Shut up. Seriously - shut up and leave me alone. I’m not joking - if you don’t shut up and leave me alone I’m going to...
Going to what? You’re stuck with me you idiot. You worthless piece of shit.
That quote’s not verbatim - in fact it wasn’t even spoken out loud - but I can paraphrase it pretty accurately. Why? Because it was me. Both parts. A similar dialogue repeated in my thoughts, a seemingly unending barrage of self-hatred and unreason, for years.
t was very confusing; mainly because I was well. Materially I was sound. My body was tip-top. Illness was for the old and the unfortunate. Luckily I had everything I needed in my life... right?
Looking back at those times with some new found perspective, I would say I was depressed on some level from my early teenage years until my later twenties. It’s hard to differentiate teenage moodiness from depression, but the beginnings of symptoms were there: reclusion; emotional over-reaction to life’s events; I was often morose and downbeat.
Let’s say 14 to 29 were the unstable years. That’s HALF MY LIFE. Why did that happen? And where did the perspective come from? Doctors didn’t give it to me. Friends and family got me through the toughest times but they weren’t able to pinpoint the causes of it. So did I just grow out of it?
It was work. Serious work of the kind that you only do when your back is against the wall and the alternatives are much worse. The alternative at the time was suicide or a state of catatonia*. Compassion towards my loved ones ruled out the first option, much as I craved taking what seemed like the easier option - I remember thinking when I was 15 or so that if there was a switch on the back of my head that would turn off consciousness forever, I’d have gladly flipped it. The other option for my twenty-something self was a daily life of zombie-like stasis, with no desire to get up, walk, eat, or go out.
How long can one linger in that sort of no-man’s land without permanently negatively impacting the psyche? Thankfully a mental health professional did, after some wait, do something to help me and found a combination of drugs that would stop the rot. I didn’t like them, but I took them, feeling safer, then, that the ’man who knows‘ might be able to fix me.
Life went on, and the symptoms returned. I was adamant** that I wouldn’t stay on the drugs for longer than I needed. This left a gaping hole in my treatment that had to be filled by something else, something more holistic. It was treatment that at the time the most highly trained NHS staff were never going to reccommend.
It turns out that there was a change in my psyche from the worst bouts of illness, but it was only semi-permanent. Our brain chemistry is plastic***, but it takes time to overwrite deeply worn patterns with something new. So here, in a series of post, are my top 5 depression busting techniques that carried me through the most difficult times towards a place of relative inner stillness. They are ordered from the most influential to the least. The first was crucially found when I was close to my lowest point and I’ve cultivated it as a practice over the years since.
** I was not Adam Ant - although a quick internet search reveals that he also has struggled with depression. The evidence mounts...https://www.ecosia.org/search?q=adam%20ant%20depression
*** For more on this see this article:
1. Vipassana meditation
Sit. Close your eyes. Concentrate. Observe.
Sounds pretty easy. For me, when I began, it was one of the hardest things I’d ever attempted. It gave me hope where there was only despair. It showed me a path that could limit my lot of suffering. It promised to eradicate it fully.
I am not a religious person although certain spiritual (read: not dogmatic) inclinations have developed over the years of my recovery. These were informed by experiences on psychedelics but they are also reinforced on a daily level, little by little, by this practice.
Thankfully, the retreat centres I went to did not package the technique along with dogma, in the most part, and it is a technique that is based upon repeated direct experience for its validation. This experience was what drew me in (where dogma would have instantly repelled me) and it is all I wanted - all I needed - to take from my first meditation retreat 7 years ago. I have now completed 60 days of retreat - spread out over the period since, and continue to meditate daily (even for a few minutes).
Vipassana meditation for me was the catalyst for knock-on effects in my emotional understanding, creativity, physical health, mental focus, compassion for others - the list goes on. It’s also the most amenable to daily use, although it did take a long time in order to reap the most benefits in my mental health (repeated practice really is the key, not something that’s easy to develop when you’re at the peak of despair).
Keep reading this series for some anecdotal experience on more immediate antidepressants - some which are obvious, some more esoteric.