You Can’t Unlearn It


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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