“The least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble.” Blaise Pascal
I’m kicking around an idea to do a cartoon similar to The Awkward Yeti about depression and anxiety. The main character of the story would be a heart. Depression would be played by an overweight cat named Cat Bastard. Anxiety would be a vise called The Vise. The artwork for that is a little more 3 dimensional than my brain can translate to paper, but I’m working on it.
Anyway, depression and anxiety have really been dogging me. Like, for a long time and I don’t know what else to do but just talk about them. Despite the discomfort. Despite wishing that I was just like, a powerhouse kind of person who could do all the things. But I feel like I can’t move forward without dealing with this.
Here’s what depression and anxiety feel like to me on the worst days. I want to get up and chase my dreams of writing, traveling, playing with my kiddo, and following the North Star of adventure. That longing glows inside my heart. I want to experience the world and share that with my loved ones. Possibility is endless.
Then The Vise clamps down. It holds me in place and whispers all the worst case scenarios it can come up with. What if you have cancer? What if you lose your kid? What if nobody likes you? Doing the work you love would be great, but you are so unoriginal and lazy that it’ll never work. Why did (insert person I recently interacted with) make that face when you were talking? I hope you didn’t say the wrong thing. You always put your foot in your mouth. What if everybody thinks you’re a boring and crummy human? You probably are. If you sit completely still, nobody will see you. Etc.
The Vise has a lot of material.
Then there’s Cat Bastard. Sometimes I just wake up with him sitting on me. Other times he waits for The Vise to get started and then plops down on my chest. He is so heavy. Nonchalant sadness radiates from him. It sinks into my heart and skin and bones and any desire to get up and go after that stuff I love gets covered in cat hair.
What’s the point? I can try again tomorrow. Maybe the depression and anxiety will be gone by then.
Can you feel that sense of paralysis?
Must. Keep. Going. I have responsibilities. My sweet kiddo needs me and he deserves my attention (and this one is big. It fills me with endless guilt to know that I’m starting the day sad and my little one can sense that and I just want to be better, but shit.). I need to keep the house in order. I need to help my husband get ready for his day.
I muster up the strength and get out of bed.
The thing about depression and anxiety for me is that they suck the joy out of doing the everyday things that I need to do and they make me feel like my aspirations are for someone better than me. It’s like yanking the air right out of my lungs.
Mentally, I feel frustrated by the whole process because I’m watching the familiar scenes unfold in my body and saying, “Whoa, whoa, wait. We don’t have to go down this road.”
Nice try, rational mind. But I didn’t invite Cat Bastard and The Vise to descend upon me. And it is hard to make them leave.
And, side note, I don’t want to seem too flippant about this. At the heart of Cat Bastard is a deep sense of sadness. The Vice has a heart of fear. These are two very real human sensibilities. To me, the images of CB & V approach the whole the state of being with a hint of dark levity. But with seriousness, I believe that they have a place in every existence and deserve acknowledgement and love.
Wait, are you saying love your anxiety and depression?
No. I’m saying love yourself. You are a whole person and depression and anxiety are part of you. Give them attention and manage them in a healthy way. I have never been able to manage depression just by ignoring it.
Enter The Breath
I started doing yoga when I was a teenager. I had a super sweet yoga VHS featuring three women practicing in the desert. I learned that you shouldn’t turn your head in bridge pose from that video. Yoga has been a practice that I have consistently been able to turn to for healing and restoration throughout my life. Whenever I have overthought stuff or I can’t figure out what else to do, I turn to yoga.
My yoga teachers all say that yoga is about the breath. Nothing else in the practice matters as much as that.
That is true in life too. If you’re not breathing, you’re not living.
When Cat Bastard and The Vise are weighing on me, I almost invariably notice that my breathing is shallow or that I’m holding my breath.
Sounds woo woo probably. I know. But seriously though. Take a second to find a quiet place, close your eyes and focus your attention on your core (don’t overthink that, just consider your core to be whatever intuitively came to you when you thought of it). Take three deep breaths in and out.
What comes up for you as you do that?
I often find that when I do it, I can hear my tiny inner voice. Today I hear, “Give love.”
If the first thing you hear is negativity, give it a little pat on the head and let it go. Take another breath and listen again. You’ll know the inner voice when you hear it. It will say something simple. And uplifting. Something that feels like it is calling you toward your true self.
At least for me, that’s where I find peace. In those simple movements of breath.
Can you find peace in that simple movement?
Now, don’t mistake what I am saying. Managing depression involves more than just breathing. After I get out of bed, the first thing I do is take my medication. I do yoga, I jog, I try to watch what I eat. What I am saying is that the way I gently and lovingly push back against Cat Bastard and the Vise starts with breathing. In that small simple movement, there’s self love. It comes from my core and it believes that I am capable of bringing light into the world.
All that from breathing. That’s it.
Take care of yourself today.