It is a simple choice to end your life. There have been moments in my past where I’ve considered it. It tempted me. Just one decision and you’re there. You’re done. No more pain. I’ve thought about it long and hard. I’ve been so close to doing it. But something stopped me. What stopped me wasn’t the visit of an angel who showed me what life would be like without me in it like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. What stopped me wasn’t the words of a therapist, guru, speaker or preacher who changed my world. What stopped me was perhaps the fear of what would happen to others or love for those I was leaving behind. That’s what stopped me. But what stopped me wasn’t the same as what helped me get through the dark times.
Getting through depression and handling it are two different things which require two different sets of skills. Getting through it, like anything, requires you to fundamentally shift your mindset about what is going on. It involves cultivating a sense of resilience and grit that keeps you going. Handling depression involves you doing what you need to do on a consistent basis to get you out of there.,
Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, you may well hear some startling facts about suicide. The horrible frequency with which it takes place. The various age groups and social groups which are most at risk. The impact of depression and mental illness on the choice people make to end their life. I’ve written two blog posts on Handling Dark Times and Fighting the Darkness of Depression where I’ve tried my best to reach out and connect with anyone who is struggling with depression. Please read them if you are looking for help. In this post, I would like to continue in that attempt but also discuss something more… the various strategies that we can use that might just help defeat depression.
From time to time, I experience the ‘dark times’. Recently, a few things happened in my life that knocked me for six and I found myself feeling that horrible familiar feeling. Though the skills I have learned over the years from NLP, Psychology and Mindfulness are all incredibly helpful on a regular basis, when this feeling hits, nothing feels like it can make a difference. I’ve mentioned many times that depression is a liar and it is not that we think negatively, it is that we believe negatively. I have found myself struggling with negative beliefs and convictions that were clouded and as dark as dark could be.
Explaining it to someone who does not understand is extremely hard. Most people’s reaction to someone who struggles with it is for them to try and reason with you. They explain why you ‘shouldn’t’ feel that way because things are not as bad as they seem. They assure you that things will get better. But it makes no difference, despite them doing their very best to help. Why? Because everything is filtered through the darkness. Everyone you meet and everything that happens good or bad are filtered through the negative light. Gloom is everywhere. You experience a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, pointlessness and loneliness. Often there is a feeling of inadequacy. A feeling that you can’t share your feelings with others or it means something is wrong with you. You are a mental case, a psycho, a freak, a fucked up human being. Depression is not something to be proud of.
Over the last few years, celebrities and sports stars have started coming clean about their battle with depression. Others have ended their life as a result of their battle. We cannot hide from the truth any longer. Like a disease or war, depression takes its victims and it does its best to murder them.
I sometimes discuss the term ‘depression’ and explain that you don’t actually ‘have’ depression. You do it. You think the thoughts necessary to feel that way. The truth is subtler. We not only ‘think’ the thoughts, but we create an internal reality that appears to be narrated by a negative, convinced voice. There are many parts to our mind with many conflicting goals. When we experience depression, the dictator of our mind is a negative voice that seeks to convince us of the worst of everything. The world itself seems dimmer and the warmth we have for others is often missing. We fail to care about others as much as we really do. Instead we are too absorbed with ourselves. We let friends down, avoid appointments and retreat into our own head which makes everything worse. At some point we know things usually get better but perhaps not this time. Perhaps this time the feeling will stay. And besides, we can’t keep fighting the feeling. How long have we struggled and suffered and fought in vain?
I started working with people with depression over 20 years ago. I started experiencing it myself over 25 years ago. I know from experience that there is no simple remedy that works for everyone all the time. I see it as a war of the mind. We battle the darkness, try to defeat depression and we do whatever we can to make sure we emerge victorious. Then we stay vigilant in case it attacks again. I know some people don’t like the metaphor of war. They prefer more mindful and peace loving metaphors for handling it. I am 100% fine with that. Whatever works for you, works for you. There is no ‘right’ approach… only the approach you take if it helps you.
Nonetheless, for me, the war metaphor works. You see it is not a case of sorting it out once and for all. It is a case of winning the battle and respecting the enemy. Understanding that there is a reason why we feel all that we feel. There is a lesson in the darkness. The lesson is often something that is designed to make us stronger or help us see things differently. Regardless, depression forces us to become stronger. We must if we are to survive. We must dig deep and remember that it lies. We must bet on ourselves and have faith that things will get better and we will feel better. We must have the patience to see it through. We must have the discipline to do what we need to do even though it is the last thing in the world we feel like doing. Then we must take action.
