Archive for chronic depression
Last week I wrote a post about learning to love myself for Dr. Kathleen Young’s Blog, “Treating Trauma in Chicago”, and it dawned on me that I should mention it on my blog too!
In the post I attempt to articulate the process of how I learned to love myself after 40 years of mental health problems, low self esteem, dissociated identity disorder and multiple depressions. It wasn’t easy to fit that into a one document but I gave it my best effort and I hope that you will read it.
I would also like to say; Welcome back Carla!
Carla has been on vacation in Florida with her family this past 9 days and she is coming back tonight! I have missed her and look forward to her return!
Patricia Singleton, author of the blog “Spiritual Journey of a Lightworker” is a regular reader and commenter of ours here on Emerging from Broken. Patricia is an incest survivor and recently did a wonderful radio interview with radio talk show host Cyrus Webb ~ Conversations Live~ where she tells her powerful story. You can listen to the replay here;
A few years ago I was at a workshop and I participated in a church tradition of eating bread and having wine during one part of the service. Three lines had formed in the room and we were all waiting for our turn to be handed a piece of bread to dip into the wine cup. I was waiting in my line, watching the server break off piece after piece from the loaf in his hands, piece after piece to this person and the next… Each piece was so small, I noticed. I was hungry. It was a big loaf of bread with that crunchy crispy outside… As I stood there a couple thoughts floated through my mind. The first came along… “Hmm, I hope I get a really big piece...” My second thought was a reaction springing from the lies I used to believe: “I wonder if God is disappointed about me standing here only thinking about how big a piece of bread I’m going to get...” Thankfully, at that point in my journey, the guilt guards didn’t win those kinds of battles anymore… So I didn’t fight either thought and they were held suspended in my heart as I approached the man for my piece. I stood there, and as he made eye contact with me his elderly hands tore off the BIGGEST chunk of bread I had seen the whole time I was waiting in that line. Even he seemed surprised at the size! I felt deeply affirmed in that moment that it was okay to want more.
I am so familiar with that acute desire of wanting more, the feeling that something was missing or that there was something great that I needed to find. I imagined what it would feel like to find that “thing”… I searched and searched in every person I met and book I read and movie I watched to see who “had it” or where “it was”, that thing I was looking for. And I analyzed and tried to figure out exactly how a person got it. Had they always had it and I was just born missing it? Did they have to work really hard for it? Did it just happen one day? Did someone else need to give it to them? Many times I had also felt the message being said to me, “Why are you even searching? Can’t you just be happy with what you have? Look at the many people who have so much less…” which for me translated into “your heart is over-sensitive, selfish and unreasonable and your desire is just too much.”
My recent posts have been about how my Dad’s belief system so strongly impacted me. Passive withholding abuse is difficult to define or see. As adults it can feel overwhelming and scary to even try to see it in our pasts because there’s nothing really concrete to “pin point”, there are no solid markers along the way. It’s like… growing up believing that all there is to eat on the planet is potato soup. The same thing, every day, same quality (kind of watery…), same amount, not completely nourishing or delicious but enough to get us by. As children, the reality that this is all we’re served tells us that this is all there is. We feel disappointment but it doesn’t really make sense because it’s not like we had the better soup at one point to compare it to. As we grow older, we still feel something is missing, something doesn’t seem satisfying… But we don’t understand why. We struggle with depression and low self-esteem, guilt and anxiety. But in our reasoning, the potato soup was always there and seemed substantial enough, especially compared to those who were never served any soup or actually served toxic soup… Still, there’s this sense of… lacking soup. There’s this restless hunger that’s misunderstood. It is so painful to feel the hunger but not the validation that the hunger is worthy; for me, depression was one way of trying to make the hunger and the pain go away altogether. Darlene has shared about this kind of abuse as well in her post “Withholding Emotional Abuse“.
As I was putting the pieces of my past together and growing in the affirmation that my struggles had been caused by something, my intense hunger was an answer in itself; it was the “pin point” as well as the starting point on my quest to gain what was missing. I see now that it came from the very alive part of me, the part searching to find what I was born wanting… the “more” that we are all worthy and deserving of.
