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That sinking feeling



We all know what it feels like: when the bubble bursts and life gets really heavy. Arms and legs feel heavy, it takes energy to move, and the day to day things suddenly feel like mountain climbing. Only yesterday movement felt light, all the thoughts in flow, now it is like wading through treacle.


I often think of the lightness of being as buoyancy – like the buoyancy of a hot air balloon, or of a glider riding along a current. The opposite, this heaviness, is therefore a sinking feeling – like a ship with a ruptured hull, filling with water, falling deeper and deeper.

There’s that moment where you feel you can catch it happening; you notice yourself starting to fall. As when a crisis is brewing, or when something’s gone terribly wrong. But it’s the middle of the day, so you have to keep going. Then your interactions become more performative – like an actor on a stage - as though all is well, whilst the sinking feeling is held internally, maybe in your tummy.


But when circumstances allow a retreat, you retreat.


It’s important to sit for a while in that depression. Locate the sadness. So a bubble burst: what was it that was keeping you high? What caused it to burst? Perhaps we can represent what it was like in the bubble, riding high. Colours, sounds, images, stories. Perhaps we can represent where we are now in the sadness.


It’s still you. You are still that same person. The qualities that were moving through you as an asset during your bubble, are still there, lying dormant, like a finely-tuned, well-crafted instrument, until you enter into activity again.


Look for the treasure in this mournful place.


How do we locate it? A temporary disappearing act. Lay low. Walk the night. Create some distance from the game. Watch how the game continues without your participation – all the other players carry on playing their parts. Look at the hole left by your participation. Understand that the game continues whether or not you are a part of it. But, a survivor in the wild, you do intend to rejoin it.


The treasure has a name: Egolessness. It’s a word you often hear in reference to Buddhist and eastern philosophies. Life is a costume that we wear. Beneath the game, the agendas; beneath our crafted identies, and our social roles, is an experiencing self, that is older, deeper, wiser, and more connected.


If depression has any value at all, it is the value of temporarily putting down the costume, and seeing life through a very different lens.


A rising tide lifts all boats. In the same way, when collectively we lose our buoyancy, or otherwise the psychological climate changes, as individuals may find we get caught up in that. This relatively egoless state of awareness may enable us to realise a fractional experience of depression.


What collective pain am I carrying, and on whose behalf? What am I shouldering? Realising– it’s not all on me.


The treasures of egolessness are what we may bring back from the depths with us.

When the time is right, it is helpful to envisage a way back. What might that return to life look like? How might it be hardwired with the values we cherish the most?


We may often, typically, feel we need to wait until we feel better – for the storm to clear - before we make our move back. But in reality often, typically, happiness takes a little while to catch up. In other words we might move back into action whilst we still feel utterly lousy, or heavy, or still full of anxiety; holding faithfully to the idea that feelings are not forever, and happiness will catch up eventually.


In the meantime take care of yourself. Practise self-care. Take nutritious food. Set an alarm to get sleeping patterns back under control. Even if sometimes this means dragging yourself out of bed. Resetting the clock can often provide the precious stable ground we need for a return.


Know also that this fear, this sadness, this sinking feeling – it can come in waves. Just when we thought we were returning it can strike again. Perhaps we need to go back down again into the depths; to see things we have not yet seen, perhaps to discover deeper causes for the crash.

One of the feelings that can often be present in those depressions is of being tired or sick of oneself. A weariness or an exhaustion of thinking the same thoughts that have turned over so many times before. Perhaps now there is an opportunity to put aside that broken record. Take a look out, look for the ladders – how are other people moving on, and finding their lightness? Perhaps there are opportunities to tether to the lightness of others.


And whilst ever you are sinking, or trying to locate your buoyancy again, there can be great value in being able to share some of that experience, intimately, with another – a fellow traveller who has the time, patience and care to dwell in that place with you. A little sanctuary, within which you don’t need to pretend.

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​© 2020 by John Hills

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