Surfacing Through Depression: A Personal Story

Today I’m going to tell you a short personal story about how I turn something not so great into something good for myself. I’m inviting you inside my head to sort of see a process I go through in the hopes that maybe you might be inspired and excited about examining your own process.

I consider myself to be a well-adjusted person. I have some wonderful periods of time when I feel incredibly connected to my sense of purpose in life, the people I love and an overall perspective of contentment. Life can be especially challenging in the valley of those peaks. There have been long and tiring periods of great despair and depression. I’ve learned the hard way that grief isn’t just about death, and that even after you feel like you’ve dealt with it, it can still show up uninvited at your heart’s doorstep. After weeks of letting it sleep on my welcome mat, I finally let it in. And, I confess, it sucked.

This powerful emotion spent some time sledgehammering through what I thought and hoped were previously healed towers of pain, leaving a very dangerous mess. It’s dangerous because, for me, this mess turns to quicksand, and I step into it, and I drown. When I drown on the inside, I sloth on the outside. For the record, slothing can be pretty amazing when done in a balanced way. There’s calmness to doing less, and shutting off your brain. As I allowed myself to go through what I call a ‘contractionary period’, most days, it felt like a huge accomplishment to even get up and go to work. Eventually, a few days turned into a few weeks, and then a few months. Weight Gain. Exhaustion. Sadness. Binge eating. Isolation. Anger. Frustration.

When you choose to follow a path of growth and connectedness, the challenges you face along the way often threaten to shrink your spirit and disconnect you from everything and everyone that strengthens you. This week, I spent much of my free time contemplating why this happens, and why it will continue to happen. I’m reminded of something a personal trainer once explained to me about how our bodies build muscle. In order to get stronger, the muscles have to go through some level of breakdown and then there is momentum gained from the body overcompensating during the rebuilding process.

It’s like sinking down to the bottom of a pool and then using your sinking body to push against the floor to jump out of the water. Let’s say that it is your soul’s goal to reach a particular point of ascension.  In order for that to happen, you might keep going through this process of rising and falling. And you might feel so frustrated with yourself, and your progress, and the distance between you and your soul’s goal that you fail to notice how the floor of the pool has elevated slightly. The cycle continues again and again, and every time you rise back up, to jump out, you’ve reached a new height of growth. And the next time you fall, you’re still higher than you ever were before. That’s the secret. That’s the piece no one ever tells you. I’m telling you right now.

Part of the frustration I felt with myself also came from an expectation I placed on myself that I should be ‘better’ than I am. If I should be better, does that mean that I’m not good enough right now? Am I really just saying that I’m not good enough when I’m overweight, or lethargic, or depressed? Am I unlovable in this state? Am I repulsive when I’m sad, or grieving? These are all really important variables to consider because they can feel like bricks, weighing me down in the bottom of this pool when I try to jump out.

So here is what I did.

I cried. I ate. I slept. I hibernated. I went shopping. I watched a lot of television. And then I considered how nice it was that I was giving myself permission to all of these things without any expectation of stopping at some point. There came a point where I finally felt tired of feeling tired. I went for a walk and paid really close attention to how my mood had shifted afterwards. I watched a documentary about juicing and thought it might be fun to try. I got back into the kitchen and started to cook for myself and remembered how much I love to create. I sang at the top of my lungs in the car. I savored simple moments with my dogs. I took a few deep breaths whenever I was alone to remind myself that I’m alive. As the momentum upwards continued, I found myself wanting to clean the house, and reach out to people to hang out. I started making healthier choices for myself again. And none of this happened overnight. It was little by little.

It’s so important to know what activities and thoughts anchor you to the bottom of that pool, and what actions and feelings help you to jump out. I knew that cooking and music were really big helpers for me. I knew that fresh air and light exercise also helped. There were so many little things I figured out as I went searching for ways to jump out. But the biggest of all of these was compassion. Compassion is the most important gift we can give ourselves when we are going through pain. It’s the key that helps us unlock the door to allow grief to leave our bodies.

surface

I invite you to consider your own process for growth, how you tether yourself to your pain, and how you can show yourself compassion as you push up to the surface.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, Cookies = Self Care

I bruise pretty easily.

There’s usually a moment after I accidentally walk into something where I think to myself, ‘Yep, that’s going to bruise later’. After some time passes, you can feel the soreness set in, and not too much later, the colors start to show. Black and Blue. Or in my case, Purple.

Many of us do a good job of acknowledging that there’s pain because we can quickly locate it because of that bruise. We can identify the source of that pain, and sometimes we can even remember exactly how we acquired it. But what about the pain you can’t see? What about those bruises?

Though I didn’t realize it at first, my weekend was all about self-care. As a sensitive person, I go through a lot of highs and lows depending on whatever is going on in my life and sometimes the best remedy is to do absolutely nothing. Friday’s lousy mood moved right into Saturday morning, so after taking care of my pets and eating some leftovers for breakfast, I crawled right back into bed and slept. I woke up a bit later in early afternoon hours, took care of the pets again, prepared a snack of falafel chips and pretzel chips (it’s all I could find in the pantry), crawled under my couch blanket and watched a movie. I really didn’t get up from the couch very much, so once evening had settled in, I had to make a choice: Do I get off the couch, shower, and go spend some social time with friends? Or do I commit to whatever it was I was doing here? After canceling plans with my friends, I continued to marinate in my sloth like state, interrupting myself only to bake cookies, and then eat several of them.

