Onward, Though Your Feet Be Stumbling
I am healing.
It has been three years of self-destroying, painful despair. Three years of terrifying mood-swings, endless panic attacks, contemplations of suicide, and deep, deep hopelessness and loneliness. These three years have cost me everything I’ve worked hard for – all my relationships, my job, beliefs and faiths and ideas, my own self. These years have left a painful legacy of fear, doubt, guilt, loneliness, hopelessness, worthlessness, anger and despair.
I’ve tried everything I know. I changed jobs, cities, homes, relationships. I ran, took up yoga, sketched, cooked, meditated, travelled. I saw three therapists. I read books upon books on depression and emotions and psychotherapy and psychology. Everything worked for short periods, and then everything collapsed again. I stopped talking to people. I stopped eating. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t work.
I’d apologized for so many things and so many times that it was beginning to seem an ugly joke.
I couldn’t control how I felt or what I did. I thought I was going insane; I thought I wouldn’t last the year.
But I did. I am not healed, but I am healing.
And from the brink of the abyss and the darkness, I want to share some things I have learnt, in the hope that they may resonate with you and help you.
Ask For Help
If, like me, you are used to being an independent, self-assured problem-solver, then you know how hard it is to ask for help. Asking for help means admitting defeat, admitting failure, and being truly, openly vulnerable. It means not knowing what to do, and that’s a frightening place. Like me, you’ll do a great deal to avoid that. I spent two stubborn, steadily worsening years ‘trying to get over depression’ all by my amateur self.
Recovery by yourself may or may not work. It may (a teeny-tiny may), but the greater probabilities are that it won’t. If we’re ill, we can’t heal and be whole, authentic, empathetic people on our own.
We all need to be less controlled, more vulnerable, more trusting, more okay with needing help.
So before it gets out of hand, ask for help! Tell your parents, or your siblings, or your best friend, or your boss, or a therapist you have a connection with.
It doesn’t matter if you’re afraid, or if you feel like you’ve failed, or that you’re letting yourself down, or if you’re afraid of what people might think. Somewhere down the road to recovery, you’ll notice that you’ve new thoughts on the subject. You’ll realize you no longer think it’s failure or defeat, and that if it is, you really don’t care. Healing’s more important, and it takes immense courage to accept you can’t fix yourself, and to seek help, and go down a path of healing. You’ll learn that you respect yourself and people who realize and accept this, and that judgers are haters.
Please ask for help. Do it quietly if you’re scared of what people might think (like in your professional space). But do it.
Accept All The Feelings, and the Depression Too
Sometimes, in the monsoon, weeds take over gardens. They just rout the other, carefully-tended plants and establish themselves. I hate them, and I want to pull them up by the root and throw them away with force. I don’t even want to look at them.
Does that sound like your depression? This is how I felt. I wished to never feel this way again. Those hopeless, despairing, helpless, lonely, empty, sad, angry, guilty, powerless feelings that come again and again: I wished them away, and I think you might too. I imagine that you too wish that you could sleep through the depression, or smoke cigarettes or pot through it, or drink through it – and that one day, you’d wake up, and never have to feel depressed.
I hoped that if I tried running hard in the other direction, the depression will stop following.
I hated it, and I hated the person I had become in the depression. I could remember, clearly, the person I’d been before the depression came. Now, I was ‘weak’, ‘out of control’. I couldn’t finish a book or talk to a person, or write a paper, or just be plain and happy and balanced. I tried hard to make this new person go away. All my efforts towards recovery were so that I’d never have to feel depressed again, and could forget forever the person I’d become. So I pushed my depressed self away, but she just followed, and she got stronger and stronger.
There is a saying, “What you resist, persists.” I have read this aphorism in books on psychology and therapy, books about non-sectarian spiritual and emotional well-being, in Hindu and Buddhist and Taoist commentaries, and in children’s books. This is true of our disease as a whole, and also true of each and every feeling we hate and wish we didn’t have, and also true of parts of ourselves we don’t like. What we resist persists. I learnt this by putting up a long, massive and futile internal resistance to my depression, my feelings and my weaknesses.
So what can we do? We can accept. Accept that we are ill; accept that we are feeling terrible; accept that we aren’t the people we want to be; accept that we can’t do everything we want to. Accept that, from time to time, we feel painful, terrifying, difficult feelings that we don’t know how to explain. Accept that we are a little broken.
