Lately I have really started to feel safe and sound in my (mental health) recovery journey. I am beginning to trust that I am in fact in a solid place. An emotional space where relapses are fewer and fewer and occur farther and farther apart. My last anxiety attack was early September and that’s over 4 months ago! And probably the longest I have gone without having an anxiety attack, since they started happening in my early 20’s. That’s pretty cool, huh?!
Coincidently, my Therapist asked me when I last saw her (as she is also seeing this steady path and continuous “upward trend”, where I am staying grounded, calm and in a positive state of mind month over month), what has changed?
What it is that has made the difference for me? What specifically has helped me stay on a positive and upbeat path, instead of falling back into a depressive state?
And here’s what I told her:
- The most important and biggest differentiator for me, has been to acknowledge my mental health issues. To myself but also to others.
For me at least, I could never quite own my issues, until I was able to say out loud that I have issues. Which means that until I was able to admit it to all of you: My friends. My family. And my readers. I did not fully admit and embrace the problems that I have. It is my firm belief and total conviction at this point in my life, that unless you do, you cannot deal with your issues either.
It is like with any disease and any patient – unless you recognize that you are sick, no Dr can diagnose you properly – and no Dr can prescribe the right fix for you without a proper diagnosis.
- The second most important, and natural step following that acknowledgment has been to seek out the help of a professional and submit myself to treatment.
In plain English: to find a therapist that I am comfortable with, and able to talk to about the mental problems that I have – not to sit there hour after hour and turn my childhood inside out, or analyse my “daddy issues” – that’s not at all necessary! That may be how it works on television but in real life, at least for me, it has been a lot easier and more straightforward than that. My therapist has simply helped me get to know myself. She has guided me through various life situations and common scenarios, and in doing so she has helped me identify certain behavioural patterns and the emotional responses that they “trigger” in me.
Once you learn to see (and recognize) those patterns, the triggers and the responses they generate (early on!), it is quite easy to prepare yourself and prevent the negative emotions form taking over. At that point you can easily prevent them from sending you spiraling into a negative state of mind, and ultimately avoid, reaching a depressive state.
Instead you (almost) automatically keep your spirits up and maintain a positive attitude! And it si a very liberating place to get to, after fighting depression for 20+ years, I can assure you!
- The third, really important thing that I have learnt is that: “Self-medication does not work!”.
I used to stop by the wine section at the supermarket every day, on my way home from work, to pick up a bottle of red wine. I started out drinking a glass or two to relax. Aa glas or two soon became half a bottle. And before long I was not able to put the cork back in the bottle after a couple of glasses either, but I would finish the thing. I did not drink the wine to get drunk. I did not drink the wine to relax, or to be able to sleep. I drank the whole bottle of wine, every night, to pass time and to dull my senses and try to forget how lonely I was. I tried to numb the pain inside that was caused by not having any friends, or family, nearby. The pain of not having the “social” part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs fulfilled.
But what I did not realise, until my Therapist helped me get clean and stay sober, was that all that self-medication did for me, was make me even more depressed. And the more depressed I got, the more anti-social I became. The more I self-isolated. And the more I isolated myself, by flaking out or turning friends down, the lonelier I got. And the more I hurt…
And so the slippery slop got steeper and steeper by each month, and week, and day that I kept “self-medicating”.
Those are the three most important changes that I have made in my life, and why I can now say with confidence, that I am in fact a new and much better person.
I am happier than I have ever been – I don’t have the same “manic highs” that I used to have when I came out of a depressive state. The highs, that back then I was scared that I would miss if I got to a more “normalized state”, became a convenient excuse not to deal with my shit. But I can honestly say that all in all, I am much, much happier being in a steady state of calm and positivity, than the sum of the positive spikes I used to have in-between depressions, anger and frustration spells, ever made me!
I am calm. I am grounded. I sleep well. I am able to disconnect from work. I can compartmentalize my stress and if needed, I have learnt to meditate, to reclaim the control over my brain and thoughts. I feel stronger than ever. I am more confident and comfortable with myself than I have been in a long time. Perhaps more than I have ever been? I am meeting people. I am doing things. I am going places.
Hell, I am even dating again! And I am enjoying the crap out of it…!! 🙂