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Moving Through Depression: A Few Steps Further

by Maggie Baker(more info)

listed in depression, originally published in issue 46 - November 1999

Staring at the sea, I wonder just how far I've come in my battle with the waves. Depression, like the tide, comes and goes.

But it isn't just a horizontal ebb and flow. Digging deep to try and find some solid bedrock on which to rebuild my life, I've turned to the therapeutic qualities of physical work to help in the healing process. And I've turned to other things too.

I've also begun to realise that beneath the bedrock lies a molten core, waiting to flow.

Fighting what at times seems like an endless pull towards physical, mental and emotional inertia, I've been pushing, digging, scraping, scrabbling, screeching, singing, drinking, walking, talking, working, laughing, crying, sweating, swearing and breathing my way through blocks of one form or another, often motivated by nothing more than an awareness that I had to survive. Survival may sometimes be enough – absolutely enough – but I'm beginning to get a sense that there may, after all, be more to life for me than that alone. And – I hope – for others too.

I've had desperately bleak moments – stretching into months – when I've felt like an utterly forlorn and forgotten figure in a cardboard cut-out landscape. But now at last I'm beginning to get more of a sense of pleasure and hope from my life, the world around me, and my interactions with others. It takes time. The feelings of energy and integration are intermittent but they are an indicator to me that I've been learning to live with, and learn and change through, my experience of depression and other aspects of mental distress.

I've been trying out new techniques of coping, living, loving, and though I still hang on to old patterns, I've also been letting go, and drawing in new threads of different colours and intensities. Realising at last that I needed to feed my senses, I've been doing just that; and am now beginning to feel my senses feed my soul.

I'm becoming more mobilised in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons. It hasn't been easy; it is still damned difficult much of the time. Though it can be daunting and disorientating, it also feels like the right thing for me to do. It's an ongoing battle, but one that I'm trying to wage as creatively and positively as I can, when I can. At other times I just get through as best I can. I've been learning to listen to my inner voice, higher self, instinct – whatever it might be or be called – regardless of what others might think of me or my actions. If that makes me selfish then I'm increasingly proud of being so: depression and defiance fight it out in my inner psyche. No wonder my head feels like a cannon-ball at times.

So what have I actually been doing in practical terms?

Well, the process of writing about my experience helps me, and I hope it may also provide a voice through the darkness for others to hear, if they need to – perhaps just briefly – in their own personal journey.

Last summer, at the age of 42, I found myself in a hole (if nothing else, I'm good at digging).

An eviction order had led to my being effectively homeless and I wasn't yet ready to be fully free. I'd been a prisoner for far too long and needed – most certainly – a rehabilitation programme. I also realised that I was the only one who could write it – for myself; and that to do this I would also have to fight – for myself.

A friend's offer of temporary refuge in a caravan had fallen through. My mum took me in (as mums often do), but I knew this had to be a temporary arrangement.

I was traumatised by the whole experience of the eviction process though I knew that I'd seen it through with dignity (I'd even represented myself in Court and, though the decree went against me, I knew I'd done what I'd needed to do).

Digging deep had taken its toll for the time being. I had difficulty in concentrating and doing anything at all for any length of time. I was afraid of getting locked back in to my personal prison, knowing that I was desperately vulner-able, and knowing that every further step I took to be free made me ever more vulnerable – a whisper away or so it seemed from falling back into the pit again.

In the months leading up to the eviction I'd found some release through walking, even if it meant walking up and down the same track several times a day. I just did it as many times as I could.

Hot baths helped too, with bath salts and aromatherapy oils; whatever 'flavours' I fancied. The heat had to be just right – hot enough to feel that it was getting through to my bones and helping to push out some of my inner resistance.

The sights and sounds of the Scottish countryside helped too as I remember. Rivers that gushed and gurgled, clear and fresh, full of light and energy. And spring flowers that turned into summer flowers in the grassy banks by the roads and tracks.

I was beginning to take it in, drink it in; be fed and nourished by the nurturing nature that was all around me and that I feel more and more a sense of as I write. Some 12 months or so ago it was less intense and much more interspersed with the lack, the gap, the rigidity and resistance that I've been fighting through, but the glimpses were there even then.

