Use Your Compass

IMGP0127The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.                 Gloria Steinem

A long time ago and in a distant life I was a canoe guide in Northern Saskatchewan. Most people do not know that some of the best whitewater and wilderness in the world is found there. Don’t tell anyone, we don’t want the masses to know.

When canoeing on the Churchill River one is eventually going to have to traverse Nipew (Dead) Lake. It is not called dead lake because the flora and fauna is dead but because of some of the cool voyageur battles and imported white man diseases that ravaged the area during the fur trade. One can easily, when paddling the myriad of islands on Nipew, imagine being ambushed by Northwest Company voyageurs hundreds of years ago. People who say Canadian history is boring need to come north.

We always tried to get across Nipew Lake early in the morning before the waves got up. It’s a big lake and nasty from about nine a.m. to six p.m. everyday. It’s a long paddle. I’ve been stranded on the lake several times, taking refuge on islands or inlets.
We tried to get on the lake by about six am. Usually that is evilly early but I have learned that if I sleep in, the price is too high. It’s usually foggy on the lake and I’m headed for a tiny inlet eleven kilometres away. I can’t afford to make mistakes. I have learned how to read a compass. I know about things like declination and magnetic north. My compass was the most expensive piece of equipment I carried. I made my employer pay for it and if they want it back they can pry it from my cold dead hands.
When I was in the fog and I had eleven canoes and twenty potentially dead people, I learned to trust my compass, not my eyes. I didn’t trust my ears, I don’t even trust my experience. I have tried to fake it in the past and gotten caught. On one occasion, early in my guiding career, I was sure that I was going down the right arm of this confusing lake only to realize too late that I had made a six-hour detour with a large group of tired and frustrated high-schoolers. It is a lesson not soon forgotten.

SONY DSCThe point I am trying to make is that sometimes even our best judgment cannot be trusted. If you are depressed or anxious or prone to obsessing than it is very important to realize that you cannot trust your emotions and best thinking. Sometimes it is very important to consult a compass, a guide you can trust. I have.

You wouldn’t trust someone who is suicidally depressed to do your taxes would you? Would you trust them to take care of your children? Of course not. The fact remains, however, that day after day many of us who are struggling with mental health issues choose to trust our subjective and emotionally based cognitive distortions to guide us. We make decisions that are based on our depression or anxiety or worse. We allow ourselves to be guided by the worst advice imaginable – our own. Sometimes you need to find a compass. Basing your decisions on your own tired and stressed out emotions is usually a sure-fire recipe for disaster and ongoing illness.

I remember many years ago, when I was at my worst, the insane and destructive thinking that I engaged in. At some points I am certain, and I have a level of expertise in this area, that I was completely off my nut. The grief was so extreme I contemplated and did things that were absolutely not in my best interests. I made parenting decisions that I continue to forgive myself for even years later. Some of my career decisions were, for lack of a better word, insane. I do not choose to hold these decisions against myself still because I was not thinking like a rational and healthy person.

And that is the point.

Get help. Talk to a counselor that doesn’t suck. Be gracious with yourself. Don’t believe your own bullshit.

You’re worth it.


10 thoughts on “Use Your Compass

  1. Hi there Scott. In this post I would just like to say, as I’m sure you’ve heard many times before, thank you so much for doing what you’re doing. So many people need to have this stuff said to them and they don’t even know it. I was one. Luckily for me, when I went to counselling it was because I was ready and willing to change, and actively practised what my counsellor told me to do. I have been lucky enough to have two great female counsellors and wonder if it’s because they practice through universities (for students out there, you have no idea how lucky you are, use your student resources!!! THEY ARE FREE).

    Anyway, I’m jealous that you were a canoe guide. It’s something that I could aspire to do but the days of my best physical fitness are already behind me (I’m late (I hate saying late) 20’s and have some sports injuries). Anyway, thanks for the lovely analogy 🙂

  2. It’s hard not to be able to trust your own mind when you’re unwell but acceptance is part of getting well and staying well. Great article Scott and keep up the good work. I’m now super keen to explore Saskatchewan which I previously dismissed as yet another prairie with even more bugs in my car’s grill. We made it as far as Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta (awesome!) and then headed back to BC. Woops. Next time. With kids!

  3. Reblogged this on submissive night owl and commented:
    Another gem from Scott Williams. My favorite quote – “Don’t believe your own bullshit.”

    I am increasingly unsure of who I am and what I want. My mind seems to be feeding me a lot of bull lately, including the recurrent belief that I lack value and am incapable of being powerful and strong on my own, without a man in my life. I like the idea of finding a reliable “compass”. I believe that Sir S was a good compass for me. I know there are and will be others, people to show me true north and to help keep me headed in the right direction.

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