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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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