Survival is a journey, when it comes to recovery from depression or any mental health related illness. Looking back, I can see signs of improvement. Whilst they may seem like small & non significant, they are there to show me that I am not where I was but I am on my way to where I am going. They also remind me to appreciate the present and be much more aware that today I am creating a tomorrow. I can see that although it is often still hard to get motivated with future goals and what I need to do today to get to those goals, I am no longer clawing my way out of bed, going to work in a state of such sheer panic that I would dissociate at the train station and walk around in a state of disorientation. I am no longer shutting myself in my room for a whole weekend, eating junk food, unable to get out of bed, having this weird sense of not being quite in my body and hating every fibre of my being.
I still struggle daily with anxiety and occasionally panic, but I go to places I want to go out to – I stretch myself out of my discomfort zone into a very uncomfortable zone. I struggle to make friends and be close to other people but now I see that in part is a choice and this is ok because I am getting to know who I am rather than seeking validation in each and every other person.
Recently I went to my physician to ask to go back on antidepressants because I can see myself unraveling again. I know the signs when I am not coping well:-
- the extra sensitivity,
- the irritation,
- the overwhelming feelings
- the tearfulness that happens everywhere unexpectedly,
- the sense of hopelessness and
- the neglect of my environment.
It has felt like I am going crazy sometimes but I have gone and am still on the journey of taking personal responsibility for my self care and wellbeing.
Positive survival really started for me when I took the courageous step to go to therapy. It has been a hard road and I often ran away from the process – once for a whole year; but I am blessed that my therapist (ex-therapist now because she moved away and I miss her immensely), worked so hard to bring me to a place where I felt safe enough to start talking. She taught me to ground myself and to recognise that for a long time I was never present, not in my body because it never felt safe and that I had always hovered over myself somewhere else.
Today I feel much more grounded and can come back when I start to fly away at the first sign of perceived danger. Therapy helped me to see myself as human, to start to recognise my humanity and voice and identity. Although these are still journeys ahead, I have more of a solid foundation now mainly because the therapeutic relationship with my therapist was healthy and put up that mirror that I learnt not to avoid looking into.
I am a mental health practitioner and you would have thought that would have helped me to be very whole but no it hasn’t, instead it has shone a light into some of the dark spaces in my life and yes helped me to empathise more. Its often hard for healers to see sickness in themselves and in turn heal themselves but again, I am learning. Before I am any professional I am me, a human, a woman, a survivor.
Here are some lessons for survival I have learnt through personal therapy:
Grounding technique – simple and easy to do anywhere, whilst sitting or standing and no-one will even know.
STOP : Take a deep breathe – breath in from your nose at a count of 8, hold for one and breathe out through your mouth at a count of 8. Do this as many times as you need to.
Feel your feet on the ground, what do they feel like? What does the floor feel like?
Repeat to yourself that ‘I am here and I am well.’ ‘I am coping and I am safe.’ Whatever you feel you need to say to keep yourself present is what you say.
Sometimes I remind myself that I am present by noticing my surroundings i.e. the blue sky and uttering some kind of gratitude prayer.
- Remembering to be grateful and thankful also has helped to put things into perspectives and often I end up just enjoying the moment and seeing how blessed I am.
- Learning to acknowledge negative emotions and making the personal choice to find ways of managing them positively – with self compassion and without projecting onto others. This is really hard but it is possible.
- Journaling is also helpful through writing or doing some creative journaling through drawing or painting or colouring books.
- Do not isolate – this one is very hard for me – I am still way off but am slightly better with it.
- Be wise in who you share with. Not everyone can be supportive, not because they don’t love you or want to but they do not know how to. So definitely be wise in your choice of confidants, not everyone needs to hear your story or go on the journey with you.
- Have a structure and routine – get up, and live life! Have a sense you have done something meaningful each day even if it is folding socks.
- Give yourself a break, from self critical thoughts, from the need to perform and be perfect and as you are kinder to yourself it will be easier to achieve things from a more understanding perspective.
- Nourish your body and brain – plant based unprocessed foods are important to add to your diet.
- Also be active – for the ‘exercise repulsed‘ like me – walk to most places and do gentle stretching. Yoga and meditation are also some alternatives.
The list above is not exhaustive – each person finds their own survival techniques and these are just some that I have in my survival box.
Most importantly I have voice I am no longer afraid to use and it is freeing to open up about this challenging journey that is also full of triumphs and I am most grateful for this blessing. Journeys of life – that phrase alone means a lot and encompassed these journeys we all are on and that is so special.
Lets add to these by sharing some of them and I certainly want to hear from others about their own survival techniques so I can add to mine.