August 24, 2013 at 8:21 pm #41104
I don’t want to offer everyone a wall of text but I’m feeling low and would love to hear what people’s experiences have been with depression relapse.
A few months ago I was feeling incredible. At times I thought better than I ever had before. I felt grounded and clear. I was seeing a counselor, on an antidepressant for the first time, making new friendships, and had made it far in a fellowship selection process in a field I was passionate about. I felt like I had finally learned the ways to stop identifying with my emotions, was practicing gratefulness on a daily basis. I felt like I was my best self.
But then I didn’t get the fellowship. This setback, combined with a few relationship problems, and financial struggle for my family has put me back in a pretty dark place.
I’m embarrassed to let people know how I’m feeling because I didn’t think I’d be back here. I feel, foolishly perhaps, that I have used up my ‘depressed friend quota’ for the year. I imagine that my friends don’t want to hear about it anymore. I’m afraid to tell my new friends. I feel anger toward myself because all these mechanisms and new thinking patterns that I thought I had finally understood, did not prevent this. I know I am not starting from scratch, but I feel so despondent. This again?
I’d love to know how others have dealt with ‘relapse.’ This may be a lifelong lesson for me, and at 24, I know I have a lot of learning left to do. I am trying to continue to be compassionate with myself but am having a rough time, especially this past week.
Thank you 🙂August 25, 2013 at 4:11 am #41108
I am 54 now….hit a major depression about 8 years ago……you are still very young……..be patient and compassionate with yourself…your selection was not guaranteed…and so is a disappointment…please try not to base your feelings on things that may or may not happen…..I think the trick is…and I’m nowhere near it myself…but to practice acceptance, learn to live with reality, and be patient and compassionate. Keeping going and building things like a healthy diet, meditation, exercise and so on….seem maybe boring and time consuming but I am finding that these can make a major difference. Make sure you get good quality sleep. There are lots of great articles on here to help you deal with your thoughts and emotions….I spend some time every day reading these. I think it is important to remember that theses things require daily input…..each is a practice……but think of each of them as loving yourself, valuing who you are….You will probably know in yourself those things you need to change…and deal with…I have learned that alcohol does not really serve me at all…in terms of weight gain, clarity of mind, quality of sleep or how I feel the day after. I am learning to ditch it…and it is great!!
All the best..August 25, 2013 at 9:13 am #41125
I’m sorry for the struggles and difficulties you’re experiencing, and commend you on your past successes. Healing is a steady unfolding of different emotions and thoughts, and it is usual and normal for us to rise and fall like you’re describing. A few things came to heart as I read your words.
The first and probably most important is that the process is not a fall to square one, as you noticed. Healing is an upward spiral, with each sun and moon phase increasing our wisdom. Said differently, when we are up, we see the conditions of our happiness, and when we fall, we feel the conditions of our painfulness. As we gain wisdom, we begin to shed the conditional nature and move toward unconditional.
For instance, as you rose, the fellowship process was a condition which you saw as good, proof of your development. In holding it in such a way, your happiness became interwoven with it. So as it was removed, the condition of the happiness was removed, and so there was painfulness naturally arising. Then all the thoughts and fears come back, and the joy becomes pushed out by your fear of the future, fear of being stuck, fear of failing.
It reminds me of playing the lottery. We buy a ticket, and our hope becomes invested in winning. Our mind begins to plan a future based off of the “unlimited” power and freedom. Then the numbers are called and we don’t win, and all of that energy is gone, the moments of dreaming crumble.
There is another way, however. We have the ability to generate unconditioned joyousness! When we accept the phases as just phases, that success is followed by failure is followed by success is followed by failure, we can abandon success and failure as marks of happiness. Instead, we move into the present moment. Said differently, we begin developing ourselves independently of the conditions of our life.
This is done through self nurturing and mindfulness practices. I find meditation to be the best way for me, but there are many. Self nurturing activities such as metta meditation, walking in nature, eating healthy, singing, bathing with candles and soft music, sincerely giving our time to the needs of others… all help to increase the stability to the warm feelings inside us. This gives us a natural resilience to being “swept away” by the successes and failures in life.
For mindfulness, concentration meditation is by far the best I’ve found (at least for me). Others are playing an instrument, creating art, non aggressive fast paced games. This allows us to notice and let go of the reactions our mind and body have to the situations we experience. This reduces the significance we place on each event.
Finally, the way we settle or let go of the painful experiences is by letting them pass through us. My teacher said that we don’t try to keep the wind out of our house by pushing the door closed, rather we open the back door and let it pass through. For instance, as you encounter the failure of the fellowship, it might seem normal to say “it is OK, because a success is coming soon” but that is just trying to push the failing away, making it less significant by replacing it with a future success. Instead, we can see that the fellowship is insignificant on its own. You did your best to grow a seed, and it didn’t take root. That happens in life. It has nothing to do with you, it is just the way of gardening. So we let it go and reach back into the bag of seeds (desires) and plant some more. Some may take root and blossom, some might not. As we accept that, we realize that we are the momentum, that it is the reaching into the pouch at our waist and planting more seeds that all of the real growth happens. Said differently, fellowship or not-fellowship, there you are doing your best. Depression or happiness, there you are doing your best. We keep reaching inside and jumping into new experiences, new attempts at helping the garden grow.
