I originally intended to bash 2017 like many others have because, well, it hasn’t been the most positive of years in our modern history. But the more I reflected on it, the more I realized we all needed a 2017.
Or maybe just me. I needed a crappy 2017.
I compare 2017 to listening to music. It should’ve been a pleasant year, much like music is. But then imagine if the music was played so loud, your eardrums and mind were about to explode. And ‘exploding’ I did.
As a result, I had to take a quick break from it. A break from life. I was officially well into a state of depression which I needed to get a hold of before it completely got a hold of me. I have gone through bouts of temporary sadness following a breakup or the death of a family member, but I knew this was more than some passing feeling. I had stopped seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I had lost hope.
As I couldn’t afford to look for medical assistance or any type of paid help to treat my depression, I told myself firmly that I had to come up with a way to battle depression on my own, and make it alive to the other side. After all, I had mastered the art of getting over a breakup so successfully, I thought doing this by myself would be possible, too (I’ll share my getting-over-a-breakup tips in a future post). So I did what almost any person over the age of five would do—I grabbed my smartphone and searched for ‘getting over a depression’. And shortly after seeing the search results, I thought to myself “Boy, this is going to be rough.” The results were endless―from videos and websites, to books and WebMD―and I couldn’t sift the wheat from the chaff to determine what would be best for me.
Hello, Are You There?
So I closed my laptop and reminded myself about my own words. I told myself I was going to battle this depression on my own. And the first step in doing so is to look inward. Introspection. I started thinking about what felt right and wrong about not only what was going on in my life at that moment, but in general―from Day 1 to that very day. I found an old notebook and started jotting down thoughts.
After I felt I was done with what seemed like a hemorrhage of my mind, I read my thoughts as if they were someone else’s. I wanted to see if there were any common denominators or any clues as to what I needed to introspect on further to overcome my depression. I asked myself question after question about the thoughts and feelings I was having. (Socrates would be so proud.) My dysfunctional upbringing had a lot to do with most of them, but as I read more and more of the thoughts on my notebook, I realized my upbringing was merely the root of the ‘issues’. And I was making them worse on my own, by letting them ‘ruin’ my life. I had been living a life that I was anything but happy with, but all of the things that were making my life miserable were the result of decisions I, as an adult, made.
There were also a few other common threads in my thoughts. The state of the country and the world seemed to have had a tremendous impact in my overall state of mind. But I’ve been doing as much as I, as a private citizen, could do to make things better―from voting and contacting Congress, to rallying, donating, and signing petitions. The rest, I had to understand, wasn’t under my control, and I simply had to let it go.
I was also at a crossroads—my career had allowed me to earn decent money, but in return I had to spend 18 to 22 hours a day working for it. I didn’t like what I was doing, but I also couldn’t walk away from it. I had gotten used to enjoying a somewhat comfortable lifestyle (which, to my ‘humble’ standards, meant living in an area I felt safe and having an in-unit washer and dryer). But while staying the course would ‘secure’ my financial future, working 22-hour days put any health or future in jeopardy.
How can you solve such conundrum? Changing careers? Working for myself? I worried neither of these two options were effective as I had yet to solve an even bigger conundrum—what’s my passion? What would I do for 22 hours if I had to and not complain about it? What career would I give up my ‘comfortable’ living to start from scratch and be happy about it? I. Didn’t. Know.
Action Plan, Version 1.0
That’s when I thought I had to make an action plan. But this is depression, people, so I knew any ‘actions’ in my action plan would end up looking something like ‘oversleeping’ and ‘overeating’. I was finding comfort in food and in my bed, at a time when I needed a hug the most but wasn’t receiving it from anyone. So I knew I had to wait to tackle diet and exercise during stage two of my ‘overcoming depression’ plan.
Instead, I forced myself to do things I usually like to do that—even though they seemed like quite the effort while depressed—were low-energy enough to do. My hope was that by doing these, I would get a step closer to finding my passion:
- Volunteering for various charitable organizations
- Attending a week-long silent retreat
- Driving for hours without a specific destination planned
- Reading books on positive topics
- Making notes about everything I was experiencing
- Naming my feelings
Volunteering was great—great people, great workout, great service, and great sense of accomplishment. It was also a great eye-opening experience. Most of the people I met while volunteering were the wives of rich businessmen, lesser-known celebrities, and people with plenty of disposable income. Working as an employee of a charitable organization in an expensive city is nearly impossible for the person who’s struggling to get by. Assuming I would be able to do it on the side, I would need a job that gives me a livable paycheck and some work/life balance, and there just aren’t that many of those (read: none) in my industry nor my chosen career.