Chewy-Soft-Chocolate-Chip-Cookies

 

I admit that when I went to sleep very late that evening, I felt like I had wasted the day.

It wasn’t until I woke up Sunday morning that I realized how valuable my Saturday of hibernation really was for me. Though my energy level didn’t start out particularly high, I did notice that the more accepting I was that I needed Saturday, the easier it was for me to find a path to productivity on Sunday.

I recognized that there was a bruise. Although there were parts of me that felt very ‘self-hatred’ and ‘self-judgment’ oriented, I didn’t shut those parts down. I gave myself some time to feel it and acknowledge it, and then I made room for the other parts that felt ready to invite a different kind of self-care.

A wave of inspiration came over me and I packed a small bag and walked over to the community pool. Despite experiencing some significant body-consciousness, I chose to allow myself to take up space however I needed to, and took my first steps into the pool. After a few laps, I settled into my lounge chair and read for a few hours. On my walk back home I realized that I hadn’t done something like that in a very, very long time. Soon, I felt the urge to do some much-needed laundry, and some mild house cleaning. But none of this felt like a chore! It actually felt like self-care. I took pride in all of it, and by the time evening rolled around, I was ready to leave the house and spend time with loved ones.

This, of course, is a very simplistic example of how self-care can factor into everyday life. Acknowledging the bruise, and feeling the pain is so important, even if there’s no one else who can acknowledge it with you. I tend to isolate myself when I’m in pain because it’s easier for me not to have to consider others. Sometimes that means I have to cancel plans. Sometimes that means I have to sit at home and do absolutely nothing, or eat cookies, or watch Netflix for hours upon hours. But giving yourself permission to take care of your own needs no matter how messy that might look is a first step to finding a path back to a better state of being.

Too often we ignore our needs and push onwards; we ignore the bruise.

So instead I say why not let that bruise be seen, even if it’s just by you? After all, if you let yourself feel it consciously then at least you’ll have some control over how you care for it. The unconscious alternative of letting it handle you isn’t really a recipe for success and it just leads to more unhealed bruises.

Try it! It can’t hurt. 😉

Glowing in the Dark

Have you ever noticed that if you try to block the Sun with your hands that your hands glow?

We’re transparent. Kind of.

The stuff that we’re made up of is designed to actually let the light through, but we try to solidify ourselves to the point of complete inflexibility.

Why do we do this? Why do we try to block out the light?

Thursday morning was spent in total darkness for me. I didn’t get more than three hours of sleep and it definitely helped to set me up for failure. I felt like my entire body was marinating in anxiety over a to-do list that continued to grow. Nearly ever interaction I had with the people around me resulted in twinges of abandonment. It happens sometimes; we feel feelings that just don’t really make sense to us in the moment. We walk around trying to hide that parts of our hearts are bruised, and tender. We carry shame for not being callous enough not to feel our discomfort. I know I definitely do. It’s inconvenient to feel sometimes.

It happened that I just wasn’t feeling so great, so I did something I so seldom do: I left where I was (where I thought I needed to be) and went home to take care of myself. What happened next surprised even me.

At a restaurant, I ordered my meal with friends, and the server made a mistake and gave me an extra appetizer – something I really enjoyed. Earlier, I was asked if I wanted this appetizer and I had declined because I was trying to stay within my budget. And now here it was!

A business meeting went better than I had expected – I was so worried that I wasn’t measuring up but as it turned out, I was further ahead of where I needed to be. Hearing the feedback from someone else gave me a great sense of comfort and relief.

Later that evening, at Happy Hour with a good friend, I ordered some food and again was given more than I had anticipated of something very delicious. And then, my friend made a kind, and unexpected gesture to pay for our meal.

While walking to the movie theater after dinner, the tickets for a special screening of a documentary my friend and I were going to watch was no longer available to be purchased from the theater; I’d have to buy them online at a different website now. I was racing through my phone trying to purchase the ticket in time for the movie to start. I had finally made it to the website when a stranger approached me and asked me if I needed a ticket. Someone in their party wasn’t going to make it to the theatre so they didn’t want the ticket to go to waste. The ticket was mine, and I paid for it with a hug. I just hugged a total stranger! And… she hugged me back!

Dramatically, the day had changed. I was filled with a feeling of gratitude for the way Thursday had taken my hand and walked me back into the light. That’s when I remembered that I’m not solid. I’m not callous.  I just hadn’t been paying attention to all the ways that this light was in me.

I was waiting for the Sun to shine on me, forgetting that I had light inside that I could shine out. Letting yourself be seen means that people can find you, and they can lead you out of shadows if you don’t want to be there.

Glowing

 

What shines on you also shines through you. And like the stickers I used to have on my ceiling when I was a kid, when you allow the light to find you, if it ever gets dark again, you’ll glow.