The subject of depression can so easily fall into that niche of negative news, after all, what can be said about depression that is positive?
Well, I have been courting the hand of depression once again for the past few months, particularly the last couple of weeks & there are a number of very positive lessons I am learning that I would like to share with you. These are works-in-progress but still have started to provide me with a stronger foundation for crawling out of the pit once & for all & feeling myself again; possibly even feeling better than myself again.
1. Own Your Feelings
We all struggle with feelings & emotions. Our upbringing & external influences such as friends, family, education & the media will greatly influence how we see them, but for many feeling sad is bad, feeling low is a blow & we need to avoid feeling lost at any cost.
The problem is, if we can’t acknowledge where we are & how we feel we can never move on. Being someone we are not, saying something we don’t believe, denying what we are truly feeling only leads to further internal struggles & tensions. People cannot really know who we are because it changes all the time based on our circumstances. I’m sure many of us know people like that who don’t struggle with any kind of depression or mental illness, but it is more important with mental illness for us to be authentic people..
If we are not careful, our well practiced ability to play social chameleon becomes a habit that we slip into effortlessly & before long, even we don’t know who we really are.
Owning our feelings is about being authentic, that is, true to ourself & who we are. Only at this point can we begin to reshape our life into something new. All too often, who we are reflects who we think people think we should be.
If you feel bad, own it. It doesn’t mean you are bad. It is a feeling of where you are now, but like all feelings it can change, providing we acknowledge it as our starting point.
2. Say What You Think
This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood statements on all sides of the fence.
Say what you think is not a licence to just unleash our pent-up frustrations & venom onto others. If that is how we are feeling then we need to find a safe space & safe method to do that (see below).
Each one of us has a responsibility to do what is decent & what is right. Sure, we can’t go around walking on eggshells to please everyone, but neither can we unleash a barrage onto those around us.
Saying what we think is, again, about being authentic; about being ourself. If someone asks us for an opinion, give it. But equally it means if someone asks how we are, then an answer of, “Good thanks” when we feel like shite is not going to help anyone. The other person has no idea what is happening & very often we feel unheard, because the other person has no idea what is happening, because we have told them everything is okay.
Saying what we think can be costly if we are indiscriminate about who we tell. There is a big tendency for people to feel obliged to rescue others who may not be feeling well, partly through a sense of concern but also in an attempt to deflect away the need to get into deeper conversation or involvement. If one is in a depressed state, the need to help & rescue others can be heightened because we know how rubbish we feel & don’t want others to feel the same. Rescuing in both cases, although from different roots, is still wrong.
It is much better to simply acknowledge how another person is feeling than to try & rescue them with a solution that may work for us but is totally inappropriate for them.
Unless what we say is in line with what we think & where we are, it will be difficult to move forward. There is an old saying of ‘We are what we think!‘ Although often used to motivate people & improve performance, I think this is also key to finding a place where we can start recovery. If we think one thing & say something else we are potentially kicking ourselves in the crotch: we confuse ourself & create further internal tension where it isn’t needed.
3. Check In With Reality
One of the most common traps I fall into is seeing the world as my mind tells me it exists.
On a bad day, when it is a struggle to get out of bed, let alone be motivated, the chance of seeing anything positive is small. I make people laugh when I say that a depressive will often look at a blue, sunny sky & still manage to see the cloud no bigger than a man’s hand as imminent rain.
Reality of the bigger picture rarely resides in our head at times like that, which is why we need to find one or two people we can trust to give us a reality check. This in itself is a remarkably difficult step because it means that we must make ourselves vulnerable to someone at a time when our vulnerability is already stretched to a maximum.
I have no simple solution here as each one of us is different, but I do stress that it really helps if we can use someone we have have know for sufficient time to have a trusted track record when it comes to confidentiality, ability to listen & stickability: too many are keen at the start of the race but when they realise it is a marathon rather than a sprint they fall away, which is a disaster for the person needing their support.
Checking in with reality may be no more than the simple encouragement that we are where we are, but that is not where we’ll stay & the world is a place of colour rather than shades of black. A few simple hooks that we can hold on to can work wonders as a boost to starting & continuing our recovery.
4. Create A Safe Space
I think that the pendulum on Big Ben would have been impressed with the size of my mood swings over the past few weeks. One minute I am fine & seemingly in control & then for no apparent reason, or for good reason, I jump off the emotional cliff into the abyss.
We need a safe space; for our benefit & for the benefit of others.
