Monday, 27 August 2012
"We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face...we must do that which we think we cannot." ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Happy Anniversary to me! It's one year this week that I returned to work after a four month disability leave. Wow - what a difference a year makes. Today I am healthy and strong. My good days far out number the odd dark day, thankfully. I have almost forgotten what it felt like to feel despair. Almost.
It's the end of summer and I am naturally feeling the pull to welcome a new season and the opportunities and joy that come with it. It's also a perfect time to reflect on the journey that I have been on, to feel a little pride (OK, a lot of pride!) at what I have overcome.
I started this blog as part therapy project for me, part inspiration for those comrades-in-arms also fighting against depression and mental illness, and part educational tool to help others understand. I have written a lot about what it feels like to fight such a dark, deep battle. Now it feels right to take some time to share what I experienced during my road to recovery.
1. The road to wellness is not a straight line: Once the oppressive veil of depression begins to slowly lift, you don't immediately feel better and that's it. Nope, depression doesn't want to let go of you quite that easily. You may have a day of two when you feel good, maybe even great, but it's not unusual to feel awful again for awhile before you are truly well. The road to recovery is a marathon, not a sprint so take your time and accept that it's a slow process.
2. Accept your limitations: When I returned to work late last summer I did it on a gradual basis. I had learnt my lesson from a past experience where I tried to jump back into work and my "life" as if nothing had ever happened. Guess what? It didn't work and I found myself just as ill, if not a bit more, than I had been before. Thankfully, when I was finally ready to come back to work I had a great manager and a wonderful rehabilitation consultant to remind me to take it one day at a time and, sometimes, one hour at a time. After having been ill for so long it's tempting to want to get back to "normal" as soon as possible but that's unrealistic and you may be setting yourself up for failure. Think about when you haven't exercised in ages and suddenly you jump into a new regime full throttle. There's a risk of injury, isn't there?
3. Accept your limitations but don't be afraid to challenge yourself, too: Rejoining the world can be scary and intimidating. The natural inclination for many of us who have suffered from depression is to withdraw. Sometimes you need time alone but many times what you really need is to challenge yourself. A challenge can be as simple as telling yourself that today you will go for a walk, or tomorrow I will meet my friend for coffee. Simple things that are sometimes overwhelming but also important on the path back to wellness.
4. Be honest: OK, this one is super hard - I know! But it's important to be honest with yourself, your caregivers, and your confidantes. It was very helpful for me to be able to share how I was feeling while ill but also as I was recovering. I talked with a psychologist about the challenges I was facing (both real and imagined) at work, I had friends and family that I confided in, and, again, my boss was pretty amazing. I know that I am lucky in that I have received much understanding and support. It's been my choice to be as honest and open as I have been but I encourage anyone who is fighting this awful battle to find at least one person who you can be 100% honest with about how you are feeling. It's simply too hard to go it alone.
5. You have nothing to prove to anyone (not even yourself): You know all this great advice that I am giving to you? Well, I have ignored a lot of it at times. I have pushed myself too hard, quite simply, and been my own worst enemy. The biggest challenge that I faced this past year has been trying to prove to myself and others how capable, strong, happy, and healthy I am. Who doubted me? Who demanded that I "prove" myself? Not a single person. It was all me. I finally broke down in tears with a friend who reassured me that it was quite alright to be less than perfect on any given day. Good advice.
So a year has come and gone. In that year I have laughed far more than I have cried. I have learnt so much about myself - I am far more resilient as a result of this experience than I would be if I hadn't faced such adversity. I am dedicated to living a balanced life and embracing the joy in it when I can. I know all too well what it's like when there is no joy.
Summer is coming to a close and I recently went to the Pacific National Exhibition with friends and family. For the first time ever, while on a ride I let go of the handle bar in front of me, raised my hands in the air, and, with a big smile on my face, I let go of the fear. Life is short - buy the ticket and take the ride when you can.
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