Someone once said that without change there would be no butterflies. Herman Hesse said much of the same when he said, “Some think that holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it’s letting go.”
Don’t look backwards
If there was one lesson I learned this year, it’s that clinging to the past only creates more pain. Over and over again, I was forced to loosen my grip on the helm of life and simply let go, as Dory says to Marlin right before the whale spits them out to the Sydney Harbour in the 2003 Disney flick “Finding Nemo.”
Having made several career changes on top of each other, too much of my energy the last three months has been consumed by the past, obsessing over my mistakes — wishing I had been wiser, lamenting my bad boundaries, craving a redo, fixating on the joy I once felt sitting at my old cubicle. At times the ruminations were debilitating, as I believed that returning to the past was the only way out of my distress. I felt as if I were blindfolded in a large, empty auditorium — stretching my arms out, hoping to touch a wall and get my bearings.
A wise man recently told me that the way out isn’t the way in, and that the answer seldom lies where we’re looking. Our brains naturally look backward when we are in pain because that is what is familiar. Our gray matter latches on to happy memories, trying to salvage the joy we once felt. By trying to recreate the memories we inevitably arrive at more pain.
Moving forward is the only way we heal. Its uneven path is the one route to peace and sanity.
Recently I posted a photo on Facebook and labeled it “two things that have really helped me lately.” One was a box of Milk Duds. That needs no explanation. The other was a “Moving Forward” binder, where I list all the things I do in a day that propel me forward. On some days I scribble basic tasks like “took a shower” or “picked up my daughter from school.” On other days I am more ambitious and record things like “pitched a new column” or “talked to my literary agent about a new book.”
The power of creating something new
Creating something new can often pluck us out of regret and fantasies of the past and plant on the path to healing, shifting our energy from yesterday to today and tomorrow. Activities such as planting a flower or composing a piece on the piano promote the formation of new synapses in our brain. When we experiment with something we’ve never done before, our neurons feel their way to other neurons and form connections that result in more emotional resilience.
In the last six weeks, starting my own consulting company, Therese Borchard, LLC, has proven to be a powerful intervention of hope. It wasn’t a strategic enterprise I had been formulating for years. It happened organically, growing out of my work with different websites and companies throughout my career as a mental health advocate. I believe that sometimes God or the universe intervenes in your life, handing you a set of directions that you weren’t anticipating. When that happens, I have learned it’s best to say a prayer, take a deep breath, and follow the instructions.
If you build it, they will come
In the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams,” Iowa farmer Ray (Kevin Costner) hears a mysterious voice in his cornfield saying “If you build it, he will come,” referring to his baseball hero “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. That’s essentially what happened to me. The seed was planted one afternoon as I volunteered with an academic center. My contact there encouraged me to get my LLC status, which was easier than I thought. Suddenly I received requests from a few different organizations needing help with content development and consumer engagement.
I am doing much of what I have always done the last 13 years of my career – writing and speaking about mental health. But I have widened my vision to help healthcare companies, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations better understand and connect with persons with depression and other mood disorders. Having lived with depression my entire life and having experimented with practically every kind of treatment available, I feel qualified to share insights from the trenches that they can use to build impactful campaigns, initiatives, and programs.
Designing a logo, business cards, and a website have all been healing activities, recorded in my “Moving Forward” binder. So has moving into my own office where framed inspirational quotes line the wall, reminding me to look forward, not backward. Each effort helps me shift my perspective from grief to potential.
One small step at a time
Our brains are programmed to think in reverse because they can file memories more easily than forecast new experiences. Discipline and perseverance are required to concentrate on today and tomorrow. However, if we pay attention to (and possibly record) all the simple tasks we do in a day to move forward, like taking a shower, we create a momentum pushing us ahead. We send a powerful message to our limbic systems (emotional center) that we are choosing promise and hope over grief and regret. And when that gets difficult, I highly recommend Milk Duds.