My previous General Manager had a saying. “Create an awesome day!” He’d say it to me and to others, I think it may have been his favorite saying. I’m slowly learning (and often forgetting) that creating an awesome day isn’t just about planning your day, setting up meetings, or planning for events, although that certainly can be a part of it. Creating an awesome day starts with me: where’s me head at, and where’s my heart at?
As someone who battles depression and anxiety (and thanks to some ADHD, some days I have “squirrel brain”), answering the question “where’s my head at?” can be quite variable, day-to-day, or even hour-by-hour. Having the mental capacity to create an awesome day isn’t always possible. Sometimes merely surviving without a breakdown is victory enough. However part of the battle of creating an awesome day, along with managing depression does come down to how I handle it. How I view it. My perspective on it. Even making an honest attempt at it, giving it all I have for that day (which some days isn’t a whole lot), is what makes a little bit of difference. My reaction to what’s going on around me often plays a role in just how awesome my day goes…. or less than awesome as the case might be.
That phrase “Create an awesome day” to me says a few things within those 4 words. It starts with being intentional about it Being proactive instead of reactive. It has to be the gameplan from the get-go, it can’t be something that you decide to do if your day is already working out really well. Well, I suppose you could, but again that’s reacting to circumstances that happen to be going in your favor. Creating an awesome day speaks of excellence. Not an unattainable “perfection” but striving to do your best, to create your best, to give your best, to be your best. When I hear “Create an awesome day” I’m also thinking of the immediate. A day is 24 hours. That’s it. Yes, there are things I can work on today in order to lay groundwork for having an awesome day tomorrow, or next week, or next month, but “Create and awesome day” means today is the focus. Not the worries or unknowns of tomorrow, or next week, or next month, not getting trapped in the “what if” game, but focusing on the now. In other words, be present and be grounded. I think part of creating an awesome day requires adapting to events and situations as they unfold, but also actively looking for opportunities to build into the day as it unfolds.
But this catchy phrase runs headlong into something that I’ve battled with for years: depression (along with anxiety, and ADHD). Both can bring any efforts to create anything to a standstill. Some days the thought of creating anything more than a sandwich for supper is daunting, nevermind being focused and intentional about creating an entire day complete with untold variables and situations, most of which are beyond my control. The thought that I have to seize the day in order to make it awesome is frankly overwhelming.
Part of this is just due to who I am — I tend to (or at least attempt to) just roll with events as they unfold. I try not to make too many waves of my own, and try valiantly to keep my head above the waves that others may or may not cause. Part of it is due to the brutal way depression convinces or deceives me into believing that it doesn’t really matter, so there’s not much point in investing too much energy into it.
Again, I’m surprised and saddened by how much depression lies to those of us who have this illness. So often I think of it as something alive, active, strategic: it wants nothing more to destroy me. It adapts its tactics, it changes it’s appearance, it hides and goes dormant for days, weeks, maybe months at a time before roaring in with a blitzkrieg style attack that completely overwhelms. It covers you physically with a physical weight, and muddles your mind with a dense thick fog. It keeps people in bed. It tells them they don’t have the energy, the focus, the oomph to do whatever it is that needs to be done that day. I have no doubt that there are days that it is actually impossible to get out of bed for some. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s easy to jump out of bed every morning. I have no doubt that for those of you who have experienced it, that it can be completely and utterly overwhelming. I however am very blessed and lucky that that aspect of depression hasn’t been one I’ve struggled with.
But there are so many other areas where depression lies to us. That when we’re at the bottom, that no one cares. That people are to busy help us fight the loneliness, or that they’re tired of hearing about our symptoms and struggles. That their worries and struggles are far more important than our own, and we don’t want to be a burden. It beats us down and absolutely destroys our self-esteem, even in areas where we “know” we’re gifted. It tells me people are laughing at me, talking about me, or plotting my downfall to one degree or another. Depression tells me that people are friendly to my face, but behind my back they speak horrible things about me and wish me harm. That they mock me for my shortcomings to others and can scarcely prevent themselves from doing it to my face. Depression tells me that people loathe me and family (at best) tolerates me.
But I’m getting better at recognizing some of these lies and seeing them for what they are. I can’t always recognize it, and even if I do, I may not have the headspace, the mental capacity, the sheer grit to change that train of thought. But on occasion, I can recognize it as “this is depression lying to me” and I can with considerable focus, slowly change that thought pattern. It’s difficult, it’s exhausting, and the more “stuff” I’m dealing with at that moment (be it a busy day at work, or financial worries, or whatever) the harder it is. But it is absolutely possible. I believe this would fall under a treatment called CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. In short, it’s training yourself, especially your mind, to change how you think or react to certain circumstances. I prefer to skip the long, fancy name and call it what it is. Fighting fire with fire. Depression and anxiety are mental illnesses. Yes, part of it can be due to a chemical imbalance, but more and more I’m convinced that the mind is no different then the muscles in my arms and legs. It needs to be flexed and strengthened. It needs to be challenged and stretched and worked in a variety of ways.
With practice, some of these negative thought patterns can be countered or changed. In my experience the more negative circumstances and thoughts (real or imagined) that surround me, the easier it is to slip into negative thoughts and habits, which sooner or later will have me spiraling down into a depressive pit. However by practicing positive thoughts, by recognizing positive things throughout my day, but giving compliments and smiling (even if the smile feels a little forced sometimes) I tend to be more stable, and tend to have a more positive thought life. No it’s not bulletproof, but it certainly helps.
I think of it in terms of momentum. If I work on building positivity into my life, and do my best to reduce or eliminate the negatives, my hope and goal is that it will minimize the next round of depression. (I’ll pause here and say that while I’ve been doing amazingly well the last few months, I’m not kidding myself. Summer is always easier, and I’m not thinking I’m “cured” but rather my depression has gone into a remission of sorts. It can come back anytime). If depression is trying to slow me down, this positive forward momentum will hopefully counter that heaviness to some degree. Or if depression drops me into a pit, my hope is that the positivity I’m working on will minimize the “depth” of the pit, or the length of time I wallow through it.
I have no idea if this is even going to work in my favor. It may all be for naught. However, there’s certainly no harm in trying. And in the meantime, I’m doing my best to create something awesome each day. It might be as simple as a genuine compliment, or making sure my calendar is up to date. It might be more intentional throughout the day. It might be writing or sharing a photo I’ve taken. But as I’m slowly getting better at making this a conscious choice, I’m noticing on those days, the day is indeed a bit “awesomer”, and the fog of depressive thought patterns seems to lessen.
I encourage you to try to create an awesome day — or at least part of a day. It might seem overwhelming and beyond your ability. It might seem daunting. It might seem scary. You know what? Sometimes it’s all of those things.
But you know what else? If you keep making the attempt, it’ll be worth it. It just might take a bit of time to see the outcome.