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There’s an idea I was talking about with a friend the other day. Something that I had considered to myself before but hadn’t ever really talked through it out loud. It goes something like this:
Whenever I feel I’ve made notable progress in any kind of personal psychological development, or have the kind of realization about myself that allows me to take a big step forward with how I see things and interact with the world, it’s almost always followed by a week or so of depression. Every time I’m left thinking, Wtf? I just had that big breakthrough and felt so good about it. Everything was finally falling into place and now, 3 days later, I’m back to feeling like human garbage? What gives?
For example, the moment I’m thinking of actually happened about a month or so ago while I was angry at work and had an eye-opening realization about what it really means to choose how you feel. I was so moved by what I experienced that I wrote an article about it and what I had felt as it happened. Check it out if you’d like.
Long story short, I was furious with being made to stay at work for another six hours. I had opened up the restaurant where I work and now was being made to close it as well. Fuming, I was on a verge of a knee-jerk reaction which would have been to go grab a few drinks from the liquor store and essentially just be drunk and angry while I washed dishes all night. But in that moment, a feeling fell over me that I don’t think I’ve ever consciously experienced. I understood the power of real choice and the ability to control exactly how to want to feel in any given moment. I made the conscious decision to be in a great mood without any kind of liquid crutch and ended up having a great night working, listening to music, and even made a couple bucks in tips for staying to cover the shift.
At the time, this realization felt so visceral. It felt so profound. I went home that night thinking I had finally solved the puzzle. I would no longer be swayed by my fleeting emotions as I had finally overcome my petty nature and felt I had elevated myself beyond the trivialities of such negative attitudes.
This lasted about three or four days.
After all of these big revelations, I still woke up not a full week later feeling like I was stuck in a hole. I felt overwhelmed and anxious and no amount of choosing to not feel that way was doing a damned thing about it.
In my mind, what the hell was the point of having these big profound moments of clarity if they weren’t going to carry me from my pit of existential despair up onto a higher and brighter level of conscious experience? And more importantly, keep me there. Why give me the gracious gas to help me float above these oppressive clouds just to get a glimpse of something true, only to cast me back down into the dirt? It frustrated me to no end.
That’s when I started to think of it in a way that made a little more sense to me. It may not be what’s actually happening physiologically, but it helps me wrap my mind around my constantly fluctuating state of being.
The idea I was speaking with my friend about is how this entire idea of personal growth and depression perfectly parallels physical fitness.
It’s a simple enough idea, and when you can really start to notice the patterns in your mentality when you’re making progress in life, you can see it clearly.
When you lift weights, you’re sore afterwards. That’s literally it.
But, as we all know, eventually, after lifting the same amount of weight enough times, it doesn’t bother you so much. You decide to step it up by adding more weight. Now, you’ve reached a new level of fitness by increasing what you’re physically capable of handling. This time though, you’re going to be sore again. In fact, depending on how much weight you pushed yourself to lift, you might be REALLY sore. So sore you might have to take a break from the gym for a few days to recover.
This sound familiar to anyone else?
I’ve started to attribute these seemingly divine moments of clarity as simply my spirit finally lifting heavier weights. Just like when you’re stronger you can handle more weight, but you may only be able to do it for a few reps. I’m becoming more psychologically fit, and so can finally see past the haze of previous ignorant thinking, if only for a moment.
The thing is, those weighted moments of real insight may come at a cost sometimes. For me, I felt a very real “soul-soreness” in the days following my “heavy lifting.” I felt I had really hit a landmark state of mind. A new weight. A new level of experience. Now, my mind and spirit were sore and needed time to recover. Instead of feeling down about myself and feeling guilty for being depressed after such a revelation, I simply let myself be sad. I bummed around and took things slow and felt the aftermath of hitting that new mental weight level. I just tried to focus on the pain being nothing but my mental muscles growing and becoming stronger for the effort.
It can be hard, I know. Especially if, like me, depression is a familiar friend. It’s times like this, the time after the clear moments, that can sometimes feel the worst. I think that’s just the comparison talking. Like going from a hot tub to a swimming pool. The water’s not as cold as we think, we just have to get used to it again.
This way of thinking has helped me a lot in understanding how my mind works and accepting the fact that I’m just not the kind of person whose progress looks like a simple staircase. Each new level isn’t right there. I can’t just keep going higher and higher with every step. Just because the last step brought me to a new vantage point says nothing about how to get to the next one. Momentum can definitely be a vital way to get through these moments, but even having enough momentum isn’t going to launch you over a ravine with a busted bridge you run into on the trail of self-discovery.
Sometimes, you just have to accept the fact that the only way to get across is to climb down, trudge through the river, and climb your ass back up the other side.
Once you get there you’ll probably be exhausted. You might even be sore for awhile. If that’s the case, just relax, take things slow, and give yourself time.
A valley is only a valley because of the mountains on either side.
When you find yourself sitting at the bottom of one after just mastering the mountain behind you, it’s just because there’s only a couple more steps in front of you before you have to start climbing again.
And this time should be easier.