Thank you, depression
I originally called this blog “fuck you depression” but I changed it just before I posted the blog. This was mainly because I didn’t want to upset too many people when I shared it on social media – the people who read my content know who I am and so aren’t likely to get upset! Another reason was that I wanted to attract people who have had an experience with depression, rather than people who were just caught by the rather bold title. Perhaps the most important reason is that in writing the blog, I realised that my experience with depression is perhaps one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.
Now you think I’m mad don’t you? Let me explain.
A LITTLE CONTEXT:
I’ve had depression, whatever that is, since I was 22. I did what most people did and self-diagnosed following a prolonged period of deep, and heavy sadness. I would get up and go to work but to say it was hard is an understatement (I would go to the toilet to sob quietly to myself because I couldn’t help it). I struggled with meetings, I didn’t want to talk to people and I had these horribly, negative messages playing over and over in my head. You don’t know anything, Lisa. You don’t deserve this, Lisa. You’re not good enough, Lisa.
It never really affected my performance outwardly. In fact, I was the highest performing graduates of the year, and that’s exactly the point: you never really know what people are going through when it comes to mental illness.
I remember one occasion where I was getting ready for a birthday party in Ipswich. I was dreading it but I thought it might do me good, and my friend really wanted me to go. I lived in London at the time. I got up and got showered. It was hard; I was heavy. I got dressed and packed my bag. It was difficult; I was slow and everything felt effortful. I left the house and made my way without real purpose or conviction to the Tube stop – it was all for show. As I approached the entrance I realised: I couldn’t face it, I couldn’t face people, I couldn’t face conversation, I couldn’t face the world. I went back home, got undressed and got into bed.
Going to work the next week, I had a horrible dark thought waiting for the Tube to arrive. The darkest thought I’d had to date, and one I’ve never had since. I asked myself: “what would happen if I jumped?”. I’m not saying I was suicidal. I’m just saying I felt so low, without an escape route, that the idea crossed my mind. I won’t deny that.
That day I thought – I need help. Urgently. “Fuck”, I thought – “this is bad”. I didn’t know what was wrong with me and I was scared, lonely and sad.
I dragged myself to a local bookshop in Clapham North and there I found it – the book that saved my life. It was a book called “Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression” by Sally Brampton.
The book is a personal account of Sally’s journey through (and out of) severe depression. It’s raw, and honest and seemed to speak to me directly, personally. It was practical too. Sally shared lots of ideas about what might help.
Having a ‘name’ for how I felt, and knowing someone else who’d been through it and came out the other side gave me hope.
BACK TO THE PRESENT
Four days ago, I felt that fucking dog (the black dog) resurfacing. I slowed down, my energy for conversation waned and all I wanted to do was sit in bed with a box set. I wanted to curl up. And I did. Contact with people was unavoidable. When I smiled, I did so mechanically. I felt my mouth curl up, but I knew my eyes were glistening with a sea of tears I was holding back with all my might. “Please don’t cry”, I thought, “not at the dinner table”. I just wanted to be alone.
The next day, the dog tightened its grip. It was Monday and I took the day off work. I didn’t have a choice, emotionally. But, I did have techniques this time for dragging myself out of the hole more quickly: I’ve been developing them for years.
I started doing what I knew would help. I gutted my surroundings – I binned old clothes, books and other belongings. I cleaned, hovered and tidy and washed everything I could. I removed that mark that appeared on the carpet. It helped.
Then I got out my laptop and started dumping everything in my head onto paper. By the end of the day I organised it into a plan. That helped.
I’d already quit sugar and coffee to try and avoid the chemical highs and lows. This gave me strength.
The next day was Tuesday and I had work I had to do. I woke up and couldn’t move. Immobilised I repeated in my head one hundred times: “get up, get up, get up, get up. LISA GET UP, get up, get up”. I did. I pulled on my running gear and hit the road. A twenty-minute jog is the ultimate medicine for me.
As I put each foot forward I listened to motivational speaker Les Brown in my ears, trying as best I could not to bully myself with my cruel, self-deprecating thoughts.
At the end of the run, I felt elated. I was high. The endorphins – my medicine – were kicking in.
I remembered a line I’d written, either in an old blog or an upcoming talk, which said: “I am now free from depression and I don’t think I will ever experience it again”.
How naïve I thought. “You’ve got a condition, Lisa – face it”. I said to myself. And standing there in my running gear in the middle of the road and lent forward put my hands on my knees and burst out crying. In that moment I realised that it wasn’t going away – that fucking dog!
