There have been times over the last few weeks when I felt like none of my "mental health tools" were working. Most of the time, I feel more in control these days. I know a bunch of types of meditation and how to recognize harmful thought patterns. I know how to turn vulnerable feelings into bonding moments with people I care about, or art-- I have tools like writing and music to fuel my "spirit." Not to mention my self-care rituals.
But there's one thing that stands in the way. When I'm really depressed or anxious, I feel like I'm on the verge of a really important thought at all times. Like, I can't fully commit to things that make me feel better, because then I'll miss the Really Important Thing. It reminds me of a story I tried to write (well, I did write it, but it didn't quite work) comparing depression and the myth of Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill only for it to roll down again. In that story, my depressed brain played the part of a trickster God.
My hardcore Christian friends tell me that urge to resist care is the devil.
I think it's a form of validation. There's no way I'm really this anxious about something as earthly and temporary as an overdrawn checking account. I don't have time to deal with those feelings because the real source of my mood will reveal itself any minute. And it won't just be about today! It'll reveal the source of all my bad feelings ever!
The thoughts aren't usually so direct. This is my attempt to put words to a really hard to describe phenomenon.
Another way to describe it is like this: I recognize that money is a stressor. I start to break down my fears about money and then my dad pops into my head. I think about all the stress he's under taking care of my mom with neurofibromatosis. I start to think maybe money isn't my stressor, maybe the cause of my stress has something to do with my family. I try to explore those thoughts but how much work my choir has to do to get ready for the next audition pops into my head. Now I'm bouncing around between all three topics. Others are popping up, too. I can't address all of them at once, but I can't quiet a single one until it's addressed.
It feels like If I could just grab a hold of one of these, everything would start to make sense.
And that is what eventually happens. As they say on that show Obsessed, (and in the cognitive therapies that inspired it), "You can't stay at a 10/10 forever." The human body cannot sustain high levels of stress for very long.
A quieter moment reveals itself and that's when I open up my journal or a meditation app. I pluck out one of the stressful thoughts as if from a ball of tangled embroidery floss, picking at the knots slowly and deliberately.
This process of patience, working through one stressor at a time, has helped me have at least as many good days as bad. I'm grateful to be able to examine my mood day by day instead of knowing they'll all be bad, the way it used to be.
The more tools I collect, the closer I get to truly living in the moment. Not even day by day, but situation by situation, without expectation for the next.
Update: I got to use this new tool recently. I couldn’t sleep because my thoughts were all over the place and they felt so urgent. I remembered what I wrote here and reminded myself that I had everything I needed and was safe. Anything else can wait until morning. I was able to meditate for a few minutes and fell asleep easily after that.