Good Morning Friends
I’ve not had a great week. But I have learned a lot.
Most of my mental health problems fall firmly under the umbrella of anxiety. Within the anxiety there are things caused by a lack of confidence (hair cuts, wearing formal clothes, clothes shopping etc…) and there are issues of over thinking and having a noisey mind rushing at 1000 miles a minute.
Through medication, meditation and mindful practices I have developed quite a tool kit for dealing with these kinds of issues. I can quieten my mind when a thought storm emerges. I can push myself to get a hair cut or drive somewhere new.
These things still hurt and cause suffering but I am able to minimise the distress. Self-compassion helps with this and often, for me, the healing comes fast through the sense of achievement I feel when I get through a bad patch.
I’ve tuned the tools I use to work particularly well on thoughts. A lot of anxiety being born of misfiring thought patterns this has worked quite well.
I have discovered that I lack a strong framework for dealing with feelings.
Depression for me comes not from tangible thought but from deep gut wrenching feeling.
A bad patch of anxiety feels like I am exhausted from the constant stream of thoughts.
Depression feels like standing on the edge of a gaping abyss fighting against the pull that is trying to suck me in.
Depression isn’t in my head, it’s in my heart and in my stomach and in my lungs.
I’ve hit a patch of depression the likes of which I haven’t tasted for many years.
I tried to apply all the tools I have learned to these feelings but nothing seemed to work. I tried ‘leaves on a stream’ but I didn’t know how to place a feeling on the leaf and let it drift away. I made it a thought and placed that instead. It drifted away but the feeling remained.
I tried to be present in the moment and use my breath to anchor myself. It became scary because in that moment I was present and aware but I was present at the edge of the abyss, the pull like gravity trying to suck me in.
In place of the chaos of 1 million thoughts my mind felt like a void. Where usually I would think of too many potential solutions and outcomes there was simply nothing. If a spark of an idea was born it was almost immediately snuffed out by the void.
Having learned to deal with an excess of thought I was ill equipped to deal with an absence.
I have come to recognise this feeling as despair.
This pain, this suffering left me raw and vulnerable. I spent hours crying. Sometimes for no reason, sometimes triggered by something.
I was watching Netflix and when the season ended I discovered the next season was not available. When I realised my friends, the characters that had distracted me for a few hours, were gone – I cried.
I began to withdraw. I had to work from home in case something triggered me at work. I had no real enthusiasm to do anything.
I realised that this was not right. I had been doing so well. I was in control. My mental health issues are part of me but they do not define me.
I saw my psychologist and she could tell something was wrong the moment I walked in the door. In her usual amazing way she let me talk it out and guided me to the most important observations and realisations. She taught me how to deal with feelings and emotions.
Having a language and framework to describe and understand feelings and emotions is really important. I couldn’t cope with what was going on with me because I had no way to understand it.
I came to the realisation that I was experiencing despair which is actually a combination of sadness and fear combined with the absence of hope.
With a way to describe and label feelings I was shown a technique to ease the suffering of them. Instead of the visualisation of my thought management frameworks I learned to concentrate on feelings and physical sensations.
It was really hard at first but I managed to ‘find’ the despair hiding somewhere between my stomach and my chest as a kind of snake like twisting form.
The exercise urges you to move closer to the feeling, retreating slightly if it becomes too strong but staying as close as possible. This does not remove the suffering but lets you have some control to minimise it. You have to accept it to get passed it.
Despair was too much to get close to. The abyss grew larger and darker as I got closer and I had to retreat far far away from feelings into thoughts. I began to think I was ‘bad’ at this. I had a lucky moment of clarity and saw how anxiety and depression can feed and grow off each other. I silenced the thoughts and edged back closer to despair.
As I moved slowly toward, instead of looking into, the abyss I moved closer to one of it’s parts. I sat next to sadness. I felt it and I experienced it and I let it pass. On it’s own sadness is a familiar emotion and we are often used to just being one with it until it moves on or we cry it out.
I approached my fear and did the same. This was harder as it was less familiar. Separated from sadness though it was less strong and easier to feel.
As these techniques started to work the abyss of despair was replaced by the smallest tiny spark of hope.
Armed with these new tools I went to see my GP about my medication.
I had begun to question if my medication was doing what it should be. I felt like if it was working I would not be so raw and easily tipped. I asked people to discuss their experiences with me and I was really pleased to get about 15 conversations with different people about the ups and downs of medication. Thank you to everyone who spoke to me.
Each of those 15 stories was different but it became clear it was worth reviewing my medication. My psychologist had agreed.
My Doctor and I discussed slowly increasing the dosage of the medicine and urged me to keep working with my psychologist which of course I completely agree with.
So I took half a tablet extra this morning. No side effects so far.
I still feel raw and I am still hurting but I have hope. I can develop my skills for dealing with feelings and emotions and the medication can provide a bit of a shield to bear some of the weight of the suffering.
I can’t thank you all enough. I couldn’t do this without the amazing support network I have. Your kindness fills me with hope and joy and love.
Through all of this we can all remember we are not alone. There are people who can help. We will be ok.