Be Kind to Yourself
If you are like me, you’ve got a judge-y little voice in your head. It talks all the time. Most of the time, it’s telling you what to do, and how to do it right. It’s very focused on being right, and very insistent that you don’t do things wrong. If you put one toe out of line, say or think one ‘wrong’ thing, then the harshest self-criticism pours out. “I’ll never get this right,” “I’ll never be good enough,” “Why bother trying? I’m going to get it wrong anyway,” “I looked ridiculous wearing that,” “I hate my eyebrows,” “She speaks much better than I do” or “writes better than I do” or “run better than I do.” It’s endless. And before you know it, you’re afraid to do a lot of things, because you’re scared you’ll do them wrong.
You may not remember truly experiencing self-love.
Within memory, you might’ve lived as a constructed, false self, designed to please your inner voice and the others’ perceptions. Do you also know how painful and stifling this is, too?
I don’t know if loving ourselves with kindness and compassion are necessary for recovery, but it sure is easier to recover with loving kindness. It’s not easy; the critical little voice in the head has in power for so long that it’s become the default response-pattern. But with time, and moment-by-moment effort and awareness and acceptance, kindness and love grow slowly.
I’ve heard somewhere that emotions are like the weather; they come and go, and we can’t do a damned thing if we don’t like it. It’s an apt analogy, but it’s pretty scary if your emotions are going to swallow you up and make you want to give up and die.
I found that it’s really not the emotion that tips the balance. We’ve all felt grief, hopelessness, anger, doubt, guilt and fear – in manageable quantities. It’s the intensity, the duration and the lack of control that tips the balance, for those who’ve felt this. While ill with depression, we have no control over what emotion we feel, or how long or how deeply we feel it, or when it comes and goes. It’s scary, but it is okay.
It will go, because emotions are like the weather. They come and go, and the difficult ones stay longer because we do battle with them.
Pain stays because we fight it, so does anger and sadness and fear. We don’t often notice when happiness comes and goes, do we? We don’t resist happiness generally.
Here, like in “Accept All the Feelings”, the core is to accept that we have no control. When we relinquish control, it’s like breaking a dam. The river can flow freely again. In the beginning, there will be a mad, roaring rush of water, but as soon as all the dammed up water has flowed out, the river will be peaceful again.
The same with emotions, with ourselves. The parts of us that have been blocked by control and resistance might burst (I still keep bursting, often), but slowly, as we learn to stop controlling, be vulnerable, seek help and trust ourselves, balance and flow will come. I suspect it’s a long process, though.
Build A Few Positives (Not a Hundred)
When you’ve been in a depressive pattern for a short or long while, you sort of lose connection with yourself and the world. After a while, it might become hard to say what you like and don’t like, enjoy and don’t enjoy. This realization is hard, when you begin recovery. You’ve no idea what to do. A true tabula rasa (or it seems that way).
At this point, it helps to build a few positive involvements for our days. It depends on each of us completely. I liked pets and gardening and meditation. Some others I know trained for marathons; others did yoga, travelled, went to the gym, took up cooking or music or photography or pottery or dance, or turned their bedroom walls into canvases. Each to her/his own. I’ve found that it helps to build this slowly, one at a time, one day at a time.
Remember That Healing is Long and Non-linear
Like me, you too might be impatient to heal. I thought I’d suffered enough, and now that I’d found a way, I couldn’t wait to heal. The thing is, it doesn’t quite work that way. Someone once told me, “If you’ve been suffering for 6 months, you have to give yourself another 6 months to heal.”
Healing takes its time. At some point in your recovery, you might think that you’ve regressed, and become unhappy and hopeless. In some meditation techniques, they say that “not feeling good” is progress. It means that progress has been made to such an extent that old, latent habit patterns (of anger, despair, fear, etc.) are being dredged up from the depths. It means that there are things inside us we’ve not listened to, yet. It means that we can be kinder to ourselves, more loving, more gentle.
Slowly, the depression will lose its old frightening grip. Slowly, you’ll find yourself being happy and balanced again. You’ll flow along, knowing that you’ll get there some day, without hurrying. Along with the happiness, there will be awareness and acceptance that difficult feelings will come again.
There’s no such thing as complete, endless, absolute happiness or control. There will be bad days and difficult feelings, when things don’t go the way you want or you react in a way you wish you hadn’t.
But this time, you’ll remember to be kind to yourself, and you’ll remember to accept the difficult feelings and to forgive them, and flow along for happiness to come again. Because it will come back, too. It has to.
Word of Caution
Much of what I write here comes from a mixture of my experience, reading and the help of my wonderful therapist, my fantastic parents and sister, and my many beautiful friends and colleagues. They were all heaven-sent.
I am not, however, a professional. What I have written may resonate with many (and I hope it does!), but please know that seeking professional help is important if you’re depressed. It is a disease, and just like we’d go to a doctor if we get fractures, so should we seek professional help if our minds are fractured.