A belief system that says, “I am a nobody, I can’t do anything right, I’m just stupid” wreaks havoc in a few different ways. I believe we were born with an unconscious sense of our own value; deep down, in each of us, there “dwells a beauty”, a person who is loved and can love. But trying to function with a totally opposite belief system creates a swirling, anxious situation inside, as if two rivers are colliding head on into one another and the water is all confused. In my last three posts (1, 2, 3), I’ve been describing my Dad’s belief system and how it was passively handed down to me as a child. His belief system also created havoc in my family, just not the really obvious easy-to-see kind.
Someone with a “I’m a nobody” belief system still wants to be valued, because they are human. Because my Dad didn’t value himself he sought to find his value in other ways. One of these ways was to put a lot of responsibility on his family to do the work of his own failing self-esteem. He believed that he was loved if his wife cooked and cleaned and took good care of him. He believed he was loved if we didn’t say a mean word towards him or be upset with him in any way whatsoever. If he put himself down, we would disagree with him and try to tell him that the opposite was true. Because he didn’t communicate his thoughts and feelings, my Mom, brother and I were forced to try and read his mind. If he was in a bad mood we ALL could tell- we became so skilled at reading his subtle signs and passive communications at the expense of learning to communicate for ourselves. If we sensed he was upset, we would do the work to try and make things better. Though my Mom would try and encourage better communication, he was so extremely uncomfortable and uptight about trying that things would end up more anxious than before. He was the passive King in our home and we learned to treat him with kid gloves. In living this way, my brother and I learned that love was all these things. Love meant compensating for someone else’s poor self esteem. Love meant not making the other person upset. As children who did not know this was so backwards, it also meant sacrificing our own needs to be built up and paid attention to in order to build up our parent. So the cycle continued. My brother and I grew up with this huge sense of lacking and low self-esteem of our own. We naturally lived to please other people. And all the while, the pain was brewing deep inside.
The last five years have been a process of seeing these things as the truth of my story. In learning the truth that all these subtle “leeching” dynamics between a parent and his children can have just as much damage as more physical or obvious kinds of abuse, I was exposed to a whole new world. I learned that these things were not my fault. I learned that my depression and anxiety has definite reasons and weren’t just symptoms of a messed up person.
Of my two parents, my Dad’s belief system had the most impact on me. Deep down I believed I was a “nobody” as well and I relied on other people to tell me that this wasn’t true. This wreaked havoc in its own kind of way, testing relationships and causing me to miss out on great opportunities that I felt I just wasn’t worthy of. As an adult, the responsibility to live differently is now in my own hands. Now that I know that this belief system is not my real inheritance, not the one I was meant to have, I can choose to embrace a new one. I can choose which river to follow. Today I am working to change my belief system. Today I take on the primary responsibility of nourishing my own self-esteem. Today I am taking another step into freedom and living in the truth.
At the heart of the devaluing belief system (click here to read Part One) is the lie that as human beings, we are not valuable in and of ourselves. We exist to be used by others. Our own desires aren’t important. Other people’s desires trump our own. Our feelings and thoughts can’t be trusted. We are not capable of living our lives to the full. We don’t deserve to live our lives to the full. This belief system manifests itself in all kinds of ways. But the lie at the heart of it is the same.
Today I will describe how parents teach their children this belief system even simply in how they treat themselves. My Dad never told me I was a nobody, but he lived like he was one. He is also intelligent and talented, but he never believed that about himself. In my childlike observance, I saw repeatedly how he was uncomfortable accepting compliments and also giving them, how he did jobs and favors for others even if he didn’t want to because he didn’t believe he deserved to say “no”, how it was safer for him to spend hours watching TV or reading the paper instead of engaging with us, how he put himself down, even calling himself “stupid”, how he always took someone else’s opinion to be superior to his own. He didn’t offer his true self to his family, rarely sharing what he really felt or thought about something. I got this message from how he lived his own life: don’t flourish, don’t attract attention, don’t fly too high, don’t shine too bright. If other people were successful or happy he was quietly critical or suspicious of them. Be wary of the world because it’s a scary place. This may sound like the wrappings of a humble, unassuming person. But it was not so innocent. How a parent treats their own self is a huge message to their kids about what it means to be human.
