Can we do that? Can we have a chat about depression without getting depressed ourselves? I’m honestly not sure but here goes.
The news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths affected me more than they ought to have. I didn’t know them personally but felt associated with them like so many people who bought her products or watched his shows.
Here’s the thing, we do not know for sure the reason they took their life. No. We don’t. We cannot say that suicide equals mental illness or vice versa. Media often leap to conclusions and make unproven assumptions. It’s too convenient. The only people who know for sure are dead.
Now, that said, let’s make that assumption. Let’s assume that they ended their life because of mental illness. The questions that are asked of those who take their own lives are, why didn’t they tell anyone? Why didn’t they ask for help?
We’ll never know.
And yet, when I think back to when I was experiencing depression I couldn’t ask for help. There were some days when I physically couldn’t fucking move. And even if the thought did cross my mind, it was quickly banished with reasons why I couldn’t: they don’t know how to help, they won’t understand, etc.
Kate & Anthony’s deaths made me realise that those reasons were layered on something much deeper. I didn’t want that look in their eyes. I didn’t want to hear that tone of voice. Deeper still, I didn’t want the stigma hanging over me every single time I saw or spoke to that person again. Would I always be associated with experiencing depression because I chose to speak about it? I never took the risk to find out.
Until we can normalise depression and mental illness that stigma will never go away.
Have Experience Depression
There’s a tiny little nuance in my choice words you may not have picked up on. I have not once said, I have or have had depression.
I haven’t. I have experienced depression. Appreciate the importance please in this choice of words.
Depression is a state. It is not something you have. You have a dog, you own that dog, it’s yours. The ownership of that dog adds to your identity, you’re a dog owner. You have hair on your head, it’s yours. It forms part of your identity.
You do not have depression. It is not, nor should you ever want it to be, something that’s yours. You do not want mental illness, or depression, or really any other diagnosis to form part of your identity. When you say you have something, that’s exactly what you’re saying – you own it. It’s yours. It’s part of your identity.
No. You experience depression. It might be something you experience for a short time or a long time, in bouts or over days, weeks, months or even years but to be clear, it is not yours! It is a creation of your mind based on the sensory input of your life and the choices you’ve made.
Now, just because I didn’t reach out to ask for help in my experiences of depression didn’t mean I didn’t have help or a way to resolve the problem.
My way of processing my experiences of depression is to write in my journal. Not arbitrarily. Targeted. I ask very specific questions of myself to dig deep into why I am thinking and feeling the way I am. The questions are always in third-person – akin to imagining someone else asking you. And always I have to answer with whatever comes up. No matter how hard it is to write the truth I always just write down what comes to mind.
Every single time, for the last 20-or-so years of doing this, the problem that caused the experience of depression became evident. And in the process, it either resolved itself or highlighted what I needed to change or who I needed to talk to resolve the problem.
Can I tell you now what questions my unconscious mind asked me? Not specifically. Because each time I write my unconscious mind comes up with different questions based on the scenario. And the same will happen to you too. That said, the first question is usually something pretty broad. Like, “So, tell me, what’s going on?” Or in more severe instances, “What the fuck’s your problem?”
As I write, a new question comes to mind so I just write it down. Questions like, ‘Is that true?’ ‘Can you prove that?’ ‘Is it possible you’re missing information?’ And so on… my mind challenges me continuously to prove that what I am writing, and therefore thinking and feeling, is accurate, can be proven, and honest.
I rarely base my answers purely on the emotions because I know emotions are not truth-tellers. They are a construct of what I’m perceiving. One of my favourite activities to do now is to break down my experience of the state of depression into a more granular list of emotions that I’m feeling. With this information, I’m able to see a sliding grey scale in more detail, which again helps with the process of journaling.
Now that I’m a Master Practitioner of NLP, I no longer experience depression like I used to. Yet, I still journal. I still use this technique because it helps me when I’m feeling cloudy, or confused, lost, lonely or just a bit ‘meh’. I can honestly say that NLP has given me the resources I need, beyond journalling to permanently resolve my experiences of mental illness.
This journaling resource is just one technique I coach. I’ve been able to help my clients with a lot more tools and techniques from my NLP and Hypnotherapy training as well.
I cannot help but wonder, if Kate & Anthony, had this journaling technique would they have taken their life?
I feel duty-bound to share what I do and what I know because the tremendous loss can be prevented. I do not believe that people with severe depression or mental illness can easily and readily reach out and talk to someone, that’s far too rose-coloured-glasses, but I do believe they can start the process of healing within the pages of a journal.