Live In The Now: Depression Lies In The Past, Anxiety Waits In The Future
It was one of those prematurely dark, dismal November evenings. I found myself walking home from work because I couldn't bring myself to face the harrowing sea of a rush-hour subway, nor could I afford a $25 traffic-infested taxi ride across the great isle of Manhattan.
I was in a melancholy mood that I just couldn't seem shake. And it didn’t help that it was the first pressingly cold evening of the season, and I was underdressed, so each gust of wind viscously bit into the naked, raw skin residing beneath my thin denim jacket, which had no intention of keeping me a semblance of warm.
But, f*ck it. I decided to walk from one end of the city to the next (in four-inch mega platforms, mind you). After all, what did I have to f*cking lose? I was half numb, half depressed.
I didn't really give a sh*t about anything, let alone the frigid air stinging my soiled skin and the row of blisters perfectly strewn in a straight line along the sides of my feet.
Have you ever felt so static and sad that you find yourself looking at everything through a negative, skewed, darkened lens?
Instead of viewing the slate-grey fall sky as cozy and romantic, it appears dismal and depressing. Instead of feeling the brisk winter air as refreshing and alive, it feels harsh and violating, hopeless and lonely.
Instead of looking at the brilliant copper leaves peppering the cement sidewalk as a beautiful reminder of the changing of the seasons, it doesn't seem like a new start, but rather a metaphor for how everything eventually dies.
This day was one of those sad-lens days. If I dared to be real with myself, I had been this way for the better part of a year.
But my life wasn't actually falling apart. I was 25, I was earnestly employed, and I had a sprinkling of loyal friends. What the f*ck was wrong with me?
I just couldn't figure it out. I felt...off-kilter? Out-of-it? Withdrawn? Lost? I was feeling so unspecific, so murky that finding words to describe my emotions was hard.
If I wasn't sorely exhausted and irrepressibly sad, I was hyper, anxious and in a keyed-up state of fight or flight, with zero danger to justify the heaps of panic. My fingers and toes would feel numb and tingly. My chest would feel tight.
When you're in the throes of a panic attack, you look at the world through a vivid, harsh lens. Colors burn too bright. Gazing into a beautiful pattern suddenly makes you feel like you're on acid -- tripped out and strange.
Your heart beats faster than you could ever f*cking run.
This sad evening, I decided to call my older brother in Los Angeles. I hoped that hearing the sweet sounds of a familial voice would satiate my pain, at least for a few minutes. My brother picked up on the third ring.
"Hey sis, what's up?" he enthusiastically hollered into his cell phone. His voice sounded strangely Californian, blissful and relaxed, and expelled a calm energy, a sharp contrast from the anxious streets of Midtown Manhattan.
I closed my eyes. As he spoke, I could practically feel the warm and loving California breeze effortlessly sweep through the phone line. It was as if the soft West Coast sunbeams were kissing my cheeks from a gazillion miles and an ocean away.
"I don't know, bro. I'm down," I confessed, my voice crumbling into a million little pieces of broken glass as my lips twisted around the truth.
That's when my brother bestowed me with some of the most wonderfully wise words my 25-year-old ears had ever heard. He quoted the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, who said:
"If you're depressed, you're living in the past. If you're anxious, you're living in the future. If you're at peace, you're living in the present."
Suddenly, all the broken pieces fell into place. My hazy vision crystallized. I was hit with an epiphany of epic proportions.
I realized my brother -- and Tzu -- was right.
When I was depressed, I was living in the past.
Through this brilliant Lao Tzu quote, I came to realize my depression felt akin to being stuck in the mud.
When I was sad, I was usually immersed in painful memories from my past. Because I was stewing over leftover feelings that weren't relevant to my life anymore, the sadness made me feel withdrawn from the moment.
I was moving backward, walking in slow motion through my old life, swimming in a sea of failed relationships, past heartbreaks and scary traumas that had taken place years and years prior.
When I was anxious, I was living in the future.
When I was feeling anxious, just like I was when I was depressed, I wasn't living in the moment, but I wasn't in the past either.
I was living in the future.
Who will I end up with? Am I on the right career path? What do I do about my bills next month? Will I have enough money to survive?
These unanswerable questions tugged at my heartstring all of the time. I was choking in fear about what was to come.
None of my all-consuming panic was connected to the moment. It was like living another life, one that was far in front me in which I couldn't see the finish line.
It was like my brain was sprinting so far ahead of myself that I couldn't keep up with myself.
When I was truly content, I was living in the moment.
To strive to be happy all the time is unrealistic and sets you up for failure. No one is going to feel no-holds-barred, recklessly, deliriously happy all of the f*cking time.
Unless you're on drugs. But even the most designer of drugs wear off. What goes up must come down, right?
Even when life is throwing hard stuff at you, you should strive to be content. To feel at peace. To be comfortable being uncomfortable. To be confident that you can hold both your happiness and your sadness at the same time.
After hearing the quote, I began to think back to all the times I felt peaceful and content in the colorful spectrum of my life.
They were moments when I wasn't living in the shadows of the past or the bright, white light of the unforeseen future. They were the moments when my feet were rooted into the earth, and I was here. I was listening to others. I was present.
While I know there is no tried and true remedy for anxiety and sadness that will work for everyone all the time, I decided to share with you this philosophy. It doesn't always work for me on the really bad days, but most of the time it does.
So, my lovelies, when you're feeling sad or anxious or disconnected, simply key back into the present moment. Take a breath. Press your feet into the ground. Tap back into the only thing you have for sure -- the now.