So, I was out fishing on a friend’s boat one time and after an hour or so without luck, he wanted to move to a different spot. He started the engine and put the boat in gear but we didn’t move. “What the hell is wrong with this thing?” my novice-experienced, boating pal shouted, clearly frustrated. So I tapped him on the shoulder and suggested we lift the anchor.
To me, this story speaks to the frustration of what it’s like trying to move from that dark place in depression, but can’t. You feel stuck, vulnerable and powerless. I believe that when we feel restrained in this destructive space, we must consciously seek out and cut the figurative ropes that anchor us in this dark place. I’ve identified 3 anchors that I believe hold us back from effectively healing in depression and living fulfilling lives:
Anchors that hold us back:
2. “Identity Transformation”
3. “General Adaptation Syndrome”
Anchor #1: Stigma
Stigma is anchored in our belief system. The figurative rope tied to the ‘stigma anchor’ was very, very difficult to cut. It took me nearly 5 years to overcome my fear, my stigma. I was scared to talk openly about my disorder because of my limiting beliefs about it (embarrassment, shame, weakness, etc.).
But I did it – I cut the rope attached to this figurative anchor. I did so by forcing myself to do the one thing that I was terrified to do for a very long time: talk to my family – my kids about my depression. I knew that if I could garner the courage to talk about such a painful and difficult experience to the very people in my life I love unconditionally, then I could talk to anyone about it. After a very difficult and emotional discussion with my family, I overcame my fear and cut myself free from this stigma anchor. Now I speak openly through various channels like public speaking, blogging and simply, talking.
Anchor #2: “Identity Transformation”
In his book Awaken the Giant Within, Anthony Robbins explains this potentially dangerous threat:
“Many people stop fighting their painful emotions and decide to fully indulge in them…It becomes a ‘badge of courage’…It literally becomes part of their identity, a way of being unique; they begin to pride themselves on being worse off than anyone else…this is one of the deadliest traps of all…it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where the person ends up having an investment in feeling bad on a regular basis…they are truly trapped.”
I’ve learned that this threat creeps up on you when you are most vulnerable. It erodes your cognitive defenses, to a point where you question your significance in life. Over time, it hardens you. And in a strange turn of events, you embrace from it a ‘defeatism attitude’ while nurturing a dark sense of empowerment.
When I first read that passage from Robbins, I felt as though he exposed this mystery threat before my very eyes. His passage revealed to me that whatever I was becoming was not who I truly was and that the longer I allowed this threat to manifest in me, the closer I got to losing out in my life.
I woke to the realization that I was, indeed, trapped in my disorder. It wasn’t until I was able to truly recognize this threat – and its inherent dangers – that I could take action and defend my real identity from further infection. By picking up the phone and calling my doctor, I began to cut away at the rope attached to this anchor.
Anchor #3: “General Adaptation Syndrome””
Where the previous two anchors are psychological in nature, the General Adaptation Syndrome relates to a physical condition whereby the body tries to function normally under abnormal conditions – like functioning concurrently with ongoing symptoms of chronic stress and anxiety, for example (such as upset stomach, fatigue, increased heart rate, and so on).
I liken the general adaptation syndrome to that of consciously driving a car while its engine light flashes, indicating a mechanical issue that needs servicing. The car may still continue to function in tandem with a flashing warning light, but over time, it becomes increasingly susceptible to breaking down. To prevent the inevitable, the car must get serviced.
In the context of depression, I believe that we must get ‘serviced’ in order to cut away at the rope attached to this particular anchor – or in other words, to prevent further long-term damage associated with this condition. Unfortunately, I do not hold the ‘universal solution’ to this (not sure it even exists!) however, I do know what works for me, and that is leveraging the 7 action steps I write about in my book, each summarized here (7 Action Steps to Overcoming Depressive Symptoms).