Finding the Light at the End of the Depression Tunnel

Finding the Light at the End of the Depression Tunnel
By Rebecca Perkins

“When going through hell, keep going.”

The quote above is attributed to Winston Churchill and is believed to be related to his depression. Whether he said it or not how this quote has kept me strong! Even during my darkest moments I had a sense that it was easier to keep moving forward than turning back or giving up.

I’ve been shying away from this post for some time now. I avoid tough subjects. Depression is one of those tough subjects. I am well and have been for many years now – that, however, wasn’t always the case. My intention in writing about depression is to share my experiences frankly and openly in the hope that something inspires or supports another going through their own private hell.

Depression is a serious illness and one that sadly carries a huge stigma. It frustrates me that people are fearful. If you have a heart condition, diabetes or a broken leg you wouldn’t dream of not attending to it, or of taking advice from experts on how to repair the damage. No one is going to call you weak if you are unable to fix your broken leg. Then why is it that so often I hear people saying they won’t see a professional therapist in order to gain an insight into their troubled mind, or they won’t take medication for depression to help them begin to make sense of where they are. If you are depressed, seek medical help.

Depression is not about feeling sad. It is not about feeling a bit down or being in a bad mood. Depression is a blackness. Depression sucks all emotion from you. You are left feeling hollow and numb and with a deep sense of hopelessness and loneliness. Depression drains the world of color and sound and taste and smell.

I have experienced some very black and bleak places in my mind. I spent some of my teenage years with depression. I suffered chronic postnatal depression and I suffered again as I was battling with a deteriorating marriage. There were days when I could barely get out of bed. I went around in some sort of coma. I would have panic attacks collecting the children from school. I couldn’t face anyone, especially those closest to me. At times I couldn’t even speak, such was my fear of opening the flood gates of my tears. I lost a huge amount of weight. I developed asthma and I had tonsillitis permanently. Simple, every day tasks became my very own Everest … and still I battled on.

I have spent time getting myself to where I am today. I have taken medication and I have spent time with a variety of therapists. All these helped me piece my life back together again. Today, I know the triggers and I know how to handle them. That’s not to say that I live my life in a perpetual state of blissed-out serenity. I’m realistic, yet I won’t let a ‘blue’ day affect me in the devastating way it used to.

You are not alone in this, as brothers we will stand and hold your hand.’ – Mumford & Sons.

Here are my thoughts on what helped me through those bleak periods and on what keeps me focused today. I make no claim to be an expert, these are simply some ideas that may in turn give you strength. Take your pick and create your own too.

  • Realize that some days are shit days and that’s ok.
  • Fresh air on a daily basis. Thank goodness for my dog, who is often my reason to get outside everyday. Come rain or shine, snow or gale, we’re out walking.
  • Alcohol solves nothing.
  • Gratitude every night before bed, a list of all that is good in my life. It always gives me a different perspective.
  • Have a buddy — when I was ill after the birth of my youngest I had a friend who was my lifeline — literally. I’d phone her number and whisper the words “it’s me” and she’d reply “get in the car, the kettle’s on”. I couldn’t have got through those times without her.
  • Carry a picture with you of those you love, and one of yourself when you were happy or a picture of yourself as a young child.
  • Create a nest for yourself — candles,warm blankets, good smells, remember smells from your youth (seaside, ground coffee, baking bread for me).
  • If you can bare someone to touch you, then have a regular massage. I was truly blessed that my sister was training to be an aromatherapist when I was recovering and I became one of her case studies. We cried a lot and whether it was the healing oils or the simple fact that I was allowing someone to touch me and nurture me I slowly began to heal.
  • Hold somewhere in your heart the belief that ‘this too will pass’ — however ‘impossible’ it might seem.
  • Visualize a candle flame burning somewhere — a sign of hope.
  • Carry a token or pebble, something that has tangible meaning for you, it will act like a connection to better times.
  • Somewhere stored away deep inside trust that you are not alone — I am not religious, I am spiritual and even on my darkest days I trusted that I was protected.
  • Learn (with the help of another) to not judge yourself and not compare yourself with others. We are all different. This was one of the greatest lessons for me during the tough days.

