So, I’m going to go all Nike on you today and say you need to just do it. I’m not really in to brand loyalty but I actually have a Nike T-shirt that I couldn’t resist buying when I saw it a few years ago. On the front it says, “Blah blah blah” and on the back it says, “Just do it.”
I want to talk about this because I found myself in a situation last week where I simply needed to get off my butt and do something other than feel sorry for myself. Often when I talk to people about depression and about how good it is for a depressed person to get out and spend time with other people, to try to find a sense of belonging in a community or try something new and interesting, I am confronted with the well stated, “But if you’re depressed it’s really hard to get up and make yourself do stuff.”
To that I say, “………and the award for stating the obvious goes to………………..” I jest of course, because it is a valid comment and there are times when it really is too hard. We know that a small number of people get so depressed they really do find it almost impossible to get motivated and do stuff, spend time with friends, find a sense of belonging in a community, or try something new. We can even see it when we look at their brains. Have a look at this amazing image:
This is a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan of the brain of a person who is severely depressed, taken from a fascinating TED Talk. What the scanned image shows us is what’s happening in the brain at rest. The blue areas are the parts of the brain that are responsible for motivation, drive and decision making. They are blue because they are underactive. So, you might guess that the red area is overactive. Well, you’d be right. And what is that area responsible for? Sadness. So the clinical picture presented here to the clinician is someone who is incredibly sad, feels completely unmotivated and can’t even think straight enough to decide what to do to help get themselves better. This person needs some serious treatment, possibly even something like Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) or Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). But this is the exception rather than the rule. Most of us are not that depressed (and I’ll talk about DBS and ECT sometime down the track).
What we know about depression in the West is that a significant number of us are depressed as a result of our lifestyle. We don’t exercise (or barely even move for that matter), we eat a really poor quality diet, we have jobs that we either hate or that stress us out, we consume too much alcohol or caffeine or both, we are lonely, we live fairly predictable, uninteresting lives, we struggle to find sense, meaning and purpose in life, we have little or no self-esteem, and we don’t feel like we “belong” anywhere (all that is enough to make you depressed just reading it, right?).
I can’t address all those things in one post, but I will try to address each one of them over time. Let’s start with the “Just do it” motto and my moment last week. In particular I want to talk about getting out of the house, spending time with friends, and doing something interesting and out of the ordinary when you feel low…..
Time to Choose
It was late on Friday and I found myself in a situation where I unexpectedly had a weekend off. I was supposed to be working but it got cancelled at the last minute. My wife and kids were going away to a festival in the Blue Mountains called Ironfest. I’ll admit it, I was grumpy and feeling really low. The reasons don’t matter, I just was. I thought that I should probably stay home over the weekend and get some work done. I knew, however, that the risk was that I would get even lower if I spent the weekend all alone. It was cold and wet as well, so that added to the risk of my mood plummeting.
After some thought (and some gentle encouragement from my wife) I decided that the best thing for me to do would be to go; that I needed to “Just do it”. I knew getting there would require a big effort: packing, cleaning, thinking, planning and so on. And it did. We all got a pretty late night undertaking the necessary preparations, so now we’d added tiredness in to the mix of issues. So why did I decide to go?
Well, firstly it would mean connecting with my wife. Travelling is great for us because it means we have time to talk while the kids do their own thing in the back (sleep, listen to iPods, watch DVDs on laptops etc). So I knew it would be good for our relationship and I knew that it would be a great way to connect with the kids outside of the normal hum-drum of suburban living. I also knew that some friends of ours from Victoria would be there. We’ve known them for many years, having formerly both lived in Bourke and more recently in the Hunter Valley, so I knew it would be great to catch up face to face. And finally, I knew that Ironfest was something completely different, something I’d never been to before, a new and exciting experience, and it made me think of this quote:
“If people would stop pursuing happiness and simply pursue an interesting life, they would find that the surprising side-effect, if you like, is a happy life.” Dorothy Rowe, Author and Psychologist.
