Bend so you Don’t Break

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This is a SAD time of year for many of us, pun totally intended. Not enough sunlight; too many days out of the week with cold, gray skies; no holidays to make things feel festive. A friend of mine just posted an article today about the real effects that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can have on many people. My mom was one of them.

She would sit for hours in her chair in the living room, cat on her lap, book or newspaper open but not really reading, staring out the window. She bought lights to sit under but never really used them. And she talked to us a lot about how she was suffering, and how her father had also suffered with SAD.

My mother was affected by depression in more than just the darker, colder winter months. She was on mild medication for years to help ease its more crippling effects. She sought out friends and activities to keep her busy. Appearances were very important to her and she did her best to keep them up.

But there’s one important thing she never did.

She never gave herself a break. She had cripplingly high standards. When she felt she wasn’t meeting them, there was no mercy. She was plagued by self-doubt, haunted by the possibility of disappointing my grandfather’s ghost, and ruthlessly cruel to herself. She was unbendingly rigid in her own rules.

It cost her. Not a career or her marriage or community involvement, but worse, I think. It cost her herself. She lived with a level of fear and self-loathing that made her hard to be close to sometimes. It cost her some happiness.

Sometimes I catch myself repeating the same patterns, slipping into perfectionism. Holding myself to a standard that is not only unattainable but ridiculous and self-harming. I’d love to say, “But then I stop and shake myself out of it”. But that would be a big, fat lie. I would also like to say that I allow others to gently and easily help shake me out of it, but that would be an equally juicy lie.

The naked truth is that I resist. Old patterns are some of the most well-worn. What actually happens is I arrive at a precipice. I’ll have been inflexible in my self-standards, unbending in my drive towards perfection, and I’ll be about to break. Sometimes I have to actually reach a breaking point before I can recognize what’s happening. I’ll feel completely overwhelmed by my world, feeling powerless to escape the pressure. In that moment, I can usually hear some voice saying, “Okay, that’s enough, sister. It’s time to bend.”

You might think asking others to reflect on their actions, thoughts and words is a great line of work for helping one to engage in those reflections as well. Maybe for some people it is, but not me. Not often enough. I really wish I was better able to automatically apply the same techniques I use to help clients to my own challenges. But I don’t. At least, not often enough to escape the same damn traps myself.

What’s got you exhausted? What’s got you standing strong, with all your might, muscles flexed and holding, but starting to ache? What’s threatening to snap you in half? What will help you gain a little flexibility to bend so some of that force of pressure goes past you instead of hitting you so hard?

Taking a break, asking for help, taking a day off, blocking time in your calendar for yourself, and anything else that buys you some time to bend a little—these are all strategies of self-preservation that allow you to live to fight another day. There’s no shame in them.

Unless you tell yourself otherwise.

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