======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ==== ======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ====
You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.
That quote is by Shane Falco, one of the most underrated fictional quarterbacks (and underrated names) in the most underrated football movie, the Replacements. He says this when the team is talking about their greatest fears. While some jokingly go with old standbys like spiders or snakes, Shane gets to the heart of his greatest fear: everything going wrong.
Yesterday, I had one of those quicksand days. Murphy’s Law was in full effect, and no matter where I turned or what I did, everything seemed to go wrong. And then, improbably, everything seemed to get worse. Small mistakes that could easily be corrected exposed even bigger problems. What should warrant a simple reprimand instead got a full-on reaming as I tried to figure out, not how to fix the problems before me, but what the hell happened? And as more and more people threw fuel onto the fire of this shitty day, the worst thing possible to complicate the day happened.
There’s this misconception that depression is equivalent with feeling sad. It’s not. It’s the feeling of hopelessness, emptiness. Some days it’s not that noticeable, but others it can completely overwhelm you. Over the years, I’ve gotten much better about managing it, so that those bad days aren’t so bad and the rest of the time I’m generally doing okay. It occasionally pops up in manageable spurts, but when it’s in full force depression can just shut me down. Literally. I go into autopilot or feel like you’re having an out of body experience, where things happen and you’re aware of them, but it all passes through you. It’s like you’re a ghost occupying the shell that is your body, and everything that you feel seems to be happening to someone else.
Fight, flight, or freeze. Those are the natural reactions that one has when facing a threat. Everyone wants to imagine that they’re a fighter, but when you’re dealing with quicksand fighting back is the worst thing you can do. As much as I tried to course correct, the quicksand overtook me. So, instead, I froze.
Freezing in the workplace can be death. When it looks like you’re being lazy and not working, or just don’t give a shit, that’s when you get into real trouble. And one bad day, at my job, can be a killer. I was not going to allow on a bad day completely derail everything.
Even in this depressed mindset, where even the act of breathing and moving feels weighty like it requires all the effort you can muster, I did my best to cope. I compartmentalized, made a checklist and got to knocking items out. Not a checklist of all the items I needed to do, that list would be long, cumbersome, and impossible-looking even if I was in a good mindset. Instead, I made a checklist of all the items I could reasonably do that day.
These were small items, like sending or responding to a few e-mails, re-arranging my schedule, and creating a checklist of all the changes that would need to be made when my mind was un-fucked. I’m sure, to my boss, it looked like I got very little done after he laid into me. And, if I’m being honest with myself, I didn’t really do that much. That’s not out of laziness or ineptitude, but just because I knew that I wouldn’t be as effective today as I might be tomorrow. Getting something done, setting myself up for success the next day, was the best I could realistically do. Even if my boss wouldn’t understand that or care, I knew that doing a little well today to do more tomorrow was better than doing a lot shoddily and then have to fix it tomorrow.
There’s that old saying “it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it, that matters.” I firmly believe that someone’s true character is revealed in how they react to adversity. And I know that freezing up definitely doesn’t seem like an admirable reaction, but at a certain point in my life, I realized that my brain chemistry wouldn’t let me just shrug off adversity, reset, and move on. Some people, including my younger brother, have that incredible quality to stay in the moment when adversity hits you and not get rattled, but that’s just not how I’m wired.
Character is not brain chemistry, it’s not defined by some innate feelings and reactions to situations. It’s all about how you as an individual make the best of a bad situation. That was the biggest breakthrough, the biggest key for me, in dealing with adversity. When I froze, in the past I would sit there angry and blaming myself for not being able to work through it. It wasn’t until I realized that I shouldn’t blame myself for how I was feeling, but to work through it, and then I would succeed. Recognize the freeze when it hits, and instead of fighting it ride it out and try to be as productive as possible. Lo and behold, when I stopped fighting my instincts that the freeze impulse wasn’t as bad. I got through it faster easier, with less anxiety, and fewer regrets.
The number one tip to getting out of actual quicksand is to stay calm and not make frantic movements. The worst thing you can do in quicksand is panic and fight it. Instead, they advise you to move slowly, try and spread your body out, and eventually, you’ll get free. .