Major Depressive Disorder eats away at your self-esteem. The illness seizes upon your every frailty, self-doubt and fear, amplifies it and then uses it against you. All the while you are left searching within yourself for the cause. You examine every possibility, every scenario, no matter the truth that it is already done. When you fail to find a cause, you add this failure to the self-doubt and growing self-abuse, eliciting the downward spiral.
Logically, you know that the self-abuse is without merit. Or at least that is how it seems in the beginning. Then the rumination increases, the examination and re-examination of every decision, every non-decision, every fork in the road. “What if” and “instead of” become your mantras. What if I had decided this instead of that, done this instead of that. It does not matter that you cannot undo the past. You are caught in its web and, as the self-denigration continues, you add again and again to your self-doubt. Logic loses its sway and you fall into an emotional black hole.
This is the situation in which I currently find myself. I live in a new apartment. I have a steady, albeit modest, income. I have made great strides in coping with my mental illness, sharing my insights in blogs and tweets. Yet, despite these many positives, and I do see them, I am experiencing suicidal ideations. I pretend that a lapse in vigilance opened the door for Major Depressive Disorder to make itself known, and the darkest of dark thoughts were quick to follow. The sad truth is, the ideations came out of nowhere, caught me entirely without warning.
When it comes to mental illness, comparison is a fool’s game. It is so very easy to find people who are in a worse circumstance. Yet, I find myself turning to comparison to shame myself out of the hole I am in. More ammunition for the self-doubt and self-abuse. More fuel for the recurrent ideations.
Through it all, there remains a stubborn hope. There is some clarity, some cognitive coherence, fleeting, under threat, but there nonetheless. I see that it was not the return of ideations that caught my attention. Despite their bleakness, ideations were not new to me and did not shock me. No, it was when I found myself finding reasons not to paint that I knew I was in trouble. I knew then that another depressive episode was under way.
This episode, as I mentioned, has caught me unawares. The Black has learned new tricks while it rested, just as I have learned new coping tools. To my good fortune, while a depressive episode has begun, my response has been very different. In the past I would hide myself away and sink deeper into the abyss. Now I choose a different path.
While I did stop painting, tweeting and writing on my own blogs, I continued to share through posts for Healthy Minds Canada. I disclosed there that I was revisiting the basics, retaking the initial actions that propelled my recovery. Additionally, I kept in touch with online friends and new friends I met through support groups. Finally, I reached out to my support team for help.
I believe that there is one additional activity that is playing a significant positive role in helping me better cope with my current struggle. This activity is gratitude, specifically, my ongoing ability to perceive and experience it.
I cannot understate the benefit that I receive from cultivating gratitude in my thoughts. I know that so long as I keep experiencing gratitude, the depressive episode and ideations can be overcome. I know that meditating on gratitude repels the bleakness of the dark thoughts. With each meditation I sense that the ideations have been altered and that they approach my thoughts with reduced frequency. For this, I am grateful.
My exploration of gratitude goes further than thinking about it and meditating upon it. I keep a gratitude journal. In it I write three things for which I am grateful. As I write these three things, I try to relive the experiences. I am reminded of the positives of my day, positives that the depressive episode would prefer to hide. By writing the events down, I record a history that is real. This reality can be contrasted with that of the depressive episode. That history is entirely within my head, and is unreal. For this, I am also grateful.
By taking these actions, I affected the downward spiral. I do not yet know if it has been halted or only slowed. Time will provide the answer to that question.
I have changed since September 2014. I am a more grateful person and feel better for it. To my misfortune, The Black has also changed. It has learned new tricks. Truly, this should not come as a surprise. After all, The Black is a part of me. Perhaps there will come a time when I not only fully accept this truth, but feel grateful for it. Once again, time will provide that answer.