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WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?

Ducks Just Are

17 comments | May 29th, 2012

(story by Mir, from WouldaCouldaShoulda.com)

Many years ago—back when I was still a teenager—my parents took me to a psychiatrist who was supposed to be "very good" at treating teens with depression. They were sure he could fix me when no one else (so far) had been able to. Me, I was skeptical. He was a small Korean man with a thick accent and all the warmth of a paring knife.

"Why you do these things?" he would ask me, puzzled, from behind his desk. "Why you make your parents so worry?"

I thought he was a complete whack-job. I did "these things" that made my parents "so worry" because I was depressed. Obviously. If I knew why for real, I could probably stop doing them, and also stop being so sad and angry all the time, and then I wouldn't need him. He was no help, anyway. I endured the visits, but found them excruciating. He would ask me a bunch of stupid questions, stare at me like I had three heads, adjust my meds, and then tell me to come back happier, next time. Real helpful.

He had a carved wooden mallard sitting on his desk. It seemed out of place; it was the sort of thing you'd expect to see in a hunting lodge, not on the desk of an earnest doctor who seemed unable to master either the English language or his chosen speciality. When my appointments were particularly vexing (most of the time), I would slump in my chair and stare at his stupid duck.

"You know why I have duck?" he asked me, one day, as I stared at it and willed the appointment to end. I looked up; he'd seen me staring at it. I silently promised myself that if he said it's because he loves hunting that I would leave the office and never return. But outwardly, all I did was shake my head. "I have duck because DUCKS NO DEPRESSED." I blinked, trying to process if this was another case of the language barrier causing a problem, or if he'd really just told me that he had a duck because ducks aren't depressed. And how did he know, anyway? Maybe some ducks WERE depressed!

"Ducks no depressed because they not think about how they FEEL," he continued. "You see ducks on lake, they are just swimming! And flying! And hunting for food, and building nests, and NO DEPRESSED. Ducks no think, ducks just ARE." He paused, leaned forward with a big grin, clearly eager to see the result of having shared this brilliant insight with me. A response was required. I shifted in my seat.

"Ducks aren't capable of deeper thought or any kind of self-reflection, though," I countered, somewhat feebly. "They're DUCKS."

"Right!" he said, triumphant. "And DUCKS NO DEPRESSED."

I tried to use this incident as proof to my parents that the good doctor was, in fact, insane. They seemed amused but didn't agree that it was evidence that I should be allowed to stop seeing him. Our therapeutic relationship continued until I got a grip on my life—I wouldn't necessarily say it was thanks to him, but it was a useful coincidence nonetheless—and then I was allowed to stop seeing him.

I had a friend back then who'd also spent some time with the same doctor, and gotten the same duck analogy speech. For years thereafter, when one of us was struggling, the other one only had to intone "DUCKS NO THINK, DUCKS JUST ARE," to crack us both up completely.

It is perhaps unfortunate that I am not the sort of person who is content to live an unexamined life. I feel things too deeply, and I look for meaning where there often isn't any. I am no longer the depressed and angry teen I once was, but I am still someone who has a lot of trouble with the whole concept of "just being." At the same time, I'm keenly aware that back before modern conveniences, people generally didn't have time to sit around and feel their tender, delicate feelings; life was about survival and you just… did it. You didn't wonder if you were doing a good job raising your kids, you just tried to keep them alive. Etc.

Every summer my ability to feel a little more comfortable in my own skin surprises me all over again. I don't run away from civilization or win the lottery, I just… start my vegetable garden again. I spend a portion of each day outside, tending to my plants, so that we have food to eat. Do we live off the garden? No, of course not; I still go to the grocery store and the farmer's market, and the bulk of our diet comes from there, not my garden. But there is tremendous satisfaction in the food I manage to nurture in our own dirt, and countless hours of emotion-free distraction in raising it up.

The bean and melon vines must be encouraged to twist around the trellis. The tomatoes are prone to critters, and outgrow their cages and need to be staked and supported before they fall over. This year one of my pepper plants died for reasons I never did suss out, and it was perplexing, but it was also… just the way it goes. It was okay. I keep tending the plants I have, and eventually, they produce food, and we eat it, and it's good.

Every now and then while I'm out in the garden, I think "DUCKS NO DEPRESSED" and I giggle to myself. Ducks aren't depressed, and they're not sitting around worrying that they're fat or unattractive or somehow wasting their lives or hunting the wrong fish or whatever. They just are. And somehow, when I'm gardening, I just am, too. I am just an animal in the pursuit of sustenance (even though I could just get it at the store), and I am neither good nor bad, happy nor sad. I just am.

Do you have somewhere or something that transcends your everyday concerns and allows you to just be? Or are you naturally more like a duck all the time, anyway?

(waddle on over and read more Mir here)
 

17 comments

  • C.S.

    Posted on May 29, 2012

    I’ve always heard mountain climbing does just this. It’s so intense that you have to be fully present or you risk serious downside. I should take up mountain climbing. Or gardening.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on May 29, 2012

    When I need a moment, I turn to Pooh. It may be overdone, cliche, or whatever… but it works for me. A story from the AA Milne books, or a passage from Tau of Pooh, or Ti of Piglet, helps me to get centered and just be.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on May 29, 2012

    I have daily therapy sessions with my horse – falling into the lull of living in the moment is invaluable and extremely refreshing.

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  • Leslie R.