As an observant and impressionable child, I grew up in this “lowly soup”. Even though it was never spoken to me, I naturally believed that because my Dad thought so little of himself as a human being, I must be little too. Even though I excelled at school, learned to play the piano, won awards, and succeeded at being popular, there was always this deep deep down feeling that I really had nothing to offer, nothing from my true self would be good enough. I didn’t even have practice in knowing what my true self was! In squishing himself, my Dad’s belief system squished down the spontaneous buds of my own real self. And as a child I had no way of knowing this was happening- I accepted it as the normal reality. As an adult, I have to acknowledge that it DID happen, that I did receive a passively given faulty belief system from my Dad, in order for me to be free from the lies that entrapped me.
Thankfully today, I can choose a different kind of inheritance. I love what Darlene wrote on our facebook fan page the other day: “I am not defined by who they think I am. I am not defined by who THEY say that I am. I am not defined by what happened to me. I am defined by my heart; my tenderness and compassion for others; by my purpose. I am an individual, worthy and valid. ~ Darlene”
It was so subtle. And I was entirely defenseless to protect myself from it. I had no reference point in my youngest years to be able to say, “Hey, believing this will play out badly for me in the future. I’m going to decide to believe differently.” It was what I naturally took to be “normal” because it was my normal. It was the home I grew up in. It was the two most advanced human beings that I knew, modeling to me what it meant to be human. Being 100% impressionable, I watched and learned and without even thinking about it plugged what I saw into my first and most important belief system about who I was and what it meant to be valuable.
For so long I could not figure out why I struggled and struggled with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. I had no traumatic event to point to in my childhood to explain it. When I thought about my past I just felt lost and hazy. In my present, I was anxious, quiet, afraid to assert my real self, not really knowing who my real self was. I grew to assume everyone else was better than I was , even though I was smart and talented. The common slogan of “just be yourself” always appealed to me, made me feel excited, but I never really got it. Inside I just felt empty. I habitually admired other people, and eventually I learned how to act like other people in an attempt to feel like I was somebody, that I had something, something in myself that I admired in them. I was always trying to be somebody else… because I didn’t know how to be me. Because I couldn’t figure out why I struggled so much, I really felt like there must be something wrong with me. I was weak, somehow faulty, just prone to be depressed. Later on in life I beat myself up for not believing enough that God loved me, that I really must be failing spiritually if I was so depressed. It must be true, because what other explanation was there? Somehow, I was doing something wrong.
The belief system that became such a powerful force in my life had a beginning somewhere… The beginning of this belief system, passed down to me like a bad kind of inheritance, was so hard for me to see because it happened so passively. The lies were never said to me verbally, like “Carla, you are worthless. You’re just one big screw-up. You have nothing to offer.” Nope. My parents never said things like that. How did it happen then that I grew up in a definite state of repression and eventually depression?
There are different pieces of the puzzle, as enforcers of the belief system cropped up in different areas of my life. But I’m focusing a lot on my parents now because they were my first teachers and therefore the most powerful ones. My Dad has his own story of brokenness. If you know my Dad you may feel angry or defensive reading my posts because he is a very nice man. But the belief system that caused brokenness in my Dad’s past is the very same one that caused him to contribute to my broken past. Exposing how the belief system was passed down to me leads to understanding, and understanding leads to healing and freedom. This is why I will write so candidly. In seeing how the belief system was implanted in me in my earliest years, I become free of the lie that I was just born faulty, born with the tendency to be depressed, born with a weak mind or weak soul. This is the truth: I wasn’t born with it, I was born into it. I wasn’t born to be depressed or to struggle with low self-esteem. I learned it from somewhere and just didn’t know how to get rid of it until now. The cycle of lies will only die if they are exposed to the light. I’ve already written about one aspect of the belief system my Dad passed down to me in “The Unengaged Gardener”. In my next post, I will expose another aspect.
In reading Paulo Coelho’s amazing book “The Alchemist” I was so inspired by the main character Santiago, on a quest to find his treasure. He reflects to himself that “he had to chose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure. ‘I am an adventurer, looking for treasure,’ he said to himself.” We are adventurers on a quest for our treasure, the treasure of knowing the real truth about who we are and why it has been so hard for us to believe that truth. This quest will definitely lead us through painful territory. But the treasure is worth it. I’m excited to be on this journey with you!
