I previously wrote about the ways in which I have been blessed by the experience of being depressed and I have also written a post about the importance of nourishing one’s soul, mind and body amongst others.
The Blessings of Depression can be found here:
In spite of the difficulties, there are times when I look at my journey through depression and I smile to myself, like a rat that dodged the trap. I smile because I know that in spite of the frailty of my mind, I am still here and more than that, I have been left with an enduring zest for life because of depression. Of course, this zest goes up or down depending on how low I am feeling. In spite of the see-saw nature of depression, I am left with so many blessings. Here are just a few of them:
- Empathy: I remember calling a student of mine one morning to find out why she was late. Her response, “I can’t pick out what to wear”. My response, “what on earth d’you mean you can’t decide what to wear? Pick anything and get yourself here as soon as possible.” Months later, this student did a presentation about the various types of depression (post-natal, bereavement related, SAD, Bipolar etc) and the signs of depression (anger, tears, anxiety, disturbed sleep and/or appetite, suicidal thoughts, low motivation). I suddenly saw things from a different vantage point. Months later, when I began to experience symptoms of depression, I suddenly understood why this student could not pick out what to wear. To the uninitiated those who are depressed may come across as lazy, pessimistic, a black cloud carrier, angry etc. But my experience with this student and my personal experience have given me a deeper understanding of people who struggle with depression. I think some of the keys to understanding and supporting such individuals is to leave judgement at the door an instead, come with compassion, a supportive ear and an ability to understand their needs. I no longer think the remedy is just being positive or getting on with things.
- An appreciation of the natural world: after I quit teaching in order to regain my sanity, I began to learn to take pleasure in the simple things: a cloudless sky, fluffy clouds, a fallen flower, the sound of silence, the veiny branches on a tree, the colours which mark the seasons, a butterfly crossing my path, the way in which clouds move across the sky in complete serenity, the rising and setting of the sun and finally, the moon making itself visible on an early morning.
- An appreciation of the simple things in life: dealing with depression and other mental health issues has meant that I appreciate much more those days in which I am able to smile or laugh, sing, dance, take a long walk, ride my bike, go for a swim, spend time in the company of family or friends even if only for a few minutes or hours, read a few pages of a book, write a sentence or two of a short story, hold a baby in my arms amongst other things.
- I now know what I value in life: I used to value the ephemeral things in life (my size/shape, money, my degree, my job) but I now know that what matters most in my life are the intangible things such as love, compassion, the ability to empathise, the health of my mind and body, the ability to have hope, solid memories etc.
- I’ve found my voice: I first experienced depression as a teenager and although I did not know back then what was happening, I do remember that I used to write with a certain kind of fury in my diary. I never once communicated to others what was going on inside my head. However, my second rendez-vous with depression and the most enduring one has led me to start communicating with others. Some say talk is cheap. I say talk is a precious commodity. Talking to others about my struggles has led to others opening up to me, it has helped me feel less lonely, it has helped me believe there is hope, it has helped me connect with others and it has helped me build and restore relationships. It has made me vulnerable which I previously saw as a weakness but being vulnerable has helped me put down the mask I wore for so long.
Many years ago, I bought a book called ‘Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong”. I know about the curses of depression and how much it can rob you of joy, your own family, your dreams and aspirations, physical and mental wellbeing and finally, life. I know that some don’t survive depressive episodes. I know that some lose touch with reality during these episodes and end up killing or harming themselves.
Yet I also know from personal experience, how much richer I am as a person for having gone through depression. Hope is the lifejacket which kept me afloat and I believe it can do the same for others who struggle with depression. Whether I will ever see the back of depression, I don’t know. But in the meantime, I will remain alert to its dangers, yet grateful for the gifts it has bestowed on me. If people with depression can be given hope that things can get better, if they can receive support and encouragement, if they can keep their fingertips on their dreams, if they can maintain connection with society, then they may live to see the day that they are able to speak of depression as a blessing and not just a curse.
Nourish Thyself can be found here:
Nourishment: “the food necessary for growth, health and good condition.”
This post is inspired by a very special lady and all those who like this lady, support and work with people with mental health issues in the UK. The lady in question drew an analogy between people struggling with mental health issues and withering flowers. She took a look at the flowers in the pictures below, which had begun to fold and stoop like old men. Then she smiled and said to me with good intent: that is what you are like. That is what happens when you deprive yourself of nourishment.
It made me think about ways in which those with mental health issues fail to and can learn to nourish themselves. Nourishment is not just about getting your ‘5 a day’. Nourishment also alludes to food which supports the growth and good health of our soul, bodies, minds, finances and social/life skills amongst others.
As a teenager, I lost my ability to nourish myself due to my perception and digestion of the words of others, anger which I internalised, life and familial issues and also my inability to speak and share the difficulties I was having with others.
