A letter to myself

I see you...hiding behind tired eyes. Burnt out from trying to live up to expectations. Exhausted from acting the part of the roles scripted for you.

I hear you...calling out as loud as you can, only to be drowned out by all of the noise that rings inside my head. I know that you long to be heard. Your struggles, your triumphs, your feelings and opinions...all stifled by a firmly held tongue.

I love you...all of you. Your heart is full of so much passion and compassion, of empathy and tremendous love. I am so proud of the woman you are. I love your free spirit, your ability to connect to everything around you. Your beauty flows through to the deepest parts of your soul.

I am sorry... I strong-armed you into suppression and imprisoned you far below the surface. I am sorry it has taken me so long to find you. I didn't know how to find you, and I didn't know any different. I was taught to keep you hidden in order to receive love, to receive acceptance, to receive approval. I believed for so long that you were not worthy of my love. Every shooting star, every birthday candle garnished a wish to be happy. But it wasn't happiness you were seeking, it was freedom. The freedom to express yourself, to speak your truth, to live your truth.

My darling, I have always loved you, I just never learned how to show you. It felt shameful, I felt guilty. But I am learning to unlearn years of rhetoric. The process has commenced and it may be uncomfortable and terrifying. It may shock people and distance people, but I am with you every step of the way. I am sure to stumble or even fall hard to the ground. Please be patient with me, this journey, this cycle, this transformation is still so new, and I am still learning. But I know just how worthy and deserving you are.

Just please know this

...I see you

...I hear you

...I love you

...I AM SORRY

Written by Sharlene

Facing Depression: My Journey Out of the Woods and 10 Ways You Can Do the Same

Is There an Instagram Filter for Depression?

You'd never know it from this photo but this was a very dark time in my life. I was between apartments, barely making enough money for rent, grieving a relationship and living more than an hour away from my support network. There were two occasions in my life when I was suicidal and this was one of them. Never take social media at face value.

As the darkness of this time period gave way to the light, I wrote an article on depression for Elephant Journal. This is my experience.....

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/02/facing-depression-my-journey-out-of-the-forest-10-ways-you-can-do-the-same/

 

You’re on a trail winding deep into the forest. The sunlight casts a radiant light into the tree tops, setting them aglow with rich greens and deep yellows.

The air is crisp and fresh and with every deep inhale your lungs are filled with the energy of the world around you. Birds dance and sing in the tree tops and the branches move rhythmically with the sway of the wind. You feel alive, grounded and soaring. The world shines down upon you and you feel safe and loved.

As darkness falls, and the last slivers of light disappear from the tree tops, the wind becomes cooler and stronger as the night air creeps slowly over your skin. The birds have stopped singing and the energy in the woods has dulled.

Suddenly you don’t know which direction you came from. With every step forward you descend further and further into the blackening woods. You try to turn back but nothing looks familiar; the trees are distorted and offer you no hope of finding your way out.

The longer you roam in the darkness, the colder you become. Your sense of reason becomes questionable and feelings of hope drain slowly from your body.

You are lost. You are alone. There seems to be no way out of this darkness and each time you run toward what you perceive to be the right direction, the violent sway of the wind pushes you down.

Exhausted, cold and vulnerable, you collapse onto the forest floor. There is little willpower left inside you to peel yourself from the dirt. Instead, you shrivel into a ball to protect yourself from the wind.

The only thing left to do is wait in sheer desperation for a faint light to cascade over the trees and show you how to get out. The problem is, there’s just no telling how long it will take for the light to shine in.

Picture yourself in that forest. Picture how difficult it would be to endure this experience. Picture how much resolve you would need in order to survive. Would the sunlight ever come? Of course. But, when you were lost in that forest, you may not conjure up the strength to fully believe that.

Now imagine instead of that forest being a physical place it was a mental one. Imagine instead that your mind had created this place and by the end you were lost deep in the cold and darkness of your thoughts, desperate for the light, but unsure if it would ever arrive.

This is depression.

It’s taken me years to write this. Sure, there are hundreds of pages in my journal that describe my frantic search to get out of the woods, but never have I publicly shared my experience.

Why? I don’t really know. Perhaps, I was afraid of the stigma. Perhaps, I was afraid no one would understand, relate or connect to my thoughts. Perhaps I was afraid of being judged. Or, perhaps, it was simply because I was unwilling to be completely honest with myself.

Whatever the reason, I’m finally ready to share this part of my life. My only hope is that this resonates with at least one person who can take solace in the fact that they are not alone.

