The Gift of Depression

I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety at the age of 19 although in hindsight I was suffering from it for a long time. According to my mother, the family doctor detected signs of anxiety at the age of two when my mother took me to see him after I'd developed a chonic twitch in my eye. I suppose in hindsight, having depression was not surprising. Depression had plagued my grandparents, my father and both my aunts. Did I learn depression or was it passed on genetically? Maybe both.

In any event, I'm 65 now so depression hasn't killed me although it came close on a number of occasions. Fortunately, I started seeing a therapist in my 20s. That particular journey lasted for 10 years. I paid when I could and when I couldn't I traded handyman skills for counselling sessions. In the end, we became close friends and I was privileged to be with him at the end of his life.

Asking for help is key to dealing with depression. It's not always easy -- especially for men -- to ask someone for help but no man can deal with depression alone. Ask for help. Counselling has been one of the best adventures of my life. It hasn't cured me but the tools it gave me have helped me self-manage my recovery. Yes, depression still rears its head now and again but I now acknowledge it as a sort of "familiar acquaintance" and make room for it in my life. I've even offered it love. That may sound strange but it's helped me visualise my depression and offer it compassion -- after all, it's a part of me. 

Of course, anti-depressants have helped in the past although they were not a lasting solution for me. Instead, sharing my feelings with a good friend or therapist, journaling, eating healthy food, and exercise have all helped enormously. I also find a regular morning mindfulness exercise (10-20 mins a day), a good breakfast, and 45-minutes of walking very useful for keeping depression at bay. I also recognise the signs of when it's coming, but know (like the weather) that it will pass in time. Using my self-management tools helps.

Finally, serving or helping others is another step forward in combatting depression. I'm a storyteller and story coach. I work with people by creating a safe space for them to share their stories. I'm a listener. I encourage people to talk and to write. I listen and read without making judgement. I encourage.

A chief consultant psychiatrist once likened me to a "one-armed man" who'd spent his whole life seeking his missing appendage. There's no doubt, he said, that from looking over your life story that you missed out on something essential in your early years. You've spent your life seeking it in therapy sessions, in books, in conversations, in your journaling. All of this has been a wonderful adventure but in the end, what would you do if you found your lost arm? It's not likely you can re-attach it. It won't be of any use to you. Instead, focus on your adventure. You've learned to become an accomplished "one-armed man". You're wonderful just as you are.

In a huge way, that consultant's assessement of my life released me from a lot of anxiety. Suddenly, I experienced a sense of freedom I'd not felt in a long time. Maybe I was broken but my "brokeness" had also been my blessing. Because of it, I'd had a wonderful journey -- with ups as well as downs, with joy as well as sorrow and pain. But it's all made me who I am today. I have a wonderful story.

And so do you. Take a little time and share it. We are listening.

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