And the good news is….

I remember distinctly a few months ago pulling out of a department store, crossing the road with the kids in the back seat and I realised I was feeling happy!

My first thought was “that’s novel. I like it. I actually feel happy”. It was fleeting – it lasted about a block until one child started bickering with another and my emotions fell back to earth. But it was great. Feeling happy was like finding an old friend again.

Over the last few months that feeling has become virtually the new norm. The listless, dull, low mood that was the tidemark has slowly and gradually been replaced.

In the leadup to Christmas we travelled across two states to the coast to join my sisters and their families. I came down with a virus which then morphed into an evil sinus infection and I spent four days in the motel bedroom without food. I dragged my sorry carcass off to the doctor and came away with some antiobiotics and came good on Xmas day, only to leave the seaside resort the next day. But there was good that came out of it. I didn’t slide back to the low mood. Emotionally I was able to maintain my good spirits. So it turns out that it was a good test.

My wife asked me what the reasons were for the turn around, but there aren’t any. I think it was just the slow trajectory of improvement and the final change from negative back to positive.

Even though I’m feeling a lot more contented and positive, I’m not my old me again. I never wanted to be my old self when I thought about recovery. Some things are not like they used to be.

I still have trouble making simple decisions. Yesterday I took the kids for a bike ride and couldn’t decide what to wear. It was warm enough but a cool breeze made me think I should wear something more than a T-Shirt. I couldn’t figure out what and went without and ended up feeling cold. I have trouble figuring out small change so it’s easier to just use a note and get change back than paying for things with loose change. The brain is just a bit fuzzy.

I’m not very ambitious. I don’t have great plans. It’s school holidays, but I don’t plan much. I’m not hoping to achieve much with the kids. We take each day as it comes. I don’t look ahead very far – that takes too much computing power.

I do things a lot slower. I drive slower, I walk slower, I talk slower. Part of it is because my brain works slower, but most of it because I just want to move through life slower. Going slower allows one to lower anxiety and experience more. If you haven’t done it before, google the slow movement. It’s fascinating.

I don’t try and exercise much control over others or situations. I used to be type A, so I used to be quite good at imposing myself, but I don’t bother now. I think I’m much more “live and let live”. Control takes a lot of energy and is largely ineffective anyway. I’ve realized I’m responsible for myself (and the kids because they’re dependents) but not for anyone else.

I haven’t allowed work to take over – partly because I’m only doing two days per week in the mental health support service. It doesn’t consume much of my thoughts when I’m away from work. I do think having the right kind and amount of work has been instrumental to getting well.

I was interviewed recently by a researcher from a leading university on depression. I told her than my brain function had dropped, but luckily I was a genius prior to burning out…. you had to be there.

Oh, by the way, the guy who invented the smiley face Harvey Ball, never trademarked it. He received $45 for it. Sucks to be him!


8 Responses

  1. It does sound like you’ve been through a slow metamorphosis. And I know *exactly* what you mean when you say you don’t want to go back to being the old you. The old you doesn’t fit any more. Maybe it served a purpose for a while (and if you’re anything like me, that purpose was just to keep your head above water). Seems like we always manage to do the best with what tools we had at the time. Today’s tools weren’t available back then, I’m guessing. Mine certainly weren’t anyway.

    And yeah – letting go of control? Awesome, isn’t it?

    I see a lot of movies at the theatre. And one of the things that bugs me is when the film operator just turns the machine on and leaves without first checking to make sure it’s in focus and centred on the screen properly. I used to be the first one out the door to contact the manager when mistakes happened. Now…..I just sit back and enjoy my popcorn, knowing full well another control freak will do what I used to do. Bliss. šŸ™‚

    • Hahha, i know the feeling WS about being a bit of a control freak. It’s funny how after a burnout, emotional energy is so precious, we choose not to waste it by getting wound up over stuff. I still do get wound up over certain things, but most stuff, I can’t be bothered!

  2. Yeah, about parralels my journey Jack, except I think I made one crucial decision you didn’t – I left the city (& church) I was once the leader of – that break became a key healer in the long run. A new church , a new dynamic, no expectations…..something to reflect upon?

    • Hey Ron, I think leaving the church and making a clean break really has helped you and definitely would have helped me too, to a certain extent. I think I get the heebies even when I’m at another church that is program (purpose?) driven and institutional. I’d love to try a church like that kind of church presses my buttons (if they can pull it off). I’m not going to church right now…. I feel stressed even thinking about it….

  3. I am enjoying and appreciating your honest journey; mine is quite similar. What struck me is the analysis that you are feeling ‘contented and positive’. Cool. That’s how I am feeling more and more each day.
    My discovery has been that my spiritual life doesn’t have to be hectic and ‘productive’ but that it should be a natural, simple, daily expression of who I was created to be. I am discovering that I can bless people without churchy expectations (my own and others) hovering in the background. Free to be the me that I was meant to be!

    • I agree totally Brian. The idea of productivity in churches might be imported from the whole industrial revolution and quality control movement where productivity and results are king. Instead of goals and results, I’m much more attracted to being, following, relationship, journey and intimacy. I get the biblical idea of fruitfulness but that’s almost a by-product. I’ve found that by being left alone, I naturally tend to want to serve and bless others. It’s innate is us!

  4. I almost fear returning to the man I used to be. A part of me already misses the singleness of focus depression gave me (that’s the only thing I miss!) and las life gets busier I hear myself get noisier. I don’t like that version of me anymore. I love not having to control things, though it never occurred to me till just now that there are other control freaks in the world who will do what I used to feel compelled to do.

    But one thing has changed for good: vision is overrated, each day has enough worries of it’s own, one day at a time is the rest of my life. As I approached burnout I found myself hating those signboards outside schools and churches that promoted the upcoming events. I grew so tired of looking ahead all the time, never allowed to be fully present to the moment. I will never return to a role that demands so much attention to what is not.

    • Hey Bobby, i worry about that too. I worry that if I put all this behind me, I’ll gather momentum, take on the world again, and become my old Type A self. I really hope I’ve permanently changed for the better…..
      And I agree, vision is very much overrated. In fact it’s interesting when you have to pull a sermon on vision. The bible doesn’t have a lot to say about it. Modern organisational theory has loads to say about mission, vision etc. but I think just following Jesus is probably a simpler, more powerful idea….
      I’m not sure how much I’ve posted here on mindfulness, but the premise of that, is that we spend too much time in the past (ruminating over it) and too much time in the future (planning and worrying over it) and not enough in the present – just being. Mindfulness is a practice that anchors us firmly in the now… which when you think about it, is all we really have!

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