Perception is one of the greatest tools I have learned to use, if not the greatest. I have spent a lot of my life in a dark space, really for no great reason. I’ve had a very privileged and charmed life, so from an outside perspective, it may not make sense that I’ve struggled the way I have.
I don’t want to oversimplify depression and mental illnesses. I am no expert and only want to speak from personal experience. There are many factors that have contributed to varying degrees of depression in my life, from physiology, situations, feelings of shame and so on, but one of the biggest factors for my experience with depression….? Perception.
I’ve been given the gift of recognizing the power of perception on two different occasions in my life, and it was immediately life changing both times. The first time, I had no idea of the “concept of perception” and how it can be a driver for our experience of reality, but as soon as a therapist pointed it out, my life situation was transformed even though none of the circumstances were different. I realized, if I felt like it was the end of the world, then for me, it was. That’s how I was perceiving my experience to be and so everything that got my attention supported that idea.
As soon as I became aware, I changed what I put my attention on. I began to look for silver linings and also to ask how I can change things for the better. The way I experienced reality shifted overnight. This new reality lasted for a solid ten years, but my awareness of how perception shaped my reality started fading in potency after around nine years and after a couple more years of diminished focus, I had completely forgotten about monitoring how I perceive my life situation.
I had once again found myself in a deep, dark, emotional abyss. I hated myself for squandering past opportunities, I hated myself for having what I perceived as being a menial occupation and I hated myself for feeling depressed. I told myself my life was wasted and beyond salvageable and that was exactly the way I experienced it. I didn’t see much of reason to live another day, other than not wanting to hurt my loved ones.
Again, I was very fortunate to be seeing a relationship counselor who recognized and pointed out that I might need help. I consulted with a general practice physician, discovered a thyroid condition and began taking an anti-depressant. It wasn’t the first time in my life an anti-depressant was suggested, but it was the first time I agreed to try that option.
At the same time, I started reading a book I had purchased a decade prior and I found two powerful pieces of advice. I needed to develop a meditation practice and I needed to look at how I was perceiving my life situation, including the voices in my head and of those of the people around me.
I remembered back to the first time I changed how I looked at things and how powerful that experience had proven to be. I began examining everything I was telling myself and asking if it was true or if maybe I was seeing a skewed reality. I realized I was looking at everything through a dirty and clouded window. I was placing the worst possible spin onto all that I told myself about my situation. None of it needed to be true. So much of what I was suffering from was caused by a pessimistic perception.
Instead of seeing my life as being over and frittered away, I realized my real life was just beginning. Anything was possible. The way I chose to move forward gave me boundless optimism. I would go on to do everything in a new and energized way. I decided that meaning for what I do will come from within, so what others may say about my occupation or station in life, only applies if I say it does.
I could wait tables and make it an honorable way to earn a living. I knew I wanted to serve humanity, but I was hating myself for doing just that. I had been listening to the pretentious thinking people who said food service isn’t a real job. There was an irony in feeling shame when in reality, I was unconsciously living my life purpose. I wanted to serve people and this is what I had been doing all along. I was getting paid to serve people, so I would begin to do it in a conscious way.
From that moment on, I would be as present as possible with every person I would come to serve. I would listen deeply to discern what the customer really wanted and do my best to fulfill their immediate needs. I would hold high thoughts about the food I would deliver. I would remain patient with demanding or surly clientele. I would recognize the Divine in every diner and every colleague. Waiting tables became a privilege and an honor that I will always remember as a sacred vocation. It helped me begin to see the sacred in all of life and all of life’s actors.
This second coming of seeing perception as the powerful influencer of my reality has stuck for over eleven years and counting. I still find myself experiencing depression to different degrees, but by remaining aware of how I choose to perceive my life situations, I have one less avenue fighting against me.
I don’t wish any form of sadness on anyone, and I have no idea how my life might have been different if depression was something that I hadn’t experienced frequently. But, as the saying goes, I wouldn’t change a thing because I believe I am exactly where I am meant to be.