Five years ago, a talented artist, Anya Getter painted a beautiful piece for me (shown here) and sent it to me as a gift. You have to look closely to see the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
It sits on my bedstand so it’s the first thing I see in the morning when I get up.
Those of us who live with treatment-resistant depression, or any kind of illness that never completely goes away, have to do many things each day that scare us: going to the gym, taking care of our own children (especially if it involves laser tag, an arcade, or Chuck E. Cheese), confronting a family member, asking someone to pay us for work done three months ago, making dinner.
But we do them anyway. We do them and pretend we’re not afraid.
This is especially the case when we emerge from a breakdown. We have to relearn everything and do it for the first time.
In 2006, when I emerged from my two-year breakdown, there were certain seemingly trivial tasks that would give me great anxiety, such as going to the grocery store. In the 18 months preceding, I would always, for some reason, break down into tears in the grocery store. I’m a highly sensitive person — as defined by Elaine Aron in her book The Highly Sensitive Person — who doesn’t do well with a lot of stimulation.
Choosing which brand of peanut butter (choosy shoppers do not always choose Jif), followed by the decision about which kind of deli meat and how many ounces would totally stress me out. By the time I hit aisle three, I was in tears with the “I wish I were dead thoughts,” just in time to run into one of the moms up at school who had a cart full of organic products, and who probably thought I wouldn’t bawl my eyes out in a grocery store if I put the peanut butter back on the shelf and bought some tofu to make for the kids’ lunches.
Grocery shopping was one of those many activities I had to learn how to do all over again.
So was writing.
Committing words to a page — even to a blank page that isn’t going to be read by anyone — requires some amount of confidence, and mental breakdowns absorb every ounce of confidence available inside a person with depression. As I mentioned in my piece “Emerging on the Other Side of Depression,” I’ve only recently been able to sit down at my desk without crippling anxiety after the breakdown of last summer.
The automated recording on my cell phone says, “I’m away from my desk, blah blah blah …” A friend of mine, who walked me through the fear of sitting down in a chair in front of a computer (in my son’s bedroom, which is my office) when she was visiting last summer, left a message: “Of course you’re away from your desk, you’re afraid to sit down there.”
But by far the hardest thing to relearn is how to get up in front of a crowd and talk about things most people don’t mention.
Being able to give a public speech, for me, is the litmus test on whether I am through the breakdown and am back to functioning as a delicate human being. Pouring out your soul in a blog and being vulnerable with people you will never see is one thing. Exposing your insides in front of a few hundred homo sapiens is quite another. And for a person who can start bawling her head off in a grocery store from the stress of choosing which kind of peanut butter to buy, pretending to be composed while delivering a message that is extremely personal is … well … scary.
“The willingness to show up changes us,” writes Brené Brown in her book Daring Greatly. “It makes us a little braver each time.”
I did that this past weekend. I showed up. I gave a brief speech at the annual gala of the Dave Nee Foundation, where they presented me with the 2014 Ray of Light Award. It was the first public speech I have given since my breakdown last year, and so, in many ways, it felt like my very first talk.
My favorite movie as a young girl was “Ice Castles,” about an Iowa figure skater, Alexis Winston (Lynn-Holly Johnson), who has a shot of winning an Olympic medal until an accident on the ice renders her blind. She has to relearn everything, including skating. But she summons the courage to enter her first competition as a blind athlete.
That’s what it’s like after a breakdown.
You relearn how to choose peanut butter, how to take your kids to the mall, how to write, and how to speak.
You do one thing every day that scares you.
Originally posted on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.
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