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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dealing With Depression

How do you cope with sadness when the feeling is immobilizing and completely irrational? This is a question I have posed to myself countless times. I have struggled with depression for most of my life, but for many years now, I have managed to set aside most of the symptoms. A while back, a friend inquired as to what it feels like in the thralls of my worst moments and I felt compelled to share my journey, because the truth is if you haven't lived with it, you'll never really understand.

The fires of hell would pale in comparison to the terrible place I was in. The best description I can give you is this:  Imagine a black hole burrowed deep in the earth from which you should climb without the strength to even stand. All of your loved ones stand at the top screaming down for you to "snap out of it," but you are so paralyzed by your feelings of inadequacy that the rope they have tossed in your direction remains untouched.   

Depression is a very lonely and selfish state of mind. Negative thoughts rule your existence with completely destructive and highly contagious victim statements, like “My hands are tied” and “I feel trapped.” You can slide to the bottom with a single careless step and spend months analyzing your fall—time lost for everyone who has the misfortune of loving you. Ultimately, my husband and daughter's suffering was what prompted me to change.

I can recall the moment very vividly. On my daughter's second birthday, I made a cake and threw a party. After everyone left, I compared myself to other women in my life and came up lacking once again. My bad days outnumbered the good ones, and they weren't only affecting me. My entire family was suffering, including my precious little girl who deserved so much better than I could ever give her. I was broken, lying on the bathroom floor, deciding if I should take my own life. I played out their futures without me, and realized something I hadn't considered. My dying wouldn't save them. If I'd of chosen the coward's path, my baby would've spent the rest of her life wondering why her mother hadn't cared enough to fight. I was a mess, but my husband loved me, and cared too much to hurt them like that. I also understood that I couldn't continue for similar reasons. Something had to change. A single thought created a subtle shift within my mind and reality altered. 
I needed to change. 

New hope and purpose blew into my life like a breath of fresh air.  Instead of quitting, I vowed to fight and live with an awareness to which was absent before.  Some toxic relationships ended and focused all of my efforts on being whole.  I've slipped into the abyss since then, but now I can recognize when I'm losing my footing and end the down-hill spiral before I reach the bottom.  Just like any other health issue, early intervention is paramount.

Several years ago, I read that depression is a signal the mind sends out to the body alerting when something isn't right. It triggers a residual primal instinct and endorphins are pumped through the nervous system, preparing for either a fight or flight.  Since neither is possible in modern society, the chemical builds up and manifests in the form of unhappiness.  This idea made sense to me, only my instinct was triggered by the opposite of most people.  The majority of humanity fears the unknown while I fear stability.  For the first time in my entire life I was secure and the feeling was so foreign that I couldn't abide it.  The concept probably sounds as strange to you as it was for my husband or anyone else who comes from a functional family unit, but this wasn't the case in my childhood.  
Looking back on my early years, I discovered that the few fleeting moments of happiness I'd experienced were followed by the rug of security being ripped out from under my feet. Here lied the root of my anxiety.  I had the ideal husband and a beautiful little girl, but my schema was convinced that joy didn't last.  My certainty was such, that I was subconsciously sabotaging my happiness every day, hurting not only myself but everyone closest to me.  The pattern was prominent within my mother as well and I could see that I was carrying on the same tainted legacy.  

Recognizing the why most important step to recovery.  I still held a lot of resentment towards my parents, which inadvertently created their worst attributes inside of my household. Forgiveness and understanding was the only way to get past my negative feelings so I actively sought out their experiences. Through the life-stories of my mother and father, I discovered how much better my childhood circumstances were compared to their own. With empathy, came acceptance and ultimately, the ability to let go of the past and move forward. Forgiving myself proved to be more difficult, but eventually I saw myself through the eyes of others and decided that I was perfectly flawed, and to be authentic, I had to accept all of my aspects. With self-acceptance came a whole new life full of light and new experiences.  For the first time, I could see the world around me filled with beauty and wonder. Why would I want to live in the dark with all of this sunshine beckoning me with laughter and warm breezes?

I am not a medical professional, so the next bit is only my personal opinion. Treating depression with medication wasn’t the right course in my situation. For me, it seemed like placing a band-aid over a gushing wound. Depression was only the symptom and eventually the cause would've reared its ugly head through a drug-induced haze. I made a choice, but also realized the only person who had the power to make me happy was me. Everyone faces difficulty and filters the event through their perception. Do you know that 70% of all experiences are internal and only 30% is external? What happens in life does not define who we are, but how we perceive those trials determines our ultimate outcome.