So here it is:

I’ve struggled with depression since I was in high school. Was it because I grew up in an alcoholic home? (libel?) Was it because of the tension and anger that dwelled constantly within those four walls? Was it because of painful experiences I hadn’t dealt with? Or was it because I was a teenage girl, raging with hormones and descending into anarchy on a desperate quest to figure out who I was?

All of the above.

Yet beyond my physical surroundings there is also my genetic ones. I have a predisposition to depression and everyone in my family tree, starting with my grandparents, was—or should have been—treated for their symptoms.

As I left my painful teenage years and graduated into adulthood, I tried to run away from my pain. I went on trips, moved far away, bought countless things I didn’t need; I even bought my dog in a desperate attempt to fill the void in my heart. It was to no avail.

Moving to the Middle East pulled me deep into a realm of depression I had never experienced. I systematically went about my life in perfect order with a compulsion to dictate my external world. It was the only thing I felt I had control over.

When my commitments had been met, I would lose myself into the darkness of my thoughts. I screamed onto deaf ears and clung desperately to the encouraging words of my family and friends to try and keep me afloat.

The magnitude of my depression overcame me one winter morning. I was in a hotel room in Washington, D.C., and I felt I could no longer take this mental and physical pain. I thought about how I could silently leave this world and release my soul from suffering. Could I take pills? Could I drive my car into a wall? Could I wrap a rope so tightly around my neck that I would exhale despair for the very last time?

Then I thought about my family. I thought of never seeing my sister again. I thought of how my leaving would tear out a piece of her heart. Could I really cause her that gut-wrenching sorrow? Did I want her to suffer even an ounce of this pain? No.

I realized in that moment that I wouldn’t get rid of my suffering; instead, I would just give it to other people. As a person who has always put the needs of other’s before my own, I couldn’t fathom the hurt that my leaving would bring to others.

I flew back to the desert that night. The depression flew back with me, but at least I didn’t die with it in that hotel room.

I’d like to tell you now that I am cured, that I had some beautiful epiphany in that hotel room and vowed to never again succumbed to my dark thoughts—but that wouldn’t be true. Not all all, not even a little.

I still suffer with depression and since that moment there have still been really dark days when I have thought with sincerity, “What the hell is the point?”

The difference now is that I have a few more tools in my toolbox to help combat my feelings of darkness and despair. I can’t make claims to have all the answers, but I can offer suggestions for things that have worked for me. Take these with love and use whatever ones resonate with you.

Find a counselor. There are options for deferring or reducing costs, so even if money is an issue, you still have access to this valuable resource.

Exercise. This is proven to increase your endorphins and dopamine levels which are the “happy receptors” in your brain.

Get in nature. Hug a tree, talk to a squirrel, lie in the grass. I know it sounds crazy, but it helps to be connected to the earth.

Write a gratitude list. Write one thing down every day that you are grateful for. Do this for at least 30 days. You will be shocked at how gratitude helps to improve your mood.

Go to a meeting. Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous may be branded for alcoholics and family, but they are actually really therapeutic rooms to share with others. The issues may not be the same, but the feelings might be more similar than you think. There are open meetings for each of these groups, so you can go listen or share and decide what you think. Try a few different ones to get a feel for each environment.

Boost your B12, Vitamin D and Essential Fatty Acids. These three are huge for hormone and mood regulation and the majority of people are deficient. Just make sure they are high-quality supplements as you want maximum absorbability to get all the feel-good benefits.

Meditate. I know it sounds silly to some, but relaxing your body helps reduce stress, promote mental clarity and evoke feelings of happiness. Follow a guided one on YouTube and give your mind a much-needed rest.

Journal. Sometimes just writing things down gets it out of your head and out of your life. Write down how and why you’re feeling the way you are. Then try writing down at least one note for something you appreciate in your life. Journaling can be very therapeutic and help you to be clear on your thoughts.

Medication. This isn’t one I have explored myself, but I know other’s who have found that it gave them the support they needed to get through a rough patch. It doesn’t have to be a long-term plan. Speak to your doctor and discuss something you’re both comfortable with.

Volunteer. Giving back to others evokes feelings of positivity. It really is true what they say, “You have to give it away to keep it.” This saying refers to love and gratitude. Find some place to share your time. At the very least, it will get you out of the house and out of your head.

If depression were an easy fix, I wouldn’t be writing this article. It’s hard and it’s scary and it can be so isolating and exhausting. Part of overcoming depression is recognizing how it affects you and seeking assistance to move forward—be it from within yourself, your family and friends or God as you understand him. Whatever it takes to realize that you’re not alone in those woods and that life will get better is where you need to focus your energy.

Sure, there will always be ups and downs on this beautiful, painful, exciting, heart-wrenching, glorious and wonderful journey of life, but knowing that we are never alone and that there is always a guiding light out of the forest is a beautiful thing.

