Depression is one of the most common mental health issues that people experience. As many as one in 5 Australians will have this illness at some stage in their life.Depression and anxiety frequently emerge at times of transition as a consequence of the stress that life transitions bring with them. In my own experience, the transition from a single woman to couple and then couple to couple with children, was a very stressful time and as I now reflect, it was not surprising that I became depressed – but I didn’t see it like that at the time!
At that stage of my life, my husband and I were committed to and worked for The Salvation Army, having been raised within this cultural context. The Salvation Army had been like a benevolent parent who provided employment, housing, community, identity and support. It was all that we had ever known and I felt secure and happy however I had no idea that a life crisis was heading my way. The ‘clouds of depression’ had been gathering over a number of years previous to my marriage, however I had continued to function, having no idea what the source of my constant fatigue was. The birth of our twin daughters was a joyful and exhilarating time however I could not shake off my feelings of sadness and isolation. My body constantly ached as I struggled to make it through each day. For 2 years I continued to push myself; good wife, mother, daughter, working professional; I fulfilled the roles assigned to me and the expectations that came by association.
The resources that got me through that time
I had the support of 2 friends who listened, encouraged me and did very practical things like helping with the ironing and giving me a hand feeding the babies. These mature women understood the struggle I experienced and accepted me without judgement. I have always felt an unfailingly gratitude towards these women. If you have people in your life who want to help you, accepting their support is not a sign of weakness. It is the recognition that you are not ‘super-woman’ but a normal human-being under significant stress.
I have always had a very strong sense of what is sacred in my life and practiced the discipline of meditation. My personal belief in a loving and compassionate God, nurtured within me a spirit of gratitude and the belief that every life experience has purpose and meaning. Your spirituality can be a rich source of inner calm and groundedness and can be viewed as separate from ‘following a religion. Religion is about following a particular belief system, its rules and rituals. For some people this is very ‘life-giving’ and grounding. I prefer to separate the two because whilst I enjoy meaningful rituals, in my own experience following a religious pattern became ‘life-draining’. This did not mean that I abandoned my faith, only that I needed to let go of religious expectations that had an exhausting and stressful impact upon me.
The hope that things would change for the better. This hope enabled me to hold on to life and not give up, though there were many times when I felt like it.
I survived with these resources for 2 years however they were not enough to restore my wellbeing. As a consequence, I became seriously unwell, physically collapsing at home whilst caring for my 2 year old twin daughters. This finally drew attention to how seriously unwell I was however if I had known what I know now, I could have received the help I needed well before this and recovered much quicker than the 15 years that my recovery journey actually took. So here are some of the things that I know now that I wished I had known then. I hope they help you.
The Resources that I wish I had known about then
4. Physical Symptoms are your body's warning alert system
Physical symptoms such as panic attacks, headaches, exhaustion, social anxiety, anger, insomnia, aches and pains are your body’s way of drawing attention to the fact that you need to take some time out to care for yourself. When you no longer have the physical, emotional or psychological resources to cope with everyday life, your body calls attention to itself in very physical ways.
5. Practicing the things that calm you and nurture a sense of well-being will settle your anxiety, lift your spirit and energize you.
What works is unique to your needs; exercise stimulates endorphins in the brain to produce a feeling of well-being, meditation helps you to calm and ground yourself, massage, a warm bubble bath, a fragrant candle, music, journaling, art, are all resources that people sometimes find helpful. Avoid ‘self-medicating’; alcohol, unprescribed medication, illicit drugs, and other potentially addictive and risk-taking behaviours. Initially these things may bring some relief however they are short-lived and have potentially devastating consequences.
6. You are important. Your needs are important. Feeling guilty that you feel the way you do is unproductive and self-destructive.
Here is a paradox: If you take the time to value and care for yourself, you will gradually recover your own sense of wellbeing and be able to take care of the people you love. On the other hand, when you fail to take time to care for yourself, ultimately you will be unable to care for the people you love.
Talking to a counsellor about your experience provides you with a safe space to explore your experience and provide clarity about what you need to recover your health and wellbeing and to develop strategies for your ongoing wellness.
8. Talk to a doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing.
Medication can assist you in your recovery to wellness. Anti-depressant medication is not addictive and can give you the necessary help to begin to function while you continue the counselling process. Once you begin an anti-depressant, it is important to take it as your doctor prescribes and continue to use them for at least 6 months. This gives your system time to fully recover and absorb the new messages you are learning about yourself in the counselling process.
If you would like to know more about how to navigate your present life transition experience or need support in coping with depression or any other mental health issue contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or go to www.watersedgecounselling.com to book an appointment.