There’s a curious thought process that emerges from my brain, usually when I’m trying to solve a problem. Either my anxiety is frantically shoving my brain around the inside of the skull, screaming at me to PANIC about every little unsettled detail in my life, or my depression is trying to drag me off a sheer cliff, whispering into my ear icy words filled with shadows and hopelessness.
So, a thought pops out as a possible means of escape from these two persistent imps: if only I could solve this problem, I’d feel so much better. At the very least, I’d feel a little less shitty.
But there’s something I constantly forget, even though it’s a bit cliché: Life isn’t problem-free.
Well, it might seem problem-free if you’re really not paying attention to anything (a strategy I’ve used in the past). Or, it might seem so full of problems that you’re paralyzed and just give up by closing down the nearest bar (also a strategy I’ve used in the past).
But try as I might, for every set of problems I work my butt off to resolve, new problems quickly shoulder their way to the surface through the cracks, eagerly feeding and nourishing my anxiety and depression.
I once worked a job that was absolutely unfulfilling—the kind of job that makes you want to take a flamethrower to your alarm clock. But I’ve also worked absolutely fulfilling jobs, singing-along-with-the-radio-on-the-way-to-work kind of jobs.
But singing or not, depression and anxiety still feed on other problems in my life: financial worries, vehicle breakdowns, an aging cat who gets sick and vomits on my ankles in the middle of the night.
We can’t escape being tangled in problems, as life is rarely so accommodating. What’s worse, it can feel like there’s agency behind our problems, like some malevolent director: “Make him lose his job and only source of income! Crash her car into a parked car and make her pay for all the damages! Have the cat claw the fuck out of his bare feet while he’s sleeping!”
With all these problems whirling around my head, I mistakenly think that if I can resolve one or two of them, the mental monsters will fade into the background—as if the singular source of my depression and anxiety is a squall of life problems.
Let’s be clear. Some problems are definitely more problematic than others. Getting a speeding ticket verses watching someone you love die of cancer are two very different roads to navigate.
But I think this awareness gives us all a handy insight: stop establishing the expectation that a problem-free life will foster a problem-free mind. Work to solve problems, of course, but don’t demand resolutions to resolve the problem of depression and anxiety, too.
Anxiety is just going to latch on to the next problem that punches me in the teeth, and I’ll still obsessively speculate on every possible catastrophe that might happen if I don’t resolve that problem.
Depression doesn’t give a flying furry ferret how many problems I fix, as it will simply grab the next problem and clobber me over the back of the skull to drag me over the edge into all that blackness and bleakness.
So, I try to give myself permission not to arm wrestle my problems all the time, thinking that solving problems is my only recourse against a mental breakdown.
Instead, I work to just stop and sit inside the eye of this massive swirling messiness that is my life and enjoy a pile of green chili cheese fries in the company of a close friend, or get high at a live concert in the company of strangers, or spend the night reading a good novel in the company of my cat, sleeping peacefully near my vomit-free ankles.
And it’s at those moments, still entangled by problems and under siege by mental monsters, that life feels a little less craptastic.