Let me end by reminding you: You are not alone. You are strong beyond measure. You are healthy. You are beautiful. You are capable. You are brave. You are love and you are loved. You are perfect.

With love and gratitude.

Author: Chivonne Monaghan

Blog Link: https://www.recoveringfromperfection.net/home/is-there-an-instagram-filter-for-depression

Therapy: The New Coffee Date Conversation

About one year ago I was sitting at a Starbucks at a meeting with another female entrepreneur. We were talking about the challenges we face about running our own businesses and about life! I opened up about the personal struggles I was having and feeling like I was not in charge of my own life. It was a great conversation and felt good to just open up about what I was experiencing. Then, this woman whom I admire for her success and authenticity asked if I’d ever thought about talking to a therapist. Now my initial reaction to this question in my mind was “What?! Me? Do you think I have that bad of issues?” Maybe I shouldn’t have told her so much about me, I felt a little embarrassed. But then she mentioned it had really helped her. I was suddenly curious. Maybe therapy was for “normal people,” successful people, confident people...people who just wanted to be genuinely happy.

I thought about this conversation for an entire year. During rough times I thought about making an appointment, but then things would feel better so I thought I was okay. My life was a bit of a roller coaster so this is why it kept coming up in my mind multiple times. I was running a start-up business, adjusting to a new relationship and working at a job that I wasn’t passionate about.  I often felt burnt out and like I was living a double life. I was experiencing the highs from entrepreneurship and following my own passions. Then lows when I was working at my day job in customer service. 

The pressure from both careers gave me anxiety. My expectations for myself were so high and I wanted to be able to deal with it all and keep a brave face, but I couldn’t. I felt like I was slapping on a smile but holding back tears. I knew this wasn’t how I was meant to feel. I couldn’t keep doing this every day. I knew I had anxiety but was I depressed? Probably, but I didn’t want to put that label on myself. 

I needed an outside perspective of my own experiences and situation without a personal opinion from a friend or family member. I had been so unsure of myself for so long that I had been seeking the answers from others without tuning into myself for what was truly good for my own happiness. This is why I knew I needed some help. I needed to release all of my emotions, fears and frustrations in a healthy way. I felt stuck and the only way to get unstuck was to try something different. 

I had no idea what to expect when I made an appointment. I chose Exhale because it looked less “clinical” and more casual for a safe conversation. I could tell they valued wellness and natural health which was really important to me. It felt good to just talk to someone and voice my problems without trying to hold it together or worrying about what they would think of me. I felt a sense of peace to get everything out of my head and be honest about what I was struggling with. It was hard to come to terms with the things I was holding onto, but no wonder why I felt like I was carrying 100lbs on my shoulders. I was carrying a bag full of past feelings while trying to run a new marathon with new obstacles. I felt weighed down when I needed all of my energy for my current ventures. I needed to get rid of that heaviness as well as dealing with my day to day anxiety and learn how to manage it.

My journey with therapy is only just beginning but I am very hopeful and know that the tools I am learning will help me to manage my anxiety, deal with my feelings and lead me on a better path to happiness. I know this is my time to get back to feeling passionate, calm and confident. In order to be successful, we have to reevaluate our current situations and coping mechanisms in dealing with stress. To be able to move forward I first need to slow down and face what has been holding me back. It took a lot of courage for me to admit I needed help, but I feel stronger because of it and by letting go I actually feel like I am taking back control of my life. 

Writer: Anonymous

10 things I wish I’d known before recovery

At 25 years old, I checked myself into an inpatient unit after over 11 years of suffering with an eating disorder. What led to me having an eating disorder and the symptoms I was suffering with are unremarkable, sadly too similar to too many other people’s stories to be noteworthy. Far more interesting is what happened next.

I’d like to say something prosaic about walking boldly towards a better life, bravely facing recovery with admirable determination, despite my fears. I’d be lying, it didn’t happen like that. I was desperate. By the time I got there, my ED was making my daily life so miserable, I wasn’t scared as I didn’t feel I had much to lose. If anything, I was excited: I knew I needed something dramatic to help me and taking a semester out of school and committing to 4 months’ inpatient might just be dramatic enough.