In my last post “Freedom from Nose to Tail Surviving”, I said: “What if there is little interest shown at all? Maybe a parent is physically present, but shares no emotional interaction, doesn’t give of themselves or seek to know, really know, their child? The child assumes that she isn’t worth pursuing, her whole self isn’t worth pursuing. Or maybe, her whole self is ‘too much’ to handle, too much to pursue, not worth the effort.”
Imagine a brand new garden. Dark, fragrant earth. All the seeds are planted and ready to grow. The conditions are just right for this garden to flourish, to thrive. All the potential is there. I imagine this is the life of a new child. We are each born unique, with our own unique potential to be and live out who we are in this world. Some kinds of abuse go into the garden and trample it, rip things out or purposefully squish what is growing. Some kinds of abuse want to redo the whole garden to make it look exactly like their own garden. Some kinds of abuse are only bent on passing down the pain and destruction that they received themselves, be it physical, verbal, or sexual mistreatment.
What about the gardener who, being gifted with the garden, doesn’t do very much with it? He may be there every day but he’s not working to help the seeds to grow. He doesn’t try to learn what they need to thrive. He is terrified of making mistakes, so he stays as far to the periphery of the garden as he can without actually leaving. He finds other things to occupy his time while the garden starts to grow as best it can without his help. He offers some easier attendance here and there, providing the basics, certain things he is comfortable doing. But he doesn’t take the time to learn the intricacies of this place, how unique this particular garden is, and exactly what kind of potential is brewing in its deeply planted seeds. Certain things may still grow and flourish, but with a sense of grasping at life, a hungry sense of surviving. The gardener is not vigilant to protect the vulnerable early growth. Weeds grow at the same time and strangle some of the good stuff just poking through. Birds or insects are given free rein to come and pick at it as they choose. Ripe things that could be harvested drop to the ground unnoticed. Over time, tendrils crawl out all over the place, seeking for some kind of attention and care.
My dad was this kind of gardener. He never tried to destroy my garden, but by mostly sitting around the outside of it, being too afraid to get involved with what was really going on on the inside, he inadvertently sent the message to me that I was not valuable enough to be pursued, that my own feelings and thoughts were not worth being interacted with, that my deepest potential wasn’t worth being investigated. This was the beginning of my hungry heart, the tendrils hungrily seeking out other ways of being validated and affirmed. As children, we automatically form our first most powerful belief system based on how we are treated by our very first gardeners. This belief system was one of the biggest vacuums that drew me into deep struggles with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
I went trail riding last summer as part of my vacation. I’m not an avid horse-rider, and though I have this admiring affection for them, I was still afraid. The guides assured me that these horses had ridden this trail a thousand times- they knew exactly what to do and where to go and there shouldn’t be any surprises. It was true. Though some parts of the trail were more open and gave a little bit of freedom, these horses fell into a predictable nose to tail pattern. We switch-backed down through a steep valley; they plodded along with steady, consistent rhythm. But what had intimidated me at the beginning of the trip was there all along; these were big creatures, strong and powerful. And even though they were controlled day by day with reins and the predictability of the trail path, they had all the potential to break free and take me for the gallop of my life.
Nose to tail, nose to tail… plodding along the same path. What happens when a person’s full potential isn’t valued? What happens when a person is actually valued for being less than all that they are, or for doing things (or not doing things) that please only someone else? Value is placed on the wrong thing. In the powerful dynamic between a child and a parent, the child will automatically strive to be more of what their parents value. As a child, I knew I was valued for being good and right, so I strived to be that way. Or what if there is little interest shown at all? Maybe a parent is physically present, but shares no emotional interaction, doesn’t give of themselves or seek to know, really know, their child? The child assumes that she isn’t worth pursuing, her whole self isn’t worth pursuing. Or maybe, her whole self is “too much” to handle, too much to pursue, not worth the effort.
