I recently sank into yet another depressive episode - I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say I was in a dark place with no flashlight. I finally decided I needed to journal about it, since I wasn’t writing, I was isolating, I had zero motivation, etc. And Lo, when I opened my journal, the following pages fell out. I’d forgotten I’d made them, to be honest, but they acted like a bucket of “wake up” ice water over my head.
The First Page:
The first page is a checklist of sorts, a reminder that these behaviors and feelings are indicative of a problem. There are 26 items on this list. I identified with 23 of them. Because the thing is, when you’re IN the depressive state, when you’re experiencing the symptoms, it can be difficult to see them. Can’t see the forest for the trees, as it were. But recognizing these things is crazy important, it’s the first step - like finding the flashlight in the dark room
The Second Page
Ever feel called out? I sure did when I looked at this list. It’s no wonder I was mired in depression! Still, the reason I like it is because it forces you to check in - for real. Not “I’m fine,” but “wow, I guess I haven’t showered in a few days. Did I take my medication? I can’t remember.” Now, just doing the things on this list is a good start towards reclaiming yourself, but Page Three gave me a bunch more.
The Third Page
My therapist is pretty smart. Together we can acknowledge what I’m feeling and experiencing, but the focus is always on solutions. What can we do to manage symptoms or emotions, how can we grow from an experience, etc. So i appreciate this menu of “Action Items” that I can choose from when I recognize I’m not exactly as okay as I thought I was.
The Fourth Page
My therapist is big on awareness. Just because a thought happened does not mean that it’s truth. These “no-no’s” are the guidebook to Cognitive Distortions. (and yes, I’m aware I spelled cognitive incorrectly on the page. I was not in an awesome place when I made these cheat sheets for myself.) I do ALL of these things, more frequently than I’d like to admit.
The Final Page
Personal power. That’s where we’re at here - this is the page of questions that get you to a solution, or at least a less stressful way through the darkness. It includes one of my personal favorites, best summed up by a waitress working alongside Sarah Connor in the very first Terminator movie - “Think of it this way: in a hundred years, who’s gonna care?” This page dares us to examine the thoughts and situations we feel so overwhelmed by, and realize that we have the power to endure or fight them.
I found this video many years ago, before I truly understood the impact of depression on my life. (I’ve been depressed for a While.) It made things so clear, I was floored.
The idea of Depression as a companion struck me pretty powerfully - I may never be without it, but I can live with it. I can incorporate it and it's needs into my life, hopefully training it to sit quietly to the side most of the time.
I love having hope that I might be able to train it, use the lessons Depression teaches me about myself and my place in the world to actually rise above and succeed where I might not have before.
Important Artwork (by: Chiara Bautista)
I came across this image shortly after coming to my realization I was IN a depressive state. When held up to my long-standing “black dog as depression” belief, it begins to take on a pretty significant meaning, at least for me. The idea of the mask, first of all - there’s the face we show to the world, and the face we are comfortable in, the face that shows when we are intimate or vulnerable. I love that her heart is connected to the black dog, that while it is huge, it is not aggressive. “Mine…” it’s such an image of acceptance. I read it “owning” my mental illness, that even though Depression is vast and complex, it doesn’t necessarily have to destroy me.
Should I magically inherit several hundred monies and the name of a phenomenal tattoo artist, I would get this inked onto my body in a Heartbeep. (as my granddaughter calls it.)
Mental health is so, so important. One of the best ways to manage it (alongside therapy and medication) is through self awareness.
Therapy doesn’t magically fix depression, bi-polar, anxiety, or PTSD. Therapy is like a hardware store - you go there to get the tools you need to make changes in your life.
Medication, that’s the hard hat and gloves and dust mask - it keeps you protected from the worst of the shrapnel kicked up by the work you’re doing.
But the biggest change is in your hands. Just yours. You decide if/how you use the tools available. Your future is Yours, whether you can see it or not. I’ve been in mental spaces where I couldn’t imagine a future beyond the next day, or the next hour.
I got help. I continue to have help in all kinds of capacities, but the real work, the hard work, that’s mine to do. Sharing my process here is another way I can help - and I know that at my very core, that’s who I am. I want to help.
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk :P