Facing Depression – and what that story can tell me

This begins the experiment of telling my story and letting my story guide the next chapter. To use Shawn Phelp‘s phases, this is about Act 1, the Setting, and, I suppose  also Act 2, the Turning Points, all in service to discover Act 3 – the Character Arc, where will my story take me.

What if I were to accept the fact that depression has been a significant part of my life, instead of regard it as a flaw or weakness?

What if I were to accept the fact that depression has been a significant part of my life, instead of regard it as a flaw or weakness? What if I share my experiences with it, instead of hiding them, and being ashamed? It has defined me, and brought me where I am now, and underscores many of the concepts and ideas I eagerly explore now. What if, instead of regarding is at a flaw, I embrace it as a super power and reflect on what it gave me, rather than how it made me suffer?

I would like to get to a place where I can genuinely help others with depression, rather than avoid them because of the fear I have of sliding over that precipice again, and not being able to come back. I know how much it hurts, I know just how intense the helplessness is, and I know just how difficult it is to come out the other side. But I also know it can be done, and I know that I’m stronger and better because of it.

I’m not sure how far to dive into this, though, because it actually still terrifies me. Am I strong enough to face it, rather than hide from it? Is there value in doing that? I’m scared of opening a box that is going to be very difficult to close. So maybe I’ll tread carefully with that for now, and focus less on the darkness, and more on the positive outcomes.

I realize the world has come a very long way in the 25 years since I first struggled with it. Thank goodness.

A few things in particular have made me give more thought to my experience with depression – things I’ve learned that help me understand more about it, how to manage it, and maybe how to help others who struggle with it. As I read more about it I realize the world has come a very long way in the 25 years since I first struggled with it. Thank goodness.

They tried to convince me my problem was repressed memories of my father doing inappropriate things – something I know never happened, but the doubts they raised were damaging enough.

I was first diagnosed while in college, although patterns began in high school. I isolated myself, disconnected from friends, and turned to binging, bulimia and self-cutting for coping. I eventually went on Prozac and was in therapy, but both with limited success. Therapy in college involved long silences where the therapist just sat there looking at me with sad eyes, waiting for me to talk, or the psychiatrist telling me my problem was I hadn’t accepted Christ in my life, or together them trying to convince me my problem was repressed memories of my father doing inappropriate things – something I know never happened, but the doubts they raised were damaging enough.

I eventually found better ways to cope, more natural ways, in particular with a adrenaline. I joined a Skydiving Club – that, honestly, did wonders. You can’t possibly depressed when you are 15,000 feet in the air, flying at 90 miles an hour. I began pursuing a degree in Counseling Psychology and met a number of great people – I thought if I can’t get help, I’ll help myself. That was the beginning, I suppose, of my focus on studying people, how we tick, how we can thrive instead of suffer. But it’s been a circuitous journey.

Over the years I dove deep into religious study and spirituality, trying to find ways to cope, read dozens and dozens of self-help books, sought treatment from a variety of caregivers, and went down a number of rat holes of self-destructive behaviors. But, I believe I can say I have overcome the worst of it. There have been very important people along the way who were essential to the process of healing, as were specific events and better management tools. And as I write about this, I realize how important it is and valuable it is to tell the story, to share my gratitude, to appreciate the struggles and celebrate the outcomes. There is joy in all of this – a lot of things to feel very, very good about.

It is so important to take a holistic view of depression, not only in the treatment, but what it can tell us about ourselves.

I jotted down a number of things related to depression, concepts I’ve come to understand as being essential to healthier management of depression, tools to help with thriving instead of surviving; all topics I want to explore as I go. It is so important to take a holistic view of depression, not only in the treatment, but what it can tell us about ourselves.

