Last January, as a sort of new year resolution, I vowed to write all I knew about depression.
Recently, I’ve been wondering what sort of advice I’d give myself if I was struggling.
This is what I’ve come up with as a first draft…
1 Put one foot in front of the other. [This means keep going; the tiny steps matter and add up.]
2 Breathe each breath as if it was not to be taken for granted. [Value each moment.]
3 Do not panic, help is coming round the corner and you never know when things are going to get better. [I know well the feeling that things are going to get worse.]
4 The darkest hour is just before dawn. Just when you think they have reached an impossible bad state, the improvement cavalry is about to come over the hill and rescue you – the thing is to hold on. [Don’t give up.]
5 Go out, out into fresh air, even if that simply means opening the front door for a glance outside.
6 Write it down. The act of writing is like playing chess. It concentrates the mind, gathers your mind together from the splintering that has been going on; writing holds you while it holds your eyes focussed on a point. Keep on writing, even when the effort to make marks on the page seems too much. Adrenalin comes out of hiding. One word pulls another out from somewhere.
7 Keep on loving yourself. You are worth it. You are lovable. You are beautiful. Your beauty lies in your uniqueness. There is no one else like you, and the whole of the universe’s health depends on the diversity of genes, thought, emotions and ways of being. You are a cog in the wheel, and you contribute something especially good in the mix – whether you like it or not – whether you know it or not. Your worth is not to be measured by the extent to which you feel, think and act like others. Your value is the minute difference you bring to others. Like the one butterfly that flutters her wings in Indochina, and causes, through a complex chain of causation, the rain to fall in Clare, you are what the health of the future needs.
8 Any amount of lousy feelings and despair cannot rob the world of your vital health-promoting contribution. If all people were content and lazy in their satisfaction, there would be no engine for developing sensitivity and preparedness for the confusion, uncertainty and awkward days that will come with the change in weather.
9 Hold on to the knowledge that you don’t have to do anything. You are not obliged to be anyway. You are able to live with hurt/pain and the will to die out, because these are sent to strengthen you. Sure, life is not a bed of roses, but you are special and lovable - even when you are feeling like a lump of shit that could be spat out. The stronger you feel bad about yourself, the more you are getting ready to appreciate yourself later. Look, I felt those strong feelings. Isn’t it fascinating that I could feel so low, and still change.
10 Everything has its cycle. Coming and going. Tide and time. Whatever stops is dead. Where there are feelings and thought, there is life.
11 The first time you experience things going out of control, and disintegrating, is the worst. The second time, you know you got through it last time, and, even though it is again dreadful, you know , even though you may not feel you know it, that you got through it. The third time, you realise more clearly than ever before that you have a reason to hope for a change of weather. Yes, you’ll have to hang in, and it’ll be tough, maybe tougher than it ever seemed before, but you have knowledge or the glimmer of it: this will pass, and you have now a memory to call on of what it was like to recover twice already.
12 The collapses have been sent to help you learn something: it might be to enable you to recognise and honour your inherent capacity to endure. Now you have some positive emergent memories to recall; it is no longer all despair and a history of dreadfulness. There is increasingly a sense of variety in your life: the good and the bad, and the good that comes from and after the bad.
13 Your friends, family, acquaintances – your circle has grown through the mess, and the hardship, and the strains; all have stretched and developed them, and they know more about what it’s like to live around you: they are experienced. You can increasingly rely on them to tolerate, support and live with how you are. You are a full person, not simple, nor a one-dimensional smiling face. Your layers make you more interesting, more difficult to categorise, harder to take for granted. You have become more real for them, and they have become more real to you. It is clearer and clearer what you need and desire from them. They know you better. You also know them a lot more than you used to, and they are deeper people to you. Out of the dreadful struggle to survive and cope, and find meaning in the experience of being down in the rough place, has come a richer depth to life.
14 Speak to yourself with exceptional kindness and love. You are all you have to love. You are yourself. You live with your own unique spirit, and you know the adventure that is you better and better, as a result of each mountain you have climbed. You can see that you wouldn’t be half a person of such depth, if you had missed out on those horrors. What hasn’t destroyed you has made you a deeper, richer and better person. You have grown in self –awareness, and ability to care for your self, and out of your personal experience has come an ability to be there for others.
15 Because it hasn’t been easy, to put it mildly, it has been all the more valuable and profound. You are a fitter person for yourself, better able to anticipate that the depth of distress might well come visiting you again. But you have brought others along with you; you have given them the gift of a challenge to be there for you. That has changed them, so that they are more attentive to the troubles of others, and, in turn, more worthy to receive the support of others, if and when their turn comes to visit the well of greatest fear. You are doing your best to add love to the fund from which we all draw.