So, this is the counterpoint to a previous Woe, Wait. Wait. Wait.
You might hate this tip because it’s annoying to be told to do something different when you feel like you can hardly do anything at all. It’s hard to do something different when you’re depressed or scared or stuck. You might not have any idea what different thing you could do.
The good news is it almost doesn’t matter what different thing you do. I mean, not heroin, that’s probably not the best choice for doing something different. But when you’re frozen, when you’re stuck, when you are locked up inside your own damn mind going in circles about why you’re bad, what you’ve done wrong, what you’re afraid of, how you’ve failed — what you need most in those moments is not to Think Different but to do something different.
If you’re lying in bed staring at that suit you left crumpled on the floor and you start to hate yourself for not taking care of your things and your mind starts to occupy itself with your self-hate and/or in order not to deal with the crumpled-up suit you distract yourself so you don’t have to see it or think about what a bad person you are for not hanging up the suit. I know this is not any idea you haven’t thought to yourself a million times before but you could, just a thought, just a small suggestion, you could just get up and hang up the suit.
Okay, okay, I know you absolutely hate that idea. “If I could hang up the suit, Amy, I would have hung up the damn suit.” Sure, of course. But. What if you could, just for 30 seconds, which is all you need, wrench your attention away from the constant stream of self-hate and/or whatever it is you’re doing to run from all your feelings, just long enough to pay attention to a suit hanger and the suit. Put the suit on the hanger. Don’t think anything about the past or future of the suit while you are putting it on the hanger. Just kindly hang up the suit. Do not get distracted by all the non-suit things that are also crumpled up on the floor. Do not get distracted about how your closet is too full. Do not decide you need a different hanger before you can hang up the suit. When you are done hanging up the suit, just sit back down. If you have a journal or a todo list, write “hang up suit” on it and then cross it out.
Hanging up the suit (I know nobody wears a suit anymore. It’s me, I bought a suit for no good reason at all and then I didn’t fucking hang it up. And then I did hang it up. It is hung.) is a kind of beginner-level doing something different. It’s a start.
Here are some other ideas:
Go for a walk somewhere you don’t usually walk. It doesn’t even have to be a different neighborhood than yours. I guarantee you that within five blocks of your home there is some street you have not walked down in ages, and when you walk down it I promise if you pay attention you will see some things you haven’t seen before.
This one is called “opposite action”. Do the opposite of the thing you want to do. You want a hot bath? What about a cold shower instead? Of course it sounds unpleasant! But it’s different, isn’t it? You will experience something different.
Take up a new activity. Talk to a new person. Take the train a direction you have never taken it before. Try pole dancing or rollerskating or both (probably don’t start out like this, doing them both at once…). Wear the yellow dress you never wear because it’s yellow and not black. Go snowshoeing because you hate the snow.
But why, Amy? Why????
okay, here is some theory:
First of all, there’s a whole skill in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy called Behavioral Activation. The idea is that you can interrupt some of the cycles of depression or anxiety in several different places. What you do is one of them. Many folks would argue it’s the most powerful place to intervene, and I don’t disagree. If you can do the behavior you will be changing something. If you’re stuck, changing something is crucial.
I’ve been watching Twin Peaks with my family. There’s a scene that keeps getting repeated like a dream sequence — it isn’t exactly that, but it’s David Lynch, so who really knows — in which a character is trapped in a room hung all over with red curtains. There’s one exit from the room, which is a side entrance to a long curtained hallway. At the end of the curtained hallway, on the opposite side, there’s an exit. The exit takes him to the same room he just left. He goes around and around like this, over and over again.
Eventually I started yelling at him about it. “GO STRAIGHT” I yelled. “Pull the curtains down!” “What’s behind the statue?” “Attack the arm!” “DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT”. He never, ever does. I keep hoping he will, thinking THIS TIME HE’LL do something different, and he’ll get out. But hey, there's still Season 3 to watch, so maybe he'll learn.
Look, it’s not that I really believe that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, but that is certainly one thing we humans sometimes do when we are in dire straits and it’s not always the most adaptive choice, so maybe consider doing something else. Or hell, just do the something else.
Look, you can do something different without leaving your home. Even sitting in a different place in your house and watching the sun and shadows fall on different pieces of furniture in different ways counts as doing something different. Reading a new book, listening to an album someone else recommended that’s a kind of music you don’t know anything about, trying a new word game, texting someone you haven’t spoken to in years — all of these things count. But, the bigger the different thing, or the more different things, the more chance you have to get more unstuck.
The more scared and tired and depressed we are, the more frozen we sometimes feel. When we are overwhelmed it does not seem enticing or fun to do something unfamiliar. It just seems scary. But doing something different will jostle your body and also your brain, and this may unstick you.
What are you going to do to unstick yourself today?
PS I know, don't you absolutely hate that I tried to end this Woe by personally challenging you? I wanted to try something different but honestly every fiber of my being hates when people end essays with a question like that, so I probably won't do it again. But, who knows. Maybe some of you find it to be a useful prod instead of a condescending poke. If so, you can always smash that reply button and let me know!
PPS I first learned about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy from the very first self-help book I owned, Feeling Good. Now there are apps and bots who will help you through CBT, but they're seriously not any more effective than the workbooks. You still have to do the work. And CBT, like everything else, is not a miracle. It's got some tools that might help. Definitely worth checking out though.