You’ve had a good week.
You ticked an acceptable number of items off your list. You remembered, for the most part, to take your medicine: a walk in the woods, a few minutes of meditation, a talk with a friend. You met a goal or two, nothing major, but enough to feel a glow. Just as you’re congratulating yourself for picking up speed, for finally establishing a proper routine, you feel a tug on your shirt.
“Umm, excuse me…”
The Slump is small and gray and boneless. If you were to poke him, his skin would swallow your finger joint by joint. His voice is little more than a squeak; you must bend down to hear him. That is when he gets you.
The Slump, of course, will insist he doesn’t “got” you at all.
“You can walk away anytime,” he whispers, as his hands (he has many) paw at your ears and fumble through your pockets and tug on your heart with such insistence that you lie down in an attempt to escape the terrible weight.
“When was the last time you called your mother?” he murmurs, settling on your chest and nibbling your chin. Your phone is dead; the effort to charge it, too great.
“Why aren’t you looking after yourself?” he asks as you haul yourself over to the cupboard, grab a bag of chips, and sink to the floor again.
“Real artists make art even when they don’t want to. Have you ever considered that you’re not a real artist? Perhaps you’re just not cut out to”—
The rest of his words are muffled by his hands, which wrap around your throat and cover your ears and eyes.
Someone—a partner, a roommate, a coworker—finds you. “What’s wrong?” they ask. “And why are you on the floor?”
The Slump grins. He has as many teeth as the ocean has shells.
There were signs, of course. You passed them on the highway at night, poorly lit billboards half-swallowed by kudzu: “THE SLUMP IS NIGH,” they warned. “CORRECT COURSE WHILE YOU STILL CAN.” But you were looking, perhaps willfully, at the road ahead, so all you saw from the corner of your eye was “YOU STILL CAN,” and you thought, well that’s nice, as your foot pressed down hard on the accelerator.
You developed obsessive tunnel-vision about one project. You missed a deadline. You cancelled a date with a friend; too busy. You watched too much TV and woke up sleep-deprived and irritated. Slowly, over the course of a week, your ribcage tightened like a straitjacket around your racing heart. You didn’t do the things you know you need to do to stay afloat, ahead. So The Slump’s appearance is not unexpected. He ascribes to a certain set of rules; he knows the patterns just as well as you. The problem is that you always think you are outside of them.
By the time you’ve realized your mistake, The Slump is upon you.
Your person pulls you off the floor and you stagger to your feet because the world demands it of you. You take one step, then another. And, although you cannot feel it yet, each step weakens The Slump.
Because here’s the first thing you must know: The Slump cannot stand momentum.
Just as he moves slowly, so too must he feed upon slow-moving things. He grows fat on the salt tracks of your cheeks, snuggles up to your unwashed armpits. The Slump wants you in bed or in front of the TV. He could settle for a cave, too—somewhere damp and dark. But the wind outside dries out his eyes. When you call a friend, the vibration of your vocal chords makes him shiver. Laughter almost bursts his eardrums. To rid yourself of The Slump, you must first unsettle him with movement.
The second step is much harder: you must love him, actively and relentlessly.
The Slump’s darkest fear is that someone will understand him. And so, to truly defeat The Slump, you must turn to him and say, “I know why you’re doing this, Slump.”
The Slump will begin to quiver. His arms will spasm.
“You can’t help wanting the things that make me whole and extraordinary.”
The Slump will make retching noises and start to slide down your body.
“I accept that we are where we are right now, together.”
One by one, his many hands will retreat like the eyes of a snail.
“I forgive you,” you will say, and The Slump will slip into the shadows with a mewl.
This conversation may happen over a day, several weeks, a year. You might look up one day and realize that your coworker is staring at you because you’ve been talking with The Slump by the vending machine. But you will be free of his hands and the fog they imposed. So you will smile cheerfully at your coworker and go about your life, marveling at this new and novel experience of you.
This is The Slump’s great gift: he allows you to become reacquainted with yourself. You actually like the rush of a good conversation with someone new—remember? Some mornings you wake up full of energy. You enjoy the challenge of a new project! There are people who love you!
Savor these rediscoveries. Let them remind you that you are unique and beautiful and doing just fine at this thing called life. Allow them to carry you along. Marvel at the places they bring you to. Hold onto the good and remember to take care of yourself. Only you can do that.
The Slump will return, of course. He is part of the ebb and flow of life, as natural as the shadow that swallows the moon each month. For some, The Slump is just that: a slump, a downhill slope, a pea-sized annoyance whispering to you from the crease of your palm.
For others, The Slump takes on larger, uglier forms: Depression, Anxiety, Grief. Most of us will have a time in our lives when these darker manifestations of The Slump catch up to us. For a time, they will swallow not just the moon but the whole sky, and the darkness will seem endless, and the days on the floor will blend together.
But we will love them—and ourselves—anyway. We will love, and we will crawl. Because any amount of love is still love; movement at any pace still pushes us forward.
And when The Slump has receded at last, the morning sun will light up new islands: vast untouched expanses, archipelagos of self aching to be explored.
First, a disclaimer of sorts. This post addresses a very specific phenomenon that I have characterized as The Slump. My experience with slumps has taught me that healthy doses of movement, compassion, and self-care generally cure me of them. This is not the case with clinical depression and other mental health diagnoses. If your “slump” has reached the point where it impacts your ability to carry out everyday activities, I encourage you to reach out to a therapist or other mental health professional. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 if you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, or just need to talk with a volunteer who is trained to listen and provide help.
With that said, here are a few resources that have helped me pry off The Slump’s sticky fingers in the past.
- Sometimes it helps to listen to something other than the negative self-talk circling endlessly in your head. Podcasts are a godsend. Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast Magic Lessons is a ray of light for anyone embarking on any sort of creative journey—so, everyone. John Moe hosts The Hilarious World of Depression, which does a great job of removing both the stigma and power of depression through deep conversations with comedians and, yes, laughter.
- I always thought meditation was kind of silly—I’d just sit there with thoughts racing through my head and then berate myself for not doing it “properly.” Turns out, meditation is a skill that people take years to learn. Guided meditation is a great starting point for us newbies. I use the app Stop, Breath & Think. You enter a quick assessment of how you’re feeling and then it gives you a range of meditation options based on those feelings. Even a 5-minute meditation resets my body and helps with anxiety. I’ve also heard great things about Headspace, although it costs money after the free trial.
- Remember Calvin and Hobbes? The picture books of your youth? Reading funny, redemptive cartoons just before bed is almost guaranteed to put you in a better frame of mind. There are also TONS of awesome web comics out there addressing mental health, including the Awkward Yeti and Hyperbole and a Half.
- This one is so hard, but so necessary. Talk. To. Other. People. Slumps, by whatever name, force you into this weird insular zone where your own problems envelop the world. Talking to friends always makes me remember that other people are leading real lives out there full of their own problems and joys. More than that, it reactivates my compassion impulse—I remember to care for others, too, which by and large makes me a better person. Finally, friends are awesome. Enjoy them. Laugh with them.
What else is life for?