You may have to fight a battle more than once. ~Margaret Thatcher
Every day I battle major depression with suicidal ideation.
I do not take medications. I have at times, but I found the medications to be almost as insidious as the illness. So, I have made a conscious and very personal choice to live with this without the help of Big Pharma. This means I need to get enough exercise, sleep, and eat properly. It demands monitoring and honestly assessing my moods and having a dependable support system in place.
If I don’t, there are ugly, sinister consequences.
There is no good way to describe what it feels like to go into that dark place of the soul. There is no way to describe the persistent mental anguish that drives people to consider to take their life or to follow through with those plans. But here’s the truth—no one wants to die by suicide. What they want is to squelch the constant pain. And anyone who has been through this will tell you this excruciating mental pain is all too real.
There have been writers more poetic than I who have shared their experiences in beautifully written and moving prose. But strip it all away, and the common experience is indescribably painful and torturous. The battle is within yourself, within your soul. And as the saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” There’s no escaping yourself.
The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others do not know anything about.” ~Jonathan Harnisch
And no matter how enlightened society claims to be, it still is easier for people to sympathize with a physical illness like a broken bone, diabetes, or cancer than with an invisible demon. There is still a stigma attached to people who live with mental illness, who battle it every single day. We’re seen as not strong enough or we want attention or we’re too emotional or…whatever, when the reality is others have no idea the strength it took just to get out of bed.
Some of us are hard to get to know. Some of us have difficulty with change. Most of us require stability to manage our illness. Things that other people shake off, little things that may seem trivial to others, stick to us like a parasite siphoning off our mental energy, which in turn bleeds away at our physical health, and then we find ourselves caught in a cycle of low mood, poor health.
But though we may get worn down at times, we are not weak. Far from it. To live with something like this—something inherited and activated by an event in our life we may not even be able to pinpoint—requires real inner strength. And because we fight a daily battle against our illness within and misconceptions without, that strength has to be renewed every day.
Every day begins with an act of courage and hope: getting out of bed. ~Mason Cooley
Everyone will find their own way which resonates with them. For me, it starts by offering a small blessing of gratitude for awakening to another day of life. Getting through yesterday was a victory; tomorrow is a battle yet to be fought. It centers my mind on the day at hand and it turns my focus on the present moment. It reminds me that now is all we have, and that’s more than enough to deal with, especially if you are trying to keep the darkness at bay.
But the biggest part of my self-care is getting out into the natural world. When I can do that on a regular basis, I have found nothing more rejuvenating and spirit nourishing than nature’s healing energy. Whether it’s hiking and exploring the trails of the mountain near my home or walking along Skye’s rocky shoreline, it offers a welcomed balm to my soul and sense of peace.
Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. ~John Muir
Dealing with this illness has also taught me to advocate for myself, because, no matter how fantastic my therapist and doctors are (and they really are!), I am my best advocate. Only I know when it’s all becoming too big and overwhelming to handle. It’s me who has to reach down and find what last bit of strength and resolve I have left in order to reach out for help. It’s only me who can save me. It’s me who has to make the conscious decision to live.
When I feel the ground, once stable beneath my feet, begin to shift and give way, what do I do? What happens when I begin to sink into the shadows, when I feel life beginning to swallow me? I’ve learned not to struggle. Like quicksand, I end up sinking faster. It doesn’t always come easy for me, but I attempt to practice acceptance, especially if I have no control over what is going on around me. However, it’s a clear signal for me to practice intense self-care and escape into nature’s embrace.
And if the shadows continue to press against me, I have to remind myself it’s okay to reach out for help whether it’s family, friends, or, if necessary, an emergency phone call. The darkness doesn’t need to be faced alone. Getting support is acting with self-responsibility, self-compassion and soul care.
In this struggle against major depression, it’s crucial for me to remember I am not alone in this fight. I have two powerful allies: nature and a support system in place to reach out to when the darkness begins to eclipse my soul. They remind me I have something and someone for which to fight. They are the difference between surrender and notching another day’s victory against this illness.