So I bet you’re dying to know how it went. 😉
It was bloody awesome! (And I can say that in spite of the fact that it rained almost all day on the Saturday and we were cold and wet most of the time.) The drive over was great. It was good to chat to my wife and just connect in a casual way. Arriving there saw our kids remove their costumes from their bags and dress up.
Once we got in the gates, we made a bee-line for our friend’s stall. I walked up to Tim who had his back turned and said, “Who’d buy any of this crap?” He spun around and gave me a huge bear hug. Tim is a rare find in a bloke. Typically an Aussie bloke in terms of stereotypes in many ways, but also a bit of a hippie and incredibly transparent, humble and honest. There’s something really special about having a friend who gets so excited to see you that he launches at you and engulfs you in a big bear hug. Then of course came the hugs and kisses with the kids and the wives. It was a lovely little reunion. Tim has a son called Hudson who we call Sir Hugs-a-lot; he has his dad’s same natural comfort with affection.
Once some other friends from Newcastle arrived, we all headed off to find a warm, dry spot and have coffee. We went to the “Tantric Turtle Café” and had awesome Chai Lattes together and reminisced and caught up. It was great. The rest of the day included:
And that was all before 4pm!
It was such a great day, albeit exhausting, having driven 4 hours to get there before it even started! It was so great, in fact, that we barely noticed the miserable weather. What was amazing was that pretty much everyone fit in. There was no right or wrong way to dress. No-one was cooler than anyone else. Everyone was just being themselves and having fun. The vibe was incredible.
At the end of the day we went off to our warm, clean, dry motel room and had a bit of a chill as a family while we chatted about the day and planned our evening. That evening consisted of heading back to the site to have dinner with our friends. We bought some local take-away and sat around the fire catching up, but also meeting new friends. I’ve said it often at the training I run, that I have never met a person who wasn’t interesting with an amazing story. Over dinner I got chatting to Simon, a single dad to an 8 year old boy. He mentioned in passing that his wife had died almost 3 years ago. He seemed really open so I asked him about her. She had cancer and died quite quickly. He talked so comfortably about her, in front of his son too. He had the most wicked sense of humour and would spontaneously break out into various accents and diatribes from other countries (most of which were completely politically incorrect, but very funny none-the-less). His son was an amazing kid. He was full of life and spunk and in no time at all had convinced me that I needed to buy my 10 year old daughter a medieval dagger the next day. He promised to meet us in the morning and take us to meet another stall holder who would give us a sizeable discount as he knew him. Later that evening we crawled into our beds in our warm motel room exhausted but completely satisfied.
The next day began with a complimentary breakfast in the motel restaurant with my beautiful 10 year old daughter. We left my wife enjoying some extra sleep, and my son had spent the night camping out with friends, so it was just the two of us. It was really nice. I love having little “dates” with my daughter. I hope that whenever we do, I am setting a precedent, demonstrating to her how a man should treat a lady when they are out together. I’ve done a bit of reading on this, and it’s often recommended that dad’s try to do this often with their daughters. The rest of the day involved meeting more people, trying more speciality wines and liqueurs, eating Turkish food for lunch, spending way too much money on bits and pieces to take home, drinking more coffee, watching more battles, trying our hand at archery, watching a “driven-out-of-business-by-the-two-big-supermarkets ex-dairy farmer who is now a performer with whips” comedy act,
Exhausted and happy, we finally bid farewell to our beautiful friends and made the 4 hour trek home, taking turns to drive so each of us could nap after our huge weekend. I sunk deep into a huge, hot bath that night before crawling in to bed and sleeping like a baby.
So, how did I feel?
Well, pretty darn good actually! The things that were weighing me down were still there. I still had work to do and responsibilities to fulfil, but there was a sense of satisfaction gained from the time away and a clarity of thought gained throughout the weekend.
Sometimes the best thing we can do is walk away from our stresses and worries and do something completely new and different, even it’s hard to do.
Sometimes we need to’ “Just do it.”