Last weekend, while thousands marched for science in DC, I met up with a longtime friend for the annual Howard County GreenFest. And while watching a documentary on the plight of migratory birds did not aid in my feelings of hopelessness and helplessness (although I highly recommend the film), meeting up with my friend gave me some perspective.
She’s the one who originally encouraged me to write about my struggles with diabetes and insurance coverage. She’s the one who introduced me to my first book producing gig and a mentor who is still having a profound impact on me post-mortem. And when I summed up the indifference I felt towards my current life, she gave me hope.
“It seems like what you need right now is to feel empowered in your daily life,” she said to me over lunch at David’s Natural Market in Columbia.
But when I feel so distraught and useless and anxious about the current political climate, how do I change circumstances outside of my control in order to feel empowered again?
And then I realized… I don’t. I can’t change those circumstances outside of my control. But I can control how I react to those circumstances. This is often a difficult perspective for me to grapple with. Sometimes I do want to feel like the victim for all the events happening in my daily life and the world.
So I do. And then I try to take those feelings of anger, anxiety, frustration and resentment and turn them into action. But when I’ve lost hope in myself, it’s hard to turn those negative energies into something positive.
How to Start the Day
I decided then that while I may not be able to control the negative entities that awaited me each day, I could control how I started the day. I made a vow last Sunday to take my mornings back for myself and see if that helped.
I had no promise that I would actually follow through on this venture. I’m not a morning person, and while I often have the best of intentions, even on a “good” day, getting out of bed is a struggle. But for Monday, April 24, 2017, I set my alarm for 6 a.m. The earliest I had managed to get out of bed in the past month had been 7:30 a.m. so this was going to be a feat.
But I figured if I set my alarms for 6 a.m., I might actually get out of bed by 6:30 a.m., which would then give me enough time to do a few sets of weight lifting before I needed to get ready for my job. And while lifting weights is pretty monotonous in and of itself, the actual physical exertion might give me more energy for the day and thereby improve my mood.
This was my plan. I figured I would dedicate Monday through Wednesday to this early morning routine and then allow myself Thursday and Friday to rest. It would be my reward for sticking to my plan. And maybe in the end, I really would feel empowered for the day?
I always have the best of intentions.
Alarms Don’t Always Go as Planned
But on Monday, April 24, 2017, I had plugged my phone’s charger into a new smart power strip but forgot to turn on the actual power strip. And since I use a sleep app that monitors my sleep cycle, my phone needs to be plugged into the charger or else it will lose battery. It even woke me up at 4 a.m. to warn me of this fact. But I ignored it. And in a weird coincidence Norm didn’t wake me up either. So when I finally opened my eyes and realized my phone was dead and that my alarms hadn’t gone off, I immediately jumped out of bed.
I was so mad at myself. I was ranting and raving the entire 30 minutes it took me to get dressed, ready and walk out the door. And then after locking the apartment, I looked down at the time on my phone and realized it was not only the first time in weeks that I had gotten out of bed prior to 7:30 a.m., but that I had actually left on time.
While I missed my opportunity to start the day weight training, I had not missed an opportunity to start the day on a positive note. Leaving on time seems like a small step, but for this depressed individual, it was a huge step. And besides being my eight-year anniversary with Type 1 diabetes, there was nothing special about that Monday.
Except I had proven that I had the capability to get up in the morning for myself. And while I still walked into the office irritable and unhappy, I had a bit more energy that day. I made it through a happy hour and even accepted an invitation to have dinner with good friends. And since that Monday, my energy levels have slowly started returning. I did wake up early on Tuesday and Wednesday and lifted weights. It was a wonderful way to start the day. And by taking care of my physical needs in the morning, I then had my evenings free to focus on my creative and social needs.
One Morning at a Time
Each day has gotten a little bit easier. I have more hope. I feel more social. I want to be around people. I want to take long walks and feel the hot sun on my back. I want to write in my head and see what comes out on paper later. I want to color while watching re-runs of Gilmore Girls. I want to play with Norm and help him shed some fat. I want to send my friends surprise letters in the mail.
But more than any of that, I want to say thank you to all the wonderful friends, family and colleagues in my life who never stopped believing in the value I have to offer. I want to say thank you for never giving up on me even as it seemed I was giving up on myself. Because each time I experience a depressive episode, there’s always a small voice in the back of my mind assuring me that no one really understands me, and no one loves or cares about me.
Except that’s not true. This past week certainly proves that. I have some amazing, wonderful people in my life who understand me so well that they can give me the space to figure things out for myself while also providing invaluable support.
It has been so wonderful to have energy again. And yesterday for the first time in a very long time, I woke up and felt excited for the day. I still do.