Grab a cuppa, I want to tell you a story.
On Monday afternoon this week (today’s Saturday), my husband and I had an argument. About what is a story for the next blog post, when it’ll be relevant to the story, but suffice to say, it was bad enough for me to walk away and stop talking to him. We don’t shout at each other, we rarely raise our voices but sometimes we both just realise it’s pointless going on so one of us – let’s face it, usually me – walks away to prevent us saying something we’ll regret.
I went to bed without saying goodnight. Now, here’s the thing. Hubby & I have an unwritten rule that we never, even if we hate each other, go to bed or leave the house without giving each other a kiss goodnight/ goodbye (same goes when we wake up or arrive home). He’s never broken the rule, not once in our nearly 10 years together. And so, even though, technically, I broke it that night because I was still mega-pissed and fell asleep reading, he still kissed me goodnight hours after I’d gone to bed.
I awoke at 2 am from the rush of a Hollywood Blockbuster-style dream/ nightmare. My chest was tight, I couldn’t breathe. My whole body was rigid with fear and dread. I forced myself to sit up, and as my feet hit the floor in the effort to shake the dream off, I immediately burst into tears.
Darkness had arrived.
“Ah, depression, my old friend, I haven’t seen you in a while,” I thought as I shook and cried endlessly. My thoughts were dark and morbid and neverending in their misery and self-loathing. The thoughts didn’t abate, they just intensified in the victim-wrangling.
Thoughts such as how I’ve married someone I’m no longer aligned to, how we’ve grown apart, how we’ve got nothing in common, how I’m a terrible wife and how he should’ve married a Nigerian woman because I’m not good enough for him. How Nigerian women are raised to handle the full invisible labour women are forced to carry. How it’s wrong of me to complain about how much extra, unseen and unappreciated ‘work’ I do to manage his admin and my own, our child, the house, the cars, my needs, his needs, and if there’s any energy left, then my business.
It didn’t occur to me to balance these thoughts with the reality of just how hard he works to provide for us.
The thoughts got worse and more and more unfounded. How bad a mother I am, how my son would be better off without me. How worthless I am. How ugly and fat I am. How the financial strain we’re under is my fault. How much of a fraud and a failure I am in business. How ‘unsuccessful’ I am because I’ve yet to ‘make it’ – as if I knew what success looked like and knew where I needed to get to in order to make it there.
On and on, further and further down I went. Like a spiral staircase to hell, only there was no fire, only the darkness of my ghostly fears howling in the night.
I knew I was being irrational. I knew that I was lying to myself. It didn’t make a bloody difference. I wallowed in that darkness for over an hour.
Finally, I’d exhausted my tears. Finally, I took a breath and said, “now, what the fuck was that all about?” I knew then that I needed to reach out to someone. It wasn’t going to be my husband, I was still angry at him but at 3 am, who could I message?
My soul sister, Kristini, lives in the US, in the opposite time zone. I messaged her. I knew she’d be at work but I knew I needed to tell someone I wasn’t coping. It didn’t matter if she didn’t reply straight away, I just needed someone to know I wasn’t okay.
Fortunately, she did reply straight away. Her response, “I’m so sorry you’re in it right now” was all I needed to receive to feel that I’d been heard.
We messaged back and forth for a while. She didn’t try to help, she just listened. We arranged to talk when she’d finished work. I was interrupted by my son coming into bed with me. I fell back to sleep.
Over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, I worked with Kristini on chat and calls to get to the bottom of what had triggered this particular episode. She encouraged me to write in my journal, “get it all out,” she said. We came to some phenomenal conclusions and one life-changing (literally!) decision that I’ll talk about next time but one of the learnings had to do with my work as a coach.
What I learned about my depression
I wrote in my journal:
I feel like as a coach, I have to wear this mask of having my shit together but the two are entirely unrelated. I can give great coaching to someone else because it’s all about them. The flow of attention and energy is toward them and using their sources of skill, knowledge, and expertise to make them better versions of themselves.
I don’t need balanced or high mental wellbeing to help others. I can be in the depths of my own darkness and like flicking on a light switch, I can completely shut myself away and compartmentalise in order to be of service.
What I realised in discussion with Kristini is that the very fact that I still have episodes of depression, even if they’re very infrequent, makes me the best person to help people who do not have the coping skills to manage their depression, anxiety and other negative emotions. I know exactly what they’re going through.
I’ve experienced depression since I was very young. It became more prominent when I became a teenager and it became suicidal when I hit my early 20s. It was the relationship with my mother and writing in my journal that kept me alive on more than one occasion.
