“The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings.” ~Ralph Blum
The summer of 2007 was simply terrible. I wish I could find something positive to say about it but there really was nothing that I can think of. I was underemployed, the economy was tanking, and I was in a shame spiral of depression and self-hatred.
Following a fight with my husband, I found myself driving aimlessly, snot and tears running down my face. I’m not comfortable saying I was on a mission to stop living, but the thought had definitely crossed my mind.
It was just a bank advertisement that caught my eye as I drove, but seeing the billboard took my breath away. “YOU MATTER.” The image of those huge letters is burned into my mind.
I wish I could say that billboard changed my life in a big way. It didn’t. But what it did do was change my life in a subtle way. The four years that followed that day in 2007 were similarly difficult. I was depressed, borderline alcoholic, and more deeply unhappy than I thought possible.
But somewhere in the back of my mind was the image of those letters: “YOU MATTER.”
By the fall of 2011 I hit my low point and I sought conventional counseling. I can attest that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. But there was a secondary emotional and spiritual journey that made an equally important impact on the quality of my life.
That journey started with the image of the billboard coming back to me in moments of quiet. At first, I couldn’t help asking “Do I really matter?” whenever I thought of those words.
Slowly, but surely, the answer became “Yes, I do matter!” Eventually it was not only “I MATTER!” but also “Maybe I have a purpose!”
Professional help is so incredibly beneficial. But the truth is, it lifts a veil that reveals unexpected “stuff” to deal with. There were times when this felt like a vicious cycle to me.
In other words, depression and anxiety… seek professional help… uncover some inner junk… inner junk causes unhappiness and despair… circle back to depression and anxiety.
So, what can you do about that vicious cycle? What’s the point of having a purpose when you’re caught in a whirlwind of your own issues? The best way to describe the solution I found was to snag the energy from that cycle and harness its power for better things.
The thing is, unhappiness and despair take energy. In fact any emotion takes energy, but unhappiness often feels like hard physical labor. Would you rather wear yourself out on something unproductive, or use your energy to do something productive?
In order to harness the energy of your unhappiness and despair, remember that the energy isn’t a bad thing. It just is.
If you subscribe to the theory that the whole universe consists of energy that is neither good nor bad, it’s easier to imagine a shift in more productive use of your energy.
Think of emotional energy like an electrical wire. If a live wire is broken and lying in the street it is useless at best, and quite dangerous at worst. But when it is properly connected it provides us with power to make our lives easier.
My spiritual and emotional journey led me to wonder if I could unhook the metaphorical power line feeding my unhappiness and install it somewhere else. What if I fed that energy into something productive? Something with a purpose?
Connecting your energy to a purpose can take many forms. Throughout my own emotional and spiritual healing, I focused on hobbies. I learned that knitting can be incredibly meditative. I also improved my yoga practice.
Carrying for a loved one or a pet, tackling a challenging project (cluttered closets, rejoice!), working for a social/community cause, or learning a new skill are other positive ways of diverting energy away from unhappiness.
Taking the first step toward using your energy differently can sometimes be a challenge. Finding the motivation to pull yourself away from your own “stuff” to use your energy elsewhere can require some ingenuity.
It helps to get in the habit of seeking that motivation to invest yourself in something new. In each day there is always at least one opportunity to be inspired. At least one chance to be reminded that you are not alone and that you matter.
It may be subtle. It may be fleeting. But it is important to seize that moment and use it to leverage the energy you have at your disposal. Once you start looking, it becomes easier and easier to find those moments.
Today I was feeling a bit melancholy. But I noticed the sky was an exquisite shade of blue and the sun was warm and bright. I was grateful to have witnessed that beauty.
I held that moment in my mind and used it to channel the energy of my sadness toward a more useful purpose. In this case, it was my writing goals for the day. I felt much better for accomplishing something.
Look at unhappiness and despair as opportunities. Start by revising your understanding of energy and know that it’s a free agent. Then, look for a beautiful moment in each day to serve as a reminder, and direct your energy toward doing something with purpose.
Don’t forget to plant that roadside billboard in your mind. YOU MATTER—let it become your reminder!
Photo by Crysis Rubel