Today I’m going to write about one of the well meaning lies that people who suffer from depression come up against. You see, many people don’t know how to react to a friend who suffers from depression. They really want to help but they don’t know how. Often they reach for things that have been said to them in the past, and sometimes these statements are clichéd and less than useful. One of these statements that I’ve come across is “You just have to take the first step.”
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of situations where taking that first little step can get the ball rolling. Personally I dread going out to meet people in public places, like resteraunts or bars, but I know that once I take the first little step and actually leave the house the rest is a whole lot easier. Because I’ve learned this from experience I try to at least show up to these things for a short while, even if I’m certain I won’t have fun… and most of the time I enjoy myself thoroughly once I’m there. I’ve found that it’s a neat little trick that works well in short term situations, but I’ve also found that in the long term it can do more harm than good.
Picture the scene: I’m living alone for the first time in my life. My funds are limited and I’m cooking and cleaning entirely for myself. It’s summer, so I don’t have any college to attend, and I’m not working. Unsurprisingly when I slip into a spiral it’s very hard to spot, and even harder to get out of. As usual my friends are there for me but it hasn’t been long since I was diagnosed with depression and they’re not sure how to deal with it. (Like all things, it requires practice!) Eventually one of them trots out the old phrase “You just have to take the first step”. He advises getting out of the appartment, going for walks, getting back into my old hobbies… anything that will jolt me out of the rut I’ve ended up in.
“Of course!” I think.
And so I go out for a walk, and when I get back I feel so much better. I make myself some food, I wash up, and I go to bed in a far improved mindset. The next day I feel great. I did it! I took that first step. I’m on my path to recovery!
Then the weeks go by, and gradually the dishes pile up, and I skip the walks more and more often, and eventually I’m right back in that old spiral again. I just can’t understand it. What went wrong? I took that first step!
You see, the big problem with the notion of taking that first little step is that it’s always that: a first step. Every time you fall down you have to take that first little step all over again. And depression doesn’t go away. If you don’t learn to cope with it then you can be stuck taking that first step over and over again, and after a while it starts to get to you. It feels like you’re always beginning and never getting anywhere.
“So what can you do?” you ask.
Well, first of all, remember that you’ve taken that first step. You’ve taken the second, and the third, and the fourth… You’ve come so far already. Don’t ever forget that.
Secondly, I’d suggest that you take the idea behind “take the first step” and rephrase it in a way that works for you. Personally I’m a fan of “Just keep swimming” (Dory, in ‘Finding Nemo'”) because it doesn’t immediately put you back to square one every time you think it. Others that have a similar but subtly different meaning are “You are not behind, just jump in where you are!” (wise words by FlyLady: http://flylady.net/ ) and “keep putting one foot in front of the other” (which is slightly more gloomy, but has gotten me through some rough times!).
Finally, celebrate the steps you take, but don’t rest on your laurels. Nothing in life is really as easy as just taking the first step. Anything worthwhile needs to be worked for, and taking back control of your life is certainly worthwhile! There’ll be times when you do well, and there’ll be times when you slip into the spiral, but as long as you keep going you’ll make it through them all.
So what about you guys out there? What phrases have you found that work for you when you realise you’re in a spiral?