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The following was written by my wife Eve and republished here due to Posterous shutting down.

Depression

I work with mentally ill people. Every now and then, I used to interview a potential client and when they listed the medication they were taking to help them with their depression or anxiety, I felt like exclaiming ’oh, how wonderful! We are on the same dose!' but I stopped myself. Every single time.

I wonder how much faith it would inspire in them to know that the person who is suposed to help them turn their lives around is just as f*cked up in the head as they are. This may not sound very PC but it is the most fundamental way most people tend to look at it (and no, I don’t agree but we’ll get to that point in a minute. Keep reading!).

So what is the one factor that makes me be able to hold down a job, and manage to stay out of homelessness, and help peopl on their way, as they stumble through their lives? What is the one key difference between feeling suicidal and feeling joyful? What drives the will to take your life into your own hands and turn it upside down and inside out until it resembles something you are almost satisfied with?

I think it is the same thing that makes a difference between liking and loving someone, between behaving childishly as opposed to being mature, and between leading an empty, lonely life as opposed to a purpose-filled life that brings value to everyone who comes into contact with you.

It is point of view, attitude and conscious decision.

Here is the most recent example I can think of: Having gone through a string of draining long-term relationships in the last nine years, I wasn’t going to fall in love easily. I wasn’t going to put myself out there and risk disappointment again; or risk having my heart broken or even let any man anywhere near it, for a very long time. Two of my exes I would trust with my life, just never again with my heart. Then, again, the other two I wouldn’t trust with keeping a plant alive, let alone anything else. How they managed to stay alive and well all this time is beyond me. :) But I digress.

So when I met this guy who looked like a very unlikely suspect for a relationship, I wasn’t thinking too much of it. However, he did and said a number of things very early on that made me stop, and listen, and pay attention. Within a very short space of time I realized that despite him looking like a little boy, I am, in fact, dealing with a very mature, strong, high quality Man here. Yes, a Man with a capital M. You know one when you meet one — there aren’t many of them around, but you KNOW. So far, all this time, every single time I met one, he was unavailable. He’d have a girlfriend, or a fiancee, or a wife and family, or be gay (or he could be a priest, although I have never come across one!). He would figure on my radar briefly but because of the availability problem, he’d be quickly dismissed [no, I would never attempt to take someone away from their loved one — and anyway, if I was right and this was a real Man, he would never even contemplate that, not even if he was unhappy in his relationship].

But suddenly, I found myself in an unfamiliar situation. Not only was this Man not attached to someone else, he was also interested in me. Interested. In. Me.

Now I am a strong woman who is very stubborn and the above presented a problem for me. I could have done a million things that would make him lose interest quicker than you can say ‘what a b*tch’. I could have supressed all the emotions he was arousing in me with the way he was behaving and living his life and being around me. I would have found it easy to stop any of the physical feelings he was causing me to have — after all, I have done this so many times before, when I felt the person at hand was bad for me. But this is the thing — I knew he wasn’t bad for me. In fact, I had the inkling that he would be very good for me. I found myself falling in love with him despite swearing I wouldn’t.

This is where the shift happened. I was going to stop seeing him. He didn’t fit with the way I wanted my life to go. Falling in love didn’t fit in with my plans. Getting attached so quickly after my last break-up was something I was trying to avoid like the plague. So it was only logical that he had to go. And then he reminded me that he was unlike any man I have ever been involved with in any way.

This shifted my point of view. Suddenly, I wasn’t looking at him as an interference in my life anymore. I recognized him for what he is — an enrichment of my life beyond what words can say. He was my deserved reward, one that I had been waiting for for a long time. A true blessing.

When your point of view shifts, so does your attitude. Suddenly I was grateful, and happy, and joyful because I realized this isn’t something to fight — but something to hold on to. And with that came my conscious decision not just to be infatuated with him (which was easy), or just like him (because he’s ‘cute’ — also way too easy) but to love him the best way I can. To give him my respect, my admiration, my attention, my time and energy, to be focused on him as a person, his happiness and his needs. To be able to love him in whatever way, shape or form he needs me to love him (yes, even if this meant to one day having to leave him alone, I would do it). This kind of love doesn’t come naturally to most people, and it definitely doesn’t come naturally to me. I am selfish like everyone else — an imperfect human being seeking my own gratification in most things. To be focused on him so fully required a conscious decision. A wise woman whom I had the amazing fortune to know once told me that feelings and emotions will fade. They come and go as they see fit, and can be influenced by a multitude of things (from tiredness, through stress, to hormones — these are things that aren’t stable and constant in anyone’s life). They will lose the power they used to have at the beginning to carry you through hard times in your relationship. To love someone, she said, is to make that decision and stick with it. True love is a decision, not an emotion.

Point of view, attitude and conscious decision together equal acceptance. Acceptance is the greatest driving force in overcoming obstacles I have ever encountered. You can do anything once you accept the things in your life.

But back to depression. I don’t believe depression is inevitable. I don’t believe my doctor when he says I have a hormonal imbalance in my brain that can only be fixed by stuffing me full of artificial serotonine. I believe depression can be one of two things: either a logical, reasonable reaction to how the brain copes with life’s events; or a wrong point of view. Find out which one it is, force yourself to look at the situation from a more objective perspective, and you will find a way to get rid of it. We are born with an amazing brain which lets us learn and get through life a lot easier than, let’s say, animals. It is only logical that this sort of a powerful machine can oftentimes malfunction. But the beauty of the brain is that it comes with inbuilt tools that, if used correctly, will fix it quickly and effectively. Knowledge is power. God wouldn’t be so cruel as to leave us broken with no way of redemption.

Where does acceptance fit into this? Accepting that mental health is not a constant in anyone’s life is the first step. To be able to look at yourself and say ’today I am not feeling great, so I will need to be clever with how I use my brain and time' can make the difference between a couple of days of lower-than-normal mood and a full-blown depression episode that may last months or years. If you try to be stubborn and fight it, you will only sink deeper into it — it’s like quicksand. Your only chance of getting out is to stop the struggle and relax into it. I was told once that it’s the same with childbirth. This lady I know had been told to fight the pain when delivering her first baby and it was the most painful thing she had to ever go through. She was advised to ‘get angry at the pain’ and ‘scream’ in order to get this baby out. She was left exhausted when the labour was over. With her second baby, she was advised by a wise midwife to try to breathe and relax into the pain — to let her body just go with it. The labour was a lot quicker and she was back home the next day, happier and stronger than the first time round.

Acceptance doesn’t mean you give up. It isn’t the attitude of ‘so I am not well and there isn’t anything I can do about it’. True acceptance means looking at this feeling of sadness and loss (which is what depression essentially is), and putting it into the greater picture (as in ’I am feeling sad and tired today but I am also feeling grateful for my family and friends, and hopeful for the future when I don’t feel this sad anymore, and I am feeling relieved that my depression isn’t some awful illness that I cannot cure — I am having all these feelings at the same time and I am embracing them all and accepting them as part of me'), and then taking positive action (’And now this is what I am going to do: I am going to replenish my body with nutrients so it is ready to shift my depression. I am going to move my muscles so my body is strong when my mind is weak. I am going to get stronger even by having some quality rest. I am going to speak to someone who cares about me and ask them what they like about me to remind myself that there is more to me than depression.').

At the end of last year, I made the decision to stop taking antidepressants. I have stopped taking them before but seeing that I was being told everywhere that I am ill and need them, I started taking them again. This time round, coming off the antidepressants took me months — mainly due to the withdrawal symptoms that most doctors tell you are in your head only. It is perfectly possible that I had just convinced myself I was withdrawing from serotonine, but for me, the symptoms were real. The palpitations, sweats, dizziness, crying/laughing spells, headaches and feelings of nausea — those were very real. It took me somewhere between 4 and 5 months to gradually come off my medication. I knew I was completely clear of the meds on the day I broke up with my ex. Any break-up is traumatic and this could have sent me into a spiral of despair but I knew better by then. I knew it wasn’t the traumatic life event that cause depression but the wrong handling or coping with the traumatic event.

I have been depression-free since March. I still feel low at times but it is liberating to know that everybody feels low sometimes. Life is not a straight line. It is a curve which sometimes points upwards and sometimes downwards. Here is to the hope that I try to explain to my clients — that with a bit of work, and a bit of reigning in their brains, they too will feel better.

Enough with the heavy. I am going to do a little singing and (if no one is looking) a little dancing to wake my senses up. Writing long blog posts is good for the soul but not great for the body. And afterwards I may (just may!) take five minutes to stare lovingly into my boyfriend’s eyes (I am making myself sick sometimes).