I think the worst parts of depression consist of apathy and listlessness. They suck you into a downward spiral so powerful it seems like there is no way out. It wouldn’t matter if there was a way out because you have no energy to get out. It’s such a vicious cycle because you are simultaneously miserable and don’t want to feel that way one more second.
I have a tremendous amount of compassion for those who live under a cloud of depression day after day after day for months, even years. I only experienced weeks of intense depression and just a few hours of not-going-to-live-anymore depression. Those hours were the worst of my life. I called out to God in the deepest part of my depression. My depression didn’t go away in that moment, just the desire to act on my thoughts of ending my life. I was still in a heap of tears and misery but I began the hard work to get out of it. My depression was situational but my situation didn’t change over night.
Once I was out from under the worst part of my depression, I made a decision to do something different. To stop swirling. It took a few months before I was completely free of the spiral. I found the steps that helped me or maybe they found me. Here’s what I did:
- I listened only to Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s Solutions CD’s. Filled with information about how to take control of my mind and my life.
- I saw a mental health professional weekly.
- I shared my pain with trusted people.
- I got out of bed and walked every day (or close to it). Sometimes I walked a few times a day.
- I soaked up God’s love messages to me through the Bible. If you take that book’s overall message cover to cover, it is really about relentless, non-judgmental love and freedom.
- Every time I felt a wave of depression I would describe it to myself, usually aloud. Kind of like this, “I feel that familiar surge of black, life sucking poison trying to take me down like the black spider-man suit. It’s really sadness. I feel the hot tears pouring out of my eyes, they get cooler as they roll down my cheeks. I feel a heaviness in my chest. I’ll let this be here for now.” Then after a few minutes I would take a deep breath and think about good things in my life, “I have good in my life. I have a few friends who really care about me. I have a roof over my head, food to eat and gas in my car. The sky is a beautiful blue.” I would then go outside, look at the sky, feel the air on my face, take a few more deep, relaxing breaths and then ask myself what I needed to be doing. Tasks that needed my attention. Then I got busy. Some days I would go for a walk, even while crying and talking to myself like I just described a few sentences ago. I did this over and over again for weeks. The sadness began to lessen. I didn’t feel it as strongly or for as long in the ensuing grief sessions.
Unless your depression is clinical depression caused only by a physiological issue, there is usually at least one experience that needs to be grieved lurking underneath the depression. It’s like a wound. Sometimes wounds get infected so intensely you might need antibiotics or the infection will rapidly multiply and can even take your life. The infection is the depression (unprocessed grief). The wound is from a painful experience: death of a loved one, loss of a job, end of a relationship, a disaster, witnessing violence, and abuse are a few depression causing experiences.
The best gift you can give yourself is that of processing your grief. If you are experiencing depression, it would be worth it to work with a mental health professional to find out what might be going on beneath the depression. Sometimes we don’t think painful aspects of our past can be involved in our current depression. Just because something happened a long time ago and you thought you were “over it”, doesn’t mean it can’t be affecting you today. Grief has an interesting way of lurking quietly below the surface for years and then barging its way back into your life in a most insidious way.
If you’re looking for a mental health professional, try PsychologyToday.com or Theravive.com to find one near you. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide and need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Hotline 800-273-8255. They also have an online chat option. If you intend to take your life, call 911 or get to an emergency room immediately.
The further I walk down this journey of life, the more I realize life is just plain hard and people are messy. Somehow I thought life was easy, people were uncomplicated and almost everyone was nice. I remember the first time I realized people are complicated and mean, I was 23 and managing my dad’s hotel in Aspen, CO. A guest treated me horribly. It was because I was on the other side of the counter (like the other side of the tracks). The man talked to me as though I was sub-human. I was in disbelief and a tiny crack began to form in the protective layer of shellac I had poured all over the messiness of life so I wouldn’t be aware of it.
The shellac comes in the form of stories we create. We force everything that goes on around us into that story. At some point, though, the story begins to disintegrate and when it does, we melt into a puddle along with it. It’s healthy to melt. In that space, we are able to experience life as it really is instead of in some story we created. While the story might feel good, it doesn’t actually serve us well as adults. The story keeps us pouring lots and lots of shiny shellac over the pile of crap that exists in reality. It’s just polished poop.
When we take the shellac off, we can deal with the icky parts of ourselves and the world around us. We can be sad and hurt. We can grieve. We can be with others who embrace reality, too. And this is the place where healing happens: aware of our own issues, knowing others have issues and being vulnerable with each other. No more stories! No more polished poop!
