Getting Back in the Boat

I have been to two counseling sessions now. I wrote about the first session recently. My second session was last Wednesday, and we quickly got down to brass tacks. (I am a word nerd. I had to look up the origin of that phrase.) We dived right into my homework assignment, going over the whole thing a bit, but most importantly, focusing on those issues that were causing me the most problems currently. I identified Pain, Guilt, Anxiety/Worry, and a general inability to get out of my head, and into the present.

That last one is important. It very much informs the others, especially the anxiety/worry. I have experienced it before: So worried about what I should have done, or what is lost, or what I don’t have, or what might or might not happen in the future, that I cannot let go of my thoughts and simply experience the present. Over the years, though, I have learned how to manage these thoughts, bringing my brain back to the now, pushing the thoughts of what was, or what might be, out of my head. I know that it is true that the moment, the now, the present, is where the happiest people live.

I’ve lost touch with the present, as if I were afloat in a dark sea, the present a boat I held onto by a lifeline. The line slipped out of my grasp, and it’s just out of reach. I know it is right there. I can see it, but I can’t quite reach it. I have forgotten how to swim for it.

My counselor and I agreed that I need to work on that first: I need to work on getting back to the boat. We discussed the reasons I lost the boat in the first place, why it hurts, the things that worry me, the sources of my anxiety, and the guilt that all of this is causing me to feel so completely disconnected from everything and everyone that I love.

All of that is well and good, but how does one take that first stroke? What are the practical ways for me to get back into the present? I thought I would share some of the tools we went over, because it helps cement them for me to write them down (even though I know many of them, but I have just lost sight of them), and because it might help someone else.

  • I need to get more exercise. This is a no-brainer for me. Exercise has kept me off antidepressants for years.
  • Generally be more healthy. Eat better. Take my vitamins (especially B vitamins). Drink less.
  • Pet therapy. Spend more time with animals.
  • Make a concerted effort to go out more with friends, and to lean on them for support.
  • Allow myself to be sad, and to give in to it, but feel it and then move on. Don’t wallow in it. Don’t let it consume me.
  • Listen to happy music, watch happy tv shows and movies

There are a few others, but these stuck out to me.

Exercising: The exercise is something practical I can do and I know it works. So, I walked on Thursday. I ran on Friday. I played soccer yesterday. (No subs, so I played the whole game. Trying to keep up with 20-somethings on a soccer field will keep you in the present pretty well, as will struggling to breathe.)

Eating Healthier:  For me, this means eating. When I get sad or anxious or depressed I lose my appetite. So, I have been eating a few bites of things, and then feeling full and sick. I’m just going to concentrate on making healthy choices, and eating what I can, and on taking my vitamins. We just won’t talk about the box of TGI Fridays frozen baked potato skins that found their way into my shopping cart at Kroger yesterday.  And drink less? Well, I’m a work in progress.

Pet Therapy. Easy peasy. I got that one.

Hanging Out with Friends: I have been doing this okay, knowing that I won’t feel better if I don’t ever get off the couch. For the last few months, events, gatherings, and dates with friends that I would normally be excited about have become things that i dread. Part of it is the sheer weight of depression. Know one can really understand how heavy a weight depression is until they experience it for themselves. It actually feels like having a ton of bricks weighing you down. It makes you cloudy and fuzzyheaded. It dulls everything around you, and you feel little but pain or nothingness on the inside. Getting off the couch, getting out out of bed, getting in the shower, getting dressed. All of them are a struggle and feel like a monumental task. And all of this means that I have had to force myself to get up, get dressed, go out, and make conversation. Conversation is hard when you are preoccupied with pain and depression. Things that would normally be fun and interesting to discuss suddenly seem trivial and absurd.