Malnourishment set up shop in my life in my twenties like an sneaky visitor who worms his or her way into your life, begins to commit daylight robbery right in front of your eyes and then like a stubborn mule, refuses to leave your premises. It has taken me a long time to realise this and it is weird that as an adult, I am re-learning the art of walking, talking, recognising and managing my emotions, eating and socialising. It is weird that I am being taught by others, some of whom are younger than me. It is humbling more than anything else and I am supremely and eternally grateful to all those who have supported me thus far because there have been others who put up ‘No Entry’ signs when I most needed shelter for my mind.
The question I ask myself therefore is how can we nourish ourselves and be nourished:
- Recognise that you are malnourished: sometimes we cannot see this. Either because we are in denial, or our vision is so clouded or we have spent so long being malnourished that we have begun to accept it as the status quo/the way we ought to be. We begin to feel that because we have survived so long in a malnourished state, we ought to continue in the same vein. But these thoughts are not conducive to any kind of wellness. Everyone ought to be nourished physically (receive food and water, be in good physical condition as much as possible and be nurtured as the situation requires), emotionally (have the right to express themselves and the right to receive words which build rather than destroy the structures of our minds), financially (be financially stable), socially (have opportunities and be able to interact socially) amongst other things. If you are devoid of the ability to nourish yourself, or receive nourishment from others or if others withhold nourishment from you, you will eventually dry up and wither like the flowers in the picture. Recognising malnourishment in yourself is the first step to wellness.
- Know thyself and the things which nourish you personally: I hate rock music. It does absolutely nothing for me. But for others, this may just be food for their minds or souls. It may be the thing which keeps them away from the cliff edge or the thing which restores their sanity after a tough day. You need to discover what works for you and go with it. What works for you ought not to be something which can also harm you like alcohol, overexercising or playing computer games indoors in order to hide from the world outside. You might recognise your ‘thing’ as that which glimmers in the darkness of your mind or that which fills you with excitement and makes the whites of your teeth visible to others. It takes time and patience to know what this thing is and then it takes internal and external motivation to use this tool to nourish yourself. I find my nourishment in writing, painting, nature, a talk with a good friend and sometimes, screaming into the darkness of the night in anger or pleasure.
- Ask and fight for support if you can no longer nourish yourself: I lost the ability to nourish myself many years ago but I felt unable to ask for support because I was ashamed of my diagnosis. I lost hope that I could ever recover from mental unwellness. At times, I lost my mind and my ability to act rationally. I lost my ability to nourish myself physically, spiritually, emotionally and financially. You don’t need to wait till the shit hits the fan, to ask for help. Personally, I don’t subscribe to the rock bottom theory which asserts that only when you hit rock bottom will you turn it around. Some people’s rock bottom results in physical or emotional death. There is no coming back from death. Personally, I didn’t just hit rock bottom. The rock became embedded in my proverbial bottom and no matter how hard I tugged, i couldn’t get it off. Even this did not result in me asking for help. Why? Because I thought I was a lost cause, I felt cornered, stuck, trapped. I asked for help two years ago (for the second time in my life) but when I was refused help and when I was offered unhelpful help, I fought (with the support of a special woman in America, my mother and close friends & family members) to receive the help I needed. You must fight for help. Don’t give up on yourself. It took me two years of fighting to receive the treatment that I am now receiving and I feel so blessed to be surrounded by heavenly and earthly angels that meet my every need.
- Stop punishing yourself/Forgive yourself/Be as gentle/compassionate with yourself as you would be with others: why do I find it so easy to build others up and tear myself down? Regret about past mistakes, the inability to accept that mental unwellness can become an illness, shame that as a Black woman I have a mental health condition, fear that I have not lived in the manner that God intended and finally the fact that I have become so accustomed to ill-treatment from others and myself that I began to think it was fine to treat myself harshly. Tip: the next time you are inclined to withhold nourishment from yourself or allow others to starve/deprive you of nourishment, as yourself, “would I sit by and do or say nothing if someone I love was being treated in the same way?” If the answer is no, then pause and reflect. Our minds can become like guns in the hand of a child if we don’t watch over it and nourish it adequately. Doctors take the Hippocratic oath: do no harm. We also ought to take the same oath (I will do no harm to myself nor will I allow others to harm me).
Do not become like the flowers in the picture. They sit in a vase, starved of water, natural light, air and the love of another. They sit in dirty water which has not been changed for a long time. Sometimes we just need to find another stream to swim in. This might mean a change of location, a change of friendships, a change of mindset. Whatever nourishes you and does not harm you is a good place to start.
This post is for those who are mentally well (lest they slip into unwellness), those who are mentally unwell (lest they lose hope) and finally for me (who lost all hope but who is now recovering with supreme help, both heavenly and earthly).