In the new world of social media, it seems like everyone is talking about mental illness and the symptoms associated with depression and other problems. I think this is fantastic. Everyone needs to know about these issues and the signs and symptoms that may be present in the people that we care about.
I am by no means a mental health professional. While I do have a little bit of experience from being a former staff member at a therapeutic boys home, most of my experience dealing with anxiety and depression and other forms of mental illness comes from first-hand personal experience. In other words, I am quite adept at living in my head and beating myself up.
I’ve mentioned in a previous post my experiences growing up with attention deficit disorder and Asperger syndrome. What I haven’t talked about are all the days spent in darkness due to anxiety and depression.
Over a decade worth of taunts from my peers combined with low self-esteem and a history of mistakes & broken dreams have created a false image within myself. A false image that creates several distorted reflections that alter the truth of what is really going on around me. It’s kind of like having a bunch of funhouse mirrors from the carnival inside your brain. Reality gets warped, and because distortion is all you can see, it becomes your new truth.
I have days where I believe I am a horrible father and the world’s worst husband. I also believe that I’m a horrible son and undeserving of even God’s love. Instead of looking at these particular situations and seeing ways to improve, I’ll only see the broken parts of my life and despair.
So believe me when I say I know how it feels.
For example, you might begin telling yourself different lies like “maybe there really is something wrong with me, if there wasn’t, why would my peers torment me so?” or “My significant other stopped saying they love me, do they still?… does anyone still love me?” Or maybe the darkness makes you think that life would be easier for everyone if you were gone?
I’ve experienced all of this. All the lies, and all the self doubt, I’ve lived through it all. I’ve told myself countless falsehoods and believed so many other negative “truths” about the people who surround me, my own self worth, and whether or not they would be better off without me.
In the fall of 2006 I contemplated killing myself after a really bad breakup with my then fiance. I was distraught and had convinced myself that my life wasn’t going anywhere. I was living on my own for the very first time and didn’t have a regular church community. I didn’t see the point of continuing on with my life, and thought that suicide would be the easier option. Thank God I made a different decision.
Falling into depression is a slippery slope, and it doesn’t take much to make a situation go from bad to worse. Even when there are plenty of people around you, you can still feel alone. It can feel like you’re sitting at the very bottom of a pit looking up while everyone else has no idea how far down you are. In my experience, if nobody notices your depression, then the only way out is by climbing. That takes a lot of willpower and some strong determination.
Overcoming one’s personal shame and the guilt that they may feel over their past mistakes, is no easy task. If we are to combat mental illness, it’s going to take all of us.
With that being said, here are some things that I’ve learned regarding mental illness and what you and the ones you love can do to help during these dark times.
Pray! First thing you need to do is ask God for help. Say the Jesus Prayer and ask God to comfort you. It’s simple, and it is the most important thing you can do.
The second thing is to stop focusing on the emotions. Take a minute, and take some deep calming breathes. Focus on your body as the air enters your lungs. Center yourself on the various things your body is doing. Feel your heart beat, rub your fingers together, and become aware of your surroundings. Then when you feel safe, allow yourself to feel the emotions. You can cry, shake or scream if needed. By centering your mind on your body, you allow yourself some distance from the negative thoughts plaguing you. And once you have a litttle bit of calmness in you, it’s time to bring out Mr. Spock.
Now hear me out alright? Imagine there’s a little guy inside your head… and he is literally Mr. Spock from Star Trek. Captain Kirk always asks Spock for a scientific/logic based analysis of the current situation. Doesn’t matter if the news is good or bad or if Kirk was to blame, Spock would simply point out the details in an unbiased way and correct false assumptions. If you were to use this in a mental exercise, it could give you a second voice that would allow yourself to process your feelings and thoughts in a parsed, unbiased, nuetral and most important, non judgmental manner.
As for the people who surround you, this next part is for them. My friends, sometimes when the depression hits, it’s difficult to vocalize. Hiding pain and wearing a smile are common coping mechanisms for people who are suffering. Make sure you check in on those you love. Look for behavioral changes, even the smallest ones like lack of eye contact or weight loss. Are they no longer as active as they used to be? Haven’t seen them in a while? Time for a check in!
Depression and it’s ilk have physical manifestations as well. Back pain, nausea and insomnia are some physical symptoms of anxiety and depression, not to mention head aches and chest pains or tightness of breath. These are things you should be able to notice. These are also some reasons why depresssion is more than just a mental problem, it is physical too.
Bottom line is if you think someone you care about is struggling, reach out and give them a hand.
After my suicide attempt, I contacted my cousin. He got me out of the house and we started jogging together. It was nice having someone who could get my mind off of the problems I was experiencing and allow me to start the healing process.
I actually just pulled myself out of a week long depression. I think it was triggered when my dog was put down. She was a sweet girl, but after she bit my son, my wife and I decided it was time to say goodbye. I didn’t realize how hard her passing would be for me. Well, the very next day in the port I had a fully fledged panic attack simply because of long lines and no communication. The next few days followed with doubt and negative thoughts that pervasively crept deeper into my mind. Finally on Monday while driving home from the beach, I forced myself to crawl out of the hole I was in and let my wife help me. The conversation we had was healing and really helped renew some of the strained parts of our marriage. I’m in a better spot mentally now and am activly working on being more dependable and active for my family (and not just a paycheck)
I hope this post helped, if it did let me know. Otherwise, thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time.
The Pacific ocean on the Oregon coast was a peaceful and relaxing spot to be at this weekend.