If the wind will not serve, take to the oars.Latin Proverb
Having control over one’s circumstances is a vital part of feeling secure and developing a sense of purpose. When we feel like we have no say in what happens to us, it is easy to succumb to a sense of hopelessness and depression. At least, this is what I have come to realize about myself.
In my darkest days I feel like I have no control over my own actions. My life is governed by the chemicals in my brain, and by the rut of poor habits I have worn out for myself in my search for shelter from distressing thoughts and feelings. When depression strikes, I feel as though I have been swept away in a riptide, dragged under and drowning. And why would I try to fight it when every piece of my being is telling me that there is nothing I can do?
Regaining a sense of control has been vital to my recovery. On the day I stopped blaming everything I did on my illnesses and my poor, “broken” brain, I took back the power in my relationship with my inner self. I stopped letting the winds of unhealthy coping skills shepherd me along and picked up my oars. To my surprise, I found that with enough effort they could take me where I needed to go.
When tragedy struck and I lost the baby I was carrying, I felt as if I were spinning out on a busy highway. Life was still happening all around me, but I was left reeling and had no idea which way to turn the wheel. In a numb haze of grief, I reached out for some sort of grip, and when I found it I refused to let go. Oddly enough I found that grip in something as simple as a daily planner.
I began to make lists of things that needed to get done each day, and with them written out in front of me they became harder to ignore. The sense of accomplishment and relief that I got when I checked off one box was enough to keep me going through the next task. I began adding more and more chores to my list, things that I used to consider unimportant, such as keeping the dining room table clear or organizing the spare room.
Eventually, I started adding things that I wanted to accomplish- writing, reading, and small art projects. I blocked off time for self care as well, listing such items as “take a nap”( when I hadn’t gotten enough sleep), “go to the gym”, or “play your video game”. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I occasionally put down a reminder to take a shower, as that is often something I neglect when my mood is low.
This planner has been a blessing. It helped me take back control first of my schedule, then my surroundings, and then even my mental and physical health. But like all good things, this refortified sense of control has come at a certain price.
For one, my need to accomplish more and more with each passing day developed into something of a compulsion. I began losing sleep, consumed by a fear that if I stopped moving and doing that I wouldn’t be able to start myself back up again. This is something I have since been able to reign in a bit, but there are still nights that I stress out over a to-do list for the next day that feels too empty.
The other issue with my renewed appetite for command lies with my eating disorder. For those who may not know, anorexia is all about control. It’s about controlling what you eat, how much you weigh, what you look like, and how you feel. As I built up more and more self-control, I began to revert to an old way of thinking surrounding my weight and appearance. I began checking the scale several times a day again, and when the number went down I enjoyed the same rush that I got when I checked off a box on my planner list.
I have come to realize that control, like all things, is best in moderation. Too little and we can feel lost and impotent- too much and we can become rigid and obsessive. As I continue to play with this new lifestyle, I will need to exercise my newfound authority over myself and give permission to loosen my grip and let go.
When the wind serves, set down the oars and let yourself rest.