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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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