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What Do We Learn When Things Fall Apart?

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Losing It, But Never Giving Up

The pandemic continues with new variants and new challenges for all of us. Businesses striving to stay in business. Couples striving to stay together or split apart. All of our lives have been shattered in material and emotional ways. I certainly am no exception. The difference for me, is this: I suffer from bouts of crippling depression and the shutdown has nearly killed me, several times. I don’t say this flippantly. I have reached the deepest recesses of my sadness and come back up for air. Let me recap just 2021.

Rising Strong

In January I rose energetically and emotionally from a dark period and strove to change everything about my life. In the broad stroke, I took to clear out the ghosts and pains, I also ushered out my primary relationship. (That story is for a book and not a blog post.)

I moved into a friend’s house, landed a new super-high-powered job, and set out to climb my own seven-story mountain of happiness and adventure.

I started my job as my mom, in assisted-living care, was struggling with her situation, living well but unhappily in a high-rise hotel. On the very first day of my job, I had some great conversations with my mom. Later that evening, as she was going to bed, she passed away. I had talked to her hours before she died. I had given her the hopefulness of my new job, my new determination to rise again from the ashes, and my commitment to supporting her growth in spite of her declining health and happiness. She died that night. The first night of my new job.

The Wheels Fell Off My Grand Adventure

March – April – May was filled with a numb acceptance of my own sad fate. I was not going to survive my big job. I was not going to survive being single again. I was not going to survive. Sounds melodramatic now, but it was a bit too real during those months as I strived to sort out what was next for me. There comes a time, when we all strive to find purpose in our lives. I was unsure of mine. I got quiet. This blog got cold and haunted. I didn’t even want to read my own encouragements.

Where do we go when we lose everything? How do we make a living doing something we love when we don’t know what we love. How do we support our children when we’re having a hard time supporting ourselves? How do we go on when things seem so bleak?

I kept trekking on. But I was in a fog. I struggled with unemployment as my life coaching business nose-dived after the first shutdown and continued to flounder as the delta-version came back. I was a man without a country, without a career, without a relationship, without his mama.

Losing It

Even as I was numbed out trying just to survive this awful time, I was not giving up. I was not bitter. I was alive and for the moment that was enough. But it’s never enough to survive. We need to thrive in our lives. Even as we struggle we need to feel some sense of hope. Some people can find this through pray or meditation. Some can find it through physical exercise. Some can find it through relationships. I muddled through with some form of self-reliance mixed with denial.

But Never Giving Up

I had a therapist once who confronted me gently about my catastrophic thinking. “Okay, so what would happen if you let yourself fall apart?”

Me: “I don’t know. I guess I’d lay on the floor of my room and wait for someone to come in and find me.”

Therapist: “Sounds like a 3 or 5-year-old child’s defense.”

Me: “Yeah.”

Therapist: “But as an adult, as a man sitting right here with me, what would happen, what would it look like if you ‘fell apart’ as you call it?”

Me: “I don’t know. I guess I’d stop trying. I’d stop showering and eating. I’d die of loneliness.”

Therapist: “Would you die of loneliness?”

Me: “It feels like it right now.”

Feel the Sadness and Loneliness

You probably will not die of sadness. You might try to die, but the despair of loneliness will not kill you. Only you can kill you. And that’s an act of murder. Just as I cannot imagine murdering anyone, I can somehow, at very dark moments, imagine murdering myself. It doesn’t seem so bad if I’m doing it to myself. I mean, I’m not hurting anyone… Um, yeah, about that.

The Sadness You Carry / The Sadness You Give to Others

Sorting through our own DNA around sadness, depression, and loneliness is part of human growth. It’s a spiritual path to continue renewing your lease on life, continuing to carry on even when you don’t really want to. I wanted to live. I wanted to be happy again. I just couldn’t quite imagine it from my dark days.

What I was desperate for was a reason to live. A spark of hope that things would get better. But my brain, my chemical wiring, my mean and mad brain would not allow any light to come into the curtained room of my sad thoughts. But I’ve learned one very valuable tool since my depression diagnosis when I was 16 years old: I can admit my thoughts are crazy, and I can choose to dismiss the suicidal ideation as “bad thoughts.”

When you carry your own sadness it is hard but bearable. When you give it to others in the form of love, communication, and touch, you are healing yourself and perhaps parts of them as well. When you (if you) decide to end it all, you are merely passing your pain and despair to those around you who will survive without you. My sister jumped off a bridge when she was in her early thirties. I was ten years younger. I almost followed her off the bridge over the next 20 years.

Today, I know I will never pass my darkness on to my kids or to the loved ones around me. Even when I can’t see it, can’t feel it, I know there are people around me who love me, who depend on me. When my mom died, one of those people, maybe the most important one, was no longer here to tether me to life. With her gone, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to let go.

And then I saw the face of my daughter and son.

(I will continue tomorrow. I will rise up another day and continue to fight against my own depression. I will also fight for the men who are treated as second-class parents in the courts of divorce. We are equal, we should be given equal opportunity to parent our children.

My Thoughts Are Not Real

“Wow, that’s a fucked up thought,” I say to myself when the blackness feels suffocating. And on a good day, I can let that dark thought go. On a bad day, I just want to crawl back in bed and try not to wake up.

But I have to wake up. I have to tell the black dog to fuck off. I have to rise up against the depressing thoughts and see my own flawed logic. And then I hang on until I can find a way out of the forest of my own creation.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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