I suffered from depression fifteen years ago after my marriage ended and I found myself in another relationship which sent my world topsy-turvy.
depression swooped down to lift me up into its fiercely strong arms. The grip it had on me at the time felt relentless.
Every Day I found it difficult to do the most basic tasks.
Every Day I struggled equally between wanting to hide in bed and wanting to run away.
Every Day was a challenge in so many little and huge ways.
Every Day I struggled to get through to the next day, where I was required to do it all over again.
And there were many dark moments when I didn’t actually think I would come through it to become a whole, upright and fully functioning human being again.
I felt as though there was no way my body and mind could actually survive it. I expected my humble little body to disintegrate into a small unidentifiable pile of cells on the ground where once I’d stood.
As though I was part of some spooky Stephen King novel.
I resisted of course.
I didn’t want to acknowledge its shadow in my life.
I wasn’t ready to let it envelop me.
I had things to do.
People to see.
A life to enjoy.
I didn’t have time to fall apart.
We don’t easily give permission to ourselves to fall apart do we? If I’d broken my arm, I would have gone straight to the doctor and I would have had to take weeks off work in order to heal.
I wouldn’t have felt lazy or guilty because I would have simply been doing what my body needed in order to heal.
So why isn’t it as easy to acknowledge we need to take time off for our mental health?
Why do we push depression or stress or anxiety to the side and not give it the attention it deserves?
Why do we often wait until we literally fall into a crumpled heap on the floor before we seek help?
Why do we find it so much harder to tell work colleagues we’re taking time out to heal our soul?
Why is that less important than healing an arm or leg?
The night before I went into work to tell everyone I was taking two weeks off to focus on my mental health, I barely slept.
I lay there worrying about being vulnerable in front of them, which I knew would be even more challenging as we had a new person starting in our office that day.
I lay there worrying about saying it all out loud outside the safety of my psychologist and doctor’s offices, because that would make it feel So Incredibly Real.
I lay there worrying because I care about my job and felt I was letting people down. Even though I’d spent all year almost breaking myself in order to support everyone.
I lay there worrying about what would happen after I took this step.
And I lay there worrying about what would happen if I didn’t take this step.
I knew I’d be understood.
I knew people could, and would, emphasise.
I knew I had to do this.
Or the outcome would be so much worse.
I’ve known over the last eighteen months that I haven’t been my usual positive and joyful self. In September last year, I wrote about losing my mojo (www.theyearofmore.com/blog/have-you-ever-lost-your-mojo) and in the months after that, I felt as though I was slowly stepping out of the fog I’d found myself in. Not in leaps and bounds but in tiny, purposeful steps.
But stress and depression do amazing things to our bodies. And I was dealing with it all with the infamous Bandaid Approach or Quick Fix.
I would have a quiet weekend in order to prepare myself for yet another Huge work week.
I would avoid difficult conversations or awkward situations because I knew I didn’t have the energy to deal with them.
I wouldn’t engage as much in conversation as I feared I’d say the wrong thing. Because I felt as though I Was Always Saying The Wrong Thing.
I would be gentle with myself and not expect too much.
I would spend time doing things which I enjoyed that didn’t take up too much energy or brain activity. A short walk, a swim at the beach, an afternoon of Netflix, a morning in bed reading a book or uplifting stories online, sending Letterbox Joy, catching up with a friend, another book and another morning in bed.
Repeat repeat repeat.
I thought I was doing okay.
I thought I’d maneuvered my way through the worst of it.
I thought I was on my way back to my missing self.
I truly did.
But the bandaid was tearing at its little plastic seams.
So I started talking to my doctor about how I’d been feeling.
And she gave me a Mental Health Questionnaire.
I scored really high for depression and stress.
But still, I resisted falling apart.
She asked me if I wanted to see a psychologist.
I said ‘No’.
She asked me if I wanted to explore taking anti-depressants.
I said ‘No’.
And then came The Point of No Return.
I didn’t feel any more stressed than I usually did.
Until I was on the phone to a colleague going through something nerdy that I know inside and out.
And I began to feel incredibly challenged by the conversation. A conversation which wasn’t difficult or unpleasant in any way.
And challenged by the nerdy task that I know inside and out.
And I knew if I didn’t get off the phone at that very moment, I was in danger of breaking in half then and there at my messy desk in my little office.
And that scared me.
It truly scared me.
