Eyes wide open
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
I sometimes think that suffering with anxiety and / or depression is a bit like a movie with a difficult plot to follow.
For most of the time there is an underlying confusion as you respond to each twist and turn of the unfolding story. You are subject to wherever the movie takes you until there is that moment in the film where you suddenly realise what has been happening all along.
The plot had always been in plain sight, but it was only when the main character in the story had their eureka moment can we then see what has actually been going on. It's at this point there is no going back; you can no longer view the movie in the same way.
And the difficulty is of course is that once you seen patterns of anxiety and depression in your life, you have to make a choice about what to do with the discovery. In reality, you only really have two options.
1. Live in denial about the fact that you now understand what is going on and instil further protection mechanisms in order not to face up to it. (If you thought it was exhausting before then this takes it to a new level). It may also involve distancing yourself from friends and family who will lovingly tell you the truth.
2. Allow yourself to look back using your new revelation to learn, grieve, understand and work towards undoing old patterns and creating new ones so that the rest of life can be engaged with and not just coped with.
My natural instinct was often option 1 - more of the same. It is a pattern you I was used to anyway. Taking the unknown journey of Option 2 seemed a scary option, but ultimately is a choice that is leading towards freedom and peace in every increasing amounts.
(Before we proceed, a little disclaimer here. Below describes how I engaged with my journey and my understanding of anxiety, underlying anger and depression. Everyone’s journey is unique I hope that the sharing of my personal journey is helpful. However, I do recommend that you seek professional advice if you or a loved one is struggling in this area)
Of course the journey of understanding what is behind the anxiety, underlying anger or depression will be different for each of us. For some, it may be that some short term re-shaping of patterns of thinking through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or something similar, may relieve a large part of it; for others, it will require the short or long term assistance of medication to help with chemical imbalances; for others still, it will require revisiting experiences from the past, potentially deep traumas, emotional and / or spiritual damage, or learned messages and behaviours from our experience of life so far. For many, it is likely a mix of all.
Helping me with my mental health journey, I had a trained counsellor, pastor and family member (all the same person!) whilst out in Ibiza and on my return to the UK, I started taking medication (more on that later), engaged with a private therapist (more on that later), had some of the most supportive family members you could wish for, and had a very brave wife (lots more on that later!) to help me through.
But, if the encouragement to begin the journey of healing resonates with you, then it does come with a warning.
Don't rush into the process.
It needs to be opened up slowly, with tremendous care, with someone who is trustworthy and understanding, ideally someone with professional counselling skills. I would also wholeheartedly encourage prayer and allowing God to speak into your past as well. For me this part is so important to really seeing past situations through His eyes - I found a lot of peace through that.
Of course, whichever route you choose it is likely to be a very slow one but also one of hope, one that begins the journey of healing from past patterns, and the potential of a future of increasing freedom.
I know I have been in a fortunate position to have all this wonderful help and support and I appreciate that whereas many haven't - and maybe as a society / church we need to do something about that........
One observation of my experience is that suppressed or buried emotions (layers and layers of them) have come to the surface again. Coming face to face with how protective patterns repeated in every relationship, in every experience, causing the same difficulties and missed opportunities and even complete changes in the course of my life have been challenging to work through.
If I'm honest seeing how the same damaging patterns had weaved themselves through life almost pushed me over the edge; what hit me quite hard at the beginning of the process was thinking of all that could have been and, dwelling on all the times my fronts, protections, anxieties had kicked in and not allowed me to experience life. Had I just wasted my entire life by not fully living any of it?
The answer is unequivocally No. No, nothing has been wasted. Some regrets - Yes. Some grieving - yes. Some changes I would have made - who wouldn't have? Some changes to make now - definitely.
But, truth be known, I wouldn't have been able to make different choices anyway. The learned behaviour and patterns kicked in and overrode my ability to make clear and healthy choices. The need to survive in the moment did not allow any space for medium or longer term thinking. I was in protective mode.
And just like a management system in a car, when something is wrong, it limits function in order to protect the core critical systems from further damage until the damage is repaired and it is safe to move again. If you never repair the damage, the car will continue in limited function mode as it has an important job to do.
But taking the car in for repair, allowing the systems to be fully examined and restored, will lead to a fully functional and originally designed experience.
It is this journey I am looking forward to.