I have a visitor.
Sometimes it visits regularly, more than once a day. Sometimes it turns up when I least expect it and other times I can feel its slow and steady decent. Sometimes it makes such an entrance that I feel I can’t and won’t live through its presence.
Sometimes it can make me feel so frightened that I start to rehearse self-surrender to the local mental health unit, because this is an option for people who have visitors like mine. Sometimes it brings with it such intense sadness, I feel I might die if I allow myself to feel it. Sometimes it makes me want to run out of my house and wrap my arms around the first human being I see—just to escape the nauseating and terrifying feeling that is aloneness.
I never invite this visitor. And it never hears me when I desperately plead for it to leave, or sternly announce that it’s not welcome.
I’ve tried a myriad of things to make it disappear: Medicated it. Ignored it. Self-helped it away with books and affirmations. Talked to professionals who make their living off trying to “analyse” visitors like mine.
I thought I’d said my goodbyes to it long ago. Thought I’d fought it off for good. Scared it into submission with my positive thinking and new found self awareness and inner confidence to handle life.
This time, when it made an unpleasant and unexpected return, I made the choice not to run out of my front door, call my mum, turn on the TV, eat something I wasn’t hungry for—anything that would distract me from my visitor.
I couldn’t believe what I was doing—I was inviting this visitor to stay. Welcoming it. Not quite with open arms, but with a willingness to share the same room.
What if it swallowed me whole? What if I fell into its pit of emotional chaos and couldn’t get out? What if it was too much for me? What if I’d have to hand over my life? At least then it would leave me alone.
But I didn’t care. It didn’t matter any more. I’d reached a point where all of those options were more desirable than to keep running, which I’d been doing for so long. I was exhausted. So if that meant falling apart, then so be it. I’d rather be in a million pieces on the floor than take another step.
So, I sat with it. And I noticed I was still breathing. Still alive. Maybe it wasn’t there to hurt me. It was with me. In the same capacity as a best friend would be.
I used to believe this visitor was my enemy. Something to be hated, to wage war against.
I’d created a monster that I believed was out to get me, and whose mission was to torment me into believing I wasn’t brave or worthy enough to be here.
But the reality was, it wasn’t out to get me—it was out to save me. Save me from myself and my own damaging beliefs about life. About myself.
It wanted to help me float, not drown me. Open me up, not shut me down. Help me to breathe deeper, not suffocate me. It fought persistently and passionately to get my attention and open my eyes.
As the wise Pema Chödrön says, “Nothing goes way until it teaches us what we need to know.”
This realisation didn’t magically take away my feelings of anxiety, grief, despair or hopelessness. But, it did mean that I was no longer a victim to them. In fact, they are my power, because they bring to my attention those thoughts and beliefs I need to question. They remind me to ask on a regular basis, “Is this really true?” “Am I doing things that really make me happy?” But, most importantly, I no longer fear their very existence. I know now that feelings can’t kill me—they can only heal me. If I have the courage to sit down with them and listen to what they have to say, their lessons are priceless. Life changing.
I’m not sick. Or a failure. Or crazy. I feel deeply. And feeling is one of the most natural and exquisite things we have been gifted with in this human experience. Why should we deny ourselves or feel ashamed of it? I cry a lot, and sometimes I feel hopeless. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do anything but breathe. But really, what else needs to be done? I know that in time, it will pass, and I’ll go on to feel something else.
I know now that my visitor has a name—it’s commonly known as “Depression and Anxiety.” However it’s labelled, those who’ve felt it will know what I’m talking about. Everyone’s visitor will be different and will have its own unique reasons for showing up. But I can promise that no matter how terrifying our visitors may seem, they love us so much, they are willing to hurt us, just to help us.
“When you can look fear in the face and thank it, it dissolves, because it is a divine messenger, like every other emotion you have.” ~ Jennifer Starlight
Like with most things we fear, the very idea of our visitor is much more terrifying then the visitor itself. Sitting with my visitor made me realise that all it wants is to be loved, accepted and understood, which is simply a reflection of what I want from myself. Love, acceptance and understanding are the foundations of true healing.
By inviting my visitor to sit with me, I began the journey to accepting and loving myself, visitor and all. I also began to change the way my life looks on a daily basis. By listening to my visitor, it lets me know when I’m making decisions that don’t support or honour my happiness.
And sometimes, it’s not that I’m depressed, I’m actually just having a bad day. The absence of joy or happiness does not equal a mental illness. It’s being human. And the belief that uncomfortable feelings like sadness or anxiety need to be fixed or changed only creates shame and judgement, which only amplifies suffering. It doesn’t mean we ask them to stay, it means we acknowledge and accept them, which leads to learning and growing as a result of them. It also doesn’t suggest that I always have to sit with my visitor alone. Sometimes my visitor rocks up after what seems like four double espressos, and I need to phone a friend or have a break down in the arms of someone I trust.
Becoming friends with my so called demons hasn’t made my journey any less twisted or bumpy (who likes driving on a long straight road anyway? Boring!), but it has made the road less terrifying and a lot less lonely.
So by inviting my visitor to sit with me, I’ve gained a very wise and loving friend, named Depression, who can sit with me any time it feels I might need the company.
“I fell willingly into the darkness. Wanting to sit down crossed legged with her. A yearning for truth that only darkness knows, to touch me. I no longer feared her. I loved and welcomed her for all that she could teach me.”
~ Kate Bennett
Author: Kate Bennett
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Suraj Baadkar/Flickr