Depression would not be my lifestyle of choice! However, even though writing this blog has brought back some excruciating memories I am grateful for the experiences I had. I am the woman I am today because of my experiences, ALL my experiences — the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

If this blog has inspired you in anyway do let me know, leave a message or email me. It is a subject close to my heart. Share it with anyone you know might be silently suffering. I am not a therapist I work as a midlife coach and have guided many women towards a more fullfilling second half of life once they have healed from their depression. How can I help you?

This blog was first published on The Huffington Post and since then I have added to my suggestions on my YouTube channel.

(Photo Credit: Unsplash, Zach Minor)


About the Author: Rebecca Perkins

Rebecca Perkins is the author of Best Knickers Always: 50 Lessons for Midlife and founder of RebPerkins.com. Her latest book 40 Words of Wisdom for my 24 Year Old: A Parenting Manifesto (originally a Huffington Post blog) was published in April.

 She began writing to make sense of her life after the ending of her 20 year marriage. Rebecca is a NLP Master Practitioner and Personal Performance Coach working with women to navigate the transition of midlife. She is passionate about midlife as a time for renewal and for living the second half of life with enthusiasm and vigour.

 As a coach she is challenging and fun, motivating and inspiring. Midlife has taught her to be open-minded, to take more risks, to enjoy the simple things and to live each and every day with the question, ‘If not now, when?’ She lives in London and enjoys supporting and being surrounded by her children, spending time with her guy and celebrating life after 50.

 You can contact Rebecca via her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as well as YouTube.

14 Comments

Erik Snyder

This is so beautifully written. Sadly, It’s 2015, and this stigma surrounding mental illness lives on. These are great ideas to help individuals cope and manage their daily black moments. thank You!

Reply
Alexander

We all have had, or we are having tough times and some times what we do is give up, but if we think positively in everything there is always a way out I had really bad times when I was 11 till some months ago now I’m 19 so it took me so long to find a way but I found it by opening myself to people who love me and most importantly to love myself and accept who I was.

Reply
Rebecca

You write so beautifully Alexander about how you found a way to open up to those around you and especially to love yourself…it takes some people a life time to learn this.

Reply
David Miller

Thank you for sharing this, I would imagine it be especially difficult for me to share things. I have been diagnosed with many many health problems, but If you where weak God wouldn’t put you through it.

Reply
Peggy

Please know how reading your article – helped me and Articulated the very things I have been trying to convey.. I was raped in my home some 13 months ago – I have fallen apart – I lost my home – my job – most my retirement… and LIFE feels like SHIT… some weeks I am OK – SOME – I just want to “kill myself” – no one understands the mental chit-chat and crap that goes on in our brains!! Thank-you!

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Peggy, I usually leave guest posts for the authors to respond to but feel as though I had to reach out to you. You have been through an unimaginable trauma and it’s no wonder at all that you’re feeling the way you’re feeling. I’m pleased that Rebecca’s article was able to give you some comfort and help you to feel a little more understood – she has a wonderful way of speaking from an open heart, as do you. There would probably be few people who would know exactly what you’re going through and who have been through the type of pain that you are experiencing, but there would certainly be people who could relate to struggling with something so big as to feel stolen and suffocated by it some days. I hope you have the support you need. It might feel as though nothing will make a difference – I really understand that – but the right counsellor, if you aren’t already seeing one, could make a big difference and really help you through this. You don’t have to do this on your own. If you don’t have anyone supporting you through this, I would really encourage you to speak with your doctor as a place to start. He or she will be able to recommend people for you – if you aren’t seeing someone already. I have no doubt that there will be so many people, as I am, who read your comment who will be sending you love and strength to move forward from this.

Reply
Rebecca

Oh Peggy, I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to reply. I’m glad that in some way my words have connected with some place inside you. I can’t imagine your pain but please know that I’m sending love and courage to you.

Reply
marge wisniewski

How timely this was for me! I just adopted Winston Churchill’s quote for myself too after reading it in “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah. It was the favorite part of the book for me as it was in others according to the comments following the book! Hell it is, for sure, depression!

Reply
andrea

So much of what you said rang true. Courage to you and to all suffering through depression. It does get better.

Reply
Rebecca

Thank you! Yes it does get better, and hopefully for many of us we can look back and see how far we’ve come.

Reply
Aruna

simple yet very effective. only your life experiences can make you write so.
Thanks for sharing. 🙂

Reply
Rebecca

Thank you and apologies for the slow response. It means a lot that you’ve commented and that it touched you in some way.

Reply

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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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