Note: I'm republishing an article that I wrote a year ago, "Balance Is Not A Fish That You Can Catch", on my original blog. It was actually the article before the post/idea for Demystify... interesting how life's river meanders. I rediscovered it a month ago + found it be to a relevant lesson that I'm still learning. My updates + best-practices from a year's worth of trials + errors follow the article. Enjoy:)
Balance is something we hear much about, particularly this time of year. Take a quick look at themes around the blogosphere + you'll find 'balance' often as either the main subject of a New Year's Resolution article or as an idea sprinkled throughout one.
While there is certainly much ado about it, balance is a concept that is difficult to find, if not impossible to acquire.
Balance is particularly elusive in our culture. We place a high value on activity, have positive associations about it + make personal judgments from it. We make 'activity' an extreme -- the arch nemesis of balance.
Neither Good Nor Bad... Neutral
Opposing concepts like 'activity' + 'inactivity' should be simply defined as 'doing' vs 'not doing.' But definitions + meanings are often drastically different.
Semantically speaking, we attach much more meaning to those two simple words; one is admirable + praiseworthy, the other is detestable + shameful.
Messages of hard work, dedication + persistence are instilled early into our young minds + reinforced daily as we mature. Meanwhile, the natural counterpart (one that restores balance), 'inactivity,' carries a heavy negative connotation in our society.
A quick thesaurus search reveals a multitude of negative undertones (in bold) that we equate with 'inactivity':
Synonyms: dawdling, dilly-dallying, dormancy, droning, goof-off time, hibernation, idleness, indolence, inertia, inertness, inoperativeness, joblessness, laze, lazing, leisure, lethargy, loafing, loitering, otiosity, own sweet time, pottering, shiftlessness, sloth, slothfulness, slouch, slowness, sluggishness, stagnation, stupor, time on one's hands, time to burn, time to kill, time-wasting, torpidity, torpor, trifling, truancy, unemployment, vegetating.While a similar search, shows the positive of correlations of 'activity':
Synonyms: action, activeness, animation, bustle, enterprise, exercise, exertion, hustle, labor, life, liveliness, motion, movement.
Antonyms: idleness, immobility, inactivity, indolence, inertia, laziness, sluggishness
Canceling the Negative
To achieve balance for an overactive lifestyle, times of inactivity are essential + mandatory. But, it becomes difficult to do without internalizing negative messages which damage self-esteem + identity.
To counter the tendency is to manage the expectation; the beginning of which is recognizing the messages. Messages, while innocent in + of themselves, combine + mutate within the mind to become building blocks for complete systems of belief.
For example, a message that equates inactivity with laziness, worthlessness + slothfulness, can be inappropriately applied + misconstrued to become the foundation for the belief, 'I am inactive, so I must be lazy, worthless + slothful.'
Words are Powerful
The second part of countering is adjusting an expectation to remove its intensity. It's a matter of semantics; rewording an expectation to be slightly more realistic.
In looking for alternatives, the word 'pause' stood out to me as a reasonable replacement for 'inactivity.' A pause of any duration (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly) provides the opportunity: to breathe again, to sleep again, to think again, to reflect on the past again, to dream about the future again.
Personally over the last few months, a 'pause' provided me with much needed physical rest to recuperate from overexertion. More importantly, it afforded me the opportunity to foster a new perspective on career + life. [Note: I'm dancing around the subject of my depressions here, because I hadn't yet decided to share my story prior to mid-Jan 2011.]
With the time to reflect, analyze + evaluate, I was able to identify what was missing + what I was searching for... passion.
In the day-to-day busyness of living + working, my desire to do something more fulfilling had fallen victim to the '-presses' (suppression, repression + oppression); kept in, held back + weighed down. More on that epiphany in a future post. [Referring to the post that started it all: On Metamorphosis: discovery of self, career/life passion, vision, village... in that order.]
Change is a [Hopeful, Possible] Process
It took a few months to become able to catch the messages, then a process of analysis to understand where they came from (friends, family, community, society, culture, religion, etc.) + finally to learn how to adjust them.
It will take many years to completely relearn, retrain + reprogram old habits of thinking. Managing those old ways through practice + repetition is the name of the game.
The hopeful + empowering part is that: 1) change is possible, + 2) I am capable of making those changes.
Balance is more than an instance
Through it all, I've discovered that balance is not a thing or merely a one time event.
Balance is a process, a way of life.
It's one that I've resolved to work toward learning + practicing. One that I believe is possible to maintain by managing expectations.
It may be the first New Year's Resolution that I have ever made that is sustainable.
A Year Later...
Balance is still an ever illusive concept for me to achieve... but I'm getting better after a year's worth of seeking, trying + failing miserably:)
It's funny for me to admit, but I must have been absent the day we all learned how to relax. People have been telling me to do so my entire life (a common word of advice for anxious people).
