Depression robs a person of the desire to do things.
Anxiety replaces the desire to do things with the fear of doing anything.
That’s not all depression and anxiety do, but they do it to a lot of people, and the impact on those lives in huge and destructive.
So here I am, on the recovery of side of depression and anxiety, learning to do the things I want to do. For healthy people, who just do what they want to do, this may be difficult to understand. Isn’t it enough to want to do something? Doesn’t that mean you’re going to do that thing, or at least give it a try.
If only it were as easy as the memes insist it to be.
For me, being able to do what I want to do – what I think I want to do – is a bit of a journey:
What are my values? Why do I do anything? Why do I feel like do a thing is something I want or should do?
How do I face up to the obstacles my mental unhealthiness puts in my way: fear, self-doubt, self-hatred, being stuck in the past (failures), etc?
How do I maintain the commitment to push on through it all? I can get started; how do I keep going?
There are no easy answers here. For me, this is the struggle of my life. Doing things – having goals – is not the important thing. What matters is how I find my way to the right goals and then get to a place where I can check the little box on the to-do list.
Right now, intention seems to be an important concept for me. I’ve gotten a grasp on my values, although its going to take time and work to have a solid grasp on these. (Values are aspirational to a large degree, so they can be fluid and difficult to define.) And it’s far too early to be concerned with making it to the end of any project; I am still figuring out the initial stages of getting started.
Lately, however, I’ve been discovering that I am able to recognize there is a specific thing I want to do and then I just decide to do it. And I do it. That simple, that easy. That’s what can happen when a person gets mental health care and develops a solid mindfulness practice.
Take running. I love to run, but I haven’t run for a few years now. I bicycle a lot, so I’m still in decent shape, but my cardio system is awful (and my asthma seems to be worse). But I decided a few weeks back I wanted to start running again even though I knew it was going to be a long time until running was actually fun again.
But because of the mental health care I’ve received this year, and my mindfulness practice, I have made the amazing discovery that I can think “I should go for a run” and discover the thought has become “I will go for a run” – and I do. With no further argument from my brain. My brain – the depression and anxiety – does not look for ways to stop me. My brain says, “Run? Cool. Go for it if you want.” I do want, so I do go for it.
I’m being blithe about it, but this is what is possible with proper mental health care. What I am recognizing is that, instead of fear or excuses or fatigue, my mind has an intention it is committed to. Before you can do something, you have to commit to doing that thing. Before you can commit to doing a thing, you need an intention to do that thing. And before that intention, there must be a desire based, not in need or fear or hope, but in your values.
Values -> Intention -> Commitment -> Action.
And the ultimate goal is that moving from Values to Action doesn’t require the current effort needed, that Intention and Commitment become “natural” parts of the process.