“Fuck you depression” I shouted in the street. Goodness knows how loud – I had my headphones in and Les was trying to jolt me back to reality. I took this photo and I’m not really sure why – I think it was part of facing up to my reality so I could change it.
I felt bad about saying “I was cured”. I felt guilty about making that claim and giving people with depression hope that it can be cured. Honestly, I don’t know if it can or not but I remain open minded.
What I know right now is that I suffer from depression but I won’t let it conquer me. That black dog can fuck right off. What I also know is that I have strategies and techniques that get me out of the darkest holes, get me functioning in society once again, and even lead me to euphoric happiness. It’s because of the swings that one friend suggested I was bi-polar. I even went to the doctors for it. He offered me meds but said “you probably don’t want that on your medical record”. “No”, I thought: “I don’t want to numb this and cover it up, I want to face it and make it better”, more to the point.
As I walked back to the house after my run, a thought came to mind: “be grateful for the cracks, Lisa, it’s how the light gets in”. It’s something I’d read on Elephant Journal a few weeks before – it’s a Buddhist phrase I think.
I do have so much light in my life. I am safe, loved and immensely wealthy (and I don’t mean money here). Everyone has a challenge, but everyone has light too: it’s the challenges that give us the resistance we need to grow! If I didn’t have depression, I might not have the same desire to help other people face up to who they are, redefine their dreams and pursue long-term happiness at all costs.
I still needed help, an intervention if you will, but I was able to ‘step outside and witness my thoughts’, rather than be consumed by them. Something I couldn’t do aged 22.
This last weekend, my beautiful partner, Alice, had bought us both tickets to see spiritual leader Gabby Berstein in London. The timing was perfect.
By this point, I’d pulled myself together and was feeling a lot better. Gabby began the event with a meditation. I’d never done a meditation before. The music started, the lights dimmed and Gabby guided us through it with a soft but powerful voice. I started crying – I let it all out. I cried for most of the event – all two hours. They weren’t sad tears, they were tears of release – of letting it all go. I felt safe, surrounded by people in the pursuit of their higher selves, sat beside Alice. I was safe. And so I cried it all out.
Following Gabby’s talk, there was an hour of Q&A. I knew someone would ask a question about depression and so I waited. So many questions were asked and answered but no-one asked about depression. The tears were streaming and my heart was pounding because I knew I had to ask my question: I needed to know the answer!
“We have time for one more question”, Gabby said. About 20 hands went up in a room of 500 and I threw my hand into the air, looked directly at Gabby and willed her to pick me. “That lady has a burning question”, Gabby said. And the mic runner came towards me.
Everything around me went grey – I tuned out the audience, the venue, the nerves. I needed to know:
“Gabby”, I said. “Is depression real, and if it is, what can I do about it?”. Tears were rolling down my cheeks and I didn’t care. In that moment, I wasn’t an MD, I wasn’t a leader, I wasn’t a motivational speaker, I wasn’t a coach, I wasn’t accountable to the world. I was Lisa and I needed help.
“Thank you”, Gabby replied. “I’m really glad you’ve asked that question because so many people suffer with it”. She said it with such sincerity.
More tears, more eagerness to know…”what can I do about it?”.
She gave me two very precious pieces of advice:
(1) Meditate – even if you can only manage it for 5 minutes day and night, meditate.
(2) Introduce new conditions – the only way to overcome an existing condition is to introduce a new condition
On the spot, Gabby gave me a free copy of her latest book and audio tape – 108 tools for a more spiritual life. Alice and I started the CD the next night on the drive home from London.
I did my first real meditation just last night. Alice initiated it. It was beautiful and I am going to build it into my daily ritual.
Life is not perfect. Shit happens. We all have something that slows us down, or makes us sad, or limits our abilities in one way or another. This is mine.
My job now is to continue to develop and tweak my rituals to proactively manage my depression, and more than that, to help other people do the same.
I am a strong person. I can conquer this and I am. Other people might need the help I needed a few years ago and I’m going to give them that. It’s my job. It’s what I can do.
After all, isn’t this why I started IX7? To pursue longterm happiness? Isn’t this what launched DARETOGROW? The desire to build a positive network of people who wanted to be happy, in this case by building their dream lives.
So I say: “thank you depression, you are the cracks that let the light in”.
Now fuck off. I have work to do.