It is funny, because 2013 has not gone exactly as I had planned, yet I still find myself in a good place mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Actually, I find myself in a better place than I ever could have anticipated, much to my delight and surprise. Sometimes, I really am oblivious to the obvious, which is why is just occurred to me the other day that I have not had an anxiety attack or felt depressed since the year began. To some people, twenty-four days without being overwhelmed by anxiety and depression may not be anything to celebrate, but to me, it is the first time in over two years that I can make such a statement and mean it.
I first was treated for depression when I was 18 years old, and I feel fortunate that my depression and anxiety are situational and not chronic and pervasive, as it affords me with periods of happiness and peace. Yet, even during those times of peace and happiness, I always feel like the depression and now the anxiety are lurking just below the surface, waiting to strike when my guard is down. This time feels strangely different, though, and while I would never tempt the fates by declaring myself “cured” of ever succumbing to the depression and anxiety again, I will say that when those feelings begin to emerge now, I find that I am able to acknowledge them and to deal with them, instead of trying to ignore them or letting them deal with me. So, what has changed since the clock struck midnight to welcome a new year?
The changes actually started when I re-entered treatment for the anxiety and depression on May 15, 2011, but my path to better mental health and well-being has been a bumpy, windy road with many detours and obstacles. It definitely was not a straight, smooth route, but few meaningful and worthwhile journeys are. Let me also emphasize that while I am in a good place overall now, I understand that my journey is not over and that it will continue until I take my last breath. I just feel as if all of the work I have done to address the anxiety and depression has begun to pay off, and I am putting into practice everything I have learned along the way to prepare myself for the next part of this journey, whatever that may be.
As a therapist, I have long since been dispensing advice for dealing with depression and anxiety, and it definitely is harder to take my own advice than it is to offer it to another person. Recently, several people have asked me what has helped me the most in dealing with the anxiety and depression, and this question always gives me pause, as there is no “one size fits all” answer. I can speak to this request from both a professional perspective and a personal perspective, but if it’s all the same to you, I will share some of the things that I have found to be most helpful for me, in the hopes that it may be beneficial for someone else. In no particular order of importance, here is what has helped me get to where I am today:
- The first thing I did was to resume traditional mental health treatment, in that I was hospitalized for assessment before being discharged to a partial hospitalization program, which I successfully complete. This was followed up by four months of weekly individual and group therapy. I also was assessed by two different psychiatrists for medication, and at first, both agreed that I did not need any medication as part of my treatment regime . After completing the partial hospitalization program, though, I decided to try an anti-depressant just to see if it would be beneficial, but it triggered my ulcerative colitis, so, I discontinued it with the consent of the psychiatrist.
- This past fall, when the anxiety and depression began to escalate yet once again, I decided to seek “alternative” treatment in the format of the Wellbriety program, which is a holistic approach to healing, based on Native American principles and philosophies. This way of healing has helped me tremendously, and it has been the turning point in my journey. I cannot thank my mentor, Trude, enough for being my guide.
- I love to read, and I have found several books to be instrumental in changing my negative thoughts and perceptions. These are three books that really resonated with me: “Wishes Fulfilled” by Dr. Wayne Dyer; “I Declare” by Pastor Joel Osteen; and “May Cause Miracles” by Gabrielle Bernstein.
- In addition to reading, I also am drawn to positive quotes and affirmations, especially those by the aforementioned authors and those of other authors and spiritual teachers, such as Debbie Ford, Mastin Kipp, Cheryl Richardson, Danielle LaPorte, Louise Hay, etc. I follow them on Twitter, and their positive tweets give me a quick boost throughout the day.
- I have made the decision to surround myself with genuine, positive, and perfectly flawed family and friends, who support, love, encourage, and challenge me. They have my best interests at heart, and we have a mutual relationship that is based on respect, honesty, and love. In this same vein, I have had to end relationships that do not serve me well and/or that do not serve the other person well, either. This sounds far easier than it is, but sometimes, doing the right thing is the hardest thing. Saying ‘good-bye’ to people I love has been one of the most painful parts of the past two years by far.
- To borrow a 12-step program’s phrase, I “fake it until I make it”. This differs from masking my feelings and not living my truth, as it refers to thinking and behaving in a healthy or positive manner, even when I do not feel so healthy or positive. I have learned that facing my personal demons doesn’t mean I have to act like a demon, and if I can get out of my own way, I can think, feel, speak, and act like the optimistic, honest, and loving person I know I am at the core of my being. In time, I no longer have to fake it, as my true self emerges, and being healthy and positive becomes second nature to me.
- Exercise does wonders for managing the anxiety and depression. Trail running literally has saved my life, as it is a magical elixir for the mind, body, and baby soul, and I was able to clear my head and heal my heart with every step.
- Music also took center stage in the recovery process. Whether it was attending a concert, listening to my satellite radio or my iPod, or singing along to a favorite song, no matter how overwhelmed I felt by the depression and anxiety, music always found a way to penetrate the darkness and provide a light to guide me out of it, even if only for brief moments.
- Writing has been another unexpected lifesaver. I have been writing since I was a little girl, but like some other things, I allowed this love to fall by the wayside over the years. I am eternally grateful for every single person who reads what I write, especially if it helps them in some way, and you all have helped me find my voice and to live my truth. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
- Having a sense of humor, even a dark or self-deprecating one, can be the best medicine indeed.
- Listening to my intuition has reminded me that when I quiet my mind and trust myself, I make the best decisions that will lead me closer to who and where I want to be.
As strange as this may sound, though, it feels odd not to have my constant companions of depression and anxiety with me on a daily basis. I have identified so intimately with them and allowed them to somewhat define me, that it is somewhat scary, yet liberating, to think of a life without them. I used to be afraid that if I let go of them and the reasons and triggers for them that there would be nothing left, and the fear of the unknown rivaled the feelings of depression and anxiety. It can be easier to go with what you know than to risk something different, even if it is something better. Now, I realize that I have to let go of the “old”, in order to accept “new” opportunities and people into my life. Whenever the fear and self-doubt threaten to trigger the depression and anxiety, I remind myself of the lessons I have learned, the coping strategies I possess, and the goals and dreams that I am taking steps to achieve. For the first time in a very long time, if ever actually, I honestly believe that my shadow days are over and that better and brighter days are here, and the fear of the unknown has been replaced by excitement and gratitude for the opportunities and possibilities that await me. I am living out one of my 2013 themes, “I am not afraid. I was born to do this”, that Joan of Arc stated so eloquently. I’ve got this.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story
Congratulations of your successful year of progress.
Onwards towards a fantastic 2013!!
Elizabeth, many, many thanks for your well wishes and for reading another post; I am grateful. It is definitely progress, not perfection, and 2013 is going to be an absolutely amazing year. Sending you best wishes and positive thoughts for your own journey; you can do this!