What if you get hurt, fail, lose sight of your goals, or encounter discouragement, depression, anxiety, or shame? What if you have to face grief or loss or change or lose yourself or are disappointed or let down or mistreated?
What if you fall?
As someone who had struggled with depression for years, that was a very important question because falling was dangerous—extremely so. It felt as if there was nothing to hold onto, just an ever-sinking hole with no bottom. I’d catch myself at some level, but always I knew there was a bottom way below me and that if I reached it, I would shatter. For good.
Morbid? Yes. The reality of severe depression? Yes. The silver lining is that I found a way to ensure I don’t fall more than I can handle. It took years of researching, practicing, seeing therapists, trying medication, and, well, falling, before I discovered my own safety net.
It was shortly after I’d found my way out of depression. I didn’t fear I would fall so deep and hard again, but after my ex-boyfriend let me down, I felt the familiar groundlessness and knew I’d lost my footing. I was tumbling again, with nothing to anchor me.
Until I encountered one shimmering gold strand spread across the chasm. Then another and another. An entire net, keeping me from hitting the bottom.
Each strand was one of my friends. They would not let me fall. I would not let me fall. I could not fall.
Each one of us may create a different net. Maybe your dreams or passions, things that make you happy, important memories or experiences, pets, friends, family, religion, practices. We all have strands with which to weave a web.
Let me state clearly that if you are in the throes of depression, do not expect to weave this web alone. Some people can, yes, and others like myself benefit from learning at the feet of a skilled weaver such as a therapist. It may take time, but there are several things you can do to provide yourself with a safety net if you fall:
(1) Know that falling is normal and expected at some point in your life. Don’t live as if you are about to fall at any second, but have some idea of what you will do if you feel yourself tumbling. For myself, this meant knowing the steps I would take if depression came back in force: speak to friends, reach out to a therapist, seek medication, etc. List the steps from first to last-resort, and don’t feel like you have to start with first right away if you have already tumbled to a further bullet point.
(2) Visualize your own web. What is it made of? What does it look like? What or who makes up the strands? How do they make you feel? If you can, take it a step further and visualize yourself falling and the net catching you. Concretize that image of surety that even if you do fall quite a way, there is a net there. You won’t break apart–it just feels like it sometimes, and that’s okay.
(3) Have a gameplan for getting back on your feet. You can use the list you created from step one, or you can take it further. Maybe give yourself a day or two to sit with whatever you are feeling, then take small steps to get back on track (like making your bed one day, eating a good meal the next, dancing for a few minutes the next, working for twenty minutes on your dream project the next, etc.).
(4) Know that your safety net is unique and completely your own. Know that this technique won’t work for everyone. Know it’s okay to learn how to weave it from a professional weaver or with the help of medication. Know that this web is yours to create and strengthen as you please, and know that while I would love to give the blanket statement that everyone can just create a net and feel safe if they fall, I understand extreme situations are an exception, and I want to validate that. I feel this idea of a safety net can be helpful not just for those who encounter depression or anxiety but for those who feel stressed at work or worried about money or angry at mistreatment or are scared to risk themselves.
(5) It’s okay when emotions feel out of control, and it helps if somewhere in the back of your mind, you believe you have a steady center, even if you are not sure you can access it right now. Reciting mantras when you feel centered, tending your inner growth, and moving toward what makes you feel alive are all ways that help keep you tethered when the inevitable storms do come in. Patch your barn while the sun is shining so it can better weather the rain.
What About You?: What keeps you from falling? How do you get back up? What are your safety net strands made up of? Have you fallen in the past? What did it feel like, and how did you move through it?
Not sure you have a safety net? That’s okay! What are some steps you can take next time you feel yourself falling that may help you find something to hold onto?