Four years ago today, I took my first tiny, shaky steps down the road to recovery from the depression and anxiety that devoured me. As I look over my shoulder, the anxiety and depression no longer are bearing down on me, waiting to pounce again, and there is enough distance between the road I traveled then and the road that I am on now for me to look to the future, not the past. On this unconventional “anniversary”, though, I find myself recalling how I got from there to here and feeling immensely grateful for that journey.
When my world imploded, I had no idea just how many steps it would take to find, get on, and stay on the right path that would lead me out of the suffocating darkness back to the light. There were plenty of proverbial “one step forward and two steps back” moments, and more than once, I wanted to leave the path altogether, never to return, but I didn’t. Through a lot of trial and error, I cobbled together a roadmap of sorts that helped to guide me. Everyone’s journey is unique, and their recovery is, as well, but these are five of the many steps that led me to a better place:
- Ask for professional help. My descent into depression and anxiety began well before the actual implosion, but I did not seek out professional help until I could not get out of bed when I was paralyzed emotionally and could not function physically. Finally, I had to admit to myself and to my family and friends that I could not “fix” myself, which is a tough thing for a therapist (that would be me) to admit. I knew what to do, but I just could not do it on my own. So, I sought out the appropriate mental health treatment and immersed myself in it. I had a disastrous experience with the first therapist I saw, but fortunately, I wasn’t deterred and found the right therapist and treatment program for me. This is your mental health and well-being on the line, so, when you ask for help, don’t become helpless in the process. Explore your options, and, if needed, get a second, third, or fourth opinion. Keep seeking out help until you find it!
- Develop a strong support system. As important as professional help is when dealing with mental health issues, equally as important are the people in your life who are ready, willing, and able to walk along, what can be a treacherous path to recovery, with you. One of the hardest lessons I learned on my journey is that some of the very people whom I swore would accompany me on this particular journey were among the first to walk away from me, while some people whom I never would have imagined would be my traveling companions appeared on my path when least expected. It is not easy to watch someone struggle with depression and anxiety, but trust me, it is even tougher when you are the one experiencing them. I am eternally grateful for my family and friends who loved and supported me unconditionally along the way, especially when I couldn’t reciprocate. They believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself, and they kept me going when I wanted to give up. I was the only one who had to do the painful work in therapy to begin to heal, but having a strong support system made it bearable and doable. I got by, and continue to get by, with a little, and sometimes a lot of, help from my friends and family.
- Move your body. At the height of my anxiety, my body was so tense that it left me feeling in a perpetual state of pain, but I found relief when I would go trail running. As I fled into the woods, I discovered an escape from the physical and emotional pain, and so, I ran. A lot. I found great solace in the mud, sweat, and tears along miles and miles of gorgeous trails that helped lead me “home”. As I ran and did other forms of exercise, I noticed that physical movement both staved off anxiety attacks and helped me to rebound from anxiety attacks, so, I made it a priority.
- Explore alternative therapies. In addition to more traditional and conventional forms of treatment for anxiety and depression, I found that acupuncture and Native American healing practices were perfect complements to individual and group therapy. The acupuncturist also brewed a tea from Chinese herbs that I briefly used to decrease my anxiety, and while the taste left much to be desired, it left me in a much desired state of calm. I was willing to do whatever it took, within reason, to feel better, and I was grateful to find these alternative therapies that proved to be effective.
- Tap into your creative side. I never have regarded myself as creative, as I reserve that adjective for artists, dancers, photographers, authors, and the like. So, it was quite by surprise that writing became one of the tools in my bag of recovery tricks that I continue to delve into to this day. I loved to write as a little girl, but that passion was forgotten in favor of life’s tasks and responsibilities. It took being broken wide open to unearth this love of writing from a forgotten graveyard of discarded desires and dreams. Once I started publishing my jumbled thoughts and feelings on my personal blog and later on the Kindness Blog, the emotional wounds began to heal, leaving behind beautiful scars as badges of honor for surviving the war within myself. Music also proved to be transformative for me, as I lost myself in the melodies and lyrics that sometimes expressed words and emotions that I could not convey. Other times, music provided me with a much-needed distraction from my chaotic mind. My creativity and the creativity of brilliant singers and songwriters were therapeutic indeed.
I am not in the same place where I began, but this is not the end of the road for me. I no longer am running from something, but rather, I am going toward something. I don’t always know where this path will lead me, but I trust that I will get to where I am meant to be, one step at a time.
Just one thing each day . . .