In an *almost* full notebook, there are three pages where I chronicled my history with depression. It seems like a strange thing to do, but it was incredibly healing because I hadn’t realized how long I’d been living with the heaviness of depression by my side. I can trace it back to 5th grade and had accepted it as normal, as part of me.
What’s really interesting to me, what I frequently revisit is the last page where I reflected on the trip down memory lane. I had accepted myself as a stoic person (I am so some extent, but not the extreme version I’d become), and I had decided that this light, happy thing that people all around me experienced wasn’t an option for me.
Then I wrote my personal zinger:
I had to break down in order to break through.
I had to get to the point where my stubborn, self-sufficient, can do attitude couldn’t. J.K. Rowling has said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” For me, my mental rock bottom was like a sea, and I had to push off of it, rise through the weight of the water, and break through the surface to feel light, to feel sun, to breathe.
Under my ah-ha, I have a few things that I need to remember:
- I need to have help keeping my brain chemicals and hormones in balance.
- I do not need to feel guilty that this is my prescription for happiness and joy.
- There’s a possibility this is genetic (I have a few siblings negotiating some mental health issues as well).
- Guilt is a trigger.
- Fatigue is a trigger.
This is a difficult practice. It is incredibly challenging, and a bit scary, to go back through my life, to pinpoint the times when I felt low, then really dive in and figure out what may have been the cause of them.
Part of the reason I engaged in this practice was because I felt the gentle nudging that came from a source I trust, one that my religious background and experience has taught me comes from a higher power who I prefer to call God. Some people call it inspiration, some see it as the universe beckoning us to be better.
Neuroscientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang suggested the following:
Our beliefs and our habits are both emotional and cognitive. To rework you have to relive, to be willing to experience again, but in a different way. The onus is on us to be willing to engage again, but differently. Evidence is colored through emotional filters.
This advice is obviously meant for things beyond an assessment of mental health. It is also very similar to owning the stories we tell ourselves. These practices are not intended for times when we are “coming in hot” either from a long day or from an attack we’ve had to defend, whether anticipated or not. They are meant for the quiet moments when we can be honest and open with ourselves.
And the scariest part is sharing it with people who have a reason to need to know – our support systems, whether that is family, friends, co-workers or a therapist. These are people who are passionate about helping us heal, we can better let them love us when we first, understand ourselves, and then share a complete picture of what we need for support.