Coming Back Up from the Deep – on depression and getting better

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Around this time last year, I was going through a very hard time. It was month 7 of traveling (plastic free) in South East Asia with Fernando, I had just finished a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation course, and was spending the next 2 weeks doing a work exchange at a place called Rainforest Camp on a tropical Malaysian island. On the surface, it might seem like life was going great for me, but I was about to experience the longest, and thus the worst, episode of depression yet. I know everyone’s depression is different, but for me, it was something like this:

  • Waking up and going to bed every single day dreading my own existence.
  • Being so miserable and sad that I couldn’t stand it anymore.
  • The only relief I felt was in my sleep, so I slept, a lot.
  • Feeling like a failure of a person
  • Not being able to enjoy anything – On the island we had a beautiful beaches, snorkeling, games, good people- but I wasn’t interested in anything
  • Feeling anger and hate, at people, and situations, but especially towards myself.
  • Feeling like life has always been this way- when I thought back at my past I could only remember the moments when I felt like this, dismissed the short times I felt happy and felt utterly and completely hopeless for happy future.
  • Wishing every second that I had never been born, fantasizing about sinking into the deep ocean, and feeling guilty about feeling that way because I’ve been more fortunate than most people in life.
  • Feeling better felt completely out of reach, and quite frankly, this dark hole was somewhat comforting.
  • But more than any other feeling, I felt extremely and overwhelmingly insecure.
  • Unable to make even the smallest decision, doubting every word that came out of my mouth, every gesture I made at a person, and ruminating over and over about my actions, confirming to myself that I am in fact, incapable of doing anything right, and life is not worth living, at least not for me. The rumination and insecurities were the fuel of my depression.

This wasn’t the first time I felt like this. I’ve had depression for most of my adult life. But it wasn’t until I was on this trip, and I started reading The Mindful Way Through Depression in an old hotel in Thailand, that I confirmed that what I was feeling was indeed depression. Of course, I suspected that was it, but in all those years I never once went to see a doctor. I was afraid of the costs, but I was more terrified of what the doctor would say. I was so afraid they would tell me that what I was feeling was normal, which would have made me feel so much more helpless and hopeless, because, what then?

About 10 days later,  I started to feel better. Insecure, vulnerable, but better. Fernando’s unconditional love was my biggest support. Although at this time, my mind made me consistently doubt our relationship, he was there. He cooked for me and brought me lunch to bed. Explained to our co volunteers that I was spending most of the day in our shack because I wasn’t feeling well, and one day when it had been long enough, he made me write down a list of all the things that made me happy. In tears, I insisted there was nothing that made me happy, but eventually, I started writing. The next day, we finally took the free boat tour around the island and took this picture.

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After that, I fell back into the arms of depression time and time again, but nothing as horrendous as those 10 days on Kecil Island. It’s now one year later, and I feel so grateful to actually feel like life is worth living for. For 5 months I’ve been consistently content, with normal ups and downs, but I finally feel normal.  I know the grip of depression is not far away, and I’m a bit wary of that, but I feel more confident and willing to fight back. I probably won’t fall into depression by burning rice or saying something stupid, like I did in the past, but I can think of so many things that would probably trigger it all back.

I couldn’t honestly say what it was exactly that brought me back to life. It definitely wasn’t just one thing,  but a combination of teachings and experiences.

  1. Allowing Myself to Feel Sad
    The struggle of not being able to control my feelings made things 100 times worse. I spent multiple weekends locked up in my room, hiding my tears from my roommate, thinking about all the awesome weekend things I could be doing if only I didn’t feel this way. I could be hiking at the beach, or writing a blog post, or reading a book, but instead, I was sad and miserable, unproductive, unfun, and holding a grudge on myself for being so. Now, when I feel sad, I allow myself to be sad. I cry, I sleep it off, I don’t fight it, I let it be – and when I wake up, most of the times, I feel much better.
  2. Not Believing the Thoughts in my Head
    This is the most difficult. I still believe the little voice in my head when it tells me I am anything less than good, but I’ve gotten a lot better at dismissing it. That little voice, those thoughts, although they feel like the only real thing, now I know they’re not real. I was addicted to those thoughts and it was a habit to feel that way and believe those things. I’ve found that it’s crucial identifying and dismissing the thoughts as soon as they appear. If I let them in for more than a second, it’s nearly impossible ridding myself of them for a while.
  3. Self-Love
    I’m so grateful to the Mindfulness Project for instilling this value in me. Ironically, I was very depressed for half of the time I spent there, but I was listening and the teachings remain with me.  When we practiced “Love and Kindness” meditation, I did not believe the words “I truly and completely love and accept myself” that we were made to silently repeat in our minds. I remember thinking, “I don’t feel this way at all” as I repeated the mantra over and over. I still struggle to fully believe those things about me, but we must love ourselves, more than anything else. And I find that the more I love myself, the less insecure I feel, and the less vulnerable I am to depression.
  4. Focusing on the Present
    The past is the past, and the future hasn’t happened, what is important is now. Ruminating about the past and worrying about the future puts such a strain on my mental health. It’s definitely a challenge living in the present, but practicing mindfulness and meditation can make a big difference, and spending 10 days at a Vipassana Course definitely helped pave the groundwork for me.  It would be easy to focus on the negative and hate on myself when, for example,  I make a mistake at work, but I fight the urge to feel bad. Instead, I try to let it go,  focus on the present, and see it as an opportunity to learn from my mistake and grow.
  5. Communication
    I have a difficult time expressing my feelings when I’m down – and that’s an understatement. Most of my friends and my family don’t know about my depression because I hated talking about it – I dreaded even the thought of it, I would literally feel ill to my stomach. I didn’t want to be pitied, I didn’t want them to worry, I didn’t want to seem weak, I didn’t want to be judged, I didn’t want to be dismissed, so instead, I bottled it all up. I’m so grateful to Fernando for always making me open up about what I’m feeling, pretty much forcing me to. Even though I still fight back a bit, and he sometimes has to ask me a few times, I’m now much more willing to share the thoughts in my head. Sometimes it’s like magic, I feel immediately better.

I for one, have never taken depression medication, mostly because I never gave myself the chance to see a professional back then. And sometimes I wish I had – I think my life would have been so much better, but that’s focusing on the past. I would be open to it in the future if I needed it, but I’m grateful, even if it took many years, to find a way through depression by changing my thought patterns and habits.

This post is not about sustainable travel or plastic free living, but I really wanted to share a bit more of my life and experiences. Back then, I think it would have helped me to know someone who was going through what I was going through, so I hope this helps. I felt afraid to speak up before, perhaps because we think we’re not supposed to talk about this,  but talking about it makes it much better. Thank you for reading. ❤

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