You’re on a trail winding deep into the forest. The sunlight casts a radiant light into the tree tops, setting them aglow with rich greens and deep yellows.
The air is crisp and fresh and with every deep inhale your lungs are filled with the energy of the world around you. Birds dance and sing in the tree tops and the branches move rhythmically with the sway of the wind. You feel alive, grounded and soaring.
The world shines down upon you and you feel safe and loved.
As darkness falls, and the last slivers of light disappear from the tree tops, the wind becomes cooler and stronger as the night air creeps slowly over your skin. The birds have stopped singing and the energy in the woods has dulled.
Suddenly you don’t know which direction you came from. With every step forward you descend further and further into the blackening woods. You try to turn back but nothing looks familiar; the trees are distorted and offer you no hope of finding your way out.
The longer you roam in the darkness, the colder you become. Your sense of reason becomes questionable and feelings of hope drain slowly from your body.
You are lost. You are alone. There seems to be no way out of this darkness and each time you run toward what you perceive to be the right direction, the violent sway of the wind pushes you down.
Exhausted, cold and vulnerable, you collapse onto the forest floor. There is little willpower left inside you to peel yourself from the dirt. Instead, you shrivel into a ball to protect yourself from the wind.
The only thing left to do is wait in sheer desperation for a faint light to cascade over the trees and show you how to get out. The problem is, there’s just no telling how long it will take for the light to shine in.
Picture yourself in that forest. Picture how difficult it would be to endure this experience. Picture how much resolve you would need in order to survive. Would the sunlight ever come? Of course. But, when you were lost in that forest, you may not conjure up the strength to fully believe that.
Now imagine instead of that forest being a physical place it was a mental one. Imagine instead that your mind had created this place and by the end you were lost deep in the cold and darkness of your thoughts, desperate for the light, but unsure if it would ever arrive.
This is depression.
It’s taken me years to write this. Sure, there are hundreds of pages in my journal that describe my frantic search to get out of the woods, but never have I publicly shared my experience.
Why? I don’t really know. Perhaps, I was afraid of the stigma. Perhaps, I was afraid no one would understand, relate or connect to my thoughts. Perhaps I was afraid of being judged. Or, perhaps, it was simply because I was unwilling to be completely honest with myself.
Whatever the reason, I’m finally ready to share this part of my life. My only hope is that this resonates with at least one person who can take solace in the fact that they are not alone.
So here it is:
I’ve struggled with depression since I was in high school. Was it because I grew up in an alcoholic home? (libel?) Was it because of the tension and anger that dwelled constantly within those four walls? Was it because of painful experiences I hadn’t dealt with? Or was it because I was a teenage girl, raging with hormones and descending into anarchy on a desperate quest to figure out who I was?
All of the above.
Yet beyond my physical surroundings there is also my genetic ones. I have a predisposition to depression and everyone in my family tree, starting with my grandparents, was—or should have been—treated for their symptoms.
As I left my painful teenage years and graduated into adulthood, I tried to run away from my pain. I went on trips, moved far away, bought countless things I didn’t need; I even bought my dog in a desperate attempt to fill the void in my heart. It was to no avail.
Moving to the Middle East pulled me deep into a realm of depression I had never experienced. I systematically went about my life in perfect order with a compulsion to dictate my external world. It was the only thing I felt I had control over.
When my commitments had been met, I would lose myself into the darkness of my thoughts. I screamed onto deaf ears and clung desperately to the encouraging words of my family and friends to try and keep me afloat.
The magnitude of my depression overcame me one winter morning. I was in a hotel room in Washington, D.C., and I felt I could no longer take this mental and physical pain. I thought about how I could silently leave this world and release my soul from suffering. Could I take pills? Could I drive my car into a wall? Could I wrap a rope so tightly around my neck that I would exhale despair for the very last time?
Then I thought about my family. I thought of never seeing my sister again. I thought of how my leaving would tear out a piece of her heart. Could I really cause her that gut-wrenching sorrow? Did I want her to suffer even an ounce of this pain? No.
I realized in that moment that I wouldn’t get rid of my suffering; instead, I would just give it to other people. As a person who has always put the needs of other’s before my own, I couldn’t fathom the hurt that my leaving would bring to others.
I flew back to the desert that night. The depression flew back with me, but at least I didn’t die with it in that hotel room.
I’d like to tell you now that I am cured, that I had some beautiful epiphany in that hotel room and vowed to never again succumbed to my dark thoughts—but that wouldn’t be true. Not all all, not even a little.
I still suffer with depression and since that moment there have still been really dark days when I have thought with sincerity, “What the hell is the point?”
The difference now is that I have a few more tools in my toolbox to help combat my feelings of darkness and despair. I can’t make claims to have all the answers, but I can offer suggestions for things that have worked for me. Take these with love and use whatever ones resonate with you.
Find a counselor. There are options for deferring or reducing costs, so even if money is an issue, you still have access to this valuable resource.
Exercise. This is proven to increase your endorphins and dopamine levels which are the “happy receptors” in your brain.
Get in nature. Hug a tree, talk to a squirrel, lie in the grass. I know it sounds crazy, but it helps to be connected to the earth.
Write a gratitude list. Write one thing down every day that you are grateful for. Do this for at least 30 days. You will be shocked at how gratitude helps to improve your mood.
Go to a meeting. Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous may be branded for alcoholics and family, but they are actually really therapeutic rooms to share with others. The issues may not be the same, but the feelings might be more similar than you think. There are open meetings for each of these groups, so you can go listen or share and decide what you think. Try a few different ones to get a feel for each environment.
Boost your B12, Vitamin D and Essential Fatty Acids. These three are huge for hormone and mood regulation and the majority of people are deficient. Just make sure they are high-quality supplements as you want maximum absorbability to get all the feel-good benefits.
Meditate. I know it sounds silly to some, but relaxing your body helps reduce stress, promote mental clarity and evoke feelings of happiness. Follow a guided one on YouTube and give your mind a much-needed rest.
Journal. Sometimes just writing things down gets it out of your head and out of your life. Write down how and why you’re feeling the way you are. Then try writing down at least one note for something you appreciate in your life. Journalling can be very therapeutic and help you to be clear on your thoughts.
Medication. This isn’t one I have explored myself, but I know other’s who have found that it gave them the support they needed to get through a rough patch. It doesn’t have to be a long-term plan. Speak to your doctor and discuss something you’re both comfortable with.
Volunteer. Giving back to others evokes feelings of positivity. It really is true what they say, “You have to give it away to keep it.” This saying refers to love and gratitude. Find some place to share your time. At the very least, it will get you out of the house and out of your head.
If depression were an easy fix, I wouldn’t be writing this article. It’s hard and it’s scary and it can be so isolating and exhausting. Part of overcoming depression is recognizing how it affects you and seeking assistance to move forward—be it from within yourself, your family and friends or God as you understand him. Whatever it takes to realize that you’re not alone in those woods and that life will get better is where you need to focus your energy.
Sure, there will always be ups and downs on this beautiful, painful, exciting, heart-wrenching, glorious and wonderful journey of life, but knowing that we are never alone and that there is always a guiding light out of the forest is a beautiful thing.
Let me end by reminding you: You are not alone. You are strong beyond measure. You are healthy. You are beautiful. You are capable. You are brave. You are love and you are loved. You are perfect.
With love and gratitude.
Author: Chivonne Monaghan
Image: Courtesy of Author
Editor: Travis May