Allowing the change within
Posted Tuesday 20 April 2010
To mark depression awareness week, four Mind volunteers have agreed to share some of their experiences of depression.
There are two seemingly exclusive states – the crushing hollowness of clinical depression, and the full sensory experience of being ‘alive’ – which seem utterly unrelated; poles apart, even, as if passing from one to the other entails becoming a different person entirely.
In a sense, this is true. While depression is a loss of the true self, feeling alien in one’s own body while our mind seems no longer our own, the road to recovery is a trip towards the rediscovery of ourselves - often a stronger, wiser and ‘better’ self than the one we knew before.
This process of healing is therefore incredibly hard to understand, let alone predict. Our tortured minds – so used to plotting, tricking and conniving against ourselves – offer false dawns amid black chasms of despair. Our thoughts and feelings are, at times like these, the least reliable of witnesses, and this is perhaps why, as someone who enjoys getting lost in words, I decided to write.
Above all, my writing (however rambling or incoherent it may have been) taught me to observe, as opposed to my usual compulsion to ‘figure it all out’. It taught me to go with the flow, to be patient, and not to be so hard on myself. As I look back on my jottings now, they read like throws of the dice in a mental game of snakes and ladders – hard-won progress is at once undermined by a precipitous fall, and then leads to heights I’d not dared to hope for. Crucially the general trend is inexorably upwards, away from darkness and into the light.
This recovery phase really does take time - more than I care to remember. The temptation is to think that, once we have crossed the void and the worst of depression can be seen receding in our rear-view mirror, we can accelerate away and leave it for dead. Of course, this is yet another illusion. It hangs around, tailgating us for a while, giving us the occasional flash of its headlights. It doesn’t want us to speed off back to ‘normal’ because, wherever ‘normal’ is, it is not a place we should be hurrying back to.
During this curious state of ‘limbo’, I strongly believe that with acceptance comes strength. Only when we have given up the battle to force an improvement will the change come to us. At times like these, I also found the words of others a great solace. Perhaps the most honest description came from Rilke:
Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a young poet (1922)
Not easy, of course, when all we want is to ‘get better’ - and fast. But this is all about cultivating awareness; nurturing kindness and compassion for oneself; and achieving some kind of balance that was lacking in our former lives. As well as being exciting, this process is also quite frightening: it involves a leap into the unknown in order to find a new way of living that is infinitely kinder to ourselves. And real change takes time. We must create the right conditions for it to emerge, thus allowing the change rather than 'making' it. Getting through the dislocating nightmare of depression is a bit like getting the most out of life: it isn’t, I now realise, about doing more and trying harder; it’s about being aware, staying connected, going with the flow, and - quite often - doing significantly less.
As Rilke states, "Why should you want to exclude any anxiety, any grief, any melancholy from your life, since you do not know what it is that these conditions are accomplishing in you?... You need to be as patient as one ill and as optimistic as one recuperating, for perhaps you are both."
Patience, optimism, and - I would add - a kind of trusting acceptance: these are the greatest lessons I have learned from depression.
Steve, Mind volunteer
Commenting is now closed.