Because it seemingly came out of nowhere.
So I started saying ‘yes’.
Yes, I need help.
Yes, I need to speak to a psychologist.
Yes, I may need to take anti-depressants.
Yes, I may need to stop and regroup and get my fabulously wonderful shit together again.
So my doctor gave me a medical certificate for two weeks leave and I felt I could breathe again.
But me being Me (it’s not easy being Me!), I tried to organise and control my sick leave because I still couldn’t completely let go.
I was sooooooo scared of letting go.
Control Freak Karen: Okay, so every day you’re going to get out of bed by 9am, you’re going to go for a walk and you’re going to do some cleaning around the house.
Because Control Freak Karen thought that doing this would give me some structure and purpose to my days.
Or when I didn’t leave my home for 3 days.
And when I didn’t shower for 3 days.
Because the idea of having to get undressed, get wet, dry myself and get dressed again was Just Too Much.
I simply couldn’t do it.
So I didn’t.
By Day 4 I told Control Freak Karen to well and truly FUCK OFF!!!
And I let goooooooooooooooooo
Is it a chapter where the heroine of the story faces a challenge and then ‘finds herself’?
No, because you know what I’ve learnt in my 48 years on our fabulous little planet?
There’s no ‘finding yourself’.
Because you’re already here.
I’m already whole.
I’m already Me.
Although I am, and will always be, a messy and passionate Work in Progress.
But having awareness and tools doesn’t equate to being able to do it on your own. I was floundering with my self-awareness and tools, absolutely floundering. And it wasn’t until I sat across from her
that I realised just how bad things were. Just how stressed I felt. Just how splintered I felt. Just how ill-equipped I felt to deal with life.
When I felt similarly challenged by life fifteen years ago, I literally had no self-awareness or tools. None. Nada. Zilch. I was absolutely clueless about how to navigate my way through The Tough Stuff.
I was thirty-three at the time and clearly I was a rather late bloomer in the Personal Development Class of Life!
But better late than never, as They say.
But something deep inside of me knew that I wasn’t in danger of shattering or disintegrating this time around.
Part of me knew from experience that with time and support and an enormous amount of self-love and compassion, I would come through this experience stronger than ever before.
But if you haven’t experienced depression before, that unknown space is downright frightening. I remember it well and I applaud that thirty-three year old Me for venturing into The Unknown, as I remember how terrified and alone she felt.
depression beat me to a pulp once before but this time I am ready to fight back (cue Rocky music).
I refuse to give depression a capital D because Capitals are for Powerful words. For words of Substance. For words I Adore. For words that Uplift and Empower. Words like Love and Joy and Forgiveness.
depression is none of these things.
depression is cowardly and hurtful. It’s a thief of Joy. It’s dark and cold. It wants you to feel alone and lonely. It wants to erase the parts of you that make you You.
And like any bully, the less power we give it – in whatever way each individual chooses to that do – the less power it has to hurt us. For me, that’s by taking away its power in my written world because words are such Beautiful and Empowering parts of my life. Every day I read words that touch my soul – in a book, in an article online, in an email or text from a friend, in a transcript of one of the conversations my students have with their mentors; words that will imprint themselves on these young souls forever.
There is nothing I admire more in a person than their ability to string a bunch of little words together that can touch someone's heart. Words that make you Feel. Words that Heal and Nurture.
depression, grammatically incorrect or not, you’ll never get a Capital letter from me.
Just because depression and stress aren’t tangible, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
And that they’re not painful and debilitating.
I spoke to a friend the other day who said that I’ve inspired her to speak to her doctor, as she doesn’t want to break in half at her desk either.
Talking about our mental health normalises it.
Talking about our mental health prioritises it.
Talking about our mental health enables us to empathise with others who are experiencing similar struggles.
Talking about our mental health leads to us giving ourselves permission to fall apart, which is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves.
I saw my psychologist and doctor again on Thursday and they’ve given me another two weeks off work.
I’ve reminded Control Freak Karen that she needs to back off and let me do this my way. So far she’s listening.
And me, well, I’m proud of myself for making my mental health a priority and I’m just taking life one day at a time.
Be kind to yourself, because you're ever so precious.
“Instead of saying, ‘I don’t have time’, try saying, ‘it’s not a priority,’ and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: ‘I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.’ ‘I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.’ If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.” Wall Street Journal