However, I have made the effort even before the counselor told me to work on it, and there have been moments where I was in the now, and I was engaged, and I forgot I was sad and depressed for the moment. I know that this will work if I keep working at it. As for the support, I have some of the most supportive family and friends in the world, and they have been pretty great. I am also trying to remember what it is like to be on their side of the coin – it is heartbreaking to watch someone struggle, and be helpless to do anything about it. So, if you have been my shoulder to cry on, or my ear to bend, I thank you.

Allowing Sadness, But Not Wallowing in It:  Well, I am pretty much the Master of Sadness right now. What I am not a master of is the “not wallowing” and the “not letting it consume me.” I have totally been consumed by sadness for a few months now. And it has to stop. I’m working really hard on this one.

Listening/Watching Happy Stuff:  Honestly, I don’t even watch that much TV in the first place.  The depression has caused me to be unable to focus on TV and books at all. But oh, the music. That one I am going to struggle with a lot. It could be its own post all on its own. Music. I listen to music about 8-10 hours a day while I work and commute. Sometimes, I will listen to a podcast or audiobook, but mostly I listen to music. And I like dark music. Heavy music. Sad music. Music with sarcastic, sardonic, dark, or sad lyrics. Melancholy music. Music in the minor keys. Music that sounds like wading through sludge. Todd jokes around with me about some of the heavier stuff I listen to, calling it “Plod rock.” (It is “plodding.” It “plods.” Whatever. I like it that way.)

So, I visibly cringed when he gave me this assignment. I do have some happy music that makes me happy, but the weird thing is that usually even the sad and pretty stuff makes me happy. The loud and angry make me happy.  But I am trying to do what he says. I went to him to help me, and I need to at least give this one a shot. So, I am also hoping to hear some suggestions of “happy” music to listen to. This is complicated, of course, because I am not a fan of popular music. I cannot name a PitBull song. I do not like Maroon 5 or Justin Timberlake. I don’t listen to the radio much. Maybe the oldies station. I am going to bristle at some of these suggestions. (I will just suppress that reaction. Must. not. mock.) My go-to Happy music tends to be things like Beastie Boys or maybe some happy Beatles songs. Maybe some uplifting U2 songs that I listen to when I run would work. Maybe some happier Stevie Wonder or Jackson 5. I am sure that there are other ones that I am just not thinking of, and I need to work on pulling some of those together, but I also like to listen to new music, so anything happy and new would be good.

I’m not sure why or when this turned into my personal therpy journal, but I guess it is when I turned inward myself. If you read this far, you deserve some kind of certificate or medal, i think, but I’d be interested in hearing your happiness suggestions.

How do you get yourself back in the boat?


12 Responses to “Getting Back in the Boat”

  1. Happy is relative when it comes to music. Like you, I listen to music all day every day. I build playlists and then run them according to my mood. My “happy” music ranges, but I like:
    – Madeline Peyroux
    -Stella Day
    -Dar Williams
    -The Fratelli’s
    -Vampire Weekend (every single al
    -Black Lips
    -Artic Monkeys
    -Grant Lee Philips
    -Sneaker Pimps
    -Fat Boy Slim

    When I really am at a loss and need to be lifted a little I listen to Jack White’s version of Great High Mountain.

  2. A Fucking Tiger says:

    Not to make light of your situation, but also to kind of make light of your situation… never get out of the boat.

  3. Dogwood Girl says:

    That is actually pretty apropos, Jason. And it made me laugh.

  4. Daric says:

    That’s funny. This week, I brought up my fascination with the darker stuff, be it music, tv, movies, books. He’s been having me focus on positive things which has helped by trickling down into my everyday mood. So I wanted to ask him if the opposite could be true. The dark stuff, especially music, has really been a source of great comfort to me over the years. I had a tough time answering why. Best I could come up with at the time was because it reenforced my negative view of the world, and it validated my feeling of isolation and superiority because happy people are dumb. In the end, he left it up to me if it was something I wanted to limit in my life or not. Been mulling that over all week.

