There are a few emotions I typically slough off– guilt (I’m only human), regret (there’s no way to rewind into the past), hopelessness (if I turn my face to the sun then I’ll never see the shadows), and self deprecation (nobody’s perfect). Mind you, this has been a process over the years and achieved only with a good deal of effort. I have depressive tendencies, I struggle with anxiety, and I spent many years lost in self-loathing. So when certain feelings begin to creep in, I swiftly shut them down and replace them with a more positive outlook. Overall, this has helped me live a happy, healthy, and productive life.
In the last few weeks, a wave of depression has washed over me, pulling me into a depth of darkness that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I won’t get into why, mostly because there is no single, tragic cause. Many things have contributed to the overwhelm, like an accumulation of dust on my soul or a piling of weight on my shoulders. I hadn’t realized how poorly I was managing the stress until the straw broke the camel’s back, so to speak.
Lately, I feel guilty. I regret my actions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could hop back in time about a month. My usual sloughing off is not happening… and it’s startling how this has influenced my self-concept. Suddenly, I feel hideous and unsightly (ugh, I thought I was beyond this bullshit). Which has me considering how a lifetime of effort can be shaken without obvious warning, like a house of cards blown down by a gentle breeze.
In these last few weeks, I’ve become aware of how frequently I use distraction as a coping strategy. When negative emotions begin to creep in, I engage in meaningless activities to divert my attention. It wasn’t until the distractions began to contribute overwhelmingly to my pain that I began to realize this tendency. It’s like using muddy water to wash a window–it only makes the situation worse.
So what do you do when negativity snowballs into despair? When distractions only contribute to the problem? When it’s hard to find the energy to fight your own demons, let alone those in the big, scary world around you? How do you turn your face to the sun when it’s hidden behind a dark cloud?
First of all, you stop thinking that the strength you’ve developed over a lifetime is as flimsy as a house of cards. There are seasons to everything and the harsh winds are not knocking you down, but rather blowing off old, dead leaves. The tree lives in winter, its roots reach deep into the Earth, and it grows thicker and stronger every year. Understand that the tide that has pulled you under is forever flowing. The more you struggle, the more exhausted you feel and the deeper you sink. Be still. Quit resisting. Trust that you will eventually be carried back to shore.
There can be so much pressure to pull it together, to hide how you truly feel, to be healthy, happy and productive. Forget all that. Life is hard, emotions are messy. Sometimes your soul is dusty and you feel exhausted. IT’S OK! It may take some time to feel better. People may get annoyed by your negativity or lack of verve. They may be very uncomfortable with your pain. That’s their own problem. We all have every right to feel how we do for as long as we must. Winter is for hibernation. Take your time and take care of yourself when you enter a season of darkness.
Turn off the TV, radio, phone, etc. Quiet the noise. If you need a distraction, go outside, make some art, read a book, talk to a friend. This world will make you crazy if you let it. And if you know someone who is struggling, respect their process. Ask how they’re doing, but don’t expect an uplifting reply. Offer compassion, but don’t insist that they cheer up. Be positive and be patient. Chances are, you’ll need someone to do the same for you someday.
With love & compassion,
Adina Arden Cooper
I'm a lover, a guide, a supportive companion. A storyteller, an artist, an ally and an advocate. I help individuals thrive and communities come together through counseling, coaching, and community building. I believe that shared humanity is a powerful strength and that our stories connect us in beautiful and sacred ways. As I stumble, skip, or soar my way through this life, I invite you to join me on the journey. Likewise, I'm honored to travel with you. In witnessing one another, we find meaning.