Through all the drama and changes I wasn’t prepared for, here are 10 of the most valuable, exceptionally difficult lessons I wish I’d known before recovery:

1. If you keep getting worse, you aren’t recovering.

I’d considered myself “in recovery” for years – after all, I’d been seeing professionals, I’d attended groups, I’d wanted to get better and that’s what recovery is right? No. The decision alone to recover isn’t enough, the decision without action doesn’t produce recovery. That may sound harsh but, in saying that, I’m in no way dismissing the significance of the decision to recover – it’s absolutely vital. The rest of recovery can’t properly start without it and it’s an immensely difficult decision. But something being difficult doesn’t make it enough. Wanting to be better, no matter how desperate you feel or vehemently you defend it, won’t turn into recovery without action. More than that, the decision can’t be made just once but must be made repeatedly, multiple times a day, until it ceases to be a decision anymore.

All those years before inpatient, I was, unknowingly, trying to cheat and compromise my recovery so much – to pick and choose which parts of the ED to let go of – that I was left with such a crippled version of recovery, it was just an ED in denial.

There is an upside to the choice alone not being decisive. When I’m questioning recovery, ambivalent if I want it, even deciding it’s not worth it, that doesn’t undo what I’ve done. I can keep acting as if I want recovery, even when I’m not sure I do.

2. If you can’t describe how you feel, that’s an issue.

Disconcerted by being asked my feelings repeatedly in recovery, I responded ‘fine’ often – not out of dishonesty or with anything to hide, but with no better word to describe things I’d got into the habit of ignoring. Recovery is not supposed to feel fine – and if it does, that’s problematic. You’re either doing recovery wrong or feelings wrong. I wasn’t ready for the emotional growth that had to happen. In the space of a few months, I relived toddler tantrums and adolescent angst as all the barriers I’d put up came crumbling down.

But the shocking thing I learned was all those feelings, no matter how overwhelming or beyond my control they felt, couldn’t actually hurt me. Every wave of emotion felt like a near-death experience but I survived and every time learned to weather it better.

3. External successes don’t make an ED worth it or less serious

If you’re hanging your entire identity on big achievements, what are you trying to hide? I took pride in objective accomplishments – achievements that, if I reminded myself of them loudly enough, meant I couldn’t have a serious mental illness. But no matter how impressive, your CV doesn’t prove anything about your mental health. Early in treatment I read an excellent book by a Harvard-educated doctor who had had several psychotic breaks. That book shattered my argument that my ED couldn’t be that serious because of a million-and-one totally unrelated reasons. My favourite line from it was “I was so quickly in tatters, what was the good of all that overachievement? It should have taken longer for my proud crust of wellness to be so utterly gone” (Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So by Mark Vonnegut MD).

4. Having vulnerabilities doesn’t make you weak – it makes you human. Showing those vulnerabilities makes you strong.

Being good at hiding my weaknesses really came down to just being good at hiding, which is little more than cowardice with a noble facade. Being vulnerable is unremarkable but being willing to let people see that vulnerability, opening myself to their judgement, risking their scorn and giving them something to use against me, giving away that control - that was bravery.

(I get the hypocrisy of publishing this anonymously – but hey, I’m a work in progress.)

5. Not everyone is against you.

How I’d been treated by some people was a reflection of them, perhaps me, and our relationship, it didn’t dictate how everyone would treat me. Some people are against me – some people will judge me, blame me, resent me, but it won’t kill me. But extrapolating from that to assume everyone will, to live constantly on the defensive for attacks I imagine coming, compounds the initial harm tenfold.

I felt hopeless about recovery and was almost waiting to hear it confirmed. I expected the team treating me to give up on me. That way I could give up on myself, knowing I’d been right all along that I couldn’t recover. Thankfully – amazingly - despite my determination at times to resist their help, they didn’t. At first, I found this persistence frustrating and confusing. I’d always reasoned that, if people really knew me, really knew about the ED, they wouldn’t like me and never tested that belief by opening up to others. But at some point, I tried trusting that they were genuinely trying to help me. They saw me and my ED, with all the anger, fear and ugliness I didn’t bother hiding, and they didn’t think I was hopeless. Somehow, the team saw something better in me and I started to see it in myself.

6. The trite and the petty do matter.

Recovery can feel glaringly obvious, but obvious isn’t the same as easy. I felt like I was arguing over the most insignificant, easiest things in treatment. But if I was arguing over them, they were neither insignificant nor easy. If they were so small, I’d have given in. But the ED doesn’t win with big decisions – I’d never decided that weight loss meant more than almost anything – it wins with tiny things enough times that they build up to the big things: losing a bit of weight, skipping this snack, lying about that meal. Those little things are worth fighting with the ED over.

Side note: resisting something for the sake of principle only works if the principle itself is worth the fight.

7. I didn’t really know who I was beneath the ED.

I didn’t really like the person I was then. I wasn’t the kind of friend, student, daughter I wanted to be. All of that would be fixed when I was thin enough of course. Except it never was.