  5. Dogwood Girl says:

    Daric, that is very interesting. I don’t think it’s something I’m giving up. It is part of me. And hasn’t really been a problem in years. I don’t think the dark stuff caused this, but i think the other stuff going on in my life has created an issue where I maybe need to limit it for a while until i get back to a good place.

  6. Vanessa says:

    Anne – Serioulsy consider a meditation practice. It helps me so much with my anxiety, I can’t even express. I struggle with being in the present, too. There are some nice free apps that you can download on your phone and they walk you through. I like Mindfulness and Simply Being.

  7. Becky says:

    Never underestimate the healing power of listening to really loud angry music at full volume while driving way too fast down the highway by yourself. Ministry just might be my absolute favorite for that.
    So, happy music. I’ve made myself happy mixes to have for moments like this since probably forever. (I seriously still have a box of cassette tapes labeled “Happy Music” tucked away from way back when. Some of them still might actually have songs taped off the radio.) Do you want the full on listing of every happy song I’ve ever put on a mix or just some highlights?
    The Cure – sure they have some dark stuff, but “The Lovecats” and “Friday I’m in love” are two of the happiest damn songs around. I swear, you can hear Edie Brickell smiling in “Oak Cliff Bra”. If Geggy Tah’s “Whoever you are” doesn’t make you smile with some of the goofiest lyrics around, then there’s no hope. I second the call for Vampire Weekend too while I’m at it. There is plenty of happy music out there that isn’t pop music, although I will admit to a liking for Justin Timberlake (it’s great workout music) as well as Bruno Mars (ditto). Also quite soothing to me currently is Modest Mouse, which is sort of dark and loud but with lyrics like “as life gets longer, awful feels softer, well it feels pretty soft to me. And if it take shit to make bliss, then I feel pretty blissfully”. Last but not least is Paul Westerberg’s “Good Day” – “a good day is any day that you’re alive”. Some days we all need to hear that.

  8. John says:

    Hi Anne
    I have been on this road and still sometimes drive on it. I know our go to music is wildly different (hip hop) but I have found jazz and classical (miles Davis. Kenny Barron and Dave Holland The art of Conversation. Just personal suggestions!). Anyway/ thanks for writing this- I’m going for a run

  9. Shannon says:

    anne- seriously thanks for sharing your head with us and the struggles you are having. I have always felt comfort in your honesty. I have struggled with anxiety and depression since my early 20’s and been on a couple different types of meds and have been in therapy ( probably needing to go back:) It is hard. Some things that have helped me greatly is training for a run, it kept me motivated and also yoga. Two little kids doesn’t allow me out of the house often, so I signed up for yoga download. 10 bucks a month and I have a lot of choices to take into my bedroom and just get away for a bit:) I’m definitely a work in progress, like most of us. Love.

  10. Morgan says:

    I will not publicly share my happy music playlist, but I have one. I also have a booty-shaking playlist that makes me happy AND shakes my booty. I think you need to come over, skip the non-drinking thing, and dance around my house with me.

    I listen to the dark stuff (yes, Ministry) when I’m angry, or just stoked to go out dancing. I rarely listen to a lot of it at work or at home because it does affect my mood. I do not need to spend any more time angry, irritable, and discontent. That’s not a safe neighborhood for me. At all.

    I used to worry about the “happy people are dumb therefore I shall not be happy” thing but keeping up that level of defensiveness is exhausting. If I find a funk is coming on I make a conscious decision to get out of my head and just be happy. It takes some practice, and I’m living better through pharmacology but I’d say I’m happy 98% of the time now. Vast improvement from the reverse that used to be.

  11. ashli says:

    Anne! I love you and your openness. My heart hurts to know your sadness, but I’m glad that you are honoring this path of actively trying to find your happier self. I hope you won’t dread our next date. The first one felt easy and fun to me, and I know we all smiled a lot!! More of that in the near future. When I think of happy tunes, I’ll send them your way! Xoxo

  12. Dogwood Girl says:

    No, I wasn’t dreading you! I was dreading ME. Promise. And I had a great time!

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