I think it is important to acknowledge that, although I had a very sudden sensation of vitality and energy, signaling a definite end to the depression, there has been an adjustment period that has been surprising, encouraging and unpleasant in equal quantities.
Being devoid of emotiona for months, only to have them flooding back is comparable to the peace and muffled silence of being under water, to suddenly finding yourself in the golden circle of a Rammstein concert. On the one hand, I had a real sense of transcending any level of emotion, empathy and understanding of myself that I experienced before, however, it also occurred to me that perhaps I had just forgotten what emotion felt like, and now I was enduring a bit of sensory overload. Sometimes productively and sometimes less so, I was overly sensitive for a while, and had to take a step back for some perspective from time to time, to avoid overreaction (some days more successfully than others). If I felt hurt or hard done by, it was deeply so. If I were happy, I was overjoyed and intensely grateful. I thanked the friendly car guards profusely (some of them were just so NICE to me) and despaired for the homeless person and was in awe of the hard working recycling collectors on their homemade trolley thingies (okay, I am still in awe of them, they are superhuman). I spent a lot of money for a bit there, handing out excessive tips whenever I believed they were warranted.
More unpleasantly, after suppressing the manifestations of anxiety for some time I was prone to something called the feedback loop (or so I read), where you get sucked into a vortex of emotions, and one emotion loops back on itself, causing another emotion, which triggers another emotion, until your head completely runs away with itself, and you are a bit of a wreck at the end of it. This only happened a couple of times, and once I was aware of what was happening I was able to disrupt the pattern pretty quickly.
I continued seeing my therapist through this time, which helped me greatly to remain aware of what was happening, to maintain perspective, and more importantly, to cut myself some slack. Then one evening, the night before another session and a few weeks after I had begun to feel better, I realised that I no longer needed that kind of help. Just like that! Karolyn had told me, right at the start, that I would know when I was done. A full seven months prior to that evening. The next day, before I had a chance to tell her of my epiphany, she asked me: "Do you still feel that you need to see me regularly?". Damn, she's good! We had a wrap up session about three weeks ago and I am incredibly proud to say that I have made it back to myself. A much better version of myself.
Reflecting on those eight months, it was such a tough time. A confusing and upsetting time. This will, however, be remembered as one of the best years of my life, for these reasons:
- I have a level of self awareness and understanding that I never had before. To change the way you see yourself, see your role within your family and friendships, to learn how to disrupt and challenge the way you are hardwired to think and feel and react - how utterly enlightening!
- I have connected with others in such a meaningful way. Thank you for the stories you have shared, thank you for the dialogue that you have started and thank you for relating to what I have spoken and written about. This has helped me, too. Tremendously.
- I have rekindled my love for writing. I have wanted to write for such a long time, but felt that it had to be meaningful and something that others could relate to. I have loved the process of forcing myself to be as raw and honest as I have been, and finding ways to verbalise what is sometimes terribly complicated and not always immediately tangible. This is not the end of writing for me, the proverbial bug has bitten, watch out for my book one day (insert smiley face).
- Becoming more appreciative of your vitality is a great motivator. I like to think that I am a creative person, yet work and life and technology and TV makes me very lazy. My senses are heightened so I am seeing and hearing and tasting and smelling on a much more acute and appreciative level, which makes me want to create.
- I wanted to share to create awareness and challenge some of the misunderstandings. I wanted to play a small part in destigmatising this thing that every second person seems to be enduring on some level. I did not realise the extent to which my experience could provide comfort and insight and reassurance. If this is the reason I needed to go through what I have, then this has, in fact, been a gift to me.
Right, Oscar speech aside, it's time to wrap up this story, with ten lessons I have learned, that I feel are worth sharing:
- Anxiety, in particular, and depression are not unique, but the stigma and shame is alive and well. Often very much self-imposed. We are everywhere. If you dip your toe into the scary sea and start talking about it, others will talk back. You will feel less alone.
- People are so very kind. There is support everywhere. Make use of it. If you don't let the people you trust know what you are going through, you can't expect their patience and understanding when you are not yourself (big love to Alistair for all his support).
- This is all very confusing, because very little is defined in narrow terms. There is a lot of misinformation out there about what makes an anxious person or a depressed person. In addition, physical things like hormone imbalances and burnout and deficiencies can cause similar symptoms. Just know this, if you are not feeling quite right, it is well worth exploring why.
- Get help. You are not weak, you are not overreacting. We all have stuff we could deal with anyway. I was so embarrassed at first, but now I am pretty proud of myself for swallowing my pride.
- Therapy is not a quick fix, and if you are not fully on board, you are wasting your time. Don't expect to feel 'better' before you feel a lot worse. But don't give up, give it a chance. Not every therapist or type of therapy is right for everyone, so find the solution that you think will give you the best chance possible. Give it time before you give up. It took me eight months, and I was totally on board.
- You can't force anyone else to acknowledge their issues or seek help. Just be there for them. If they want your help, they will let you know.
- Everyone is responsible for themselves. I am responsible for myself only, and the effect of my choices and behaviours on others. The world is not going to fall apart if I don't try to fix everything and every situation.
- Anxiety makes you question your responsibility in another person's negative mood and behaviours. You won't be able to help it, but that's not your fault. The golden rule is to always counter 'what if' with 'what if not'. Or just ask and put your mind at rest!
- Sleep holds everything together. Even now, a couple of months on, if I don't sleep well for a few nights consecutively, my memory, words and concentration desert me. I suspect that this will continue to challenge me for the rest of my life, but if I am to be philosophical about it, my sleeping patterns are a barometer of my stress and anxiety levels, which will always provide me with an indication of how well I am doing.
- There is nothing wrong with taking meds. My preference is for something more natural, but I was quite prepared to take the 'scary' drugs if I had needed to. Therapy, diet, supplements and exercise are as important as natural or chemical medication.
This may well be my final entry on this blogpage. If it is, thank you so much for reading and sharing. Tomorrow is an exciting day for me, as I have been invited to The South African Depression and Anxiety Group to participate on a TV talkshow called Mental Health Matters. What a great opportunity to continue the conversation. If there is anything in particular that you would like me to explore and write about on this blog, please drop me a mail on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Health and peace to you all