    Posted on May 29, 2012

    I second the horse as therapy. Being at the barn is pretty much the only time in my life when I stop thinking too much and worrying about everything! It’s wonderful and I can always tell when I’ve gone too many days without getting out to be with her, since I start to go a little crazy-nutty.

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    • Leslie R.

      Posted on May 29, 2012

      Plus, I really think that horses require you to be present in the moment in a way that my cats and dog do not. My mare can tell when I’m mentally not with her, and that’s when she checks out as well. It’s really a good way for me to stay present in the moment instead of drifting off.

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  • dad

    Posted on May 29, 2012

    I’ll bet the duck was a decoy.
    It’s purpose was to attract more pleasant thoughts and convince you to land.
    Shrinks are all about metaphors.

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  • Arnebya @whatnowandwhy

    Posted on May 29, 2012

    I am not naturally duck-like. I cannot just be unless I force myself outside of thinking, rethinking, triplethinking which then defeats the purpose of trying to be. I really wish I had that kind of outlet. Right now I am mired in the routine: wake up, feed kids, shuttle kids around, get myself to a job I am beginning to abhor, get home, make dinner, check homework, wash butts, put kids to bed, stay up too late talking to husband about dreaded routineism. Next day: rinse and repeat. Maybe now that the sun is staying around longer it’ll get better. I’m usually more upbeat in summer. Not quite a duck, but more enjoyable to be around than, say, November – February.

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  • meghann @ midgetinvasion

    Posted on May 29, 2012

    “Emotion-free distraction. . .” You must not have squirrels eating your pea plants as soon as they sprout. Even the metal mesh stuff I put over them is doing no good.

    For me, my “check out” activity is birding, with my camera. We have bird feeders, and I camp out nearby, sitting as still as possible, and just watching and clicking away.

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  • My Kids Mom

    Posted on May 29, 2012

    I try to explain to people why I like helping in the elementary school library. (even to the librarian there!) There is something about shelving books, typing in data and scanning barcodes that just doesn’t leave room for all the miscellaneous chatter that usually swims around my brain. I have a hard enough time remembering if J comes before or after N to worry about home stuff.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on May 29, 2012

    The only activity I currently have that’s relatively emotion-free is watching crime TV dramas, which really isn’t all that helpful or restorative in any way. Which is probably why I continually feel very stressed and worn down, dealing with uncertain employment, a husband, a dear daughter and a dear son with Asperger Syndrome who is struggling with friendships right now. However, I’m searching for it, and I’m hopeful that I’ll rediscover my joy and contentment soon. Thanks for all your stories, I truly love reading them.

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  • Nelson's Mama

    Posted on May 29, 2012

    Nelson. HE NO DEPRESSED. Loves me unconditionally, doesn’t talk back, doesn’t bitch, doesn’t ask me to buy him things, lives in the moment – he truly sets an example for how I should be living my life.

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  • Jan

    Posted on May 29, 2012

    Honestly? This is what having a newborn does for me. I know this isn’t everybody’s experience, but for me, newborns are … simple. Not easy; that’s not what I mean. But simple. Look, if the baby is crying, I need to pick him up. And feed him, or change his diaper, or help him sleep. Or maybe just smile at him. I have to do it even if I’m tired of it or have laundry or am hungry myself or would give *anything* to take a nap, so sometimes it’s hard. But it’s not complicated, and it forces me to be in the moment.

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  • el-e-e

    Posted on May 30, 2012

    For me it’s music. Choir. Read the notes. Produce the notes. BREATHE. Definitely no time for thinking about all the other stuff when I’m ‘in the moment’ in choir rehearsal.

    I’d love a garden.

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  • Megan

    Posted on May 30, 2012

    Mountain biking – specifically single track. Although it took a while. Because there’s a single-track rule that is almost as simple as DUCKS NO THINK and took me ridiculously many rides to get it. Ready? Look where you want to go. That’s it. Single track involves lots of very narrow gaps and small tolerances for where you actually safely ARE and where you might catastrophically BE, and I would panic like mad, slow waaaaaaaay down, and then steer magnetically towards whatever I was trying to avoid. Because I was staring at it, fixedly, and what you stare at (on a bike) you ride towards. I wish I could say I came up with the solution on my own, but I was watching a show on single track and someone mentioned ‘just keep your eyes fixed on where you want to go,’ and I figured it was try that or die in a crumpled, bloody heap on the trail.

    And it worked. MAGIC.

    [Mind you, there are other rules, like throw your arse way back when you're going down a major hill, but I'm still trying to work out how those have wider applicability in my life]

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  • Jill W.

    Posted on May 30, 2012

    Your post reminded me of a Sandra Boynton song from the album “Philadelphia Chickens”- a CD my child and I listented to a million times when she was smaller adn still dust off and listent to once in a while now. It remains one of my favorite gifts for little kids and their parents:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fp8hhBGNFZM

    http://www.amazon.com/Philadelphia-Chickens-Too-Illogical-Zoological-Musical/dp/0761126368/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338402716&sr=8-1

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  • Pris

    Posted on May 31, 2012

    This is the most awesome post. :D

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  • The Mommy Therapy

    Posted on May 31, 2012

    I love this. Ducks just are. This must be my mantra this summer. With three children under 7 (6,4, and 2) in the house, including a four year old that simply won’t stop screaming, I am trapped in a constant stream of thinking about and analyzing my every action.

    I don’t currently have an escape, the youngest ones are very challenging to run from. I did start working one day a week though and it’s reasonably mindless. There is a tast to complete and I do it, I find it extremely gratifying.

    Maybe I should be heading to the garden too though, it sounds perfect!

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