As I pulled increasingly away from the ED, more of my real personality came through. Things about myself I saw as lost parts of my childhood resurfaced: my sense of humour, being relaxed and outgoing, even my laugh. These changes amazed me, far outweighing the physical changes that accompanied them. Even more, I liked the person I was uncovering, something I’d long ago given up on.

8. What recovery looks like can change.

I entered treatment with one goal: to stop purging. That’s all that was needed to cure me, that was my only problem. How easy if that were true. In the event, stopping purging turned out to be biggest catastrophe that never happened. Having dreaded it and built it up to be impossible, it was over relatively quickly. It was replaced with so many more things I hadn’t thought of touching – relationships, emotions, perceptions around food and weight (somehow, I was convinced that didn’t need altering).

With this, my whole plan for recovery changed. It outgrew what I had imagined and left me flailing and fearing the loss of control. Here, I was fortunate to have a team I’d come to trust – I knew how to do the ED, they knew how to do recovery.

Getting more ambitious about recovery made it harder to settle for anything less. I didn’t really imagine my life could look how it does now. I didn’t think I could actually not be striving to lose weight, not chasing the next diet, not counting calories. Rationally I knew other people didn’t do that but seeing people who were a healthy size and not dieting felt kind of like seeing a unicorn: I’d look for the catch as I couldn’t believe what was right in front of me. As for achieving that myself, I wouldn’t have started recovery if that were my goal as it would’ve seemed impossible. I’m not there yet but I’m closer than I ever imagined I could be. My recovery is still changing and I’ve learnt to be okay with that.

9. You’re not in control, and you can learn to be okay with that when you realize nobody is.

Initially recovery meant giving up control over a lot: food and weight (obviously), but also movement, who I interacted with, where I was, what I did with my time – my independence. That was one of the toughest things for me to accept. I’d been used to being so isolated and independent, I felt I had complete control over my life. Whatever I couldn’t control didn’t matter nearly as much as weight which I could (I believed).

Having to give up so much control showed me just how important it had become for me. For the sake of getting better, for the opportunity I was being given, I shouldn’t have struggled so much to temporarily, reasonably, volitionally give up some of my freedom. The fact I did, while perhaps understandable, nonetheless proved a good lesson in how much I hated having to trust other people and just not be in control.

The more you re-engage with your life, the more control you realize you never had. The ED takes all your little problems – family, relationships, work, school – and replaces them with one big problem: food/weight. It becomes a panacea for everything you can’t fix but recovery makes you realize they were never solved, you just stopped caring about them. Recovery involves returning to those things, caring about them again, but still with the lack of control that made them tough in the first place. What’s different now is how okay I’m learning to be with that.

10. There are so many ways to fail - and succeed - at recovery

The start of every recovery looks fairly uniform: symptom interruption, normalization of eating, perhaps weight restoration. It’s what you do after that that makes it unique – and worthwhile.

Throughout recovery, I wanted a guarantee that this would all be okay in the end, that all I was doing would lead to recovery. I still do. I was used to the ED’s promise of safety and happiness that weight loss would bring. Letting that go meant losing that certainty, accepting this might not work but being willing to try anyway.

With more freedom in returning to my life, I’ve found how many ways there are for the ED to sneak back in. There are all the things I used to do as well as new hurdles to trip me up; novel behaviors, beliefs and patterns to invest in. Sometimes it scares me how many ways there are to relapse. It’s not a case of “don’t do X”, it’s a case of “don’t do X, Y, Z…oh now you’re considering W? Don’t do that either”. But there’s also so many things that are part of recovery that don’t initially feel like it – relationships, hobbies, the rest of my life. They’re too individual to list in a generic relapse prevention plan but building those things are part of my recovery, just as much as meal plans and not purging. They’re also the things that have made all the rest of it worth it for me.

Would it have changed things to have known all this before? I certainly wouldn’t have believed it if I were told. I’d probably have run back into denial a bit longer if I’d known just how much there was to work on. I went in blind and maybe that was best, otherwise I might not have gone in at all.

I’d love to say that was the end of it: I left inpatient, never to have another thought of weight loss again. A much tidier ending but a lie, it didn’t happen like that. I was more scared of leaving inpatient than I had been of entering it. I had built something worth losing. I was afraid all the changes I’d experienced would only work within the unit, that they weren’t lasting or really ‘me’. Coming out, returning to my life – my relationships, school, city – feels like coming to it anew. It’s all the same in many ways but I’m living it so differently that it’s unrecognizable. It’s not easy or finished but I’m cautiously hopeful that the steepest learning curve is over. Now I need to sustain and develop it, with my recovery shifting from a sprint to a marathon.

Writer: Anonymous