All I wanted was to get back to who I used to be before I sank into depression – until a doctor told me I probably never would…
Today is World Mental Health Day and seeing hashtags like #ItsOkNotToBeOk trending is really encouraging.
However, I’ve felt like what I’ve seen of the conversation in general today has been rather lacking in practical advice.
I totally get the reasons for this, unless you’re a mental health professional you don’t feel well placed to offer advice.
However, I think it could be helpful for those of us who’ve experienced depression to not only talk what’s it like but also to share what has helped us deal with it.
Otherwise it’s a bit like letting everyone know they’re not alone in their suffering but not really offering much hope that it’ll end.
So, let’s go there.
First, I recommend you read the post I wrote a while ago where I talked about my depression, otherwise I’ll have to repeat a lot of the same stuff.
I’ll pick up from where that left…
Once again, please remember I’m talking about my own personal experience of depression here. This is not mental health advice and I’m not saying anyone else is the same. I’m just sharing my own story on the off-chance it’ll offer someone out there a bit of hope.
It definitely wasn’t like getting over a physical illness.
Like I said in my last post, the most common question people ask is how long it took to “recover”.
I simply can’t answer that question. Because in a way I never did recover from the depression. Not in the sense of getting back to how I was before I was depressed anyway.
I was working at the BBC at the time and because I’d been off sick for several months I was summoned to see the BBC’s own GP.
My memories are quite blurred. Given the state I was in you’d expect me to be terrified about having to be assesed in this way by my employer, but I was so numb, I think I was actually just sad it had come to that.
Anyway, the BBC doctor said something to me which shocked me at the time, but was actually quite brilliant. The conversation went something like:
Me: I really hate being like this, all I want is to get back to who I was before.
Dr. BBC: You need to accept that you probably won’t ever get back to who you were before. This is going to change you. Think of yourself like Dr. Who when he changes. You’ll still be you, but it’ll be a very different you, like the new Dr. Who.
Looking at this now, I’m thinking this will probably sound a like a load of meaningless nonsense to most people. But at the time, it really helped.
It didn’t instantly set me on the road to happiness. I didn’t walk out of the consulting room feeling like I’d had any kind of revelation. Far from it, there was lots more to be done before my transition to “the new Dr. Who”. But it stuck with me and was one of the things that helped.
Gradually it sank in that rather than trying to rebuild my old self I needed to find my new self.
In many ways I’m still looking.
This mindset has helped me tremendously.
Someone asked me on Twitter today: “Are depressives ever fully healed or do we just understand/learn how to cope?”
This is another common question.
For me, it has helped not to think of it as healing, but rather a journey. I look back on my period of depression like a long and painful transition from who I was before to the beginnings of who I am now.
When a caterpillar goes into a chrysalis it’s old form is all but turned to mush before the new creature takes shape. For me, this was part of becoming someone who knows our personalities aren’t fixed, that who she is doesn’t have to be determined by who she was.
Learning this has opened up a lot of possibilities for me.
How did that girl who was picked last in PE class and leaves school with a grade E in English GCSE become a nationally published journalist and then a best-selling fitness author?
By knowing that who she was, was not fixed, she could change.
Change is scary and often very painful. I sometimes wonder if my depression was steeped in resistance to change combined with unhappiness with my life as it was. When it began I had recently got out of rather toxic six year relationship which I’d been in since the age of 17. (But that definitely wasn’t the only factor.)
In the months and years that followed I read a ton of self-help books. I wrote journals. I began learning about myself and how to take care of myself.
I can’t remember anyone recommending exercise as an aid to recovery. Maybe they did and I’ve forgotten or maybe I just remembered how much calmer, clearer headed and happier I’d felt after doing Jane Fonda and Cindy Crawford videos workout in my late teens.
Anyway, I joined a gym and started exercising, on and off, fairly regularly.
Day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year things started coming together. “I” started coming together. Very gradaully I began to feel a wholeness, a contentedness, a happiness I honestly can’t remember having ever before.
Maybe some of this is a normal part of getting older. I don’t know how it is for anyone else. But I feel like I needed to go through what I went through in order to experience it.
My journey continues. I’m constantly still discovering more about who I am, what brings me fulfilment and what happiness looks like for me.
I’m not always happy, content and “whole” all of the time, far from it. I still have a lot of crap going on in my head, I still have dark days, I still have self-doubts and all of the rest of it. But I have a lot of tools and tactics to put myself back on course.
This is why I’m grateful depression happened to me.
Maybe it’s still in me. Maybe as my friend on Twitter suggested we depressives just learn to understand ourselves and cope. But if that’s the case, I’m OK with it. It’s part of who I am and not only has what I learned from it helped me, it has helped me to help others in my work as a fitness professional.
I don’t know if what I’ve said here will be of any comfort to anyone. When you’re in depths of darkness knowing that someone else found a torch can be as annoying as it is reassuring.
But I thought it was worth sharing, just in case.
Anyway, let’s all keep talking about this stuff. I’d love to get your thoughts on this post – come chat with me on my social media channels.