A few months ago, I wrote a blog entry about my then recent diagnosis with depression and anxiety. The feedback I received from sharing that snippet of my story was overwhelmingly positive and made me feel like I was not alone in what I was going through – so Thank You if you were one of those people who went out of your way to check in with me. I will never forget.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sharer. I talk about a lot of my struggles openly and unashamedly. I do this because I am painfully aware of my humanness. I have no desire to portray myself as anything other than imperfect. Partly for this reason, I am writing a follow-up post. But I am also writing this post because I want to share the reasons – mostly three main reasons – for my having come out on the other side of my experience with mental illness. I hope that sharing these reasons will be helpful to anyone else who has experienced or is experiencing any kind of emotional difficulty.
Let me preface what will follow by saying this: My depression was a deep hole. There were days when getting out of bed and feeding myself was impossible. There were days when driving anywhere was difficult because being in the car alone made my vision blur with tears. I felt lost, lonely, but ultimately numb. I contemplated what the rest of my life would be like if I just stayed in my bed at my parents’ house and watched my life go by. In my head, this was better than the alternative of getting up and doing anything at all. This state lasted for about three weeks, when I slowly began moving out of my stupor.
This is how:
- I began to hear the messages I had been telling myself all along
With the help of a wonderful mental health counselor and through the practice of mindfulness, I became consciously aware of the messages I was telling myself: You’re not as good as people around you – You’re not achieving as much as you should – Your achievements are not as good as those of others – You’re a slacker – You’re not as smart as others around you – Being depressed means that you’re weak. I realized at the time, and even more poignantly now, how horribly mean my thoughts about and to myself were. If I would never speak to anyone else like this, why should I speak to myself this way? Why couldn’t I love myself completely? I think that my depression might have been my subconscious putting a dramatic halt to this distructive internal dialogue. So I started listening to my body, my feelings, my desires, my dreams… This process has been extremely difficult because it has meant silencing the negative voice within, but also shutting down the negativity from the outside that influences the way that I see myself.
2. I began to understand that healing takes time.
Mindful acceptance of myself largely meant that I needed to sit with my sadness and brokenness for a while, because this was where my heart needed to be. Sitting with my pain gave me the hardest lesson I learned – that healing from emotional pain takes time. Looking back on that period during the weeks that followed, I realized that my healing was gradual, and that I was moving into brighter spaces as my emotional state saw fit. Allowing myself that time also gave me the ability to deal with the anxiety that I was constantly feeling over not being well yet. See, anxiety comes largely from the fearful anticipation of what is to come. When you give yourself time to move through the present, anxious feelings can slowly dissipate.
3. I began to see the negative energy that I was allowing into my life.
As I began to heal, I was better able to identify the factors that triggered negative feelings in me. These factors, as I realized, had a lot to do with the conversations I had and the implicit messages I received from people around me – so I began to cut out this negativity. As with the previous points, this portion is still a work in progress so maybe I will write another post when I have the language to describe it better 😉
In sum, coming out of depression and anxiety required three main motivators for me: 1. Being kinder to myself; 2. Giving myself time; 3. Cutting out the negativity around me. I want to acknowledge that, though I have boiled my healing into three little factors and compressed this post into relatively few words, depression and anxiety are monsters and healing looks different for different people. Even having said that, please forgive me if I am making depression and anxiety seem simple and easily fixable. My particular experience with these illnesses was not as acute as it can become in some cases. SO, I don’t know if reading about my experience will be helpful to anyone else, but I am always open and available to talk to anyone going through anything similar 🙂