Have you ever felt so terribly sad that you imagine the world might just fall in and crush your soul in one fell swoop?
As creatives, it’s easy to stumble upon and settle into sadness, anxiety, and depression. I know, I’ve been there myself. We never mean for it to happen, but with the pressure we put on ourselves, the expectations that others heap upon our heads, and the general questions of purpose and meaning that keep us wide-eyed at night, it’s easy to let numbing fear cripple life until it feels as though everything has flatlined.
I first knew I was up against more than just a few bad days when I had my first panic attack. I’ve never been very close to death, but in those minutes of lost breath and shrinking lungs, it felt nearer than standing next to an open coffin where folded hands rest on a still body. On its heels came deep, black sadness, flooding my being so much so that I wondered if I’d ever find light again.
An instinct told me I needed to do something more than just exist if I was to be something in the midst of this. So, every day I focused on four small steps of bravery. They seem oversimplified, perhaps even silly, in the light of such huge monsters like anxiety and depression. But effective bravery happens first with small steps that soon join together to create the backdrop of a brave life.
I got up and dressed myself.
It’s such a small, simple step, but it’s a powerful one. It reminds our souls that we haven’t yet given up, that we’re trying toward something better, something a bit healthier than what today looks like.
I fed myself.
Food is intimate, much more than we often think it to be. The simple act of pouring cereal into a bowl or stirring a pot of bubbling soup on the stove is kindness in action. When we feed others at our tables, when we feed ourselves in solitude, we are performing an act of kindness. Being able to be kind to our physical body reminds our soul of its inherent value as it fights for life.
I saw a friend.
Even when it was the last possible thing I ever wanted to do, I forced myself to do it anyway. Once, in tears, I begged my husband to let me cancel a happy hour date. He kindly reminded me that I needed people more than ever. So I went and discovered a surprise birthday party—the perfect night of joy and community that I needed at that exact moment. The people around us are placed near us for a reason. They are likely more ready to hold you up and help carry you through this season than you know.
I documented my feelings.
After I had my first panic attack, I started writing down the way those attacks and the entirety of depression felt to me. I documented how the days varied and emotions changed. Easier than explaining over a cup of coffee, these words helped me convey what it felt like to live inside my mind and soul to the people I loved. Whether through actual words in a notebook, drawings on a piece of paper, paint on a canvas, images on film, take what you’re feeling and get it out. Not only can documentation help us process what we’re feeling, but it can also gift to us tender recollections of that time that help us find our way back out over and over again.
This journey of courage and bravery isn’t one that will end today or tomorrow. Perhaps it will follow me to the grave. And that’s okay. I’ve learned that bravery in the face of these monsters doesn’t always look like annihilating the monster; sometimes bravery is learning to tame and control it, to not let it have free reign.
If you find yourself struggling through the confusion of anxiety and depression, perhaps you too can grab ahold of these simple acts of bravery to grasp at a bit more peace each day.