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Using New Tools

A few years ago, Jodi and I bought new bicycles—and, of course, all the gear that goes with them. Part of that equipment included bike locks that stay locked until you dial just the right combination of letters. Then the dial and the tumblers move to the perfect spot in the mechanism and the lock slides open. Fortunately, I remembered the letters recently when we went for a ride, but that notion of everything coming together to create an opening has made me think about some recent happenings in my life.

I wrote here not long ago about a bout of depression I was experiencing. At the time, I was still slogging through it so I couldn’t quite say what exactly had happened. And even though I know that any combination of events can create a mood we didn’t see coming, it surprised me because I hadn’t felt like this in a long time. It’s at least three months later now, though, and I have a much clearer view of what took place. In many ways, it was just like that bike lock. But instead of the perfect combination creating something positive, my life events coordinated with each other so precisely that I felt as if the earth opened and I fell down into it.

When I was in the dregs of these recent feelings, I forgot that I have created new tools and that

I know how to use them.

And, in a really grim version of time travel, at the bottom of the fall I found myself in what felt like my long-ago life, with only the old rusty tools I used to use to try and help myself when I was young. Primary among those devices was depression—that dark cloud of fear I carried so I wouldn’t let myself expect too much. Suddenly the pessimism and negative self-messages were all I could come up with to handle my predicament, despite feeling that I’d gotten past the biggest and worst versions of depression years ago.

Fortunately, I still had my therapist’s phone number, and she has helped me to take apart each piece of the last few months and look at it with as much objectivity as I can muster. But it’s not like there was an answer just waiting there for me underneath the whole pile. I didn’t really expect that, but man did I wish for it. And yet, each day brings a clarity that would have taken many months when I was first in therapy years ago. This week I am beginning to see with a good deal of accuracy how everything came together at the perfect time to send me for this dive.

The details of all of this aren’t important to anyone else, but the process is, I think, because it probably happens to all of us. My fears and my dark moments sparked the very same feelings I had when I was 10 and 14 and 25 and 40. And this happened in such a coordinated fashion and timeframe that it really took me back to another time and place. I have worked hard enough on my life that I saw it coming—just not soon enough. When it was upon me, I was already there, and all I imagined I had available to fight it were the old tools of my youth—depression, anxiety, pessimism, and a poor self-concept.

When I was in the dregs of these recent feelings, I forgot that I have created new tools and that I know how to use them. I have the ability to be present and courageous. I am a good, creative problem solver. I have an amazing partner who can listen and talk and problem-solve with me. And, I have generous, supportive friends. My life is as lovely as it is because I have developed those tools and have learned how to use them. But when I slid down the rabbit hole that landed me in that familiar dark place, it was as if all memory of my ability to help myself was erased.

I don’t think that I’m never going to be depressed again, and I don’t believe I have a corner on the “how to feel better” market. But I can see what happened this time and that is an enormous relief. Our lives are all complex enough that many conflicting events can be occurring simultaneously to throw us off our game. But I’m going to try to hold on to that ability to be present a little more actively now so not everything hits me at the same time. If it’s all going to come together like a precision instrument, I’d like to anticipate it a bit more consciously and make a better plan for myself. The key, I know, is keeping my eye on my new tools and remembering to use them when I need them.

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