An experiential account of encountering and surviving depression
Pitch black darkness… the experience of being in an endless, damp, dark tunnel... hopelessness… exhaustion… sleeplessness… lowered self- esteem… inability to trust... fearfulness... panic attacks… suicidal thoughts…
An unbelievably large percentage of people are said to be experiencing depression. They may outwardly seem to be ‘normal’ and functional, but that is because they shy away from declaring their problem for fear of being ‘labelled’, laughed at, and rejected.
I was in a clinical depression for close to two years. As it grew worse, the symptoms included indigestion, giddiness, and all the aspects mentioned earlier. I also felt ‘guilty’ – why was I feeling this way, when outwardly ‘I had it all’. This guilt was compounded by people who insisted that I get myself together and ‘snap out’ of the feeling. In short – I lived in hell.
Here is the story of my recovery and transition to wholeness. My hope is that it might help people in this ‘black pit’.
The first step in my recovery was to acknowledge the “dis-ease” and then embark on a slow process of recovery (no quick-fix solutions).
To begin with, I was on allopathic medication – I am still unclear whether that was the best option. There was the dilemma: Should I take the advice of medically qualified mainstream doctors? Or go with my own body wisdom, which revolted against drugs with side-effects, and opt instead for ‘alternative’ therapies like aromatherapy or dance therapy? I know that every type of medicine has a role to play, but for a strong non-believer in allopathy, the decision to go for the “harshest alternative” was very traumatic.
And worse still, once I embarked on this course, I had well-wishers warn – “Oh, stop it…drugs only do you harm.” Nothing could be more harmful than this kind of advice, once you have decided the course of action. You must not stop drugs suddenly. They have to be tapered off gradually under the direct supervision of your consulting psychiatrist. Knowing this, I used to feel even more anxious about my situation.
I was fortunate to have a support structure provided by my family. They were open to guidance from counsellors who cautioned them not to get sucked into the situation, to see the larger perspective, to downplay the seriousness of the situation rather than heighten it. Following this, my family remained calm and centred, and consequently aided my healing. They offered less advice, and more empathy. They were pillars of patience, caring, strength.
I can now see that the universe always provides a resource, when it throws you a challenge – the resource being equal to the challenge.
In addition, a zoo of assorted ‘friends’ spent time with me: There were the ducks who waddled through the conversation with sympathetic quacks. The elephants who remembered old incidents that generated happy memories. Then I had some sparrows who chirped out their ‘glories’ regardless of my discomfort. And how could I forget the snakes – fully aware of what they had done in the Garden of Eden – they came to remind me that my ‘sin’ had brought this on me, and repentance was the order of the day! Some of them even told me that laughter/ aroma / dance therapy, acupressure, homoeopathy (in short, anything that was not part of the mainstream healing system) was from the devil and the only way I could come out of depression was by denouncing and repenting of having availed of these methods!
Then I had two hyenas who would laugh good-humouredly, saying that they were in danger of turning mad themselves with me around! Sounds okay to me now, but at that time the accusation was hurtful. And the beavers – their advice was “get busy”, stop thinking of yourself – take up tasks, clean a cupboard… why can’t you take up a job? Escape rather than deal with the situation? (!)
I must mention the few wise owls who provided insights – “get out of your head and dance”. Another who made me recall my moments of glory, and had me smiling for two full days, basking in those memories. I could have generated enough serotonin for a week, with a little more encouragement!
And of course, the wise old owl who taught me to visualize. For 10 minutes daily, I used to recall an experience on the sands of Goa, the swirling waters, the beach, the cool air, the swaying palms, and I soon began to inject some creative additions – the people who care for me embracing me. This was an extremely difficult task at that point of time. Focus did not come easily, but I persevered. The kindly owl would call to hear my progress, and encourage me to journey on.
The most crucial way that my family and other animals contributed to my healing, was prayer. I received messages from many people telling me they had prayed for me daily. I am a firm believer in prayer, and I am sure this was the backbone to my healing.
