Sunday, May 22, 2011

Life is Good

 Last May with the days getting shorter, I could feel the darkness inside me but thought that by keeping busy with new directions in my life I would make it through winter without descending into depression. Instead, all it took was one phone call, my first ever panic attack, a complete bitch of a doctor, and I was so low I actually couldn't talk and walk at the same time. In fact I struggled to do either for a while. I have worked so hard over the last year and I know I am heaps better than ever before, but still I can feel twinges of the Dark as the days once again get shorter.
But now, the minute I feel it, I pull myself up again. After decades of introspection about the whys and wherefores of my misery, I've pretty much given it up. I reached a point where I could see pretty much why I am like I am, but in spite of all that enlightenment, there I was again, still hitting bottom just like so many times before. For years I believed that if I could just work out why I was like this, the truth would set me free. After last year's episode, I spent some time with a clinical psychologist, which helped a little, and some time working through the advice given on the site set up by John Kirwan. What has happened is that I finally accepted that which I knew intellectually but had never truly believed: there is no magic bullet, there is no one who can fix me, no fairy godmother with a wand, no instructional flow chart that would lead me to mental health.
For each of us who suffer, there is a different path. For me, the beginning was to accept that the introspective way just wasn't doing it for me. If I wanted my external life to be different, I would change things: if I didn't like my hair long, I could cut it. When I didn't like my job, I resigned and did something different. I now understand that if I want my internal life to be different, I have to take responsibility and change that too. I could ask for help, but I now understood that 'help' is just that - assistance, not a take-over deal. If someone asked me to help them do the dishes and then, once I started washing, walked out and left me to do the whole thing on my own, I'd be pretty pissed off. Yet that is what I had expected when it came to 'fixing' my mental health: I expected someone, whether in person, or through a book, whatever, someone to hear my plea for help and then 'fix' me. But it is just as unfair and foolish to ask that of someone as it would be to ask them to 'help' with the dishes. I needed to take responsibility even if I did need help with it.

The things that are helping me are so simple and yet so hard. The hardest of all is to remember that I have decided to do them!

The first thing that helped me was to learn to feel loved. I constantly heard / read that I had to love myself. Well, no. I cannot just suddenly love myself any more than I can make myself have faith in some god. I thought about it and chose a slightly different path. I thought for a long time until I could find a specific memory of a time when I actually felt loved. I went over that memory time and again until I could actually feel the love, then gradually learned to separate the feeling from the memory, so that in time I could just recreate the feeling at any time without it being attached to anything but me. So when I started feeling bad, I would just relax into the feeling of loving and being loved.

I made myself a book to use both as my record of my progress, and as a reference manual for future bad times (I'm not pretending the bad times will never return.) I compiled a list of things that I enjoyed doing, or that made me feel good when I was well. It's really important for me to have that written down, because when I go down I can't think clearly at all. I have a long list of things that I can refer to.

I learned the habit of looking at the world and making myself really see the beauty in the world. I find the big stuff in the world too hard to be real with, so I look at the small stuff: the beauty of the bright red flowers of the pineapple sage on a grey winter's day. The shining leaves of the flax in the rain. The soft warmth of the cat's fur as it sleeps on my lap. I try to immerse myself in these observations to offer myself a little relief from the world. I remind myself that I am choosing to focus on these things, rather than on the miseries that are there waiting to drag me down. The miseries are still there, but although I acknowledge their presence, I'm chosing not to focus on them.

There are many things that are known to help with depression: drugs, nutrition, exercise,  - oh, a million things. None of them work by themselves, none of them work for everyone. For each of us there will be a cocktail of things that help, and I know that the cocktail that suits me will not work for everyone else - maybe not for anyone else. I do know that I can look at myself in the mirror now without being filled with repulsion, and it's been a long, long time since I could do that. I do know that I am enjoying life a million times more now than I have done for...... well, for as long as I can remember. I can say, "life is good" - and mean it.

Feel free to remind me of all this if you see me fallen down.

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