The pants I’m wearing today have a huge hole in the left pocket. I don’t know how it got there; it’s been there ever since I bought them for a dollar at a secondhand store. They’ve since become one of my favorite pairs of pants, disproportionate to the amount of money I spent on them. It always seems to happen that way for me.
But back to the hole. It’s big enough that I can easily slip four fingers through it, so it’s really noticeable. It would be easily fixable, even with my meager sewing skills. I could fix this. It wouldn’t be hard. It would take probably less than two minutes, a couple of inches of black thread, and a needle. No sweat. The problem, though, is that I don’t even think about the hole until I put the pants on. I slip them on while I hurriedly get ready in the morning, and it’s not until I feel the icy chill of my keys on my leg or the uncomfortable plinking of a coin slipping out of my pocket that I remember it’s there. Instead of putting forth the effort to fix this hole, though, I have simply adjusted to life with a hole in my pocket.
I don’t carry things in that pocket. I usually just remember it’s there and carry on with my day accordingly.
It’s an easily-fixable flaw, but instead of attacking it on the front end, I wait until I’m actively dealing with it and then have to work around it.
This hole…it’s kind of a pain, but it’s presence has made me think about how I handle other things in my life. More specifically, it has made me think about how I handle this ongoing struggle with depression and anxiety. More than a minor inconvenience, it’s been a pretty big issue for me lately; it stands to reason that it would be the first thing God brings to mind.
On a normal day, I don’t get up and focus in immediately on the fact that I’ve been diagnosed with something called “generalized anxiety” and “agoraphobia” and “depression.” My mind does not normally circle around the awareness of my chemical imbalance that causes me to work so hard to function, or on the reason for the little green pill I mechanically take every morning. I don’t meditate constantly on scripture and truth that combats the spiritual component of my illness. I just don’t. On a normal day, when things are going well, I don’t think about it. I may remember it long enough to whisper a prayer of thanks to God for letting me have a “normal day,” or I may use my experience to help encourage someone else who is in a dark place like that which I have known. It’s not that I’ve forgotten about it, necessarily, but it’s not pressing on my mind.
In a way, that is a good thing. I don’t want to dwell on this all the time, constantly. There is no reason to do that. It is just a small part of who I am. It’s just one chapter and subheading in the story of my life. This is something I live with, but it’s not who I am.
On the other hand, though, relegating my illness to a place in the back of my mind is hazardous. Even though I may not be thinking about it, it is still there. It may not be actively affecting me, but that could literally change at any time. And then, when it begins affecting me again in powerful and undeniable ways, be assured that I will think about it. I will think about it constantly. I will wake up thinking about how hard I’ll have to fight that day, and I’ll fall asleep at night praying tomorrow will somehow be better. I’ll look in the mirror and see myself as a person who is fighting – struggling – battling for every breath. I’ll think of myself as someone defined by mental illness, rather than as a person who right now, TODAY, is having a bad day.
Like the hole in my pocket, I don’t consider my illness and my struggle until it is actively affecting me. I don’t remember that these pants have a dysfunctional pocket until something gets lost, and I don’t pay attention to my depressive or anxious thoughts until they spiral out of control.
The hole could be easily fixed. The illness…well, not so much, but I think maybe if I paid more attention to it, it would not rock my world the way it does. I usually remember I have a hole in my pocket, so I don’t carry anything there. Perhaps if I regularly remembered that depression and anxiety and panic are an issue for me, I would take the actions necessary to combat them before the attack comes. I would not let my thoughts sit idle, but I wouldn’t cope by avoiding my thoughts, either. I would not watch things on TV that make me fearful about my normal daily routine. (Law & Order: SVU, this means you.) I would be intentional about going to bed early, both because I feel more anxious when I get tired AND because I know I’ll be able to get up for quiet time if I have enough sleep. I would pay attention to my blood sugar, snacking as I need to so that hunger, at least, won’t contribute to my anxious feelings. I would exercise whether I felt like it or not, because brief physical discomfort is infinitely more bearable than long-lasting mental anguish.
It’s about being PROACTIVE, rather than REACTIVE. If I wait until I feel anxious to fight the battle, then I’ll be digging myself up out of a hole. If I live in a state of constant vigilance, though, perhaps I’ll be able to keep myself from falling into the hole in the first place…or maybe won’t fall as deeply, as quickly.
I think maybe I’ve come to a place where it’s just not enough to manage my illness. For a long time, I’ve been managed well with medication and coping techniques, but I often haven’t applied my greatest defenses until the battle is actively raging. It’s time, maybe, to do something. It might be time to act, not simply react.