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Such Very Good Advice

If only I did the things I should.....

By Harriet ChristabelPublished 6 years ago 4 min read
[Image Credit: Disney, 1951]

There's a scene in the original 1951 Alice in Wonderland movie that always used to upset me when I was little. It's when Alice is lost in the forest and sits down in the middle of a clearing. She sings a lovely little song about how if she'd only follow the good advice she gave herself, then she wouldn't get into so much trouble. You can watch it on YouTube and it always used to get to me as a child. Alice bursts into tears, the strange animals burst into tears, and everything seems totally hopeless. Poor Alice is lost and confused and frustrated with herself. The animals can't do anything to help and so just fade away.

I understand Alice's frustration with herself, as I don't always do the things I should and it quite often makes things worse. There are a catalogue of things I can do to help myself when I'm feeling anxious or depressed. Pursue a hobby, do something silly, make yourself laugh, meditate, listen to your favourite song, go outside, exercise, do something you like doing, make something, read a book, reach out to somebody, talk, sit quietly, write about your thoughts, don't focus on your thoughts.... the list goes on and on. And a lot of these are things that I know work. I love knitting, so finding a new knitting project I like helps distract me from whatever thoughts are rampaging in my head. Writing helps because I'm focusing on my thoughts in a constructive and positive way. Reaching out, talking to someone helps.

So there are things I can do that help. None of them are complicated or hard to understand: the most difficult one to do is opening up and talking to somebody. So anxiety and depression should be easy to manage, right? Just do x, y, and z and you're back on track. If you think that, then I understand why. But that's not how things work.

And here's why. I can be quite happily sat in my living room, knitting or reading away, when the depression strikes. It's like somebody pulls a plug out and all of a sudden, I lose all interest and pleasure in what I'm doing. I become miserable. I think about what I should be doing or feeling. I should be happy about what I'm doing, I should be working, I shouldn't be enjoying myself. These thoughts are irrational, regularly self-punishing, and sometimes conflicting. I was happy, why aren't I happy anymore? I don't deserve to be happy, that's why. Sitting on the floor staring into space feeling miserable, that's all you deserve. Do that. No lunch for you.

What should I do? The rational part of me is clear—you can't let these irrational thoughts win! You do deserve to be happy! Go and get lunch for god's sake, it makes no sense to not have lunch. Treat yourself! Beat the thoughts! You can do it! And sometimes, I can beat the thoughts, for a little while at least. But a lot of the time, it's an uphill battle. I'm fighting against years of self doubt and criticism that has made my default mode "I can't do it." My inner goddess has left the building and all my attempts to bring her back seem cheap and hackneyed.

I'm also tired and worn down from the perpetual battling against my own brain. That's how my anxiety works on bad days; it runs me around in endless worry loops until my brain can't take any more and short circuits from the exhaustion. And then I do whatever the easiest thing is because it's all I can handle. I shut down. I slump in my seat and stare at the telly, watching shows I've seen a thousand times before because that's simpler than choosing something new. A new knitting pattern is too difficult. Writing is too difficult. It opens the door wide open to depression, which takes even more energy to fight off.

All I want to do is sleep on days like that. It's the easiest thing and you don't have to worry when you're asleep, so it's pleasant. I read in a book that you can train your body to need more and more sleep. If you subject your body to ten hours, twelve hours of sleep on a regular basis, then at some point you won't be able to function on anything less. As much as I love my life, it's so tempting to just go to sleep, which is a train of thought that I only follow on very bad days.

So I still sympathise with poor Alice, lost and defeated in the woods, surrounded by unhelpful feelings that aren't going to pull her up and tell her things will be ok. I've been there and I understand how frustrated she gets with herself. But on days when I'm upset and angry and depressed, I have to remember that being happy is worth fighting for. No matter how tired I am, no matter how critical of myself I am, no matter how difficult and dark and pointless the world seems to be, being happy is worth fighting for.

There's nothing wrong with being sad for a time. But you'll never get out of the woods if you don't somehow find the strength to stand up and walk out.


About the Creator

Harriet Christabel

Harriet Christabel is a writer living in Scotland. When her depression and anxiety let her, she enjoys knitting, reading, a good mystery and true crime.

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    Harriet ChristabelWritten by Harriet Christabel

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