*Disclaimer- I do not advocate stopping any medications without consulting your primary care provider. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-8255.*
I was diagnosed with Depression at the age of 21. For more than 20 years I took antidepressants, however I weaned myself from my medications at the end of 2018. This was not really planned; it was a combination of loss of insurance, the retirement of my primary care physician, financial limitations and a desire for a higher spiritual connection and less prescription drug toxicity.
There are many factors (financial, spiritual, ethical, etc.) that may cause people to venture into alternative mental health management. It is not for me to judge myself or anyone else in their choices. There is always another side of the story that none of us are necessarily privy to. Although mental health is a concern of the collective human consciousness, it is also a very personal phenomenon . There is no one-size treatment or cure, and we all share in the responsibility to love one another without judgement.
This is a very small excerpt of the story of MY Personal mental health.
For a while after stopping my medications, I felt amazing for months on end. Sometimes I still feel amazing, and sometimes I struggle to open my eyes, let alone get out of bed. I specifically titled this blog “YOUR Mental Health” because every journey is different. Depression is different for a 45 year old single mother of young children (one of which has his own behavioral diagnosis) than it is for a 65 year old man recovering from a stroke. Although my own journey with depression helps me to recognize some of the signs of depression in others, I can never presume to know what is best for another person. I can however give some tips based on my own experiences that may help you relate to someone who you suspect may be suffering from depression.
- Don’t Take It Personal. People who know me well know that I have a tendency to go silent sometimes. I don’t always answer calls or text messages in a timely manner, and leaving a voicemail is like burying a student loan bill in the sand- I have no desire to retrieve it. There is almost a physical inability for me to engage in conversations sometimes because it simply takes more energy than I have available. Even if you don’t get a response, sending a text that says “I’m thinking of you” may be exactly what your loved one needs. It doesn’t require a response and doesn’t require any action on their part. It is simply a gift of love and light.
- Listen. This one seems simple enough, but yeah, not really. I probably don’t want your version of a solution to my problem, I just want to get it off of my chest with someone who I can trust with my vulnerability. Life is a complex set of challenges and solutions are rarely simple. Childhood and adulthood experiences, nature, nurture, financial challenges loneliness and isolation are among the many factors that shape my perceptions. Advise such as “Just don’t worry about it” or “You’re just going to have to…” for a person like me sounds invalidating and uncaring, although I am sure that is not the intended effect. Listening for me means entering that uncomfortable space of not knowing what to say or do to make me feel better. It means you being vulnerable with me as I am being vulnerable with you. It means being okay with not having a solution. It may mean not responding verbally at all, or it may mean responding with ” I feel helpless because I don’t know what to say to make you feel better.” It is hard to listen to someone who just needs to pass through the negative energy of the moment, but if you love them, please give it a try. You may be surprised to find that you being there is enough (and by enough I mean everything they ever wanted).
- Recognize the cry for help. Depression has a funny way of filtering my cries for help. I think it has something to do with my sense of pride. I never want to bother people and I definitely do not like to be rejected, so most of the time I will not come right out and ask for what I need. Instead, I will hold it in and further isolate myself. It is a flaw that I recognize but have not quite figured out how to overcome. You just have to know the person that you love that suffers from depression. If you truly know them, you already know where they struggle- just offer to help them in those areas. The old adage “you have not because you ask not” doesn’t always work with depression. Sometimes I don’t even know what to ask for or I’m too exhausted to care, so I just deal with it. It is indeed a vicious cycle, however knowing is half the battle. If you know your friend is going through a period of depression, just go ahead and bring their trash can in that’s been sitting on the curb for 3 days. It is a small gesture, but sometimes that is all we need.
- Don’t Judge. Over the past few months, I have really opened myself to non-judgement especially of myself. Judgement creeps in so subtly and causes so much harm and damage to self-esteem and to relationships. For example, if I say to myself “I should not have eaten that ice cream”, I have basically condemned myself to shame without having all of the evidence. Food is medicine and is especially good medicine for depression. Maybe my body knew that having that ice cream would provide me with a much needed emotional boost; I simply do not have enough information to make a negative judgment. If I gain weight from eating ice cream, whatever. I hope you can love me anyway.
- Feel the feelings. I have found that walking through my feelings during a period of depression helps me much more than avoiding them. I am here on Earth to have a human experience and to explore every feeling that comes my way. There is a difference between walking through a feeling and living there. A 2 or 3 day bitterness event is probably harmless. Giving in to the seduction of bitterness and living there permanently is a different story. I have become less afraid of negative feelings; I embrace them because I know they are here to teach me something or to force me to look at the good side of a current situation. Gratitude allows me the safety of exploring my negative feelings; it tethers me to the surface when depression drags me down.
I cannot express enough how much cultivating my own circle has shifted my personal growth. I challenge you to evaluate those closest to you (including yourself) and ask how they are adding to your happiness. My inner circle is small- like it’s probably more of a dot. These are people, situations and events that I specifically choose; they are not handed down or joined to me due to heredity or obligation or guilt. I am grateful for my circle.
When I wrote my intentions for my life some months ago, people and situations began to shed almost immediately. Healthy distancing from familiar people and situations is scary business. Walking through the dark tunnel that connects your past life and the brightness of your future is full of ghosts and crickets and creepy noises. There are times when I feel invisible and isolated. There are days when I wonder if I even have a purpose or if I even exist. Today, because of my circle ( and a little blind faith) I know that I do have a purpose, and maybe I am coming to the end of this dark tunnel
My cousin asked me a couple of weeks ago to start posting again; she said she felt that I helped people and that my posts helped her. She knows about my struggle with depression, but she also knew when and how to say what I needed to hear (see #3 above). Earlier this week, my six year old daughter took her thumb out of her mouth (this usually proceeds some profound remark on her part) and asked me “Mommy, do you still write in your journals?” I took it as a sign. Today I was cooking some breakfast and thinking about writing my blog for the first time in a long time. As I was thinking about it, my nine year old son randomly walked up behind me and handed me my laptop (again, maybe it’s a sign). I definitely think that my circle has help from my Spirit Guides. I am thankful that we all listened.
As I have asked several times throughout this blog, I ask again for your love, but not just for me. I believe strongly that we can only make it together, and love always brings us together. There are countless ways to express your love for those around you. It can be as simple as extending grace to someone who has slighted you. It can be putting a quarter in an expired parking meter (you never know when someone is literally down to their last dime). It can be reading a blog about a personal account of mental health challenges and beginning to empathize with someone who has been labeled “lazy” or “Debbie downer” or “weirdo”.
I love that I can be vulnerable with the whole world right now. I love that I have a voice, and that maybe my story will connect with others. I love that I can help shed the negative stigma surrounding depression and mental health challenges. And finally, I love all of those (not just the people mentioned here) who gently encouraged me to take my medicine (to write again). Namaste.