Which is something you’re already doing, and have been doing for a looooong time. Its OK, you’re doing fine. The sun shone and the grass grew. The moon rises and the shadows deepen. Its a process that helps our wisdom become deep and lasting, as we accept that, pain becomes wonderful information on how to become more skillful.
MattSeptember 6, 2013 at 4:11 pm #41846
Thank you so much for your response. I am definitely still coming to terms with my depression. My father is bipolar and my sister struggles with mental illness so it’s been a process for me to accept that depression is something that I too must learn to manage. Growing up I put a lot of pressure on myself to be different than my sister especially, to be the ‘successful’ daughter. This, of course, set up me up for a lot of pain. Any sign of sadness or anxiety, I was on the road to becoming ‘like them.’ So I denied the struggle I was feeling for a long time and I know that was unhealthy.
I painted things in very black and white terms. In the same way, I think that even as I was feeling a lot more grounded a few months ago and learning to have more compassion for myself, I still thought of things in binary terms. Me depressed vs. me then, ‘better.’ I’m learning that it really is a process, one that I will come to understand more as time goes on.
I commend you for all of your work to better your self and thanks again for your kind words.September 10, 2013 at 6:32 am #41986
Depression is something that I’ve experienced off and on throughout my life. I understand the fear of becoming depressed again!
Cheri Huber wrote a great little book, The Depression Book, filled with simple tips for managing depression. I found it to be very helpful in the way I viewed depression in general.
LoranSeptember 10, 2013 at 7:21 am #41990
Great Going, you are doing a fabulous job. All of the work you have done so far in becoming more positive and feeling good has not been wasted. Taking a couple of backward steps from time to time is part of the process of moving forwards. And you ARE moving forwards.
You are right to encourage yourself to see it as a process, not as a simple movement from A to B. All of the skills you have learned so far are still there, and when you find yourself back on your forwards path, you’ll find them again. Each time you take a backwards step (and it would probably be overoptimistic of me to suggest that you never will), you’ll find those tools and skills easier to access.
You’re learning new behaviours. Your old habitual behaviour may have been to respond with depressive and negative thoughts when things don’t work out. You’ve learned new behaviours, but you’re still working at making those more positive behaviours habitual. When things get tough, we tend to fall back on familiarity. Even if that familiarity is a negative pattern of behaviour. And to make things even harder, when things happen that are tough, that lowers our resistance and makes it even harder to practise these new, more positive behaviours or thought processes. Your new found skills are being tested now. It’s ok that you are finding it tough!
Don’t be discouraged. And if it’s the f-word you’re worried about (‘Failure’) then stop. You absolutely categorically have not failed. In any way.
I’ll leave you with this rather fabulous definition of an Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s more like a Cha ChaSeptember 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm #42076
Thank you everyone for your words of encouragement and insight.
Liz, it really hit home for me when you talked about how one can retreat to the familiar after a setback, even if it is negativity that is familiar. During that great upswing period where I was making a lot of progress in understanding myself and the way my mind and emotions interacted with each other, I came to see just how much I allowed negativity to dictate my life. No accomplishment was enough, no recognition or good time or relationship could somehow ‘prove’ to me that I was worthy or capable of future success. I wrote this poem about it actually in the spring:
I think to myself,
And I feel the need to
Knock on wood.
Is contentment a jinx?
Has my ‘realism’ been a choice all
I’m afraid to lose
These eggs sunny side up
When they’ve always been
Or hard boiled
Looking for clouds on the horizon.
Can this really be?
Can this really last?
Have I found the way to
Walk with myself
And let worry
Find it’s own way home?
So I guess you can see there that I was even a little anxious about finding the peace that I had discovered. But it shows me that it’s possible. I know it’s not gone, and that I am gaining tools to continue on my path.
Matt, thanks for your beautiful words. I think a returning to the basics of the present, the sensations that keep me calm/give me peace will be helpful. Meditation is something that I’ve attempted in the past but I really think I ought to try again. Loran, I will be sure to check out that book!
Again, I really appreciate all of your insight and will take care to try and remind myself of these words as I go forward. I love the imagery of the cha-cha and the upward spiral 🙂September 11, 2013 at 8:37 pm #42088
This was truly incredible Matt. Thank you.September 12, 2013 at 6:35 am #42105
Great Going, I am so glad what I said was helpful. You exhibit a great deal of self awareness, and I think you will find that to be a really important part of your journey upwards.
I love your poem – it’s very insightful. Thank you for sharing. Would it be terribly rude to ask you if you might email it to me, possibly (with your permission and with full credit to you) to use it in my work (I’m a coach), perhaps on a blog? I’m not sure how, just yet, but I feel instinctively that it might help some other people too. If you would be happy to allow this, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. But at the same time I would totally understand if you would rather not.