Sometimes, life gives you lemons. At other times, it throws them at you. Really, really hard. Especially if you’re not looking.
In one moment, you might think you’ve got everything under control:
- Job = secure
- Bills = paid
- Clothes = washed
- Social life = uhhh…work in progress
- Prescription = filled
And in the next moment…pure chaos. Cheers, life.
Whether as the result of some external event (eg. an untimely incident or unexpected circumstance) or internal influence (eg. a chemical imbalance in the brain or a traumatic memory), chaos hides around every corner waiting for the chance to strike, threatening dysfunction and disorder.
I believe that in small doses, chaos can bring a healthy amount of excitement and unpredictability to our lives. A life without chaos is a life without challenge; there is a yin to every yang, as they say. But to someone suffering from a mental illness, chaos poses a substantial threat. If we’re already struggling to keep our heads above water in day to day life, chaos can easily overwhelm us.
Depression is a constant battle, and when we’re treading water it’s easy to spend too much time staring into the abyss below and wondering what would happen if we stopped paddling. We get so caught up in the chaos and fear that we lose sight of the bigger picture and start behaving irrationally. Life throws us lemons, so we pick those suckers up and squirt the juices into our eyeballs. Not exactly the best move.
Sometimes, we need to be better than our emotions. Every now and then, it’s important to look up from the abyss and make sure you’re still headed toward dry land.
Let me tell you about a time life threw me a nice, big, juicy lemon.
A few years ago, I was exploring my home state in Australia, driving through the ranges of north Queensland. On this day I’d driven to the peak of the Eungella ranges and spent the morning trekking through the rain forest, conquering the mountainous trails and generally being in awe of the breathtaking views of the valley below. My companion on this journey was a maroon-red ’02 Toyota Corolla hatchback, that I had affectionately named Colin. We had been through much together in our three-year long relationship, and yet nothing had prepared us for the tribulations we were about to face.
After hiking my last hike for the day, I returned to my four-wheeled friend to find that he was almost completely out of fuel. Shit. I wish I could say this wasn’t a common occurrence, but I haven’t met any genies lately.
I was about 70 kilometres from the nearest gas station, and even further from the nearest town. But I had complete faith in Colin, and he had faith in me. I’m sure that if I coasted my way back down the mountain, I’d conserve enough fuel to make it back to the bowser.
So, down the range I went, gliding gracefully along the winding road in my little red go-go machine. I felt every bump, crack and dip beneath the rubber as we rode the waves of asphalt to the foot of the mountain. Every tweak of the steering wheel, every touch of the accelerator and every pump of the brakes was made with intent. It felt good. I was in complete control.
Or so I thought.
In the distance, a sign was fast approaching. “Eungella Dam, turn left in 500m”.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret, dear reader. I freakin’ love dams. Some might call it “an unhealthy obsession”, but I would call it “don’t judge me, asshole.”
I grew up a stone’s throw away from a dam, and they’ve always fascinated me. They’re a true testament to the ingenuity of mankind; monolithic structures with the capability of harnessing one of nature’s most unstoppable forces – lots and lots of water. Eungella was so far away from home, and I didn’t know if I’d ever get the opportunity to see this dam again. How could I pass up the chance at one last incredible view?
I pulled my steering wheel to the left, and barrelled toward my new destination. Surely, this would only be a slight detour.
I started bashing through the bush, leaving a large cloud of dust in my wake. The dirt pricked my eyes but I kept them peeled, scanning every bend in the road for a turnoff or parking area. Minutes passed, and as I strayed further and further from the beaten track, I could feel every meter travelled accumulating in the pit of my stomach. Deep down, I knew that I’d made a terrible decision.
“Surely, the lookout is just around the corner. You’ve committed to this, it’s too late to turn back now.” I’d taken a calculated risk, but I was never good at math. The lemon was in my hand, and I was starting to squeeze.
Colin’s petrol gauge was well below empty. I’m convinced that he was completely out of fuel at this point and was running only on the fumes of my sheer stupidity. My red solider, loyal and true, was on his last legs.
I was so focused on seeing this damn dam, that I didn’t notice the next turn was quite a bit sharper than the rest. I brought my foot down on the brake like an anvil, and the car began to slide. Perhaps in an act of protest after being pushed to the brink of exhaustion, Colin threw his back wheels off the road the same way and infant throws his rattle across the room during a tantrum. I went careening into a two-meter deep ditch and came to a humiliating halt.
Great. Now I’m really stuffed. It was going to take some real gusto to get up this slope, most likely wasting the last of my precious petrol in the process.
Here’s the thing. Sometimes, emotions make us dumb. Really dumb.
I was so distracted by the fear of potentially being stranded in the middle of nowhere that I wasn’t thinking straight. Chaos had taken the wheel, and I was being pulled along by a four-cylinder engine of emotion straight into a ditch on the side of the road. I was acting completely irrationally. I’d lost control. I’d chosen to stare into the abyss below when I should be been searching for the safety of the shore.
But no more. It was time to look up.
Let’s turn this ship around.
I put the pedal to the metal, and in a Dukes of Hazzard inspired moment of pure triumph Colin and I aimed for the sky and fired. Without the weight of my emotions holding me down, for a moment, I knew what it was like to fly. I was finally acting level-headed, and the Corolla was back on level ground.
By some miracle, I managed to reach the petrol station. I was on cloud nine, and approached the lady at the register like I’d just won the lottery.
“That’ll be $45.67.”
“Here, just take my whole wallet.”
I think we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve decided to squeeze lemon juice into our eyes.
When this happens, often the biggest challenge is having the self-awareness to take a step back and access your current situation, put aside your predispositions and decide what is truly best for your wellbeing. You’ll use any excuse in the book to avoid the answers that are often right in front of your face. You’ll allow yourself to be distracted, and put your wants before your needs. This is destined to lead you down the path of chaos, and one day you might find yourself stuck in the middle of the bush in rural Australia.
You need to know that it’s never too late to grab the steering wheel and turn yourself around. There are many factors that influence our decisions in this modern world, but ultimately, it’s your responsibility to know what is best for you and make the right choices.
If you only follow your heart’s compass, it’ll lead you astray. But, if you play it smart, you’ll find that the little diversions take on a whole new lustre as you start to appreciate life’s various side paths and gravel roads. You’ll be free to pursue your passions comfortably, whether it be writing, mountain trekking, or visiting dams. Know that when your priorities are in order, you’ll have more mental fuel to go the distance in life and enjoy a richer human experience.
So remember to keep your chin up, and keep swimming.