Monday, December 3, 2018

A Beginner's Guide to Orienteering in an Existential Crisis

I don't like to brag, but it's Internet in 2018 so I guess I will: Besides being left-handed and knowing a shocking amount about Hallmark movies, one of my standout qualities is the ability to jump from 75 to Brooding in less than a second.  I have decades of experience in brooding, and I've also brooded in over a dozen countries spanning three continents. Many amateurs think they need to sit in the dark and listen to The Smiths while clutching a highball glass like a talisman, but that's rookie stuff. Elite brooders like me can brood in broad daylight with no chemical enhancement needed.
Actual footage of a co-worker's note on my door, circa 2015.

I type all that knowing from experience that depression and melancholy are difficult things to experience, especially around the holidays. While I love pretty much everything about Christmas, the season can bring into relief difficult things that sometimes we'd rather not think about - missing loved ones, unrealized expectations, and the like. But it's not just the holidays. Hard times can hit at any time. Sometimes you get down and you don't even know why. There's no reason that you can find, but there you are, in the wasteland. Again.

If you're depressed or walking through a rough patch, the main thing I want you to know is that you don't have to go through it alone. As a fellow ranger of the wasteland, I'll be honored to walk alongside you. We'll figure it out.

If you aren't ready to talk (or don't want to walk with me), I've gathered notes on some helpful landmarks to help you get to friendlier terrain.

ESTABLISH A ROUTINE. Sleep seven to eight hours each night. Exercise daily. Even short walks at lunch and dinnertime are a huge help, especially if you get around some greenery. Eat real food. To quote Make Time, we're not just minds speeding around on Segways. Our bodies influences our minds and our minds influence our bodies. If you can take care of your whole self, it'll help. At the least, it will help you not make things worse, if that makes sense.

GATHER YOUR CREW. Like the Step Up franchise taught us, you need your whole dance crew to succeed. You don't even have to give an inspiring speech to sick beats to get them to rally. Your friends and loved ones care about you and really don't mind helping you out. Let them know what's going on so that it's out in the open. Darkness loses power over you that way. You might expand your crew to include counselors, yogis, religious leaders, fitness coaches, authors, and whatever else you need.

TALK TO GOD. The Bible is full of faithful yet very confused believers. They don't understand what God is doing (or not doing), and what a measly human is supposed to do in a giant, unknowable world. That's fine! Ask God for help in understanding, for the will to want to understand, for courage. Just ask all the questions you have. There's a pretty good chance all of your questions won't get answered, or at least not in the way you want. But, as Mick Jagger taught us, if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need. Even if what you need is just to clear the air with your maker.

CHECK YOURSELF. An uncomfortable lesson I've learned is that sometimes I exacerbate my issues. In the past I've done this through negative thought patterns, self-medicating with alcohol and comfort food, and pushing people away. Try and cultivate your mental and spiritual garden so that it's more likely you'll be well instead of unwell. Routine really helps with this.

HAVE FUN. Even in hard times it's possible to enjoy yourself. Laugh at silly movies and eat amazing food. Put on your cool clothes and go out with friends. Last year I was listening to a sheriff talk about working an especially rough case and he said, "Cry when things are sad and laugh when things are funny, or else you won't make it in this line of work." I think that's true in life. It doesn't mean you are pretending that everything is fine. It means you are living, engaging with the world. If you're the rebellious type, it means you are defying entropy and waving your beautiful bright freak flag in a gray country. That's cool.

I hope these ideas are useful for you. Take heart!

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