  1. The importance of telling, reflecting on and appreciating your life story, to celebrate growth, gain insight into your true self and trajectory, and acknowledge the goodness around you, in people, in the world, and in spirit.
  2. Taking a different lens on depression – rather than an illness, a signal of a lack of alignment between your ‘active’ self and your true self. This is a theme I’m following on the Personality Hacker Podcast and blog and I’m eager to learn more.
  3. Thinking more holistically and understanding the building blocks of Body, Mind, Heart and Spirit, and how depression manifest itself when these building blocks and their connections haven’t been optimized. For example, the importance of the right diet to include fats and Omega 3’s, promoting neurogenesis.
  4. Related, but a separate bucket – this theme that in terms of depression as reflection of energy misalignment, it problem is rooted in the heart, and not the brain or mind. I’ve always been so focused on the mind and ‘fixing it’, but learning that there are opportunities to care for the heart, core feelings and connections and relationships with people around me. This is certainly a theme that has been evolving with my energy work with Martin.
  5. The perspective of your personality, your quirks, your tendencies as your Super Powers, and not signs of weakness or being broken.
  6. Depression and difficult emotions as signs and signals, not hurdles or punishment; by listening, it gives us direction as to where we should be going, it can guide us to our true self.
  7. With awareness of our true self and acceptance, we thrive and become healthy members of a bigger community that is or at least significantly overlaps with the Creative Class. Discovering and identifying with the True Self is more important now than ever, not only for our personal health, but the health of our families, communities, even our world.

Discovering and identifying with the True Self is more important now than ever, not only for our personal health, but the health of our families, communities, even our world.

A lot of big stuff here. But it’s exciting, invigorating!

And I’m realizing that although I started this blog with the focus that this was for me more than anyone else (so as not to get hung up about what others thought), I do look forward to conversations. This isn’t a journey to take alone. The next step is to reach out and make more connections, and not be afraid.

 

Story Thinking – A tool to finding your Life’s Purpose

I’ve never been one to think much about the past:

  • It wasn’t common in my family. My German parents didn’t talk much about their past, likely because of how difficult it was, or because of the guilt of being associated such a horrific political history.
  • In my twenties and thirties I spent what felt like hundreds of hours in therapy rehashing the past – no sense beating a dead horse.
  • We are often told not to dwell in the past, as it can’t be changed.
  • I’ve generally not seen any value in it. I’m tend not to be very sentimental, sometimes to a fault.

This seemed to be okay, especially with the new trend of being mindful, being in the moment, being present.

I’ve also never thought much about the future. I’m not sure why not, I guess just not wired that way. My lens into the future was about 3-6 months; I’ve tended to be rather spontaneous, letting life take me where it takes me.

But I’ve always felt a bit adrift, unable to ‘find’ myself, unsure of who I really was, what I should set out to do with my life. And as cerebral as I am, that’s kind of dangerous. I would overthink my way into any one of many directions, broad and deep, without ever gaining any clarity.

In recent years there is growing encouragement to find your passion, that you can accomplish anything you want as long as you are clear with your vision and focus on that one big thing. Accomplishment, productivity, excellence is all within reach, but it depends on you getting really crisp on your purpose.

There are many books and podcasts that emphasize this as the critical first step to accomplishing anything you want  – first, they say, you need a vision.

But how do you get that vision? That’s the tough part and I’ve struggled with finding helpful advice just how to find it and define it. It’s more than just listing what you are good at.

I’m an avid listener of life-hacking podcasts and was happy to come across an episode of The Life-Optimized Show that addressed exactly my need and offered an intriguing solution – look at your past. In fact, don’t just look at it, but really dig into it, really understand it. Understand your story.

Your story, explains Shawn Phelps, is a powerful tool in guiding you to your vision. Your story defines you and provides clues to who you really are, what you really want to and can become.

Your story is a signal; with it’s highlights and lowlights it illuminates your potential super powers and offers clear markers as to where it your life journey can take you. It’s your map.

That same day I started looking back on my history and I realized that my 20 year old self had the same questions, interests and drives as my 40 year old self, and maybe I should take a closer look at those questions and interests and take them a bit more seriously, because obviously they aren’t going away. Maybe that vision has been there all along, I’ve just ignored it because I got caught up with signals from others, instead of from myself.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 9.33.15 PM

I’m excited now to take the time to tell the story, and listen to myself tell the story; to understand the Setting and the Turning Points, and then own the Character Arc – that direction that I can go in as a result of what I’ve learned, the mistakes I’ve made, the adventures I’ve have had.  It’s my story; going along with that story will take me where I’m supposed to go; if I look at the story line, the vision will become clear, and my future road map and journey line will be apparent.