Anyone who has ever struggled with depression or any other mental health issue knows how incredibly important and at the same time unbelievably hard and nerve-wrecking is to gather the courage, pack the pride away, take the shame by the hand and - seek the help we need. It may be easier or harder depending on our beliefs about mental illness and the amount of judgement we place on it, as well as how the topic is treated in our community and what is the profile of people we decided to reach out to. Whichever might have been the case for you, I think you’d agree that just the thought of opening ourselves up about the painful state we found ourselves in is overwhelming and terrifying and it is most often shame and fear of the reaction we’d encounter if we opened up to someone, that keeps us delaying looking out for support and help.
I get it. I’ve been through it and it took me years and years until finally admitting, firstly to myself and then to others, that I couldn’t get out of it alone.
But, there’s another aspect of mental health journey that I’d like to address here and that is: What if we already “conquered” the depression, went through psychotherapy, been on medication, did all the holistic, cognitive-behavioural, mindfulness stuff, came out the other end as a “depression survivor”, as a winner of a kind, placed that label on our forehead… and then it hits again?
How to deal with THAT amount of shame, self-judgment, feelings of failure, guilt for having spent so much time and money on helping ourselves just to come back to the starting point all over again? How to find the courage within ourselves to suck it up and go to the people who saw us coming through to the other side the first time around and say: ‘That depression thing, you remember? That I officially left behind x years ago? Well, it’s back again. Your efforts didn’t result, it seems.’ In lots of senses, the other time around is ‘easier’ (better the devil we know than the one we don’t) as we probably collected a wide range of tools to cope with it when it comes, but that doesn’t mean that it is ever ‘easy’. Having the tools is not what saves you, it is applying them - and sometimes, we lack the strength to even open the drawer where we stored them, let alone put them to work.
I talked a lot about depression here and I believe I’ll continue to revisit this topic many, many times again in the future. At one point, however, I felt sick of myself for bringing it back up all the time and I thought that it is better to leave it alone, let it drift away with the rivers of the past. I thought that maybe through talking about it over and over again I am perpetuating the pain that would otherwise naturally die away, if I just didn’t pick at it all the time. Then it occurred to me - it is not part of my past. It is still present in my now. It will continue to be present in my future probably as long as I am here on this Planet.
I heard a girl recently comparing this state - when we just came out of one depressive episode, but there’s a possibility of getting into another one somewhere down the road - to the so-called “cancer remission.” What is cancer remission? It is when a person who survived cancer does no longer have detectable signs and symptoms of the disease, yet there’s a high probability that cancer still exists within the body and can get activated in the future. Therefore, the person is asked to take the utmost care of themselves in order to prevent the reattack to occur.
We can also think of it in terms of having a genetical predisposition to develop a condition, illness or behavioural pattern. Although the genes for a thing exist in our cells, it depends on myriad of different influences whether the genes will get activated or not. People like to use this “bad genes situation” as an excuse and opportunity to slip into the victim role of shitty circumstances, but actually we still have a high degree of personal and decision making power when it comes to whether the thing will manifest itself or not. We cannot neglect the cards we had been dealt with - we just need to learn how to consciously play with those and how to find the hidden perks they possess even though they may be hard to detect at first few looks (and perks are ALWAYS there, trust me).
I came to believe that depression lived inside of me since I was born. As far as my memory can reach back, there has always been some sense of darkness, some doom lurking from beneath, sucking the energy away from my brain, filling it up with fog, making me lethargic which was often seen and labeled as lazy, shy or ungrateful by the adults around me - and I would believe it, as I didn’t know it could be anything else. I accepted that I was just a lazy, grumpy, never-content kid. It got fully activated when I hit puberty, around the age of 12. My mom found my first suicide poems and drawings and took me to a therapist office from which I faked myself out after just one session, succeeding in convincing everyone that I was ok, that it was just for the sake of artistic expression. And my life as a “high-functioning depressed person” went on, supported by my self-medicating habits that I picked up when starting the highschool, but which power to keep me up on my feet gradually paled away. Just when I moved away from my hometown and started Uni is when things hit the very bottom and I was left with no choice than reaching out for help.
And I got it.
I got all the help I needed, all the love, support, comprehension and compassion when the person in question couldn’t possibly grasp on what I was feeling. I was in psychotherapy for 4 years, took antidepressants, changed my habits and lifestyle, let the people who were toxic to me fall away, worked on my thought patterns and after a long and bumpy journey - I felt I was finally cured. I proclaimed the battle officially over once I quit my medication completely, seeing that act as of big importance and meaning, because if I no longer need the tool for fighting something, it means that the very thing I was fighting is no longer present, it no longer resides within me.
