Okay folks, sit down, get a drink, this is going to be a long one. I haven’t written about my journey through/with/of depression in awhile so I thought I’d give everyone an update. Now, this is MY story, MY life, so before you read it and get to the end and scoff, feeling like you could never do this…remember that everyone is different. This isn’t a judgement on people. This is my attempt to help others see that there is hope. So here we go for a journey into my demented mind….
I’ve had maybe one relapse of depression in two years.
What set me on this course of treatment that I gave myself was a couple TedTalks that I watched that discussed neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury. Well, my thoughts on this were that depression is an injury. Attachment disorders are an injury. I was off the meds by then because I was so frustrated with them trying to add more when one wouldn’t work. “Oh, Viibryd makes you jittery? Here, have some Klonopin. Your mood is everywhere? Here, take some Topamax”. While I still had enough original thought I completely weaned myself off the meds. I was starting to lose who I was. I was on the path to become an automaton. I value my individuality entirely too much to let that happen.
This is the moment I started becoming self aware.
Self awareness is one of the biggest keys to my treatment. It can also be called the “common denominator effect” (I just coined that. Don’t steal it.). Basically I made myself look at every single bad thing that had happened in my life and what was the common denominator? Oh, that was me. Yes, I’ve been mentally abused, cheated on, mentally abused again, had attachments violently ripped away that left me adrift, and had people be truly horrific to me. Why did all this happen?
I let it. I put myself in situations where it could happen. I did not have the presence of mind to recognize sociopaths. I ran at red flags like they were a dare waving in the wind. I had no boundaries in which to protect myself from attachment.
I did this to myself.
So instead of demeaning myself for these behaviors and instead of dwelling on them…I forgave myself. I realized that I had to take responsibility for my actions. Along with that I had to fix it. I had to fix whatever it was in me that thought I deserved poor treatment.
I had to start loving myself. I had to be able to look in the mirror and not cringe. Not because of my looks but because I saw fear in my eyes. Fear of being hurt. Fear of being alone. Fear of change. Fear of myself. And I had to stop hitting the self destruct button. Happiness and contentment scares the daylights out of me. I had to breathe and be okay with it. That one is still hard for me to deal with honestly. I might touch the button but I never press it.
Self Awareness was my first step to recovery. I looked myself in the eye and said, “you have to change or you are going to die”. Maybe not even a physical death but I was completely losing trust in myself. I was losing my core values. I was letting other people’s integrity become my own. I refused to let that happen.
Well, in those TedTalks and others they speak of how we can literally change paths in our brains with just thoughts. I decided to try visualization. It wasn’t an immediate fix. It took awhile to get it to be effective but it does work for me.
One of my biggest areas I needed to improve was how attached I got to people and how their problems started affecting my life. I have always seen relationships with people as threads that bind you together. Some are a single thread and others are so strong that they become ropes, ya dig? Anyway, I started imagining different colored threads for people. I pictured the threads connecting me to that person. I took a deep breath and I used my mental scissors to cut the cord. Now this might sound easy and trite.
It wasn’t. I argued with myself about some cords. Being an extremely empathetic person, it is hard for me to deal with feeling “alone”. I did it though. At first, it was just a simple exercise. After time though it quieted the anxiety. I was okay without being “attached” to someone all the time. My brain recognized that fact after awhile. The other person was okay AND their life was their life. They didn’t have to be tied to me to survive.
Well, this visualization exercise turned out pretty good so I moved on to others. When negative self talk was happening I pictured a stop sign and redirected my thoughts. Sometimes I had to picture a brick wall. This started paying off in huge amounts. Guess what? You don’t enter crappy relationships if you have self respect and self worth. I no longer based my worth on who liked me.
The greatest hurdle to cross was the depression. My visualization for it had to be a bit more elaborate. I picture my soul as a pale gold orb…about the size of a basketball. I hold it in my hands and I clean it. I wipe the soot of depression off my soul. Sometimes I have to scrub but it gets off there eventually. I take deep breaths as I do this and I let all other thoughts go away. If anxiety is an issue I think of the golden orb being covered with bright red parasitical blobs. Anxiety is harsher than depression, it will dig in and not want to let the racing thoughts go. I pry these off and clean the stains. Sometimes, I can have depression and anxiety still based on hormones. My normal visualizations weren’t working. I came up with hormones make your blood run hot. So now I picture getting an injection of something cooling. I visualize the needle going into my skin and releasing coolness (if you’ve ever had an IV just picture that feeling when they inject the saline in). This really worked great for me.
Why does visualization work? I could give you a bunch of medical jargon and such but you’re already doing so well reading this far that I won’t bore you with it. It basically comes down to mindfulness and living in the moment. We are constantly thinking of the past, the future, and everything else in the world. If we can lose ourselves for even a minute it helps our brain heal itself. There are numerous studies done on this subject.
Once I became self aware and was able to get through the rough times I realized something. I was glad for the bad times. Why? Because they shaped me. Would I be the empathetic, critical thinking, creative badass that I am now without them? I don’t have an answer for that. I just know that I am grateful for every lesson that life has taught me because it has made me someone that I am proud to be…including my faults.
With gratitude and self awareness came another realization. I was talking to the Dude (yes, there’s a dude, he’s pretty nifty) about a bunch of things as we do but I think it was about creativity and depression and I remember that I leaned in and told him something I had never said aloud to another person.
“The truth is, I like the darkness”.
Yep. There it is. The darkness is a part of me just as the light is. I’ll give it another term: Passion. Here is a most excellent quote by Joss Whedon about passion,
“Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping… waiting… and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir… open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us… guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love… the clarity of hatred… the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.”
Without the darkness would I be able to touch people with my writing? Without the battle with the monster would I know how to help people? The trick isn’t to get rid of the darkness. The trick to find the balance of the passion. If you go over to either side too far you’ll be sucked back in. Everything is about balance.
Which leads to my other coping mechanism: Creative outlets.
There have been numerous studies done on the parallel ride that creativity and mental illness take, some of it linking it and some of it saying there isn’t a link (correlation does not equal causation…you’re welcome, Dude). I’m not your Google mommy, go search for it yourself. I do know this much: If I don’t write or sing or do SOMETHING creative, the depression tries to come back (no! Bad boy! Stay down!). If I don’t get rid of pent up emotion in some way…be it sadness, frustration, happiness or the ever present rage…the darkness will tip the scale. It’s a requirement for me.
So let’s recap. This is my experience. So far it has worked. Maybe it wouldn’t work for you. Maybe it would. There is no harm in trying.
Self awareness (or the common denominator effect).
Visualization aka being in the moment
Gratitude for the lessons learned from the bad things
Accepting your darkness
Let the passion out.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Maybe it will help one person. Do your own research on all the things mentioned. Maybe I’m not as crazy as I sound…