I remember the first time I saw the preview for the Pixar movie, Up. You may recall the scene where Doug is introduced, and just as soon as he starts to talk, he — SQUIRREL!
My boyfriend at-the-time was sitting next to me in the theater. He immediately turned toward me with a big smile, pointing at me excitedly, “That’s you!”
To be fair, he wasn’t wrong. I try to unplug from depression by reading a book or walking around Denver with my camera. Maybe go for a drive along I-25 late at night listening to the entirety of Tool’s Lateralus. Maybe just stay in to masturbate.
But my thoughts tend to drift, wandering away from the present and dragging me into a maelstrom of anxious thoughts whirling and ricocheting off the inside of my skull. I try to concentra — SQUIRREL!
There are days I can’t even focus on these depression articles without my mind being pulled in five different directions, usually accompanied with booming, self-deprecating voices reminding me that the deadline is fast approaching and I haven’t slept, or that I’m only a few paychecks away from living under a bridge on Speer Boulevard, or that I’m going to die alone.
And from what I hear, I’m not alone in this catastrophizing. Others tell me when they try to unplug, anxiety seizes the helm, predicting the most disastrous futures imaginable. We become paralyzed with worry.
Instead of listening to Maynard, I’m building and refining multiple contingencies for all these dreadful tomorrows soon to tumble out of the sky with a thunderous crash, crushing my bones into powder. Of course, I fail to realize all these anticipated calamities exist only in my brain.
Writing becomes a chore. Listening to music becomes trivial. Focusing on my breathing becomes futile — after all, I’m going to die homeless and alone under a bridge. In that context, what does it matter what I do? This whole self-care strategy becomes a large pile of poo left on the lawn by a talking dog named Doug.
Until I remind myself I’m just chasing squirrels in my head again, and that self-care isn’t about solving anything. I’m taking pictures just to take pictures. I’m not trying to fix or ignore or engage all those frenzied anxious thoughts needling at my consciousness. I give myself permission to just “waste time.”
My thoughts still wander, but I don’t follow them. I just focus on my breathing and go back to taking photos. My thoughts wander again. I don’t follow them again. I focus on my breathing again and go back to listening to Maynard. Repeat until enlightened.
This was (and still is) a challenge for me—to just let go. To recognize that engaging in self-care for the sake of self-care works to break up that decades-old, weary pattern of anxious and depressive thought. To realize I have zero obligation to chase down any of those vexing, irksome squirrels.