Becoming Mindful of Depression

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I often write about depression and mental health, whether through non-fiction, confessional pieces (rare), or fictional stories highlighting the absurdity of life and the fragility of mind (common); I feel it is important to discuss such issues, and in doing so, I hope to make sense of them some day, and in turn understand my life — this is one of the rarer confessional pieces.

Depression sucks. It really fucking sucks. It slams you to the floor and kicks you around until you plead for more. Twenty years ago, I spent a few months in hospital recovering after it pushed me over the brink — I have been struggling with it ever since. I was startled to see so many people in a similar condition — some worse. Figures suggest that one in four people have experienced mental illness. In a normal, fully occupied family saloon, that means one person has had mental health difficulties. I’m not saying every family unit has a member who has experienced difficulties, but it gives you a startling picture of how common it can be.

Depression makes everything difficult. Everything. It arrives seemingly without reason, and its effects are devastating. I felt it last night. It is still here this morning. Depression is sneaky, it engages in guerrilla tactics, it crawls through the undergrowth and lunges. I remember looking at a small stain on the floor last night thinking I should wipe it, but the thought became the most difficult thing. And everything else soon fell on top, every thought and feeling like great boulders from the sky. The thought of eating, drinking, rising, pissing, sleeping, waking, thinking, everything became difficult. I don’t know why it happened. It just did. And now I’m suffering.

Imagine a bottle filled with the most glorious, colourful, magical concoction, it sparkles and fizzes, it has a light of its own, when you drink it you are in love — let’s call it ‘joy’; now imagine a great selfish, hulking beast comes out of nowhere, it stamps and shakes the ground, roars, snatches the bottle with terrifying hands, and tips out all the joy, because if it can’t drink it nobody can. Depression turns you into that bottle, empty, held in the shadow of a beast; strewn on the shore, wishing for the tide to wash you away.

I can’t cope currently. I want to quit. I desire release. There I’ve said it. I feel like a failure. In everything. Depression chains you up, it binds and gags you with fears, voices oscillate inside, telling you how pathetic you are, reminding you how you will never be any good. Even a lifting of a finger can seem heavy, filled with dread, and imbued with thousand unpleasant consequences. So you do nothing. Depression paralyses like that. It keeps you locked in a state of inaction, where you can do nothing but watch time tick and mock. It is absurd. But this is what it does. Writing this is difficult, I am forcing myself, but I feel I need to communicate this right now. That maybe someone, somewhere may gleam a little understanding, and feel a little less alone. And for having shared it, I will be less lonely in this condition also.

I am the worst father, son, lover, husband, friend, person, creature in the world right now. I am brimming with self-loathing because I am weak for letting it get to me. I should have fought it. I should be better than this, I should know better by now etc. etc. I am emptied of joy and purpose. Suddenly my novel tastes insipid, my dream of writing a rotting albatross, my studies meaningless — life also. I should have felt its creep, I should have killed it in its sleep before it had a chance to kill me. I only have myself to blame.

I have considered going to the doctor and getting anti-depressants, but I would rather not. I have a love-hate relationship with those drugs. I lost ten years of my life to them. In my experience, the side-effects were often more terrible and absurd than the condition itself — insomnia, loss of appetite, over-eating, over-sleeping, night terrors, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, memory loss — the side effects were like a whole new, fog-filled condition. For many, such drugs can be a wonderful way out. But I am not one of them. My condition is too ingrained now — it already was by the time I first sought treatment. I am it. We are one. Depression has altered my brain’s chemistry.

But all is not lost. Something can reverse it. It is called mindfulness. It has been scientifically proven to reverse and ‘reprogramme’ the detrimental effects of depression. But we can only do it by losing control; by stopping the fight, and let it wash away.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation and has been the only way I’ve been able to cope with my pain over the past decade — that and the love of my wife. I regret not discovering it sooner. I often wonder how different my life could have been if I did. Mindfulness teaches us many things. Primarily, it reminds us to remain in the present, and not get swept away into the painful past, or fearful future. Worrying is a symptom of depression, before we know it we’ve been swept from the shore, drowning in the sea — the only thing guaranteed is the here and now. It also teaches self-kindness and forgiveness. Chasing our emotions for instance, and trying to grab something abstract like sadness or fear and squeeze the life out of it, in an attempt to obliterate, and therefore quell the pain is counter-productive. We just tire ourselves for little benefit — like chasing the wind.

I always forget this because it feels natural to fight and chase something that threatens us. We are overcome by that millenia old ‘fight or flight’ instinct, which helped our Neanderthal ancestors kill those sabre toothed predators. It seems right to take revenge, to chase it down, grab it by the gnarly neck, kill it, and shout: ‘leave me the fuck alone you fucker!’ It’s your life after all. But we are not Neanderthals, and fighting and flying doesn’t work with this beast. We just get ourselves more angry for no reason.

So what do I do when I can no longer cope and want to give up? Nothing. I let go and stop wishing for things to be different. Mindfulness teaches us to let the storm pass — because it will — and to allow the grey clouds to reveal again the sky. It is not our fault, we are not our emotions; we are bigger, more complicated than just a few dark, scary clouds that consume the light; we are the sea and the sky, the mud and the flowers, the rain and the sun of our lives.

