Facing Down the Demons of a Major Life Change

Situational depression can look a lot like clinical depression from certain angles. Hell, for certain intents and purposes – like how one lives life, the symptoms a person is struggling with, and the urgency with which remedy should be sought – they really might as well be the same thing. But they are different and for all of the people out there suffering from clinical depression, there are also many people out there stuck in the thick of what feels like it could be an inexplicable depression – particularly inexplicable if you’re especially inclined to do everything within your power to disassociate burdensome facts from reality at times – but is in fact situational. The problem with figuring out this difference is that to discover it’s the latter requires actually seeing that there are looming big things in your life, things that seem too mountainous to move usually, that need to be moved. They need to be moved or, well, you do.

It’s a tough pill to swallow – the bitterness in needing to unbuild a life is one you feel in every digit, right out to the very edges of your physiological definition of self. It’s so bitter that once you allow yourself to digest it, it nearly chills your bones. Whether it’s a job or a career path, a marriage or a close friendship, where you live or what you believe, how you look or make others feel, expansions or losses in family (and chosen family) units, your health and prognosis, or anything else that’s big at all, these gargantuan un-buildings required before re-buildings are brutal.

I’ve been through a few big life alterations at this point in my cyclical sun-circling. (Ok, if I’m being honest – so many more than “a few” that I can’t count the times off-hand.) One thing I’ve come to realize is that this part I’ve just described right here – diagnosis and acceptance – is the absolute worst part.

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Things often are not as bad as you can imagine they might be, so the demons look the biggest before you’ve entered into a new reality – while you’re there at the door of it, imagining all of the reasons why you might not want to pass through. Our anxious imaginations are cruel and enormous – they’re made of wicked storybook stuff, like someone is shining a light into our body in such a way that all that is within our brain becomes swallowed up by shadowy figures so exactly wrong for us that only we could have designed them ourselves. Indeed, the in-flux spinning state that lies between knowing there’s something gigantic to tackle and actually settling into the tackling – I think this is a hell that burns especially hot for humans, so removed from the live-or-die basic-need-fetching that our minds are permitted to wander these corridors of “dreams” and “ways to live better” and “work smartly” and “vision.”

We’re all wired differently. I, for instance, find it relatively doable to torpedo my way through the less-important stuff, the more shape-shifting of the everyday realities. Even annoyingly attention-draining tasks like buying a car, learning the ins and outs of mortgages, finding a daycare in a new city, juggling dance lessons with social gatherings while still leaving enough time to sulk alone and decompress – I can handle this stuff. I don’t always enjoy it, but the traditional project management of my life isn’t my particular Achilles’ heel. But when we’re talking less “project management” and more “monumental life overhaul,” I might flinch a little. No matter how many times I’ve done it.

Sometimes it seems like you awake to the same nightmare that you always hope you’ll leave behind with sleep, one that might be increasingly worse each day. You rise and face a reality that cannot possibly be yours – how many wrong turns did you take to get this far off course, anyway? But little by little, you scrape away at the gunk coating what you need to see and the way you need to see it. You find yourself slowly morphing into a more attuned, more true version of yourself. Your memories start beading themselves together and looking like something collectively. Your moments begin to seem like loops and the more clearly you see the loops, the more likely you are to see the narrative. And when you dust off the glass encasing that narrative, it can be a little jolting if you find yourself saying: I see where this is going and I do not like it.

*Yes, I love Westworld.*

So what do you do though when you are at that point? Looking within yourself, looking at yourself, seeing how it all connects, and realizing you need to get the hell out of where you are? I’m of the opinion that you do three things:

  1. You commit to getting the hell out of where you are. We have lots of completely valid reasons why we ignore our own pestering voice of reason, but realistically, you must know: you cannot ignore it forever. Who are you if not a being that, at least eventually, learns to follow your own heart and mind? So you start telling yourself that this is what’s happening, no matter the small print.
  2. You take it as slowly as you need to, so long as you’re making the shift. Maybe your ship will need to make a 500-point turn to change direction, but you start alerting everyone within you – all of the bitty parts of your brain – that this is what’s going to happen. You become a superhero of pragmatism. What do you need to get in order to facilitate this shift? Maybe you sneak away for interviews during your lunch break if you’re changing jobs. Maybe you finally withdraw the money you saved to freeze your eggs if you’re making an “I do want to be a mom, but the time is not right at the moment” decision. Maybe you make sure all of the bills are in your name if you’re embarking on a breakup. You doggedly work on increasing your credit score, perhaps – money is often tightly weaved into big life changes, whether we’re talking financing a degree, a mortgage, a move, a divorce, or a new business venture. Money, MONEY: the troll under the bridge that leads to your dreams.
  3. You stay the course. Time can be healing, people say. They say that because it can be revealing in the clarity it lends. But clarity will not mend broken things that cannot be fixed. It will, however, demand more of your attention with each break. It will flag you down and if that doesn’t work, it will scream your name, and if that doesn’t work, it will strike you with lightning repeatedly until you finally are willing to look up and accept the storm you’re in and do something about getting out of it.

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I don’t know if you’re feeling the pressure of needing to make space for any huge life shifts or not, but I can tell you that I’ve probably always felt this way – I’ve always felt the pressure lurking all around me of at least one big shift I know I need to make at any given time. I’m currently in a place in life where there are several. They go everywhere I go, they ride along on my back. They whisper in my ear at every silent moment and still manage to make themselves heard in the less-silent times.

I’m not off the hook for finally moving myself to the place I’ve always wanted to live, although I’m at long last in the clear on that front – I no longer need to argue with the constantly glaring pressure of knowing I’m living in the wrong place. But I have other things now, perhaps things I can only get to because that big physical locational thing is out of the way. I don’t know that I’ll ever be free of this – creatives in particular are people who seem to use dissatisfaction as a tool: “Well now that I’ve done the thing I wanted to do, I’ll remain forever content,” said no creative in the history of ever. But even if I’m destined to never be free of it, I do find it obligatory that I eventually listen to what my core self instructs me to do. I can delay, and I often do, but I will have to take some deep breaths and big steps when I’m done procrastinating.

And once I’ve taken enough breaths and steps that I find I’m actually finally in that different place, somewhere I couldn’t have gotten to without an aching shift, I might just find that right now – during this in-flux period wherein I feel more dizzied than productive – I might just find that I was already taking the right steps. It’s just that movement, real movement, is the culmination of many steps, not the first one or two or few.

Maybe you’re already on your way right now, too.

So whatever your journey is, whichever way you’re trying to shift, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. Sure, perhaps some people do have it all figured out and maybe they honestly feel like they’re exactly where they need to be with nothing in their close-up or peripheral vision begging to differ, but that is just not the case for me.

I saw this cliché quote on Instagram the other day, but I must not have totally hated it because here it is, still in my mind verbatim:

“The comeback is always stronger than the setback.”

It makes me think: are setbacks necessary for growth? I’m coming around to believing they just might be. After all, we don’t call them “growing pains” for no reason, do we?

*Insert something about having no gain when there is no pain.*

But seriously: if we take everything we know about our flesh-and-bones selves – the very conditions under which our muscles tighten and strengthen, the exhausting aches that must precede the actual lengthening of our skeletons, or even the cognitive weight we feel when undertaking heavy knowledge acquisition – doesn’t it make sense that more abstract trajectories are going to work the same way? We can usually doggy-paddle ourselves into a stationary state, but going further, digging deeper, reaching higher, and inching closer to the selves we’re capable of being – those require lots of things (effort, dedication, perseverance, skill), but on the list is: a little pain.

It hurts to peel back layers of our lives, but with each pull, we get to see something not only shinier and fresher, but closer to our core. I’m going to keep dusting off the superfluous and peering inside. I’m going to keep tugging at my wilted layers. Sometimes I feel paralyzed by my terror of what is on the other side of every major shift, but I will proceed because I must. I refuse to be the kind of person who shushes my own conscience.

I hope you’ll join me. And if you’d like to say it out loud, feel free to describe the mountain you know you need to move within in your own life.

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(Below are some affiliate links to some honest-to-god, I swear I know, a little new-agey things, but things that might help you along the way, nonetheless.)

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Elizabeth Seward is a writer and songwriter, among other things. Read a full bio on the ABOUT page.

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