These were the deep conclusions I had drawn about myself that were at the root of my depression. Over time, what I was valued for was becoming far too cumbersome and burdensome to maintain. Like weights around my shoulders, pulling me down… All my effort to be right and good created endless shoulds and should nots and guilt guards and striving . What I was not valued for was still deep down inside, but so afraid to come out, unaccustomed to interacting with others, unsure of whether or not it would be accepted. I did not know that it was valuable, and I didn’t know how to value it myself.
This is the work I am doing. Chiselling out more understanding, more understanding, deeper and deeper. Uncovering these root beliefs truly is the door to freedom for everyone still plodding along nose to tail, nose to tail. We are each filled with unique and amazing potential and value beyond this trail.
I read a really interesting article in the paper this week. The reporter interviewed a few high end restaurant servers who shared how they actually dreaded Valentine’s weekend at the restaurant. Couples sat awkwardly across from each other, looking unhappy and not really knowing what to talk about. Pressure was high to get all the details right. An evening of high expectations rarely fulfilled, with more tension than enjoyment.
My life used to be like this! High expectations of finding some kind of “finally” love to satisfy my hungry heart. The vacuum in me was constantly asking, “Am I loved? Am I okay? Am I loving?” and I believed the warm fuzzies of romantic love would answer those questions once and for all. They did, for the first few weeks with any guy I dated. But the feelings never lasted, and then I was lost again. This was my labor of un-love, the slippery illusion of salvation-by-warm-fuzzies falling from my hands time after time. Not only was I left empty, I also felt these pangs of despair that my life could have no real purpose if I was single.
How grateful I am to know that’s not true… Throughout my depression, having those warm fuzzy feelings were some of the only times I felt truly alive. I believed this was love. The lie entangled me beyond my romantic relationships; I thought loving someone meant I should always have those warm feelings for them and act accordingly (and vice versa). My family believed this too, and so we rarely aired out conflicts in our home. We learned to keep true feelings inside so that no one’s feathers would get ruffled. Some of us labored to get all the details right so that what looked “perfect” on the outside would be proof that we were okay on the inside.
Finding the roots of real love relieves me from this labor. Being whole in my relationships means I am learning to bring my true self to the table when I interact with others. I can see now that trying to please them at the cost of ignoring who I really am only leads to destruction in one way or another- true relationship doesn’t last on that kind of foundation. Learning to love myself means I’m not depending on other people to fix me or fill my “holes”. I don’t need to take advantage of them, and I don’t need to let them take advantage of me either. Instead, we can exchange our real selves with each other. We share our truth and enrich each other’s lives. Real relationship practices mutual respect and equality. It is honest and knows it doesn’t have to be perfect or get all the details right . It desires to grow, to deepen, to learn, to tell the truth, to discover… All these things are at the root of true love.
The warm fluffy feelings are still fun and I have no intentions of banning them from my life! But, I’m not trying to control them anymore. I’m not demanding anything of them in an effort to heal my hungry heart. They come and go based on how real the love I’m practicing is. Kind of like cooking an amazing meal- the aroma is a by-product of the timely combination of good ingredients- it doesn’t happen right away, and it’s free to come and go.
This year I get to spend Valentine’s Day with dear friends; I am so excited to celebrate real love in my growing relationships with them.
For more information on the photographer of the beautiful photo in this post, visit this link!
Everywhere I go I have the privilege of meeting people and impacting their lives. Usually I can plant a few seeds that take root and grow the desire for wholeness and freedom from things that hold people back from being all they can be and all of who they are.
While I was in Mexico last month, I met an interesting man in his late twenties, who by his own admission, was not quite ready to let go. He reminded me so much of myself when I was younger that my heart was touched. Even though I found myself intently listening to his story, on another level I found myself reminded of things I had not thought of for a long time. He triggered intense memories about my resistance to recovery and how frightening it was to think of giving up my coping methods. I recalled the fear that I had of living in freedom and even where I still struggle in a few areas. I was reminded of the absolute terror of learning to trust myself, the fear I had of finding out who I really am and what it took for me to learn to live in that wholeness.
