Updated: Mar 23
Many of us do not grow up learning tools and strategies to manage our internal worlds. The reasons for this are complex; Firstly, we live in a world that is obsessed with materialism; by this I mean physical externalities. We measure our success as human beings with tangible ‘achievements’ and how things look on the outside. As a result of this, we can neglect to develop growth around how we relate to our thoughts, feelings and values, despite this being infinitely more important than getting a promotion or hitting 1000 followers on Instagram. Secondly, in the western world, we prize our thinking minds and ‘rationality’ above all else. Look at a Facebook argument to see how people compete to ‘out-logic’ each other. Except, this never happens, as the argument descends into reactivity, as people feel their core beliefs being trampled over. We give far too much credence to our minds, and thus they become the masters of us, as opposed to us learning to master them. Thirdly, many of us have been brought up to keep our real feelings to ourselves, lest they should be unpalatable to others. This means that our minds are left to run rough-shod over us, as we struggle to manage the resentment that grows as a result of not honouring our true selves. This makes it difficult to cope with all of the challenges life throws at us, and respond from a grounded, self-confident place.
I want to share with you the problems I encountered as a result of not knowing how to manage my internal world, and the unhealthy ways I tried to cope, until I learned better. I share this in the hope that if you recognise yourself, or someone you know, you will message me or someone who you trust to help you. Because you matter. No matter what your mind tells you. The mind lies all the time. It is not to be trusted.
The first time I experienced Major Depressive Disorder I was around twenty years old. I’d left home two years before at eighteen, and had been living with my fiancee. I’d taken a year off before I started university, and spent that year working in a coffee shop and partying hard.
I'd found out my grandfather had died. I remember feeling like there was a grey veil between me and the rest of the world. I was able to see everyone and everything that was happening, but I felt they couldn’t see me. I was transparent, like a ghost. That transparency was echoed in the feeling of powerlessness I felt to affect change in my own life. I was scared to leave my bed in the mornings, because the thought of getting up, going to work, and facing all of those customers was terrifying and overwhelming. My partner used to come home to me slumped on the floor, crying most evenings. I felt hopeless and I didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I went to a free University Counselling service. I went twice, but they started trying to dig around into things that I wasn’t yet ready to deal with, which ultimately left me feeling worse, and I stopped going.
My partying definitely wasn’t helping my mental health. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, was drinking too much and didn’t feel like eating. The problem was, when I obliterated myself and danced under the lasers with my friends, everything seemed alright for a few hours. When the cold grey morning came around again, my problems were just waiting for me, and felt much worse because I’d sapped my poor brain of the last remnants of serotonin the night before.
I remember I was paranoid. I kept having obsessive thoughts. I knew even at the time this was just my overactive and anxious imagination, but my nervous system was so frazzled, it didn’t know the difference. I felt jumpy all the time, terrified that I might do something stupid and hurt myself. When I look back to that time, I can’t remember how I crawled out of it because I never took medication or sought further counselling. I just continued to drink alcohol, and party as a way to mask the symptoms which never really fully went away. I don’t blame that version of myself. I just didn’t realise that there was an alternative at the time.
At various times in my life, difficult situations happened, as they tend to for us all, and my response to them was to cope, but not well. My fiancee became seriously ill with a heart problem in 2004. I was with him throughout all of that, including his time in an Intensive Care Unit, but my stress levels were out of control by the end of his treatment and I wasn’t functioning well at all. Fast forward to 2014, and we’d split as a couple. I was diagnosed with dysthymia, persistent depression which had lasted two years, and eventually had a nervous breakdown. Despite this, next, I:
1. Got the best paid job I’d ever had
2. Moved to a new country by myself
3. Completed a second Masters degree with distinction.
Which brings me back to the idea of ‘success’ and externalities. Not all suicidal or depressed people are completely dysfunctional. Just because someone appears to be doing ‘very well,’ it does not mean that they are well. Nor am I sharing these things to dismiss those struggling with depression/mental illness who are not able to achieve these things either- when you’re depressed, choosing to stay alive another day can be the biggest victory of all.
I ended up in long term therapy soon after that. The paranoia was still with me but worse. I didn’t trust anyone. I could barely get out of bed, but I was exercising compulsively to try and keep myself sane. Eventually, I realised I needed to stop drinking. Most people feel great when they kick the booze. Not me. Quitting it began a sixth month descent into mental hell. Another episode of Major Depressive Disorder kicked in along with Generalised Anxiety and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Fun times! I was seeing a therapist twice a week, was suicidal and constantly anxious. To get well took me a long time.
It took many people to help me and multiple support methods:
-Bi-weekly individual therapy
-12 Step Recovery- and not drinking
-A mentor who helped me with 12 step programme
-SSRI’s and other antidepressant medications
-Exercise 3x a week without fail
-A strong friendship network
-Daily meditation and yoga
-Chiropractic for chronic physical pain
-Weekly group therapy
So these are all of the things I had to/ have to do to stay ‘normal.’ This is why I am a lot kinder to people nowadays, because I don’t know just how much effort it takes some people to get out of bed and function in the morning. There is much more to my story, (this is just a shortened version), but I am sharing because I want you to know if you are out there and you feel bad, please please tell someone. Don’t deal with it on your own. You won’t be burdening others with your problems, because it is an honour to be welcomed into someone’s internal space. I see it as a wonderful thing when someone trusts me enough to share their vulnerabilities and pain, as this means they feel safe around me. That is the highest honour anyone can confer on a person!
We live in a time where unmanageability is rife. This week, the wild fires on the west coast of the U.S are raging, climate change is still being denied by those in power. Civil unrest is pouring onto the streets of Lebanon, Hong Kong, and the U.S to name but a few places. Racism and police brutality is out of control, and we are all living under the constant threat of a deadly virus. There is so much externally that we feel is ‘out of our control,’ no wonder many are starting to suffer with their mental health.
The truth though, is that we are never ‘in control,’ of externalities. That is an illusion. The only thing we really have any control over, is how we engage with our internal world. So if you have lost your way and your mind has become your own worst enemy, know that this too shall pass. You can get better. Life can be wonderful and joyful again, however terrible things might seem right now. But what is important is that you get help from someone else. You don’t have to try to do it all by yourself, no matter how much you’ve been taught the myth of self-sufficiency. If I can crawl out of that place after so long, then there is hope for you too! Much love and light to you all.