But it does.
It is hard as fuck to admit that, but it sure well does still live inside of me. It may be asleep at this very moment while I am going joyfully and high-on-life through my days, but I can feel its calm breathing in the undertone of my heartbeat at all times. I know it is there. Sometimes I can feel it moving, opening an eye and slowly waking up. Sometimes it wakes up during the night, while I’m asleep, and I enter the morning with my throat clenched in its merciless grip and heaviness resting on my chest that disables me to take a full breath in.
And let me tell you something, guys. I used to get extremely, extremely angry, disappointed and ashamed of myself when this would happen. My mind would go on a rant, calling me all kind of ugly names, telling me that I am useless, incapable and undeserving to live, ungrateful, impossible to be aided and saved. It would tell me that I am a shitty person as I have so many people that would kill for me, that sacrificed so much just that I’d feel well and here I am again, swimming at the bottom of the dark lake. You should have probably stayed on medication for the rest of your life as it doesn’t seem like you can make it on you own. Oh no - wait! Even medication ceased to help at one point, so not even heavy chemical stuff can keep you normal. You are HOPELESS, useless, you should better just… blah..blah..blah…’
It is exhausting.
If there’s any fear and shame about admitting that you’re struggling the first time around, it is 1000 times worse every next time, especially when you made everyone believe you are over it for good. I am deeply aware how much my parents suffered through the lowest points of my mental health issues and just the thought of admitting that I sometimes feel bad again and how hearing that would make them feel breaks my heart. So, I don’t. I cannot handle it. I avoid, I don’t answer calls when a day is particularly rough. To protect them and to protect myself, as well. There’s enough self-judgment on my end already that I couldn’t possibly deal with someone trying to fix me and offering unsolicited advice when I don’t want any. In those instants, however well-intended the person trying to help is, all attempts at trying to change your current state seem like invalidating the way you’re feeling, provoking a new tornado of guilt and shame. Those who went through similar would know what I’m talking about.
So, what to do? Not reach out for help?
Don’t go to Chinese restaurant for nachos, Christine Hassler says and that insight is so crucial when it comes to seeking support. Explore from every angle the state you are in and get to know it intimately. Experiment with what helps you in those moments and what doesn’t and - probably the most important thing - talk with your symptoms. Ask them why they are visiting, what message are they bringing, what are they pointing your attention to.
I worked a lot during the last year or so on befriending that aspect of myself that I here for the convenience-sake call ‘depression’ and I found it being closely linked to my sensitivity. I am an extremely sensitive human that just recently learned to cherish that trait as one of my greatest gifts, while for the biggest part of my life I tried to shut it down and get rid of it in any way I could think of.
However, being that sensitive, I have to take very good care of myself if I want to feel good and be at ease with myself, my life and my surroundings. And whenever something is out of alignment, that little animal resting at the bottom of my chest will start to stretch its pawns, yawn and start to wake up. My depression is my alarm system and it is a damn good one. It never fails to warn me when I lose the connection with my Soul, when I leave some area of my life unattended for longer spans of time, when I neglect any aspect of my wellbeing.
So, what I try to do now is to work with my depression instead of working against it. I recognize it when it wakes up, I thank it for coming and try to scan through all sections of my inner and outer life to see where’s leaking, to locate the position of the hole it entered through. At times, it is very easily detectable - lack of sleep, not enough alone time to recharge my introverted self, bad quality food, saying too many times ‘yes’ when I want to say ‘no’, accepting conditions that don’t resonate with me, neglecting my creative life, neglecting my sensual side, denying myself fun and play etc.
Other times, though, I cannot trace it down as hard as I try to.
And then I pray.
I pray for clarity, I pray for faith and trust, I pray for seeing the lessons and learning from this state I find myself in. And of all the things that helped me during my mental health journey, the biggest was and will always be - Spirituality.
Spirituality that I encountered within my own self, through my own experience, not the one they tried to impose from without. Spirituality that holds a safe space for me where I can go back to every time I need, that allows me to see the bigger picture or, if not see, at least feel that there IS something that I am not seeing and that it is all in Divine Order even if my limited vision cannot grasp it.
And then I surrender to it. And I breathe. And soon enough the Sun lurks again behind the grey clouds and lighter period sets in.
Yet I never let myself forget the little animal living at the bottom of my chest and that I have to bring myself back into alignment moment to moment if I want it to stay calm and asleep.