After my son was born in early 2016, I experienced my depression in a brand-new way. Profound and debilitating anger. I was so fucking angry at everyone and everything. It wouldn’t have mattered if you had followed my instructions down to the line that crossed the letter T, you would be wrong and I’d be pissed. I didn’t know for seven long months that I was experiencing extreme postnatal depression. I was medicated and sent to a psychologist.
By the second appointment, the drugs had kicked in and I was back to my old self again. It was literally like day & night. My psychologist asked me why I thought I still needed to see her because all I was talking about was ways to go back to work and what my new business would be about.
The following year, I studied NLP, Hypnotherapy and Time Line Therapy®. In the training, you are required to play three roles, that of coach, observer and client. You have no choice but to face your shit. And we all had stuff, messy, gloriously ugly and holy-fuckola level stuff that we needed to clear out of our unconscious minds.
They tell you that this process never ends. Essentially, it is in the times when you are strongest that the unconscious mind goes, ‘hmmm… alright then, let’s trigger you in this way so you can resolve this issue.’ Now, if you don’t know that this is what is happening, you can spiral and experience depression for a very long time, but if you know how to acknowledge the darkness and you have the resources to make light with that darkness then your depression can be relatively short-lived and quite manageable.
This was my experience with my depression this time.
Think of depression in this way…
Most people, when their self-awareness is alerted to it, know when a depressive episode is coming on. It is different for everyone but there are always signs your body gives you.
Your body picks up on messages from your unconscious mind. It will always show you before your conscious mind catches on – you see, the conscious mind is a tad slow because it’s busy with day-to-day dramas, problems, decisions, plans, and life. Its focus is in the here and now, not on what’s accumulating in your system that you’re not processing effectively.
Side note, the more vivid and action-packed your dreams are, the more stress you have in your life. Your dreams are processing your day. They are sorting all the information you’ve collected and they’re filtering it into your brain’s many compartments. Check out the Netflix documentary series called, The Mind, Explained, for more information.
So when you’re triggered, you’ll have a pretty standard set of behaviours that are your pattern into depression. Mine in this instance was increased stress over ‘invisible labour’, an argument with my husband, breaking the rule by not kissing him goodnight, the nightmare, and then the crying.
An onion analogy
I think of depression as a sign that another layer of your personal development onion is getting ready to peel off. The tears, in my case, are representational of the cracking and hardening of the outer layer. The talking, writing and processing of the reasons for being triggered and what’s stored underneath that, is the gradual falling away of that old, no longer necessary layer.
Once you’ve processed all the pain, cried it out, talked it through, and most importantly, learned from it so you can grow, you discover a new, shiny, and exciting layer; you’re healed of depression once more.
Until this new layer begins to dull because that’s what happens in the process of continual growth and renewal. This is why one day you’ll begin to see that your depression will lessen in frequency but you’ll still experience it every now and again.
Eventually, as it has for me, your depression will reduce its severity. You’ll be faster and more adept at resolving your issues because you’ll have the tools at your disposal, you’ll know yourself extremely well by this time. But the trick is, you’ve got to be willing to make light of your darkness.
How to make light of your darkness
Face it. There really is no other way.
You face it by first acknowledging its existence, it’s pain and its truth: you’re in need of external support.
Stop fucking thinking that depression is something to be ashamed of. It isn’t. It’s a mechanism of your unconscious mind telling you that shit isn’t working and you need to change direction. That’s all.
Depression is the outward display of your conscious mind being out of alignment with your unconscious mind. If you pay attention to it, respect it and follow its wisdom, you will experience a deep satisfaction with the quality of your life. Call that happiness, if you want to, just know that it feels good.
There’s a shitload of support all around you. Send the message. Make the call. Reach out.
I’m not going to list support services because I don’t know where in the world you are but I know, without a shadow of a doubt, you have support closer than you realise.
Do the work.
There’s no miracle elixir. You need to crack the onion, sometimes with a pitchfork. Stab that fucker, hard. You don’t need to talk and talk and talk until there’s more oxygen on Mars. You do need to talk to someone, sometimes a few people to get multiple perspectives, and then you need action.
You need a plan, responsibilities, respect for the time it’ll take and accountability to prevent you from falling back into old patterns with their bullshit lies and stories meant to trip you up and keep you comfortably miserable.
There is no number four. Just be kind to yourself. What you’re doing isn’t easy. As Tom Hanks said in, A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
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