You Can’t Unlearn It


This post is from my archives.

I’ve been repeating to myself lately something my therapist said in our session last month: “You can’t unlearn your progress.” Meaning, I can take a few steps backwards in my recovery from depression and anxiety, but that doesn’t erase all the lessons, skills, and wisdom acquired in my past.

Those words are consoling to me the last three or so weeks as my boundaries crumble and I go back on promises I made myself not so long ago. I know that the footprints are going in the wrong direction, but I seem incapable of making myself turn around to walk toward healing. I’m afraid that I’ll lose it all–the knowledge, the insights, the discipline that I procured the last three or so years–as my strides reverse.

My therapist swears I won’t. And I’m holding her to her word.

Because you can’t unlearn something. It’s there, stuck in your neural passageways along with all the other gunk from your childhood. Recovery from depression–beginning the path to wholeness and happiness with the help of aids like cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, drugs, Omega 3s, yoga, exercise, gratitude–is like learning to ride a bike or studying a foreign language. You can store the bike in your garage for 10 years, or not utter “Gracias” to your Latin neighbors for decades, but the moment you’re ready to go, it comes back. With a little practice, of course.

I’m reassured by wise mentors in my life who have lived more years with depression and anxiety than I have, who agree that true recovery is based on progress, not perfection, and that growth almost always happens in uneven patterns with “muchos” messes. No neat freak need apply.

So even though we may feel like we’re spinning around in circles–lacking the gravity needed to pull us in a certain direction–even then we’re probably absorbing information, gaining knowledge, and educating ourselves in the subject of life so that, as T. S. Eliot so beautifully articulated: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Originally published on Beyond Blue at

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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2 Responses
  1. Gilly

    Thank you. As always you have shared exactly what I need to hear exactly when I need to hear it. I am currently beset it seems with toxic people who have used my sensitivity as a stick to beat me with (and two of them are psychologists believe it or not) and I felt like I was back to square one having slid down the biggest of snakes. Thank you for reminding me that as I climb the ladder again my awareness that the snakes are out there will help me to avoid the worst of them.

  2. Therese…
    I came upon your post from May 2013 and the song “Be not Afraid”. The post was touching and so was the reply was the man Tom. I too, am struggling with fear…my Mama is 84 and just less than 2 years ago she was a busy vibrant mother, hands on Grammie of 17 and great grammie of 25. She, since Daddy retired from a decorated 30 years traveling the world with NATO as an officer in the Army, then an ordained minister went into the short term missionary field. One day, it seems, she got diagnosed with Parkinson’s and dementia. To see her fail so quickly and to see the dementia grab hold of her breaks our hearts. My sisters and I are taking care of her at home with Daddy and she is still mobile but the dementia is hard to understand. It rips my heart out and I know there are thousands of people out there like me. This weekend I was overcome and reached out to a friend and she read me something from Oswald Chambers about sorrow. I took it in but then Sunday at mass we read Isaiah 43:2-4 which are some of the lyrics in the song…and then the Lord reinforced his words by having had the right song picked for me…”Be Not Afraid”! I was serving as communion minister and it took every bit of strength to keep from just balling! Anyway I have sung this song to Mama the last couple days, throughout the day and it has brought us both comfort. Thank you for your writing that post and please repost it in the event God has someone else in mind that needs to read it for comfort! Blessings to you and your reaching out. I have a blog…no following just words God gives to me if you would like to get to know a little about me..but thank you again.