Depression can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people, so I’m not going to claim to have all the answers here, but part of my curse is also my blessing.
I have an over analytical MiND, which in the past has caused me no end of suffering. My overactive, untrained MiND, would go looking for solutions to problems that didn’t yet exist.
Welcome to my world of hyper-vigilance, a condition that I didn’t even know existed until I found recovery. For me, hyper-vigilance (or hyper-anxiety) is a mental preoccupation with threat detection, with the main side effect being that I am vary rarely present. As I understand it, the condition originates from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Before finding recovery I would self medicate on various addictions such as work, alcohol and sex and was highly co-dependant on others for my sense of well-being.
On the flip side, my overactive, retrained MiND is very good at analysing real problems and finding potential solutions. This has been my gift when it has come to understanding my mental health conditions.
I used to believe that I suffered from depression and that meant accepting that I was powerless over my mood. When it happened, the only choice I would have was to batten down the hatches and ride it out. Eventually it would go and I would be able to function again, but now I have a different perspective on the illness.
Again, this is all about me and my experiences, so I’m not claiming this is how it is for everyone, but my depression has been LiFE long, severe and at it’s worst, suicidal. I’m not talking about a “sadness” based depression, where you experience a brief period of depression, I’m talking about a prolonged and reoccurring state that causes your life to become unmanageable.
Today I perceive and interpret my depression in a very different way and I no longer feel powerless over it. First of all, I can see it coming, so I don’t hit breaking point because I can stop and begin to ask questions of myself. Following on from that, I’m able to relate to it and understand that it’s trying to tell me something that I don’t want to hear. Then there’s the anxiety, which is underpinning the depression and underpinning the anxiety is the trauma or the trauma narrative.
It’s the trauma narrative that’s key for me, because these are the (subconscious) thoughts that are changing my feelings and it’s the feelings that are then altering my behaviour.
The mistake that I used to make was to resist how I was actually feeling, which would cause more stress and tension. I’d hold onto the “good” feelings for as long as possible, which is where the addict used to manifest itself. Driven by fear, I’d do whatever felt acceptable to try and hold onto that “safe” place, but the whole time I was in denial and moving more and more into that dark place.
Today, my cure for depression is compassion.
I’ve developed the ability to step into the depression and self-sooth, something that I was never taught as a child. I apply compassion to myself by acknowledging and accepting that how I’m feeling, in this moment, is real for me. This is the bit that I have had backwards for most of my LiFE. I believed that my “thoughts” were real and that my “feelings” were something to be ignored and suppressed. It’s quite the opposite.
Now I see thoughts from the perspective of an observer, that they may or may not mean something, but that they come and go. I do not have to listen to thoughts, but I do listen to my feelings. Feelings appear to be much more “real”, and where I used to suppress my feelings, I now acknowledge that they are trying to tell me something. Used in conjunction with the observation of thoughts, feelings act as the grounding rod.
Emotions are based on feelings, not thoughts, but thoughts can trigger feelings which then create an emotional state. They are all interlinked, so in order for me to apply compassion to myself, I must retrace my emotional state back to the feelings and then look at the thoughts to find the underlying narrative that is triggering this whole cycle of behaviour.
I could start with the change in behaviour, but these days my behavioural changes are very small. This is because I have a daily routine that I tend to stick to, but typical behavioural changes might include, more or less sleep, over eating, drinking more coffee than I need, general lack of self care, isolating from friends and family and acting out with addictions.
My unhelpful narrative originates mainly from my time at secondary school, where I adopted a mental attitude that people generally don’t like me (self-loathing) and are out to get me (threat detection). These thoughts make me want to retreat from the world and make me more cautious of people. The effect is that I don’t want to express myself and I go inwards, loosing myself in a sense of being “less than”. This creates a general sense of anxiety, which reinforces the feeling that I don’t want to interact with the world, causing a sense of isolation and pointlessness. This eventually leads to my emotions leaking out sideways in the form of depression. I lose energy and I can’t concentrate, which only adds to my sense of being “less than”.
The compassionate part comes when I listen to this narrative and accept that it once was true, but that’s not how it is now. This allows me to move out of denial and into acceptance. I acknowledge that it’s OK to feel sad and that LiFE is not always great. I find this to be a great comfort, that it’s OK to sit with the REALiTY of how I’m feeling. When I stop running from this state and embrace it, almost immediately, the low energy dissipates and my mental clarity begins to return.
For me, compassion is the ability to love myself unconditionally, which boils down to self-acceptance. When I develop a codependent need to be accepted by others, I’m already on a slippery slope towards suffering.
The story continues in my daily JOURNAL.