What action you may ask? Well here, you have plenty of choices. Here are just some possible options:
- TELL SOMEONE RELEVANT. I used to say tell someone but a yoga teacher friend of mine, Cristina, discussed when going through hard times to make sure you share it with someone who can help you or will know what to say or do. Sharing with anyone is better than not but if you can reach out to the amazing organisations that exist in the world (see list of links below), they will be there for you. People who haven’t experienced depression may not know what to say or do but these organisations have people who know what it is like and will remind you that you are not alone.
- Something else to remind yourself of is YOU ARE NOT CRAZY. You are not crazy, mad, pathetic or bad. You are not a loon. You are just dealing with a horrendous experience that can dominate the mind. The worst feelings in the world is part and parcel of the course. You must know that despite how you feel YOU ARE OKAY and YOU WILL FEEL OKAY AGAIN.
- LOOK AFTER YOUR BODY. This means it is so important to eat healthy, drink lots of water, exercise regularly, sleep plenty and get outside into the fresh air and brightness as much as possible. Avoid anything bad for you. This has been shown to be absolutely critical for handling and trying to defeat depression.
- GET COUNSELLING OR THERAPY. It is important to not only reach out to people but to get help and realise that it can help a lot to have someone who is non-judgmental being there for you and caring about you, doing what they can for you.
- LEARN STRATEGIES TO COPE. Whether it is through therapy of DBT, NLP, CBT or Mindfulness, there are a whole host of skills and strategies that can help you train your mind to think in a more productive and happier way. You can learn Meditation. Yoga, NLP Submodalities work, challenging questions from CBT or NLP, Meta Mantras (which I’m doing a video series about at present on YouTube) …. basically there are plenty of available options which can help.
- MAKE YOUR ENVIRONMENT MORE POSITIVE. Whatever control you have over your environment, do what you can to make sure your senses input things that make you feel good and take a diet of the news and negative shows that bring you down.
- KEEP A DIARY. Record your feelings and regularly remind yourself of everything you have to feel grateful for. Keep track of your progress and your positive experiences every day and write down your feelings.
- EXPAND YOUR VOCABULARY. Recent research suggestions that the more words we have to describe how we feel, the better we will feel. Start labelling your feelings and find new positive feelings to describe and therefore experience.
- MOVE YOUR BODY. The brain and body have a reciprocal process that occurs as a form of feedback loop. When we get our bodies moving and into different postures, it makes it harder for us to ruminate and feel bad. Movement makes negative feelings more difficult to fester.
- CHANGE HOW YOU DESCRIBE YOUR FEELINGS: When you feel the horrible feelings of depression, try labelling your emotion entirely physiologically. By categorising as a set of physiological responses, it can help massively to reduce the intensity of the bad feeling.
- INDEX YOUR NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES. Avoid all or nothing thinking or pervasive, permanent and personal negative thinking by indexing every bad experience or event in space and time. So for example, instead of NOBODY LOVES ME… be more accurate with your description. I DON’T FEEL LIKE THAT SPECIFIC PERSON LOVES ME AT THIS MOMENT. Always describe the negative experiences or thoughts as being at a specific time and a specific context instead of generalising it through your existence.
- SHIFT YOUR PERSPECTIVE. Start practicing getting into other people’s mindset. Watch happy people and motivational speakers and start to practice seeing the world from their perspective. Read those you admire and learn to see things differently. Where we put our focus and where our perspective shifts to will dictate our way of thinking about the world. Practice with brighter ways of seeing the world and it can and will rub off.
Most of all, always remind yourself, DEPRESSION IS A LIAR. If you have to remind yourself of this, regularly do so. You will get through the dark times and things will get better. You just need to fight with every weapon of hope, strength, belief, worthiness and love that you have. Reach out to the world and spend time with people you love. Remind yourself of the beauty that surrounds you.
When I’ve been face to face with the choice to end my life, what stopped me from doing it was who I was leaving behind. The love I have for those I care about stopped me from making the terrible decision. So many moments since I’ve thought on how much better it was that I stayed alive. Even recently when the darkness came, I still felt glad I have stayed around for as long as I have. Every battle has the potential to bring you to the worst kinds of feelings where you are desperate and see it as a potential way out. But it is not a way out. Rather it is a way into an eternity of pain for those around you.
Life is not easy. It is not always fun. It can be cruel. But despite it all, life does bring joy that makes the pain worth it. It brings love that makes the darkness worth it. You must fight for this joy and this love and know that the darkness itself contains its own beauty despite how appalling it is. For it forces us to remind ourselves that we are stronger than we can possibly imagine and we can get through the worst times. It reminds us that though the world is often unforgiving, our world can turn around in a moment’s notice. It reminds us that we must reach out and connect with others. We must reach out and find the love that is out there for us. We must reach out and let people in, let them help. For we live in a far from perfect world with far from perfect people, but there is help, there is hope and there is love. Things will get better. Everything will be okay.
Some links which may help: