Since I went to rehab for depression, anxiety, and prescription drug dependency in 2014, I believe I’ve done a decent job of managing my propensities.
I joined a boxing gym, went to counseling, got completely clean from the pills, began teaching effectively again, and fully repaired the damage I had caused to my family.
For the last few years, my life has been good, but for the last few months, my life has been hell. I have experienced a resurgence of depression and anxiety, perpetuated by a new challenge-insomnia.
I’ll get in bed, toss and turn for a few hours, fall asleep around midnight, then wake up between 2 and 3 am, unable to fall back asleep. For 5 to 6 nights every week, this is my night. And then it’s zombie mode throughout my days. I feel like it’s Hell Week rushing for my old college fraternity, except now it’s Hell Months.
This has been extremely frustrating because I’m doing all the right things now.
- I exercise
- I eat healthy
- I work hard at school
- I take care of my kids
- I support my wife in her career
- I’m not doing drugs
- I’m not drinking alcohol
I’m way more physically stable than I was 5 years ago, and yet, emotionally, I’m right back in the same place I was in when I checked into rehab.
I’m working with my PCP, a sleep doctor, and I’ve even read several books and research studies about sleep. Based on this research, I’ve been following a sleep checklist that would probably help most normal people sleep better. I get out of bed each morning, and from the moment my feet hit the floor until the moment I return to bed, I’m doing things that are supposed to bring about a good night’s sleep. It hasn’t helped. The harder I’ve tried to fix this, the worse it’s gotten. This is my conundrum and I can’t run from it any longer, so I’ve just had to accept it. All of it-the insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
There’s a story I recently read in The Wisdom of No Escape that has helped me through these hard days.
It’s about a woman in a field, who happens to be spotted and chased by a pack of tigers (This is not a story about the Alabama and Clemson College Football National Championship Game😂).
She runs and she runs, but the tigers still get closer. She eventually reaches the edge of a cliff and notices a few vines there. She climbs down and holds onto one.
Whew! She’s safe for now.
But then she looks down, and there are more tigers below her! Even worse, she looks back up and there is now a tiny mouse, gnawing away at the vine she’s clinging to.
In desperation, she looks to her left, and she notices a bunch of strawberries that have grown out of the grass above.
She looks up-tigers above her. She looks down-tigers below. She looks to her left, she grabs a strawberry. She eats it and enjoys it thoroughly.
This resonates because this is my story. I can see the tigers above, snarling at me. I can see them below, salivating and just waiting for me to fall, just like they were 4 years ago, but my solution has changed-it’s not more pills. It’s not suicide. It’s not running any longer. It’s simply staying in the moment, staying in the breath, accepting my suffering as reality, but also seeing this strawberry here in front of me. Choosing to smile in my struggle. Counting my blessings in my pain.
This clarity, this peace, has come to me, only through prayer and meditation. Talking with God and using Headspace off and on throughout each day, has changed my perception of suffering and life.
And while I love this story, I would actually like to add an alternative ending to it-
After eating one of the strawberries on her left, the woman looks to her right and notices several others in the same predicament-men and women, boys and girls-holding on to their own vines for dear life.
She reaches back over to the strawberries, picks a few more, and begins to pass them down the line.
I’ve been trying not to be so wrapped up in my own pain that I can’t see others who are suffering, too-from addiction, stress, fear, cancer, body-shame, inadequacy, and divorce.
I want to help them stay in the breath and enjoy what they have within this moment. That’s why I’m writing this post. That’s why I’m giving out a lot of hugs lately. That’s why I’m playing basketball with my son and barbies with my daughter. That’s why I’m doing laundry for my wife. That’s why I’m holding the door for strangers, tipping my servers 30% at restaurants, and complimenting my students at my school.
This moment is painful, but also my moment to teach, share, and love. I’m not the only one who could use a strawberry right now.
In closing, please remember my friend, that the past has already passed. The future may never come. All we are guaranteed is this breath, this moment, and no matter how fucked up our situation is, we need to simply eat the strawberry and savor each bite.