My safe space is to find something I enjoy doing alone, such as going for a walk along the local canal or sitting in a forest or park. Our safe place is simply somewhere we can process our thoughts, or just allow the whirlpool to slow & calm a bit; safely.
It also takes us out of possible inappropriate or risky interactions with others who, let’s face it, could easily say something they think is helpful that could land then in A&E.
I also have a pad of paper & pencil handy as one of the valuable techniques I was taught by my wonderful counsellor, Lynne. When I need to vent I get it out on paper: write it down, as it comes, full of bile, anger & whatever else is there. Then, read it through, acknowledge the feelings but then ceremonially tear it up or burn it to signify that it is out & gone. I have also found drawing pictures to be very helpful, but I am quite a visual person.
It’s about finding what works best for you to be cathartic, safely. Sometimes our safe space can be nothing more elegant than sitting on the toilet in the bathroom with our paper & pencil.
5. Seek Wise Advice
I cannot encourage you enough to find a good counsellor. This isn’t one who charges most, or has the most letter after their name (although experience really does count), but it is about finding someone you can work with & who fits your personality.
Some of the issues we have & thoughts we struggle with can be sorted by sitting down with our trusted friends, but when life gets really scary & we are unable to process reality, having someone you can work with to shape reality & bring order to our chaos can be the difference between life & death.
6. Never Rule Yourself Out
One of our greatest personal struggles in the thick of panic & depression is giving ourself a chance.
If you are like me, many of the internal battles I have, when I get down to the real root, are not with others but with myself. I am the world’s best at giving myself no chance!
We can be so focused on the task of keeping ourself together, coping with each minute or perhaps even giving ourself permission to be here at all, that we miss out on the key truth that others do not feel that way about us & we do still have a role that we can play.
Have you ever met up with a friend when you are feeling particularly shitty & not really wanting to hold any meaningful conversation only to answer something they say & you switch on the lightbulb in their own mind? In short, you have provided them with a potential solution to their problem.
I find that somehow when I am in a bad place personally I am less inclined to have the energy to judge or hold strong opinions, I am less inclined to come up with great ideas, but I am more open to listen & share my own inner thoughts & experiences. At this point, I help.
When we struggle with our own thoughts & are in the midst of reminding ourself of all the negative things that people have said about us, or the times we have been left out or forgotten or … or … or … or … it can be really hard to hear anything positive about ourself. But the reality is, there are lots of positive things about us that we never see & sometimes, just sometimes it takes someone else to show us these things. Be warned, when this happens it can completely knock us off our feet & we can look for every reason we can to disagree with them, but in the end they are true & sometimes it is just easier to lie down & accept them rather than fight them.
As we learn to trust ourself we can learn to trust others & when we do, we can hear what they say & begin to recreate the image we have of ourself. Perhaps we are not so bad after all.
7. Be Merciful To Yourself
This has to be the phrase my own counsellor uses most to me.
It’s about giving ourself a chance; cutting ourself some slack; allowing situations to be less than ideal (crap); allowing ourself to make a mistake; allowing ourself to be imperfect (just like everyone else).
It enables us to throw off the lies we have been told by ourself & others, to rewrite the impossibly high standards we set ourself in order to be ‘a success’ (whatever that is), to allow ourself to be human. When we do that we can begin our journey to wholeness & recovery.
If I was to leave you with one sentence it would be the words, ‘Be Merciful To Yourself!‘
One of the hardest, yet most liberating facts I’ve learned is that in all of this we have a choice. We can choose how we let our past, present & potential future affect us. We can choose how we respond to things that have been said & done to us. We can choose how much we are going to say what we think, keep a check on reality, create a safe space, seek wise advice, agree never to rule ourself out & to cut ourselves some slack.
The choices we make will determine the progress we make. Some of that progress will be on our own & some is likely to require professional expertise & help.
But at the end of it all, the choice is ours. We can choose to change, however long & hard that may be, or we can choose to stay where we are. Unfortunately, choosing to stay where we are is not passive; we will regress.
I hope that you, like me, can find the courage to make the decision to change & that we will be able to make ourselves vulnerable enough to receive the help we need whilst being wise enough to know the right help we need. Above all, I hope we will be wise enough to show ourselves mercy, to cut ourselves some slack & move forward one step at a time, despite our struggles & setbacks.
I can only share here what I have found to work & be true for me, but I hope these two final thoughts will help you in some way, now matter how deeply you are in the pit:
Though darkness is all around, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Though every door is closed & locked, there is a door somewhere with a key in the lock.
Take care until next time …