I just earned my second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, an incredible accomplishment that very few women will achieve. I'm proud of myself for the discipline, courage and determination it took to reach this goal – so why am I depressed?
"I don't know what's wrong with me," I complain to a friend. "I don't feel like doing anything. I can't get myself to go to class. All I want to do is sleep," I try to explain the feeling that is taking over my life when I should be basking in the glow of achievement.
I've experienced let-down after many super-sized accomplishments in my life…graduating college, finishing a marathon, getting married, being hired for my first job, opening my business, and earning my black belt. I know the deflated feeling is normal but knowing doesn't help. I say to myself, "Well that's done, now what?" And move on to the next thing that will make me feel worthy (Get me high).
The ache is overwhelming this time. I can't motivate myself. The blood, sweat and tears put into years of training, studying, and preparing for my big day disappear in a poof and the feeling of loss hurts. Who am I now? I wonder, thinking about the next achievement that will help define me, rather than enjoying the moment, the journey, and myself, as is.
I call this all-consuming feeling I get The Pit and this time I dive head first. I'm brave and confide in a fellow black-belt about what I'm feeling. She responds with little effort or concern, "You have the black belt blues." The black belt blues? There's a name for it?
Everyone feels a similar version of this after a big life event but I think I'm the only one stuck in these feelings. I'm walking around feeling the same thing as everyone else, afraid to share it, to show weakness. What will they think of me? I wonder.
What is wrong with you? You have no reason to feel this way. You just achieved a magnificent goal! I try to talk myself out of The Pit. I'm stuck at the bottom, depressed and now ashamed for thinking that way in the first place. I'm a black belt for God's sake, I kick ass, I persevere, I'm not a sissy, and I don't (shouldn't) get depressed. Wrong. Well, not about the sissy part.
I like that my friend has a name for this, because we all like labels. If it has a name I can be normal. Normal to wonder who I am after a big, defining moment. Normal to feel low, after the huge high. But I recognize my addiction and pause.
Is there a way to do this without being addicted to the high and without fearing the low? What if I loved myself no matter what the outcome?
I asked the advice of a counselor friend and she explained some reasons behind the feeling of let-down after a big accomplishment:
The big day was amazing and wonderful and the little voice in your head says, "You can't hope to repeat this, let alone top it…everything from here on out is going to disappoint." This leaves you feeling discouraged and down rather than positive.
The big day was great, you achieved your goal and felt good, but wait, you wake up the next morning and feel down…well maybe that big win didn't really solve the problem you had in the first place. Maybe you are looking to accomplishments and glory to satisfy a need that can't be met that way. When the excitement wears off you are left feeling the old feelings of disconnect.
We are all connected by the experience of belonging, perhaps the big win catapulted you into the next tier, new people, new goals and rivals. Even though it seems bigger, better, higher, it is still going to bring with it a sense of un-belonging. Out of your comfort zone you get scared, so you bring yourself back down to a familiar, albeit discouraged place of belonging inside yourself.
Biologically it takes a great deal of energy to sustain the focus, physical activity and drive to compete well. Perhaps you are tired, or suffering from a dip in mood due to a drop in levels of cortisol or adrenaline needed to achieve your goal.
These all make sense, but it's number two that resonates. I use accomplishment as a drug, to keep me high, to fill the hole in my soul. I love the feeling of winning, meeting the goal, achieving the prize – those things make me feel worthy. I recognize I've been conditioned to feel this way. I need to find a way to love myself, accomplishment or no accomplishment.
Achievement seems healthier than drugs or alcohol, but in the end it's just another way to numb the vulnerability and fear I can't tolerate feeling. Thanks for that insight Brene Brown. What if I was good enough with my fear and vulnerability? What if I were perfect because of my mistakes? What if I was awesome without my achievements?
I've learned that vulnerability is what makes me strong. The things that scare me, challenge me to feel, and help me make decisions about who I want to be in the world, make me a warrior. The warrior shows up to class, and life, whether she's on top of the world, or in The Pit, because she knows the battle can't be won if she doesn't show up.
What matters is showing up for the stuff of your life.
I struggle in The Pit – clawing my way up the muddy walls of unworthiness, shame and fear, only to slide to the bottom just when I think I have a grip. I compare it to what I think I should be feeling rather than allow the feelings to be my teacher. I try to change them, unable to tolerate the way they make me feel inside.
Waking up to this, somewhere in the middle of it, creates a huge transformation. The feelings aren't bad. They don't mean I'm weak, bad, unworthy, or anything less than. They are normal, and a precursor to a creative awakening that I can't predict in my moments in my pit, distracted and unconscious. The very idea that these feelings have less value than the high is what knocks me unconscious again.
When I fall into my pit I try to wake up. Allowing the feelings is hard, and clearing my mind even harder, yet I practice. This discipline prepares me for something bigger and better, something that comes from the warrior inside me. I trust it.
When I get caught in depression, judgment, negativity or fear, the key is waking up to it. I transform the fear by letting it become my compass and I become a warrior.
Fellow warriors, know your strength lies in the way you discipline your mind, in your lowest or highest moments. Especially in those moments. Your vulnerability is your strength. Ask yourself:
Am I awake?
Am I showing up for the stuff of my life?
Can I be brave and feel fear, vulnerability and shame?
What shit do I need to heal?
What does it mean to be a warrior?
Let me know in the comments below about the struggles you've had in your pit, and how you are transforming your fear. Remembering that we aren't alone is one of the secrets to this journey. I hope you'll join me for my FREE 10 Day Warrior Writing Challenge, where we'll get to the business of using writing as a healing practice!