Have you ever felt stuck? “Stuck” can be described as cemented, fixed, frozen, mired, lost, static, unmoving, unchanging, and standing still. I have felt these things throughout my life, and I can’t say I like it. In fact, I like the opposite of stuck…I like being in motion, changing, and growing (okay, I added that last idea about “growing”). So, what does being stuck look like for you?
It is hard to admit that I have had bouts of depression in my life. They make no sense, and countless times, my logical mind told me that I had a great life and should be fine. But, there it was and sometimes there it stayed. I hated it, and worked hard to overcome these feelings every time an episode hit. The strangest thing happens when depression strikes (that’s what it feels like anyway, something that comes out of nowhere and strikes me down). The very thing I needed most when feeling down was movement. Yes, physical movement (exercise and fresh air are always helpful in these moments), but also social movement and connection with others. However, what happens instead is this overwhelming instinct to retreat, isolate, shut down, and withdraw. In other words, do nothing. Hence, feel stuck. Stuck in thoughts. Stuck in feelings. Stuck in life. Can anyone relate?
I’m older now (and hopefully wiser), and have learned a few things that are helping. First, I am not my thoughts and I am not my feelings. Those are of a temporary nature and there’s not much I can do to control them. I can’t forget that. As intense as something may feel in the moment, it can just as easily fade or be replaced with something else (wow, that’s good news!). I can name thoughts and feelings as a way of acknowledging what’s there without judging it as good or bad, or without giving it much attention.
Thoughts and feelings don’t have to be my main focus.
I know what you’re thinking, easier said that done. But, trust me, it’s possible and just takes some awareness and intentional practice. Admittedly, sometimes I’m better at it than other times. Second, while I don’t have control over the thoughts and feelings that come in, I do have control over my values. I can give focus and energy to clarifying the things in life that matter most to me. I can think about who I want to be as a mom, a wife, a friend, a therapist, and any other role that matters deeply to me. Once I’m clear on who I want to be and how I want my life to be remembered, then I can do the real work. Now it’s getting exciting! This leads me to number three. Finally, I can choose how I want to behave. Every day, I can choose actions to take that connect me back to my values. Remember, I don’t have to let the thoughts or feelings lead the way — in other words, they are not the star of the show; they are more like the chorus, somewhere in the background. Instead, the values can be my compass. I love that. It gives me a structure and feels more doable. So, if being physically healthy matters to me (which it does!), then each day, I can make small and big decisions that reflect that — eat my greens, work out, drink water, limit sugar and processed food, eat homemade food rather than eating out….you get the idea. If being present in my relationships is important to me (that’s also a yes!), then my daily actions might include keeping my phone in my purse when I’m having a meal with someone (so I can really listen without distractions), scheduling time to be face-to-face with friends or family, showing up for people when something is important to them, etc. No wonder “behavior activation” is the antidote to depression.
For all of us, there’s an imprint from our life experiences. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people (myself included). We can all look back to things that shouldn’t have happened to us, or that caused us damage. I could easily trace my bouts of depression to some potential explanations…was it because I was given up for adoption (aka “an unwanted birth” and what’s known as a “primal wound”)?; was it the chaos in my childhood home?; was it the early death of my adoptive mother? was it the multiple moves around the country for my husband’s job (starting over in new cities with babies in tow)? I could say “why me?” to some of the experiences I’ve endured. I’m guessing you could do the same. Or, you and I could say, “what now?”. That changes everything.
“What now?” is a great way to get unstuck. Sometimes, the next best move to make is the one right in front of us. Maybe it’s time to connect back to our values, and focus our energy on taking steps forward in a behavioral way, regardless of the thoughts or feelings that show up.