Unfortunately, it's a foreign concept... one that I've had to humbly accept in order to begin learning. Yoga (Vinyasa, Kundalini + Restorative) + Mindfulness Meditation have been instrumental in teaching me how to relax this year. Good hot baths help a lot, too:)
Shifting careers away from full-time design has been a huge relief + provided space for balance to exist/thrive. Because I'm stubborn, I attempted to walk the design path one last time earlier this year, which resulted in my depression mid-year. Lesson learned at a high cost... I lost the entire summer to it.
The in-between step in careers of indefinite-length -- washing cute lil doggies -- has been a joy for the last three months... even through the holiday madness. It's also helped to put things into perspective, provided the space for reflection (another kind of 'pause' w/o the depression this time) + taught me how to connect with the moment/the physical world around me.
It's so super easy to get lost in the machine, even while writing. Working with my hands is the remedy to balance it out that tendency... + uncross my screen-weary, crossed-eyes.
Accepting + Adjusting
2011 was the year that I finally accepted my plight with mental illness. For those who are counting, it took 12 years for me to face the facts. It takes a long time, peeps... perhaps a little longer for me because, again, I'm stubborn.
Throughout those 12 years, I experienced all the stages of mourning over the loss of what I thought my life should be like without it: denial, anger, negotiating, depression... acceptance. In acknowledging + accepting, I've subsequently built my life to account for it + be flexible to it.
Being rigid + over-extended is a recipe for disaster for people with mental illness. There used to be no leeway for me when I became tired + irritable, which morphed into rage, then became numbness from exhaustion... until finally burning out into depression.
When I'm completely depressed, I'm basically incapacitated... especially in the realm of critical thinking + problem solving. Guess what my days were spent on as a designer? Thus, when I became depressed, my work was not possible... I was essentially temporarily disabled.
But, how do you explain that to co-workers, employers or clients who haven't experienced it themselves... or who maybe have but that still need to get a job done, whether you're well or not. Spoiler alert, it's just not possible. And, that's okay.
So, since that situation wasn't going to change (regardless of how many ways I tried to change it over six years time) I finally realized that I had to make a change. Not an easy decision, but the hell of depression + perpetual anxiety is a fantastic motivator.
By working at this hands-on, manual labor job... I've been able to work even though I go through slumps. The troughs come + go with greater ease. Where as I used to teeter + crash, I now ebb + flow.
I've been weary of writing about it while it was happening, but I was in a slump for the last month. Not real severe, but it felt very familiar as the first steps toward a crash.
It was a combination of the extra busyness at work because of the holidays, the incessant holiday music played day-in-and-day-out at work + because I was sick early in December with a lingering cough for about a month that's just been wearing me out. Basically... extra stress.
I tried not to freak + take my hands off the wheel... as I would often do in the past, saying: Here we go again. So that's a little victory in + of itself.
The things that made the difference this time were time + flexibility. Because I didn't fill my life to the brim with activities + obligations this time around, I had the time to relax after work + on my days off to counter the extra stress.
Because my work is not real critical thinking intensive all the time, all day long, I was able to drag myself in whether I felt like it or not. Plus, it's nearly impossible to be depressed when working with cute little doggie faces, wise eyes, wet noses + wiggly bottoms.
Waiting it out
A lot of people (myself included) talk a lot about things to do to counter mental illness. A lot of times, it's just a matter of waiting it out. Knowing that this too shall pass.
A factor in my decision to work with my hands again came from my memories of working at Walmart for those six years while in high school + college.
I used to go through slumps then, as well... I fondly called the one in 11th grade early-onset Senioritus. It was actually due to the added stress of working while going to school... I was burning out + from time to time, I didn't feel like doing shit.
Even still, I could always muster the will to do the bare minimum of what the job required, be present. The slump would eventually pass + I'd be fine again.
In a similar fashion, my current job's biggest requirement is that I'm present when I'm scheduled. I've become pretty proficient over three months time, so I can exist on autopilot when necessary; like when I'm in a slump + don't have a lot of extra mental energy to expend.
So, this time, I was able to continue to function until the slump passed, which it always does... instead of nose-diving into yet another depression. I am coming up on the four month mark where I'd usually be descending again.
So that's it... right?
It's much too early for me to declare the war is won; I'm certainly not declaring, Never again?!
But, this slump + rebound is at least encouraging that some of the steps + changes that I've made in 2011 are having incremental, visible effects on reducing the life-shattering cycle of depression that I've been living for the last several years.
I'm still leery + will be extra careful for the next several weeks/months to attempt to head off another full-blown episode, if possible. The goal at this point is to simply make it to 6 or 8 months depression-free.
Maybe that will be my New Year's resolution... though I think they're silly to make yearly. Mine are weekly, daily or hourly. Especially considering the humorous observations of my fave Cracked.com writer, John Cheese: 5 Reasons Your New Year's Resolution Is Going to Fail
Instead, I'll recommit in 2012 to challenge assumptions + live life uninhibited... to keep on keeping on.
And, I wish the same for all of you.
Viva La Revolución!