I owe you an apology.
I haven’t posted anything in a month.
It’s been a busy time of year, of course. Christmas, New Year’s, two family birthdays, and all of the usual, and unusual things ( bathroom leak ) that happen at any given time. I could use that as an excuse I suppose, but that wouldn’t be true.
I might also claim to have a severe case of writer’s block, which happens occasionally, but that would only be partially true.
It’s not as though there isn’t anything interesting happening, or to talk about; there’s plenty. Last year for example. That’s a year best put in the rearview mirror, and made to vanish as quickly as possible. From Trump to terrorism, Trudeau to the terrible toll wrought upon the celebrity and entertainment icons we will now mourn, rather than cheer.
Yep, 2016 in many ways was a tough year.
But it wasn’t what happened this year that pushed my faithful keyboard out of reach. It was instead, something that happens almost every year around this time, and at other random times as well.
At the root of it all is something psychologists call “rumination”. Basically, it’s the process of turning a problem over, and over again in your mind, until you’re just a few steps short of obsession. And, although the problem is all too abundantly clear, solutions are not. Which leads to another cycle of fruitless contemplation.
Each trip around the issue simply amplifies the anxiety attached to it, to the point where action seems pointless, or impossible. And of course, failing to come up with a useful solution encourages feelings of disappointment, and depression.
Often, one problem is put aside for another, which simply compounds the situation.
For example, you might be fretting over how you’re going to come up with money to fix your car, just as your dishwasher dies. Now you have two problems. And, from there, you can usually find several more to add to the list.
Things that normally don’t bother you, like the clutter in your laundry room, suddenly become major issues and drive you crazy.
You might think I’m just being a worry wart, but rumination is like worry on steroids. It is heavy, consuming, and possessive.
So much so, that at its worst, you want to sleep roughly 18 hours a day. Getting out of bed requires Herculean effort, mainly because in bed, it’s safe, warm, and quiet. It’s once your out of bed, that all the trouble begins.
As I mentioned, for me at least, this cycle usually pops up near the end of December. It’s not because I’m worried about the January Visa bill, ( although that’s another thing to consider ) but it does have something to do with the season. Although Christmas is supposed to be the celebration of light, it comes at a very dark time of year. The darkest, in fact. Literally.
Just a few days before Saint Nick arrives, I hold a small celebration in my head for another annual event; the winter solstice. That’s the day when the sun comes up late, and goes home earlier than on any other day of the year. It’s night by 4:30 pm where I live, and for me, that is almost unbearable. The cold grey skies of winter do nothing to instil cheer into the heart, and December 21st, is always the worst of those days.
So why then, do I celebrate?
Because I know the worst is over. From December 22nd onward, we will gain roughly three additional minutes of light per day, until June 21st when the summer solstice hits. Those three minutes a day might not be noticeable to you, but today the sun set at 4:59 pm. Believe me, I noticed.
Now you may ask whether I’ve ever been treated, or seen anyone to help me deal with this rumination stuff, and the answer would be yes. The most common prescription for the problem is a round of anti-depressants, and a course of cognitive therapy. Neither have provided a magic bullet, in my particular case.
Prescription drugs are not so much a cure, as they are a coping strategy, and some are definitely more helpful and less toxic than others. But the bandage, doesn’t heal the wound.
Cognitive therapy is supposed to be the medicinal ointment that accomplishes that goal.
If you’ve ever experienced cognitive therapy, or read about it, you know that it is a regimen designed with the hope of retraining the brain to recognize the signs and symptoms of rumination, and respond differently than it usually does.
Sort of like the squirrel that distracts the Beagle spending its’ days digging up the backyard garden. Theoretically, send enough squirrels, and the garden takes a much lighter beating. If it works, you stop concentrating on the dirt, and become more aware and involved in what’s going on around you.
But cognitive therapy has its limitations too. One of them, is that it doesn’t work very well on people who question it, or don’t buy in completely. According to my former therapist, the two categories of professionals most likely to struggle with, or reject cognitive therapy are teachers, and journalists. I’ve done both.
From my perspective the problem was this: the bottom line of the process more or less came down to telling y0u, that you have to change your mind. Decide, somehow, not to go down that rabbit hole. Talk yourself out of worrying, and being depressed. If it were that easy to talk myself out of the pattern of thinking that I’ve developed over a course of a lifetime, I probably wouldn’t need cognitive therapy.
Nevertheless, I did learn to recognize when the spiral was beginning and have been able, to some extent, to mitigate the negative effects. I still struggle. Just not as often, or as significantly, as I did before.
That the latest round happened nearly one year, exactly, after my former employer declared bankruptcy and released me and more than a hundred of my former workmates without severance, should probably not have been as surprising to me as it was. But, that’s the thing about dealing with something like this, it can spring up and bite you in the ass without a moment’s notice.
Ironically, or perhaps not, we’re coming up to the annual ” Let’s Talk “ initiative, to promote better mental health. A day when a number of Canadian celebrities admit that they’ve had problems too, and encourage the rest of us to stop pretending that really it’s nothing. Nothing at all.
I will give the day a passing nod as it flies by on the calendar this Wednesday, January 25th. I think I’ve done just about all the talking I can handle for right now. From this point on, I’ll be trying to work up the wherewithal, to act.