation is important and that intent and plan are emergencies. I forget that he doesn’t live in this mental space I do.

I forget that this is part of a sickness from which I’ll likely never fully recover. That treatment, like medication and therapy, exist to deepen remission. But that it’s never truly gone. That relapse is a real and present danger.

I forget, too, that depression and anxiety cheat days can be life altering. Cheats don’t have to be skipping medicine, which I don’t recommend. Cheats can be small and super individualized. Things you start to think you should be able to do. Things other people do. Maybe even things you did before the depression. Getting off schedule. Staying up late. Watching something nearly guaranteed to be triggering. Soaking in sugar and caffeine. Careless news intake. Rumination. Giving in to the worry, thinking you can control it. Making promises with the intention of willing yourself through keeping them.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks.

I wanted both, really. I wanted to keep one hand full of anxiety and still reach toward discipline. This is not a thing. At least not one I could manage.

People like to talk a lot about choice when it comes to depression. Choose to be happy. Choose to get better.

As I told someone recently, I choose against depression all the time. When I choose to get out of bed in the morning, to shower, to brush teeth, to eat proper meals, to sleep reasonably, to tell someone about my head space, to drive to my therapy appointment and walk inside, to complete all the little tasks that make up a life – those are all choosing against the depression.

Life lesson for the week: I am incapable of both holding onto the anxiety and depression AND moving forward in my theme. I must choose. I’m so tired of choosing. But I will. I do. I am.

Morning pages, Bible study, reading, affirmations – they will not cure me. But they push against the depression and anxiety with two hands. And that is something real.

The myriad changes coming over the next several months feel overwhelming. It’s not something I look forward to or expect to enjoy. Change – my long-time supervillain – is now fully in my sights. I have noticed. And after noticing comes action. Action prompts change.

Funny, that. I chose a theme entirely aimed at change. At creating space for change. I took on my supervillain and thought there would only be nice, slow, easy space creation followed by gentle and welcome (and small) change. One part of those books I’m studying seems to have escaped me completely: change also births desire.

Leaving the state I’ve lived four decades (nearly), leaving the house I love so much I would give it a big hug if I could, leaving my people (except for the four major ones) – perhaps these are the changes needed to bring down the mask, to show myself this disease process once again for the purpose of changing my reactions to it. My desire to move is my desire to support my husband and be with him. My desire to survive it is a desire to lead my kids and myself through it.

Never say never. Ask your God to change you. Ask him to heal you. Just try not to limit his means and methods. Do your part, too. [She wrote entirely to herself.]

A final word for anyone struggling with depression or anxiety:

Remember that the options aren’t binary. It’s not choose to live or choose to die. There’s a third option: choose to wait. Ten seconds. Ten minutes. Two days. A week. If you keep waiting and especially if you keep pushing back with medical treatments and personal management, eventually you will find you are living. That’s where the remission can exist: in living.

Discipline: Morning Pages

For you who are playing along at home, no, I’m not addressing discipline in a very, ahem, disciplined manner. Which is to say, I’m all over the place. First, I talked about disciplined parenting. Next, mindfulness as a spiritual discipline. Now, morning pages.

When I began research for this year’s theme, one writing discipline cropped up over and over. Morning pages. The best way I can describe it is: flushing the line. Think intravenous port. Sometimes the nurse injects saline to clear out the blood or stuff in there. Or brakes. Same thing but with a mechanic and less blood, hopefully.

The authority on Morning Pages, Julia Cameron, insists that the three pages should be written longhand. I have not committed to the longhand proscription, mainly because it is difficult for me to hold small items like spoons and pens, so I tend to reserve that strength for making art.

So, I write in Scrivener and have done so since 2011. I have lots and lots of Scrivener files roaming the vast landscape of my computer. I added one this January for morning pages. I’d love to say I am more faithful than a Timex in this discipline. I’m not. Yet. Hence the whole work in progress thing.

When I use morning pages, it flushes the line…of my brain. Okay, the metaphor kinda breaks down, but I know you follow.

How I do morning pages: Open Scrivener file whenever I start my day as a writer [morning pages are like morning sickness in that they might happen at any moment]. Add new document dated today. Flush for 750 words. Close Scrivener file.

I don’t add these words to my daily word count, so I feared I would resent those 750 uncounted words. But it’s a fantabulous practice for me. I vent. I type stream-of-consciousness ramblings. [Not unlike blogging in my case.] Whatever bugs me, whoever weighs on my thoughts – I leave them on the page. That frees me. Truly.

Wholly unscientifically, I would estimate 91.77% of my morning pages since January consist of me emoting over the state of our nation. This has led to some interesting brainstorms for actions. And it keeps me a little more balanced. There’s only so much we can SAY to each other before we fall into a death spiral of angst or fear or worry. My morning pages don’t have feelings. And they don’t have expectations. They don’t have needs or fears of their own. They don’t bear their own burdens or have anything to unpack. I never say the wrong thing or hurt their feelings or step on their worries. I can simply vomit words about my own feelings, burdens, unpacking, expectations.

Morning pages differ from journaling (for me) because the latter has always felt forced. Like I was trying to convey something to someone. I censored. I rewrote my own history whenever I journaled. Why is this practice different? Purpose, I think. The immediate purpose of journaling was to emote. The immediate purpose of morning pages is to flush the line. To move on to other, more interesting things. You may not have that kind of bifurcated view. If journaling works for you, morning pages likely will. And if you are no diarist, morning pages may be a means to an end. They may help you flush your brain line.

Do you write morning pages? How does it impact your writing?

Resources:

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Inc.com