The upsides of the downslides

Depression is a contradictory creature. Sometimes blankets and sofas are all that can be achieved. Sometimes panic, thoughts of escape and out of character behaviour take hold.

Mental scaffolding collapses followed by boundary walls. All the things that once mattered no longer seem to hold you in the same way. And decisions that would previously seem outlandish, suddenly become the only option.

Like a boat with the rudder torn away, you can find yourself at sea without sail or guiding winds. The doldrums. If someone then offers you an oar out of the gloom, you may well grab it with both hands for fear you will be adrift forever if you don’t.

This is how I ended up going travelling. I had lost all sense of direction, was unable to work, had no plan, no next step. This was so far removed from my usual self, my previous existence. It should have been terrifying, but then it wasn’t. I was too far sunk to feel fear. Depression had left me with only a limited number of emotional responses to the world’s stimuli. I felt lost, I felt sad. That was pretty much all I could muster. When the opportunity to travel came up I had no good reason to say no. So I said yes.

People told me I was very brave, giving up my secure job, and now making the decision to leave for far off lands. These were their words. I suspect however, many of them thought “What the hell is she thinking?!” A small handful may have thought “You lucky cow”.

It wasn’t bravery or luck in the main. It was just the only thing that loomed into view at the time I was surviving in a vacuum. I couldn’t breath where I was. So I might as well try the air elsewhere. There was some luck in the opportunity coming my way when it did I suppose. But the circumstances that had brought me to this place were far from lucky. No job anymore (which I had given my all to) and no children as planned (which had taken an incredible toll on both me and my husband). This was the worst year of our lives. We did not feel lucky. Not in any way. We just felt broken.

I suspect my father thought it was utter lunacy at first. Especially giving up a good job. But it was killing me. For far longer than was wise, I had stubbornly been refusing to give in (because that is what we do in my family). Until, finally, my mind cracked and there was no option but to walk away. I think if I hadn’t, my boss himself might have escorted me from the building for my own good. He had seen first hand what a jibbering wreck I had become (apologies to him, he saw far more of my pain than could ever be considered professional, but he would keep asking “How are things?”).

The thing with my depression was it changed my perspective on everything. The life I had built up around myself evaporated into the mist, leaving just me … feeling naked and raw and without all my protective layers. Like a newborn, I had wide eyes and no clue what was occurring around me, having to trust that the world would protect me in my vulnerability. I am one of the lucky ones. It did. Thankfully I had sufficient support around me to stop me sinking without a trace. Left to this thrashing on my own I might so easily have drowned.

Depression is the worst thing that ever happened to me. Worse than not being able to have the children. Depression was the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life. I suspect that my depression was the worst thing that ever happened in my husband’s life too, and I hate being the cause of that. But I truly do think, contradictory as this may sound, it may also be the best thing that could have happened. It was such a powerful and all consuming force that it woke me up from the coma my life had become. It fought through the interminable sleep and said “Fuck this shit!”.

And so I went away. Because staying was too painful, for everyone involved. I look forward to telling you about my travels in future posts. The most inspiring times of my life so far. Some of the scariest too. Being on my own for any length of time in foreign lands was sometimes intensely lonely. And with only ‘Depressed Me’ for company, that was hard work to get through. But such important work, and my God did it open my eyes! You are forced to meet yourself in a way you never have had the opportunity or inclination to do before. From it I found strength that I never knew I had, and learned so much about myself (some of which am not so keen on and definitely needs further work). I am doing that work.

At the same time, other aspects of my character that I discovered were long lost playmates I hadn’t seen since I was a young girl. This made me consider “Why the devil I have I been sitting on you all this time? Come out and play!” And there is this adventurous spirit I never even knew about. The “Fuck It” state of mind really can do wonders for jumping off mountains and the like.

It was also during this period, this vacuum, that space was created to allow in a previously unexplored spirituality. Once some of the shouting at God had dissipated, I started to pay attention to the inspirational symbols and influences of Buddhism I found in South East Asia. I was penetrated by a calmness in these spaces that I had never experienced before, even when I was completely well. I have been exploring my own spirituality a great deal since then and this will be a life’s work for sure.

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Part of this exploration, and part of my treatment for depression as it turns out, has been to study and practice mindfulness. I will write about this in much more depth, because it has been transformational for me. But, in short, mindfulness has allowed me to treat my depression as a friend rather than an enemy. I used to believe my depression meant me harm. I now see that it is actually just one aspect of my soul trying to speak to me. One whose hand I should hold and show kindness too while it helps to heal my wounds.

So, we didn’t get to have the children we had wanted. And trying and failing month on end, for years and years ….. well, simply put, it is heart-breaking. I cry as I type that. I always cry when I think about it in earnest. But I don’t think I am crying for my unborn children anymore. I think I am just crying when I reconnect to the pain of that time. Because it really was the worst. And I am done with shoving that away in a box. It was really sodding hard. I want to recognise that, and just let it be hard, to do it justice and say “Yes, we have lived through tough stuff. We did that. But we came through. We are still standing. We can get through that and we can get through anything”.

I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone. But at the same time I have to give thanks for it. These experiences have introduced me to facets of myself I was not aware of, both good and bad, and has allowed me the privilege of working with that. Depression strips you bare. I would never use the word ‘Crazy’ lightly, but I can assure you, when you find yourself in that very dark and dangerous place, you absolutely do feel crazy, like a supercharged cannonball, on fire, crashing into everything in its path, causing indescribable and unavoidable damage. But at the same time I felt there was a critical truth to my depression. I felt close to something new, some entity terrifying yet familiar. Be that a higher power, or my true authentic self, or some genetic memory that I could only feel when everything else had retreated.

I have to say, I had forgotten the power of that feeling until I have just written about it again. There is a truth that emerges when everything falls apart. I don’t want to forget that again. It was so important at the time, and it is so easy to get sucked back into ‘The Norm’. I am not sure, having experienced all that I have, that ‘The Norm’ is ever going to be enough for me now. I suspect that a feeling of pure joy may too elicit similar unadulterated truth. Perhaps the kind of joy people feel when they look at their newborn baby? I can only imagine that, so I am going to have to work on creating different versions. Some of the simple yet extraordinary moments in time I have experienced on my travels I think have come close. I plan to capture these in my writing and create more. Many, many more.

There are no children, my work is sporadic, I am still paying off the debts from my ‘Year in the Wilderness’, but these circumstances have once again enabled me to take myself off on an extended trip to the other side of the world. To experience things that my family and friends with children can ooh and ah at, and secretly wish they got to do, but are not in a position to. Seeing the world is the fulfilment of a life long dream for me. One I thought was beyond my grasp when the whole family thing was planned. But since that family didn’t transpire, I now feel compelled to see the world. I can’t let that opportunity be wasted. That would feel criminal. I have space in my life to do something amazing, and I must do that. As I don’t have any little people to pour my all into, to inspire and will them on to make the most of their lives, I am going to have to do that for me. Who gets to do that? Now that is lucky.

 


Copyright © 2016 · Images and Text · Forty and Everything After

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