I have been thinking about recovery all week and about healing and about therapy. And I want to say that in some forms of therapy, we are asked to dig up and re-live some of the traumas that happened “before now” in our lives. And we spend a lot of time rooting around trying to “remember” something in our past that traumatized us and CAUSED our sad state of affairs.
And that’s all well and good and I did that for more than a few years. But I think now that the approach is misguided. It could be a first step to vent about something that hurt us and gave us nightmares and flashbacks, but spending a lot of time there crying and beating pillows about what is past feeds into our “learned helplessness,” our ‘victim stance.” It does nothing to make us strong and capable. It is the lizard-brain looking for a tiger. We are hard-wired that way – our lizard brain is trying to protect us from (non-existent) tigers by keeping our focus on dangers. There will be other therapists who strongly disagree with me. My opinion comes from my own recovery story from many years of deep depression.
This morning, I realize that my deeper recovery process started taking place as I stopped looking at how I was mistreated or neglected and started celebrating my strengths as well as taking responsibility for how my own behavior had affected other people. NO ONE goes through life without hurting and being hurt, although as we learn and grow we can have less of both. Hurt people hurt people. Myself included on both ends. That’s life. But certainly not ALL of life! It’s a mistake to let the lizard brain keep you focused there.
My depression said (lied) “I am innately flawed,” “No one will ever really love me, ” “I’m ugly,” (I wasn’t) “I can’t____,” (excuses) “I wish I could just leave the planet,” “I am just an empty shell ,” “I can’t stand this pain,” I can never have a “normal life” – whatever that meant. (Someone somewhere perhaps has escaped all pain? NOT). Those weren’t exactly encouraging or uplifting self-messages, and they were self-fulfilling prophecies, I now understand. The more I poured that garbage into my consciousness to explain my depressed mood, the less likely it was that anyone wanted to be around me. Including, sadly, my own children. And including, of course, me. And as people gradually distanced themselves, it was a downward spiral and I used it as p[roof that I was flawed and unlovable is some strange way that others were not. Sigh. “Poor me.”
Deep depression is a biological illness, no doubt about it, and there is lots of pain involved – physical, emotional and spiritual pain. But understanding how it works helped to lift me out of it.
So let’s say you suffer from depression and you wake up, feeling heavy, fatigued, sad, anxious, or even numb or dissociated. Now your brain scans your world for a rational reason for the heaviness – so it can protect you. Then it pins the pain on all kinds of things other than the depression itself, which is the actual culprit.
You are NOT your depression, any more than your broken leg is WHO you are. Believing your depression defines you leaves you stuck in self-flagelation and self-pity. If you understand that the real YOU can fight the depression – which is NOT YOU – and you have a self care plan handy, a toolbox perhaps, you can perhaps feel a lot better a lot sooner. Shift your thinking such that YOU are the strong fighter who can tame this illness.
In my case, I did need medication (as part of, but never all of, my self care plan) and I will always need it every day. But beyond physiology, my problem always is and always was, my mistaken, self-defeating self-messages. And letting myself off the hook as far as self-responsibility and self-love were concerned. I was (and can still be) the one who wasn’t treating me right. I am in fact a very strong, smart, competent, and very loving woman – and always have been. I enjoy writing, reading and living out in the country where the birds serenade me every day and there are few cars; I treasure being part of a community or two or three or more, promoting peace and justice in the world, helping people cope with life, gardening, singing, creating art, sitting in my recliner, not necessarily in that order, depending on the day. I am grateful for dear friends, a wonderful partner, great kids and grandkids – even a great grand-daughter. (Yikes, when I think of all the joy I would have missed had i taken my life).
Be very careful that whatever you put after the words “I AM” is positive and life-affirming. Instead of saying, for instance, “I am fat” (which carries plenty of stigma), I could say my body (which is separate from my ME-ness) is carrying too much weight right now. It’s uncomfortable and I don’t like my appearance. You see the difference? I have now defined a problem which can be solved, if I so choose, rather than making my extra pounds part of my identity. If I make it part of my identity, then who would I be when I shed the pounds? Or shed the depression? The ego resists anything that threatens who it sees itself to be.
So, here’s a little worksheet for you, if you want to play. Keep track 3 self-denigrating or self-defeating things you often say you ARE that in fact you are NOT. Try re-phrasing them in writing and every time you catch yourself saying “I AM” that thing, say “CANCEL” and re-phrase it.
So that’s my happiness tool for today…keep your depression, as big a part of your experience as it is on any given day, separate from your identity. Treat if like having the flu if it’s a short episode – or diabetes if it’s lifelong. It’s a challenge you must master and manage, not who you are. Hugs, gerry