Note: Sometimes when we let the shellac dissolve, it’s too much for us to bear and we feel as though we are falling apart, like the bottom has dropped out from beneath us and we’re in a free fall. If you are ever in a place like this, please seek out the help of a Mental Health Professional. You can also call the National Suicide Hotline just to talk with someone, whether you are suicidal or not: 800-273-8255
Just like you, I need to fill up my tanks. I need to enlist self care. Part of my self care is receiving encouragement and guidance from others. For the past few years I have been learning from Molly Mahar. She is a coach who offers a variety of online trainings. I appreciate her honest approach to life and tapping into all the amazing abilities we have. I could keep this to myself but I want to spread the word about Molly.
So often in our culture we hoard info and stuff for ourselves, fearful that if we share, someone might pass us on the ladder to success. I believe there’s lots of room on that ladder. We all have something to offer the world and I’m not going to stand in the way of another’s steps up the rungs. In fact, I’m going to help, even if it’s for someone who is farther ahead than I am or will pass me.
Oh sure! there’s a selfish part inside of me who wants to keep people down, but I don’t want to feed that part. That part is mean, self-centered and greedy. So I’m pushing past that and feeding the part that wants to embrace and share and love! There was a bit of bait from Molly: a contest for the ones who get the most people to sign up for her course. I’m more motivated by the desire to share Molly’s wisdom than winning a contest 🙂
I signed up for Molly’s Courage Council. If you’re interested in tackling your blocks to moving forward, take a look at Molly’s course. It starts September 11. Click here to find out more!
I was informed of an occurrence in a loved one’s life that sucked a bit of life out of me. At this point I will not be telling you the details. It’s not my story to tell. While I was alone with the new information, I started to cry. I cried for the person. The wave of tears left me for a moment and I began to think about my ownership in the situation. Years ago I had an affair. It was a conglomeration of the worst decisions I have ever made in my life. It hit me that while my loved one dealt with their own pain, I was oblivious to even the slightest changes in this person. I was so self absorbed at the time, so consumed with my own pride and selfishness, I missed a very pivotal time in history.
As another layer of the negative ripples of my affair surfaced, I felt deep pangs of regret and remorse. Tears flowed again followed by heaving sobs. It felt good to cry and purge the anger and disappointment. I was driving to Aspen to visit family and attend a Board meeting. While crying, I wondered if other travelers noticed I was crying. Instantly I “looked” at myself with an expression of “OMG! Are you kidding me?!” This is the very pride that tripped me up with my affair: I was being noticed and it felt good. Here I was crying about my selfish choices and thinking all about myself yet again! Ugh!
I am a God-believing person, so I took this to Him. I poured out my frustrations with this prideful, selfish side of me and begged for help to stop. Then I enlisted a useful thought-stopping technique:
- Each time I noticed myself making something all about me, I told myself to stop.
- I looked at the beauty all around me to get my mind off of me and on to something else.
- I audibly spoke a narrative of what I was seeing. You can say it in your head if people are around but it’s most effective if you say it aloud.
It helped. The focus on myself stopped. That time. Not too much longer, it happened again. Cracking up at this behavior, I said, “STOP!” and went through the process again. Now, every time I start that pride-filled thinking, I use the Stop Technique. It’s been several days and I haven’t needed to use it. I will again, I’m sure, but for now I seem to have reached a respite from the “all about me” thinking.
It’s important to understand the underlying issues that contribute to why I wondered if people were noticing I was crying. It’s an issue from my childhood (no surprise!). I was the fifth out of six children for most of my childhood. My parents were ultra busy running their hotel. I was not noticed. I was not special. I think there’s a careful balance necessary between letting our children know they are important and noticed by us without creating self absorbed children who think the world begins and ends because of them. Confident in who they are, not arrogant and entitled. I’m working on being confident, not arrogant or chastising myself (the opposite of arrogance and equally unhealthy). It’s a crazy pendulum swing I find myself on at times. I’m thankful techniques exist to ground myself back to truth and reality!
I’ve realized that my post about joining the staff at the Concordia University Irvine Townsend Institute may have led some to believe I am moving and closing up my private practice. I am only adding a responsibility, not reducing others. I will continue to work with couples and individuals through my counseling practice, Journey Forward in lovely Lafayette, CO. I will continue to work with couples as a Smalley Intensive Marriage Coach, I will continue to write my blog and books.
Within the book realm, I’m eagerly awaiting the final piece of artwork for my current project: The Journey Forward Workbook: Daily Steps to Achieve Emotional Balance, Healthier Relationships and a Life You Can Love. It’s a coloring book/workbook that breaks down the basics: awareness, processing thoughts and emotions, creating new neural pathways, self care, boundaries.. I’m super excited about this project and can’t wait to get it published and into your hands!
For those of you who wondered about what I am doing, that’s it 🙂
I’m taking on a new role as an adjunct professor for Dr. John Townsend’s Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling at Concordia University, Irvine CA. Initially I was thrilled about the opportunity to teach for his Master’s and Certificate programs in Counseling, Organizational Leadership and Executive Coaching. I went through the hiring process, check. I navigated setting up my email and access to the online portal, check. Perused the Online Blackboard and froze in my tracks with fear! I unsuccessfully attempted to navigate this completely unknown program. I couldn’t find the information I needed to tell me how to make sense of everything in front of me. I was supposed to create my own practice-course to prepare for using the program but I couldn’t even figure out step one. That was a few weeks ago. I logged off the system and ignored it. I considered resigning before I had even begun.
