Tomorrow I turn 51…
This time last year I was struggling through each day with low-level depression, unsure of myself and my life and my future. Earlier in 2013, having hit an all-encompassing emotional wall of depression that stopped me dead in my tracks, I took a prescribed course of antidepressants and attended talking therapy sessions for a few months, and together the combined chemicals and conversation definitely lifted the worst of my black mood, but unfortunately not all of it.
Having already suffered several severe depressive episodes over the course of my life, I decided at that point just to sit with the tail end of that particular emotional storm, and leave the last of it to pass on its own, given time. For a while things improved a little, but yet again I got so far in my recovery, then everything stagnated, plateaued all over again. So as it happened I spent my 50th birthday feeling in limbo, stuck in an emotional rut, not at all sure how to get myself out of it.
After several months of frustratingly treading water emotionally, as 2014 dawned I finally got thoroughly fed up with feeling so permanently low and miserable all the time, and made the difficult choice to push myself through a period of deliberate change in the hope of breaking the deadlock I seemed to be stuck in. To actively challenge the worst of my negative habits, however uncomfortable I may find it to do so, in the hope of creating a more positive approach to living my life.
I chose three main areas of personal change to focus on: to talk about my ongoing mental health issues and finally find my voice after years of shameful silence; to get myself out of the house to meet people again and reduce my life-long, not-good-enough debilitating self-consciousness; and most importantly to be kinder to myself, to learn to be more self-compassionate and give myself the same caring consideration I seem to find it so easy to give to everyone else.
In February I decided to start writing a blog, Quietcalliope, with the aim of sharing my lived experience of depression, and for a while, that did help me feel empowered. But I very soon found it too much to be focusing so deeply only on depression and the more negative experiences of life. After only four months I chose to stop posting to that particular blog, and to start another with a different, more positive, less fixed focus. And so Mad Meandering Me was born, and since then I’ve never looked back.
I also went back to work after a whole year off – I took on a part time, minimum-wage job in a local pub, a million miles away from my previous ten years of relatively well-paid, office-based University administration – and that too has done me the world of good. Forcing myself to face lots of people every day with a smile and a friendly word has become so much easier the more time passes – my smile and my conversation has become more natural, surprisingly I find myself smiling inside more, and that feels good.
And lastly, and probably most importantly, I’m learning to forgive myself for not being a perfect person, by trying to focus on the many good things I have achieved in life rather than constantly punish myself for my myriad failings. I can clearly see how my constant emotional self-flagellation in the past has had a sadly negative impact over the years on my ongoing relationship with my children, and I don’t want to continue this negativity through to the next generation. I still have a long way to go, but I’m determined not to give up, to keep faith with myself, to believe I can become happier in life – with life.
And so as I say goodbye to 50 and hello to 51, I’m delighted to feel more hopeful for a happier future than I have for a long time. Although I’ll never say never, at least I feel confident that my depression has, for now, substantially subsided again. I have much in life to be grateful for – a loving husband, three loving children, and three loving grandchildren (so far – we’ve very recently learned that grandchild number four is due early next summer!). There’s a lot of love out there if only I’m willing to accept it, truly appreciate it, and return it multiplied to those that matter most 🙂