While on the subject of prayer, I have been brought up on the idea of a personal God. I felt strongly that this ‘person’ had deserted me, and so one day I blasted Him, and said I would have nothing to do with Him – I felt He had let me down, and I was incensed… and as I blabbered on, I heard a gentle voice say, “I understand exactly how it feels, and it is okay to scold me!” This experience was deeply cathartic and energizing. It took some courage to go beyond the belief that one has to be nice to God to appease him. I risked being authentic with the Giver of Life. It only struck me later that He anyway knew my real feelings, so why was I shamming?
Through trial and error and a host of helpful well-wishers, I stumbled on various therapists – all with varying degrees of personal wholeness, experience and wisdom. It was quite a task to go through this maze to discover who and what works for me. The task of discernment was rendered more difficult by the fact that when you are in a state of depression, trust doesn’t come easy!
Initially, I encountered the delve-into-the-past therapists who wanted to get to the root cause. They revived memories that hurt more than healed. Recently, I heard Sri Sri Ravi Shankar describe this method as “taking a garbage bag and examining each item that was disposed of, with a view to establishing when, how and why!” He recommends the simple solution of just dumping the bag and moving on….breathing your way to wholeness. Garbage can be turned into gold (compost), provided it is used wisely to energise.
I also encountered know-it-all counsellors who gave me long sermons that neither consoled nor enlightened.
At last, I came across a therapist who suited me. He had a holistic approach to healing. As he put it, what I was encountering was a spiritual, physical and emotional breakdown; and I needed to “get out the same way I got in”.
Step one was taking responsibility. No, not blame – but responsibility – the ability to respond. The willingness to say ‘yes’ to transformation, to be in a place where one understood the value of changing faulty thought patterns and attitudes. For example, I had to consciously change my ‘self-talk’ from being angry and despairing, to being grateful. Old patterns don’t just go away; they have to be worked on daily and consistently. Patience got me the results. I soon learned that if one has the right thoughts, one can generate the necessary happy hormone – serotonin.
While I was being counselled, I participated in high energy workshops and followed the discipline of the daily walk, meditation, breathing exercise and dance, laughter, and an appropriate healthy diet for the body, and as importantly, the mind. Life Positive was my companion through the journey, bringing hope and insights. The positive energy of the contributors seemed to pour through the written word!
I owe a debt of gratitude to Eckhart Tolle. In his book Stillness Speaks, he comments, “Surrender comes when you no longer ask ‘why is this happening to me?’ and he goes on to say, ‘Acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest source of grace’.” That is a highly recommended motto for the depressed ; the most consoling phrase I encountered, and one I reminded myself of, daily.
I listened long and often to one of Louise Hay’s recorded talks. She pleads, “Be good to yourself and stop terrorising yourself.” Again, a reminder to me to change my self-talk.
My turning point was the day I visited someone who was depressed and lonely, a response to the advice of my homoeopathic doctor. The very act of going beyond myself seemed to trigger transformation.
And now that I am well, I am in a position to add, “Thank you, God, for the blessing – the ‘luxury’ of knowing depression, experiencing it (not escaping it), and coming through it… What could make one value life more than to experience ‘living death’?
Life now? I eat, dance, sing, write, sleep, commune with nature and people … I live abundantly! I am connected to an endless source of energy. There is an enthusiasm for life. Even the most mundane things seem to fill my soul with joy! I am completely off medication. I love everything I do. My life has purpose.
People going through the dark night of the soul need a tremendous amount of ‘handholding’. To support people in depression, I am in the process of creating a resource bank of competent counsellors and therapists in the field of alternative healing like aromatherapy, music, dance, art and other right brain methods of generating happy hormones! I also intend holding workshops for proactive people who seek to strengthen their spiritual and mental muscles.
To contribute to the movement for well-being or queries, contact: Marita Nazareth, email@example.com or 9920280404.
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