In the two weeks since I have been home, I’ve realized a deeper understanding of how scared that I was to get healthy; to face and deal with my issues and live a whole life in freedom from the chronic depression and dissociation that I lived with for so long. My dissociative identity, constant depressions and my obsession with my weight and body image had become like a blanket of comfort for me. They were the spin that I lived in. They were me; my identity. They were my survival mode and they made me feel safe. I believed that that these coping methods were the solution; how could they ever be the problem? Every time I tried to let go of the cozy blanket of survival, even to let go of one small piece of it, I felt naked, exposed, freezing, scared and way too vulnerable. I felt out of control. Control was essential if I was to feel safe. Deep down inside in my subconscious, I felt sure that I would die without the security blanket of coping methods that I had developed over the years.
It is necessary to develop these coping methods especially when we are children however a huge part of my recovery process was about realizing that I was no longer a child, and that so many of my coping methods were developed to protect myself as a child. They did evolve into adult coping methods, but the problem was that they were based in childlike thinking. I had to recognize that these problems were indeed coping methods, recognize the lies I believed which gave them their basis, replace those lies with the truth, and then realize so much of the protection I developed was no longer necessary. Then I had to re-parent myself with my new grid of understanding.
It wasn’t that the abuse or that I was so devalued was a lie; it was that I thought I had some control over it or that I should have been able to have some control over it; that I thought I deserved it and that I brought it on myself ~ that was the lie. I developed my survival methods for protection in two ways. The first one was to be able to deal with and live with the abuse itself. The second was to protect myself from further abuse.
In my process through therapy, on my journey to wholeness, I threw off the security blanket of coping methods one layer at a time and learned a new way to live. Some days I do feel exposed and sometimes I still get scared, but I find that as time goes by, I get more and more comfortable with my new life.
When I reach out my hand to yours, what do I have to offer you but my own experience, strength and hope?
Sometimes I go on rants. Everyone who knows me well enough knows this truth about me. I like to go on regarding what I feel strongly about, backing it up with all sorts of examples and insightful new ways to look at things. My rants are always truth based, but I base my truth differently than a lot of other people do. My truth is based on my new definitions of love, respect, relationship and equality. I have learned these new definitions over the years of my own process and journey to wholeness. My favorite rants are around the topics how do we learn to love, how do we learn self love and how our experiences determine our belief systems.
I was not taught to love by being loved. I was taught by empty words. There was an obligation ticket attached to the love. I was guilted, and shamed with statements such as “after all I have done for you” and “you think you are so hard done by” and “you are so ungrateful”. Throw a bunch of other false beliefs in the mix along with all that and what you have is a disaster waiting to happen.
My definition of relationship based on the examples that I had, was no better. Then I got married (to someone who had similar false definitions of love and relationship) and had kids of my own. How was I to teach them when my own foundation was so faulty!
My kids used to believe that my love was proven when I baked them cookies or pie, or bought them the DVD they desired. They thought that I loved them if I drove them to their friends’ house, let them have a sleep over and didn’t make them clean up their own messes.
My husband used to believe that I proved my respect for him by putting all his wishes and desires ahead of mine, and supporting all his needs as more important than mine. Our relationship ran smoothly if I never questioned his decisions, made sure that I did not confront him about anything, didn’t interfere with his 12-16 hour per day work schedule and well… the list goes on. If I was running things at home the way that he liked them ran, then I loved him. I had no idea what equality meant. It was just a word that I didn’t give much thought to.
It didn’t occur to me but by this definition of love, my husband and children rarely loved me. By my own definition, I was a good wife and mother because I gave and gave of myself and never expected anything in return. ( I was a slave disguised as a loving servant.) However, I could not understand why I struggled with chronic depression if things were so great in my life. I was exhausted, and didn’t really know why. I constantly dreamed of going on a long vacation all by myself. I longed for more out of life and felt guilty for it. I had to learn the right way to lead by example. In taking care of myself, my children and husband were introduced to my real value and therefore they learned something about their own real value.
There is an even worse statement then “self help is selfish”, and that is the statement that counseling therapy is selfish. When I loved myself enough to get some help for my mental health, myself, my husband and our children were saved from the destination we were headed towards. We didn’t know that we were on a destructive path, we only thought that I was. (This sounds funny now, but it is true) My husband will tell anyone he meets today that by my decision to get help, I have impacted him and our children in such a deep way that our lives are 100% better than they were before.
And to think that it all started with self help
From my heart to yours ~ Darlene Ouimet