When the eviction order came through things got more desperate again. I floundered. I didn't know what to do but I knew I had to do something. A bell rang in my brain about a scheme for doing voluntary work on organic farms. WWOOF it was called – Willing Workers on Organic Farms.

I tracked down a contact number and joined. For a small subscription I received a list of places that welcomed helpers. I didn't want to have to go out there and do things, meet people; but I didn't want to stagnate either. I had to make the effort, no matter how frightened or anxious I was.

I knew I couldn't afford to have any more negative experience of life and work at this stage. I had to rebuild with positives and look after my building with a vengeance – but without barbed wire.

I took the plunge and arranged a visit to a smallholding for a weekend. I found it excruciatingly, agonisingly hard. It wasn't the physical work so much as keeping my brain going and dealing with the situation generally, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour. There were plenty of cups of tea and nice meals. My host was appreciative and amiable, but I was just so hugely relieved when the weekend – that long weekend – came to an end. However, I had done it. I had made it through that weekend and I counted it as a success. I had to.

My first new block was in place, though it was two weeks before I felt recovered enough from the effort of laying it to do the same thing again, somewhere else. But I did, and again I got through, with positive feedback and a bag of vegetables to boot!

I decided to try a group situation – a weekend helping out in a community garden. This was more formidable, bringing back memories of nightmare experiences of rejection in one form or another. But I chose well for my second weekend and came through with a sense of colour beginning to weave its way into the weft and warp of my as yet only just fluttering flag. I now had three positive experiences behind me. I kept the feelings of panic and fear at bay (most of the time), gave myself pats on the back (occasionally, when I remembered) and tried to rest, walk and meditate as much as I could, though it was all a bit sporadic. It was a very frightening time for me. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to cope with whatever lay ahead of me in the future, when nearly every task seemed daunting and every little effort seemed to take an age.

But I wasn't quite afraid to the point of permanent petrifaction, and I'd begun to experience moments, working in those gardens – sometimes on my own, sometimes with others – when I felt energy, life force, running through me. The sensation came and went, but I had a sense that it was gradually getting stronger and for longer periods; and that in working with the earth I was becoming energised by it, with it, for me, for others.

Over the last few months I've been doing more and more of this 'earth work', building up to whole weeks at a time, and longer.

It helps me to be in places where there are people who have a shared sense of awareness of things unknown and unknowing, even if it can't be spoken. At times it still feels like I'm living a nightmare inside my head and inside my heart, but I've recognised that the pull towards inertia is linked – perversely perhaps – to the cry of a creative urge within me, desperate to find a way out. It's forcing me to keep digging and digging and digging, and then digging some more if I have to, to release myself from myself.

Physical effort helps to shift the shit of my emotional blockages. Drinking a lot of water helps too. But it doesn't just stop there. It isn't that simple. Colour is more than black and white.

I'm sometimes so desperate for emotional release that I turn to alcohol to help the flow.

I don't drink vast amounts like some alcoholics but I do have a degree of dependency, some of the time anyway. Then again, I enjoy it and my view is that this drug that can do so much damage (like any others) has played its part – and an important one – in the process of healing that I've been making myself experience. It's helped me to shed tears that I think would have made me burst otherwise. If I'd collected them in a bucket they would have watered a few gardens, that's for sure. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, and overall I think I'm doing what I need to do to help myself, and continue to heal.

On a different note, I soak up the sun when I get the chance; burn incense sticks; enjoy open fires; indulge myself with fragrant oils. I need sensory saturation now and I'm doing what I can to get it, albeit still slowly, still painfully sometimes.

Colour. I need colour. Need to paint with it, bathe in it, soak it in.

I need music: sweet, heavenly, soulful music.

And most of all, I need to sing.

"Hark the heralds…"

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About Maggie Baker

Maggie Baker is currently based at the Cae Dai Trust in North Wales. Cae Dai is a registered charity providing practical support for people with psychiatric and social problems. She can be contacted on 01757 701576

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