I have a lot of experience with mental health issues. It’s true, these things are genetic. I have talked my mother through long bouts of depression. I’ve watched other family members and many friends walk their own path through illness.
And I have my own journey. Depression has shown up for me since I was a young teenager.
Back then, I believed my feelings were just a response to my environment. And that seemed normal given the circumstances.
Later, it showed up as compulsive actions. Studying, cleaning, exercise. I still sometimes revert to these behaviors when depression sneaks up on me.
Depression pushed me into creating and living in stories.
Stories that people hate me, don’t love me, and wish I was not around.
Depression has stolen days, weeks, and months of my life when I just can’t handle another “thing.’’
About 5 years ago, I decided to really pay close attention to what was happening in my mind and body. I didn’t want to be on meds any longer. I noticed that my creativity and problem solving abilities were significantly dampened and I hated making the tradeoff of being happy or smart.
I weaned off, and then started to notice when the stories crept in. I was able to do this because my life coach helped me to identify what stories may not be reality.
So when I started to think that my husband didn’t love me or that my boss was about to fire me, I would pause and question myself. Is this true? Is it even likely?
I started managing my own mind.
It’s important to note that these stories would pop up over the smallest things. I would draw completely paranoid and unrealistic conclusions and launch deep into my sad story.
Then every action I took was from a place of hurt. I created more sadness.
It was unnecessary. But like an addiction, I could not stop.
It took months of practice to recognize when I needed to take control of my thoughts.
I would also have days (and these still happen) when I could not get out of bed.
Before I started actively managing my mind, I would have been miserable on those days. I would have completely ‘jumped in the pool’ with my sadness. I assumed my sadness was real and warranted.
If you have never experienced this type of depressive episode it is pretty wild. Even though now that I can recognize it as a temporary physical state, I cannot will myself into action.
I can’t go for a walk and be better. I can’t put on makeup and go see a friend and suddenly be happier. It’s literally quicksand for the soul.
But now I just allow myself to have the days. To do this, I did have to learn what would make those days tolerable.
For me, there are a few things that take the edge off. Writing, decorating/designing/or painting something, and true rest.
I tell myself that I have these days sometimes (about 5 a month) and they are my rest days. It’s ok, it will likely pass in 24 hours, and there is nothing wrong with me.
I repeat…. there is nothing wrong with me. This is the most important belief.
Because when the fog lifts, I carry zero shame, pity, or guilt into the new day. On the good days I am wonderfully productive and I take full advantage of my energy and focus.
One of my teachers says that life is always 50/50. 50% great, 50% crap. According to her, and the Buddhists, we suffer anytime we try to make it anything that it isn’t.
We build resilience and peaceful minds when we can allow the 50% that isn’t great. We cannot experience the greatest joy without having known pain.
I believe this. And in fact, if I look at life as 50/50, I may be coming out ahead, even with my sad days.
I’m grateful for the teachers and coaches that have taught me to manage my mind when it needs help. It has allowed me to enjoy my life more deeply, love myself more, and be better to the people who love me.
So today, you can find me drawing new landscape designs and resting on the couch ;-)
P.S. I now teach these mind management concepts to my coaching clients. These tools are helpful for all humans!! Even if you don’t have any mental illness, we all create stories in our lives that don’t serve us. These tools elevate us in all areas of life – relationships, parenting, & leadership. If you are curious, I would love to talk to you on a no cost discovery call. www.bauerhousecoaching.com.
**Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and all decisions about depression and treatment should be made in conjunction with your doctor.
photo- Dahlias from last years garden