Recently, a thought entered my mind: I could call one of my friends who has already been teaching and likely knows how to use Blackboard. I could call the man listed as my contact person for help. I relaxed some as I realized all is not lost. I don’t have to jump ship before weighing anchor. Yesterday I logged back on to the system. I accidentally ended up finding the learning modules but quickly got myself lost again and couldn’t find them. Panic ensued. “I’ll never be able to do this. What am I thinking? My brain is getting too old for learning new things.” Defeat began to settle in again. Then a small yet courageous voice starting making itself heard in my mind, “You CAN do this. Your brain is NOT too old. Stay with what you know is true right now. This is hard, yes. It is new, yes. Remember you have a few life lines–the help person and your friends. Oh yes, that’s right. I can at least give this a try.”
Before calling my life lines I searched one more time. Low and behold, I found the Instruction Modules. They call it The Sandbox. I think of a sandbox as a fun place to learn. Up to this point the sandbox hasn’t been any fun. I had to find the sandbox. I did it the hard way, on my own. I could have asked for help. I just wanted to see what I could find on my own first before I asked and heard, “The title you are clicking on is the one you will use when you are ready to create your own practice course. The one you need is just below it.”
I like that I figured it out on my own. It took a bit more time and included more frustration but I did it and that feels good. I like that I was freaked out by this unknown world. I don’t want to stay only with the known. I need to keep my 51 year old brain learning new information or I will get stuck. Fear can do that to us. It can keep us stuck. What do we gain if we stay stuck? Maybe ease in some way at the moment but not down the road. By regularly challenging ourselves and stepping into our fears we keep our brain active by creating new neural pathways, we grow in our confidence and we develop more compassion for others.
It was this new fear that helped me connect more deeply with my clients and those near me who are facing their own fears. I get the fear. I feel it regularly. And I welcome it! I’ve read in several different books to do something everyday that scares me. Something that is bigger than me, something new. Not to torture myself but to stretch and grow my abilities.
Come and join me in the sandbox. You might have to find it first but once you do, it will feel so good to be here.
Categories: Acceptance, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Recovery, Self-Help
Tags: Challenging ourselves, Concordia University Irvine, fear, Individual growth, Learning, Teaching, Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling
I frequently talk about Viktor Frankl with my clients. He survived Nazi concentration camps from 1942-1945. His freedom came when his camp was liberated at the end of World War II. A Psychiatrist, he was intrigued by the motivations and actions of himself, fellow prisoners and guards in this unplanned and unwanted research experiment. After the war, he turned his discovery of the power human beings possess to survive horrific experiences into a therapeutic method: Logotherapy.
In the most unlikely of places, Dr. Frankl made a decision to be the best prisoner he could be. He didn’t execute this perfectly as he admits in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning but his intention gave him purpose and the will to survive. He reasoned if he was able to do this in a concentration camp, then anyone can. As human beings, we have the ability to choose our thoughts, words, actions and attitudes.
My circumstances are not even remotely as challenging as Dr. Frankl’s. Still, I recognize I have the same choices. In simple trivial situations like driving behind a slow vehicle I can get upset about it or relax, recognizing I have no power over the driver. I only have power over myself. I know that unhealthy, illegal and unwise decisions will have a negative impact on me and potentially others so I choose to breathe, be calm, and recognize that my impatience is likely my own responsibility for not leaving enough time for the inevitable slow driver, accident or heavy traffic.
The same goes for the more painful situations in my life. It’s important to note, this doesn’t mean I pretend to be fine. Oh, no! We must be real about the emotions we have in all situations whether trivial or intense. Acknowledge your emotions, understand why you feel what you do, validate your emotions then have a conversation with yourself about what to do. I go into this process in greater length here and here.
Remember, you have the power to decide what you think, feel, say and do in all situations. No one decides that for you.
“The challenge is to always do what is right and good and true, even if others don’t appreciate it. Making the world a better place can’t depend on applause. You have to keep striving, no matter what, because if you don’t, many of the things that need to be done in our world will never get done.” ~ Kent M. Keith, author of Anyway – The Paradoxical Commandments
The Paradoxical Commandments by Keith M. Kent:
- People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
- If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
- If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
- The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
- Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
- The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
- People favor underdogs but follow top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
- What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
- People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
- Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
I resonate with Kent Keith’s ideas. Our job is to leave a positive mark on this world through our actions and words. Our ripples may be small or large. The size isn’t the point. The healthiest approach is to detach from the outcome or reach of the good we do and do good anyway! 🙂