Like most people, I have a dark side. Well, maybe it’s not quite a dark side. It’s more like a grey side. It’s a little gremlin that sits at the edge of my consciousness, always threatening to take over. Up until I was around twenty-six years old, this gremlin ruled the majority of my life.
I was chronically anxious. I was borderline depressed. I couldn’t get my head on straight when it came to my relationships with men. My extreme lack of self-worth caused me to either date people who weren’t right for me or hurt the people I loved the most (usually a combination of both).
When I was 20, a therapist diagnosed me with Dysthymia, a mild form of depression. To be diagnosed with Dysthymia, a person must have had a depressed mood on most days for at least 2 years or more, along with at least two of the following symptoms:
1. Poor appetite or overeating
2. Insomnia or hypersomnia
3. Low energy or fatigue
4. Low self-esteem
5. Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
6. Feelings of hopelessness
I think I had numbers four and six. My therapist agreed, and I ended up taking antidepressants for six years. As many of you know, I eventually got off the medication, wrote a book about my experience, and have since dedicated much of my time to educating others about alternative treatments for anxiety and depression.
But that doesn’t mean my gremlin went away.
I went off antidepressants when I was twenty-six. Eight years later, I still devote a huge amount of my time and energy to keeping myself off the medication. This involves a variety of “treatments” like yoga, meditation, eating healthy, being in nature, and spending as much time as possible doing things I enjoy. My gremlin, however, still likes to visit. These visits manifest themselves in a variety of ways, such as:
– Not feeling good enough. Ever. (No matter how much I achieve, how I look, or how many compliments I receive).
– Feeling down or blue for no apparent reason, without being able to shake it.
– Feeling stressed and anxious, especially when it comes to anything related to my job/career.
Most of the time, I’m able to handle these experiences by keeping a steady routine that involves many of the “treatments” that I described above.
Sometimes, however, I get tired. I don’t want to have to work so hard to keep my gremlin at bay. I wish so badly that I was born with a more laid back personality that didn’t experience the world so strongly. I wish my brain would turn itself off so that I didn’t think so much.
I’ve often wondered whether I’m just doomed to be stressed. I’ve felt immense levels of stress at every job I’ve ever had, whether I was a waitress, a cashier, or a graduate student. A couple of years ago I worked part-time at a greenhouse, and even that stressed me out. In fact, one of the underlying factors behind many of my career decisions has been a desire to reduce my stress. After finishing my Ph.D., I gave up my childhood dream of becoming a professor, partly because I thought it would be too stressful. Then I left my corporate job because I thought it was too stressful. Then I gave up being an entrepreneur because I found that stressful. Now I do research at Harvard and guess what? It’s stressful.
Then it occurred to me. My stress has nothing to do with the various jobs that I’ve held. It has everything to do with me. If I can be equally as stressed serving liver and onions as I am when I give a lecture to a group of top researchers, then the stress isn’t coming from out there. It’s coming from in here.
This realization was depressing at first. Am I doomed to be stressed no matter what I do?
After a lot of introspection, I believe that the answer is no.
But the solution isn’t easy.
If my issues are coming from within, then I need to do the inner work to feel a sense of peace in my outer work.
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It means that I have to be ok with the fact that I might never walk into an office skipping with joy, and I might need to spend the rest of my life meditating on how to find happiness at work. It means that I need to pay attention to how the aspects of my personality that bug me also bear many gifts. For example, my high strung, achievement-oriented persona has helped me excel in almost every professional role I’ve ever held. My overactive brain helps me absorb so much information that I never tire of learning, so much so, that I can spend hours and hours (and hours!) having philosophical conversations that make me feel alive. And my sensitivity to the suffering that exists in the world drives my desire to be of service.
I also need to remind myself of the fact that the world is a paradox, where good and bad co-exist at the exact same time. This means that good things happen to bad people. And bad things happen to good people. It means that no matter how much yoga or meditation I do, no matter how many life altering hippie retreats I attend, no matter how many green smoothies I drink, and no matter how many positive affirmations I repeat, I might never reach a state where I’m 100% happy all the time. And that’s ok.
If I focus too much on reaching a 100% happy destination, then I lose focus of everything I’m learning along the way.
I’m not going to end this blog with a positive statement about how these solutions have helped me banish my gremlin for good. Nope. He’s still here. Some days I wake up and I feel grey. Other days are fantastic. And that’s life. My gremlin keeps me on my toes and forces me to continue to try to become the best possible version of myself.
What does your gremlin do for you?
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
*Image courtesy of AmericanWitch.February 9, 2014