Irony sucks. But it’s useful and I get it.
In a literary sense, irony is most useful to the reader – that character voyeur. In dramatic irony, a character unknowingly monologues on about this and that, all the while sowing a contradictory fate that only the reader knows to be inevitable. Irony is used as a tool to sharpen a finer point on the story – to deepen tragedies and sweeten comedies. In literature, the reader bears witness to – but is removed from – the stinging lessons irony imparts on the character. And so it goes in real life.
Here: Let me spare you the barbs and share my lessons with you, dear reader, so that you might also learn from them.
The spring of 2018 had me lecturing on and on about self-care. Boundaries and healthy relationships…exercise, meditation and eating well. I blogged about it. I posted about it. I spoke publicly about it. Hell, I thought I was practicing it like a boss.
My new business was thriving with a full client load, I networked with a tribe of strong women I could call on for support, and I was doing yoga at home and hiking regularly with my retriever, Jack. The newly acquired curves of my body were a welcome change to the overworked and undernourished frame I had carried for years, my daughter was finally overcoming her anxiety and headed to high school, and I was strengthening some once-broken family bonds. I considered myself learned and sage (yes, really): I had beaten poverty, survived abuse, battled depression, stayed married for 17 years, parented a teen, and finally found my professional groove.
The summer of 2018 had other plans for my well-being. The universe sharpened that tool called irony and reminded me (once again) that life’s lessons are never really over. We are lifelong learners, don’t you know: Always studying and never mastering. And while I’m not going to write about the specifics of my summer (remember boundaries?), know that I have been truly tested.
And I failed. By autumn, I found myself in desperate need of the wellness I had so recently cultivated for myself and shared with others. I was questioning my own worth, withdrawing from my network of friends and community activities, quitting exercise and meditation, and eating my feelings (hello, extra 20 pounds). I had grown – yet again – depressed. At this point in my life I thought I had permanently tamed my depressive tendencies. Lectured on them as if they would never return. I thought I could maintain good mental health with self-care Cliffsnotes, but this summer’s test had me back in remedial status.
*realizes the irony*
*removes self-care blog from website*
*reposts self-care blog on website*
*puts on big-girl panties*
Failing, up? Okay, so I didn’t really fail. The universe doesn’t hand us failures, only lessons. I was humbled. Super duper depressed, but humbled. The irony is I talked about self-care with others as though I had conquered all the demons – as if I knew (at age 39!) what all the demons in my life were and would be for the foreseeable future. I somehow felt entitled to no more hardship, and that attitude left me vulnerable. I had just been bitch slapped by my own hubris. And it stung.
So, irony. Just as Romeo gave up on life when he thought his joy, Juliet, was gone from this world – I let my returning depression convince me I would never achieve and maintain my own joy. I temporarily let go of friends, opportunities and the community I love. Thankfully, this time, I got up faster than ever before. I prioritized obligations, referenced my proven wellness tactics, and decided I wasn’t giving up. And as I share my experience here, with you, I know it likely won’t be the last time I visit this storyline, but hopefully the arc will be much shorter next time.
Here’s what I learned this time around – take what you like:
- We haven’t seen everything yet. Just because we’ve been through some shit, doesn’t mean there isn’t more to come. This isn’t a pessimistic attitude, it’s realistic. Know that while our past experiences have certainly made us stronger, they have not made us invincible. And there is no lifetime cap on hardships endured.
- Know ourselves to grow ourselves. Do you know your own warning signs? I battle depression, so I know I’m in trouble when I start cancelling plans, eating garbage, binge-watching Netflix and letting my inner critic have free reign. But more importantly than knowing the warning signs, we have to be diligent in recognizing them and acting on correcting the root cause. Trust me, it’s not as easy as you would think: our minds have a clever way of convincing us that our “freeze” or “flight” responses are best, when really we should “fight”.
- It’s not how often we fall, but how many times we get back up. And perhaps how quickly we get back up. Yes, we always need to take the necessary time to rebound from life’s game of whack-a-mole, but it’s unrealistic to think our professional and personal networks will afford us infinite grace. Fall, get back up, and keep going. And make sure to show appreciation for those who dust you off again and again.
If you are fighting depression, consider these resources:
- Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK
- Call your healthcare provider and ask for help finding a therapist in your area
- Headspace, meditation app
- Jen Gotch is Okay Sometimes, podcast
- Yoga with Adriene, YouTube channel for at-home yoga practice
- Woebot, AI bot to track your moods and recognize patterns
And finally – keep going, lady! Lead on.
Photo credit: Matt Reiter