With this in mind, what are we fighting then but ourselves? I have a confession to make. I lied. Depression is not the great hulking beast I made it out to be, it is more akin to a child that kicks and screams because it feels scared and lonely because it doesn’t know how to cope. It then follows that we should treat it with kindness, not brutality; we embrace it with benevolent arms, not beat it with angry fists. Sadness is as much a valid part of us as happiness is, without accepting its uncomfortable presence, we will struggle to accept ourselves.

Yes, unhappiness is dark and terrifying, it’s unpleasant and unpredictable, it makes you want to run and hide, it makes you want to cry and die. But by becoming mindful of it, you can start to accept it as something that comes and goes like the tides of the sea. Stop the fight, breathe it all in, open your arms, surrender to be complete. And remember that if you want a beautiful garden, shit helps roses grow.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to daily prompt: Control
Image: Routine – Golgatha I by Hartwig HKD / CC BY

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35 Replies to “Becoming Mindful of Depression”

  1. Beautifully expressed. Thanks for the reminder about the power of mindfulness. I’ve been down of late because of severe arthritis pain and everything feeling like too much effort and 95% of thoughts focused on the pain I’m in…but nothing, not even this lasts forever. Hope happy makes a return for you soon- in the meantime, your roses will thank you 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. wow wow wow …. deep dark and meaningful David … I feel your raw pain and you have a graphic way of describing your demons … you know all the jargon and have the techniques. Meds have improved and can be taken for a few months just to help that chemical imbalance. Mindfulness is great when you’ve been using it for ages … your wife sounds like a real lifesaver … good luck with embracing your challenge. My prayers and thoughts are with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Kate. You may be right, medication may have changed a lot over the years. I won’t rule it out if it gets that bad. Mindfulness is wonderful. But yes, it benefits from repeated practice, and sometimes I forget or become ‘too busy’. But that’s modern life isn’t? ‘Busyness’ has become an affliction, which makes it difficult for us to take time out.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. it is a major affliction … I have regular time out from devices, etc … but daily meditation is the only way to fully integrate it where it can be of maximum benefit for something as dark as depression … keep a open mind about the meds please?
        And keep sharing you are so articulate I’m sure many are reading but are unable to comment due to their own challenges.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s an addiction for some. Escaping devices is not easy. It’s difficult to remember how things were before internet and mobile phones! I always try and maintain an open mind. Thank you for your insightful comments as always. Hope all is well in Calmkateland.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I would be interested in reading that. If you think about it, what is happiness and sadness but reactions in the brain to certain mental stimuli, that either over or under produce particular chemicals. So given that, it is feasible that they are there all the time, and we constantly fluctuate between the states.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for finding it. That was a wonderful read, and what I needed now. I do believe that all things may be present, and it’s our perception that shifts. Looks like a great site too, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

        Like

  3. Sorry to read this. I remember you mentioning mindfulness before and saying it helped you get through. Glad you have your wife there for you too. Can’t say I know how you feel; I’ve had dark periods but usually as a result of something. I know clinical depression can visit at any time. Are you busy at the moment with uni/writing deadlines? I wonder if additional pressure makes it worse for you? I’m overwhelmed at the moment and I’m feeling bad for not keeping up to date on following blogs, including yours. What I’ve read of you novel looks great though! Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No need to be sorry, Beth. It’s what is it, somethings have happened, other things happened because of it. It’s life. Worse things happen to better people; better things happen to worse people. I try not to seek the ‘why’ anymore. I do have an assignment looming, so perhaps that’s contributing to the stress as you say. Hope all is well with college, and in the O’Neal household. You take care too. Take time out, blogs can wait.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Gina. I appreciate it, and will shout if there is anything else. Right now I’m just concentrating on getting things done I need to do and ignore these distractions. Hope all is well closer to the equator.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know and so I say I am here too if you need a lift, I am good at stories and cakes, you know, a friendly face and wave helps sometimes. Things are just as buoyant for me my friend, some days harder to rise from the shadows. But we go on don’t we and make the best we of what we have. My thoughts are with you always.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautifully written, David, and a really important piece. I’m really sorry to hear you’re feeling as you are and am aware that words of advice would sound trite. Also, you seem to have a firm grip of your situation which is really positive and, living with someone who suffers similarly, often the hardest thing. All the best, your writing is so good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Ben. I’ve lived long enough with it to look on it more philosophically now. Life is sometimes about trying to make sense out of senselessness — and such things are great practice for that. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Too many feel too ashamed to address their depression. You are real, and you are strong. Talking about it, or writing about it, I believe is a great tool to help combat. I’m sending you good vibes. Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This was so beautifully written David and I just wanted to thank you for writing it…I’ve also had a long battle with depression, but I could never have put it into words the way you have here. Completely agree about mindfulness… it’s truly life changing. Wishing you all the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Scarlett. Your writing is so expressive I’m sure you would’ve done a great job too. I’m sorry to hear of your struggle. But I do believe such things gives us a different insight into the human condition in the end. A lot of my favourite writers suffered with depression — that’s probably why they speak to me. I’m glad you have found mindfulness useful too. All the best to you too.

      Liked by 1 person

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