Thoughts: Coming Back

I spent some time this morning writing in my journal. It is something I do most days. Part of my morning routine.

I have journaled off and on for much of my life, but I have been pretty disciplined with it ever since my separation and divorce, going back maybe fifteen years. I began after reading “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron.

“The Artist’s Way” is perhaps the best book I have ever read on recovering yourself. It is billed as a book for recovering artists, people who were once creative dynamos, but life and time and the responsibilities of life has slowly drained of that creativity. It is designed for artists and creatives, but I have found it a great guidebook for anyone who has lost a part of themselves and need to find their way back.

One of the foundational activities is something Cameron calls “morning pages”. Basically it is writing in a journal. She feels that writing three pages, handwritten, is the best way to clear out a lot of the garbage in our minds that keep us from making progress in our lives. There’s a lot of truth in that. My whole morning routine, prayer, scripture, journaling and poetry, is designed to do just that.

A few years after restarting my journaling, I switched to a computer journal. I like writing on the computer. I type faster than I write. It is WAY more readable. (My handwriting has always been awful). And a computer journal lets you do a lot of things you can’t do in a handwritten journal – you can put tags on your entries, so you can go back later and track your progress or how you dealt with certain emotions or events in the past. It’s hand. It was particularly valuable when I was doing my therapy, so I could go back, sort through, and see the progress I needed to see.

So why have I switched back to handwriting? Me, a creature of the digital age, comfortable in doing most everything I do digitally? Science. And the need to make a change.

First, the science. Study after study report the same things about handwriting vs typing on a computer. Handwriting fixes our thoughts in our brain better than typing. We remember what we hand write longer than we remember what we type. Handwriting, BECAUSE it is slower, allows us to be more thoughtful and reflective, and strangely, more honest. Handwriting things, for reasons science doesn’t seem to know yet, inspires change more than digital writing.

And I am in a place of changing.

The woman I love and I were talking this morning over coffee. She had read yesterdays poems. She reads all my poems, each daily spilling of emotions and she said simply “You’ve been depressed for a long time.”

It is true. I always fight depression, but the truth is that the last year and half has been particularly hard. A lot of loss related to my cancer, treatment and aftermath. A lot of loss due to the Pandemic. Certainly nothing others have to face, even when added to my base level depression.

I’ve done well with it. I am even, most of the time pretty good company. I certainly am not your stereotypical morose depressed person. I push through, and for me, in the midst of all this, that’s good enough. I feel blessed to be where I am. A lot of people are way worse. I have been way worse. I plow through every day.

The past week or so, I have begun to get my energy back. For the first time in almost eighteen months, I have the energy to work all day and not be drained in the evening. Because of that, I am making progress on a few fronts where I have been stalled for a long time.

A year or two ago the woman I love and I attended a brain seminar together. We’re both fascinated with neuroscience and how it works and how we can use that knowledge to our, and our client’s, benefits. It was an all day classs and I got a lot of good stuff out of it. But there is one phrase that has stuck with me: “Action trumps anxiety.”

Now, I don’t have much anxiety day to day. But I am surrounded by people who do, and I certainly see the truth in that phrase. Anxiety often paralyzes us, which just allows anxiety itself to fester and grow worse. Doing something, anything, breaks that paralysis.

And I have learned it works with depression too. I call it the fourth law of emotional inertia. (Don’t ask my why I call it the fourth. I just like the sound of it.). Action beats back the demon of paralysis. The demon of self criticism. The demon of…… well pretty much all of them.

The lack of energy meant I didn’t have what it took to do enough to push those demons back. The return of my energy has meant I could DO more. And doing is powerful. Whatever that doing is. It allows for change because there is energy to change. Even a change as small as moving back to a handwritten journal makes a difference.

She asked me today if I thought it was making a difference. I told her I wasn’t sure. But my brain and emotions are a little slow sometimes. I had to think on it. As I drove to my second chance diner, I did that thinking. I believe it has. It has changed my routine while still allowing my routine. I find my handwritten journaling is more honest and more negative than my typed journaling. But I also feel lighter after doing it. Which leaves me with more of my precious energy. It’s a win-win I think. We’ll see. I am just a week or so into it.

A little change. And then another. It has me looking back at my past. When I was in the darkest of places. Paralyzed. Truly. Broken. Truly. The path out was one little change after another. No grand plan, just one step forward. And another. Discipline when I had no strength to be disciplined. Tiny bits. One after another.

And how far it took me!

And so I remember that journey, as I continue to move forward. There was a lot of loss in my life as a result of fighting the cancer and as a result of the pandemic. I didn’t get as down as I have been. We are all in that place aren’t we? The past year has been brutal, robbing us of energy, confidence, in some cases jobs or work, our spiritual families, family gatherings. So much.

And here we are, on the cusp of better. We want it now. But it will take a long time. Some of the things we have lost will never come back in the same form. But many will. One tiny step at a time. And it is time to begin those steps. Action trumps anxiety. Action trumps depression. It does not have to be dramatic. Or all at once.

Tiny steps matter.

Thanks for listening to my rant. Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

6 comments

  1. Tom,
    I really appreciate you sharing how you deal with depression. This pandemic is a horrible time with so many of my professor friends dealing with the isolation and resulting depression. Thank you for all that you do and how you touch many lives at a critical time. Blessings, Dr. Jim Brown

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