The silent retreat was truly life changing. I found an abbey that offers self-guided silent retreats and comfortable-but-modest accommodations in exchange for a donation. It was in a remote, somewhat rural area, quite a ways from where I live, which is exactly where I wanted it to be. The experience helped me slow down my mind a bit, meditate (something I’ve never been good at), and find some much needed peace. I didn’t necessarily come back from it knowing what my passion was, but the introspection allowed me to identify a few attitudes that weren’t doing me or my life any service. (I also plan to detail my experience at the retreat in a future blog post, so stay tuned!)
Throughout the entire ‘action plan’ process, I confided in one friend and told her about my depression. I knew I needed the support from friends, but not all friends know how to deal with someone going through a rough time. So I reached out to the one friend I knew would understand me the best, make the least amount of fuzz about it, but still be the most supportive. And she was a great choice.
A few weeks after telling my friend about my depression I got a package on the mail. I didn’t recognize the sender’s name so I didn’t think much of it. I then opened the package and there it was—The Book of Dharma: Making Enlightened Choices (Simon Haas, 2013). I immediately remembered that my friend had told me that she had sent me something over the mail (she lives abroad) and, well, this what it. I got teary just thinking about the gesture, and at the same time, I got excited to read something that might help me decide what my next step in life should be.
As a non-religious person, I started reading the book with some skepticism, but I quickly noticed it was more of a self-development book than a religious one (if at all) and finished it in a few days. The first part reminded me a bit of my theory of life and the role that perception plays in our minds. It was good to see some agreement with what I thought was a tenet of my ‘crazy theory’. By the end of the book, I had gained some knowledge that has since made it a little easier to make life decisions, from the most mundane to the more important ones.
The book also made me realize that, all throughout my life, I had been making decisions based on societal standards, on pressure from my parents, and basically, on ‘fear’. But anytime I would get the courage to make a decision based on ‘love’ and against social standards or what my parents thought was right, I would feel the support from life―like wind on a sailboat, pushing it toward the direction it needs to go. Life wanted me to be happy! Sadly, even after noticing how life supported my love-based decisions, I would still be scared about following my heart, and would feel ‘lucky’—instead of ‘blessed’―that nothing bad happened in the meantime. And slowly but surely, I would return to my fear-based thinking.
So it was time. Time for me to change my mindset. Time to stop playing my parents’ fear-based voice in my head, or to fall victim to societal pressures. Time to think on my own.
As far as my passion, well, I still don’t know what it is. But then I remembered something I read not too long ago that said “when you don’t know what to do, do something.” So I decided to change jobs. The job search process alone has helped me understand what I want and don’t want in a job. I may not find the perfect job, but I can try finding one that’s at least closer to my interests and values. And that gives me more than two hours of sleep. Who knows … maybe the process or the job help reveal a thing or two about what my passion may be.
Becoming Aware of My Blessings
Toward the end of my depression, I felt somewhat ashamed. My depression seemed frivolous. Sure, growing up with in a dysfunctional family and never coping with some of what happened can be heavy. Add to that working 18 to 22 hour days on something I don’t feel all too passionate about, all while reading about the cruelty of world governments and the stress of a nuclear war can be taxing, crazy-making, and lead to depression. But I was choosing to focus on that instead of making real change about the things I didn’t like in my life, and focusing on the bright side—I am healthy, I have a roof over my head (one that I really like), there’s food in the fridge, and I’ve lived an amazing life filled with great experiences, to say the least.
I thought about the single mothers who have to work multiple jobs to feed, clothe, and put a roof over their kids’ heads. They would’ve never been able to take a break like the one I did, even though they deserved it even more. I also thought about the victims of all the natural disasters that struck in 2017. Many of them lost their homes and their jobs, and would’ve loved to have a job like mine, even if it meant working 18 to 22 hours. I was ashamed I hadn’t realized how blessed I was, and how much more I could do to help those who need it. Life isn’t perfect, nor it is meant to be perfect. But our decisions can make it better, for ourselves and for others.
So I’ve decided to stop moaning. There’s plenty I need to be grateful in life. Plus my problems? They are all manageable. Look for a job you feel more aligned with. Make time to volunteer. Lower your costs so you can donate to the causes close to your heart. Find your tribe. Leave the past behind. Change your mindset.
And here I am, ready to make 2018 my year. 2017 caught many of us by surprise. Now many expect 2018 to be better, like some sort of universe force will miraculously make it better. But for 2018 to be better, we need to be willing to make it better. We need to take action to make it better. And so it’ll be!
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