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Moving Through Depression, Literally

by Maggie Baker(more info)

listed in depression, originally published in issue 84 - January 2003

I've moved many times in my journey through depression - emotionally, spiritually, physically. In the process, I've become quite clear of clutter, in different ways, but it hasn't been - still isn't - easy.

The phrase 'letting go' and the command 'let go' can be used quite liberally in personal development programmes and spiritual teachings. But in my view, letting go in the wrong way at the wrong time can have disastrous consequences. Like a lot of things, letting go has to be actioned appropriately in context, and with reference to inner instincts - the inner voice or sounding board that needs to be heard over and above or at least in relation to outside influences.

It's seven years now since I had my first major breakdown. The mass of accumulated 'crap' - unresolved personal issues - on my metaphorical shoulders got too much to bear. I didn't want to carry on and couldn't see a way forward. But I did.

I've arrived at a point in my life now where I feel quite 'down' but I'm capable of coping with that feeling - I'm not fighting to avoid feeling it.

Drawing of depressed person

I'm fighting now in a different way - to find ways of putting my transitional experiences and increasing awareness of emotional issues to good use. I'm down and in some ways I'm out. Now that I've arrived at this point that I've resisted being at for quite some time, it's not as awful as I thought it would be. I think that's at least in part because I've done a lot of grieving. I've worked through masses of negative thoughts and feelings. I'm here and I'm still pushing through, warts and all. Definitely warts and all.

The trouble with the fuller me that has emerged is that it's not all nice. Many people like 'nice' things and there's a lot of me - the real me - that isn't nice.

Taught to be quiet in a corner, I've had to learn to allow myself to rant and rage and shout. I don't believe I've ever done this inappropriately, without good reason or need. Others may disagree.

If they disagree that's fine. But there've been times when I've needed to express physically and verbally an accumulated outrage against my direct experience of oppression and abuse of power. I've done this in different situations, including anger management workshops, and in places where I'd gone for - but not found - refuge and protection. Letting go enough to let rip - loudly, fiercely, furiously - has released blocks which lay at the root of my repression-related depression and, among other things, were having desperately negative effects on my quality of life, including long periods of almost total inability to sleep. I'd begun to feel like the 'fucking Ancient Mariner' (as I wrote in a diary) in Coleridge's epic poem; and maybe the Albatross that I didn't even think I'd shot was the real me that needed to be tough - with myself. Accepting and expressing the 'nasty' (or perhaps just natural) part of me that wanted and was seeking revenge - albeit in as constructive and creative a way as I could find it - helped to set me back on the path towards sleep. I now feel blessed with the ability to sleep, instead of cursed through lack of it. What a relief!

Looking for ways of channelling my energies in the most constructive, creative and appropriate way for me, in relation to my talents and sensibilities, has been a significant part of my searching and journeying. However, not being able to hang on to anything for any length of time almost puts the concept of 'letting go' out of the window. Essentially, one of my key learning points has been recognizing the importance of every interaction I have with every other human being that I encounter in my life. Even if I don't have a specific role to play, a job to do, I can do my bit when the opportunity arises - at the shops, on the bus, in the street - to send out positive vibes that might - just might - help another soul along the way. Unfortunately, this approach to life doesn't pay the bills. But after working through all the wretchedness of shame and guilt that have been part of my inner experience of depression, it feels quite an achievement to be able to send out positive energy to others, instead of turning negative energy in on myself. Quite a transformation, and a good base-line to be looking out from.

Maggie with Sunny Hat and Friend
Maggie with Sunny Hat and Friend

That's not to say that the nightmare is over. It isn't all plain sailing from here. My spirit or soul or inner being - whatever I might choose to call it - has been screeching and screaming and scraping its way out from the depths of depression and despair. Despite or because of this (probably the latter) I feel quite vulnerable while emerging stronger all the time. I can't afford to have any more experiences that erode my self-esteem. But I can't allow myself to hide away for fear of being hurt. I've started taking chances - letting myself go out into the world again to experience new things, or the same things from a different position.

I've got quite a good recovery rate now from all but the most extreme knocks; and a solid resource bank of self-management strategies including meditation, swimming, writing, going to the pictures, cycling, singing (mostly to myself), crying, working (paid and unpaid) and involvement with the mental health survivor movement, locally and nationally.

Getting back to paid work has always been a major goal for me, not least for financial reasons - I have to earn a living and I want to live as full a life as possible, this being very difficult to do on state Benefits where everything has to be pared down to an absolute minimum. I've taken a leap by getting a job in a hotel bar two nights a week, serving drinks. The biggest nightmare, with some of the effects of my depressive illness and associated stresses still lingering, is worrying about remembering what drinks I've served to people, and fearing that I'm going to go totally blank when it comes to adding up the cost of each round. 'Shit scared' is probably the best way of putting it. I've got nothing really to fall back on but myself. But at least I'm being honest with myself, about myself, and doing something to deal with my situation. And the physical exertion of the job is a welcome change from all the cerebral stuff I've been focusing on for what seems like forever.

It wasn't my fault that so much of me was locked away for so long. But ultimately I've had to accept responsibility for dealing with the situation that I've found myself in - literally, found myself in. Now that I've started to do that, I think I am able to let go of my past, and move through and with the feelings that I currently have - which are more to do with sadness than despair, an important shift.

What happens now is up to me. I've got my fight back. In finding the fight - with myself - I've won it. I've moved, and I'm here.

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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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