We’ve heard it on the radio over the past several weeks; January 28, 2015 is Bell Let’s Talk day. The timing of this coincides with our theme for next month, which is mental health awareness. So let’s talk about mental health and how it has affected you.
In January we focused on the fitness challenge and this February the challenge will be “My Better”. We want to know how your martial arts training has made you better. And going forward what bad habit can you let go of this month. For example, I’m going to stop eating chocolate this month. So throughout this month, tell us your story, share it on Facebook and talk to your friends and family about how depression has affected your life. In one-way or another it touches us all.
I believe in leading by example so here is my story about depression. I’d heard about depression and had seen others around me become paralyzed by their despair. Having trained in the martial arts for most of my life I ignorantly thought I was somehow immune from falling into a depression. Well, we all know how that story turns out because none of us are immune from depression.
A few years ago the helpless feelings that swept over me settled in like a stark cold winter. I’d had some challenges in my personal life, problems I felt I couldn’t control the outcome of and I feared for my future. My fear paralyzed me and I pulled away from everything and everyone. I was embarrassed about my helplessness and felt as though no one understood what I was going through. I wanted help but I didn’t know who to ask or how. Instead of asking for help I pulled further into myself like a turtle pulling into its hollow shell.
In my position as a leader I thought I was doing a disservice to my students if I showed them I was depressed and feeling helpless. So in public I put on a brave face and forced myself to continue to be there for my family and students. It drained me further. I felt tired all the time, emotionally depleted and overwhelmed when friends and colleagues tried to spend time with me or offer assistance. I knew I needed help yet I was too proud and scared to ask.
I needed more than someone telling me to cheer up, I needed to dig deep to rediscover my light and make the grey skies surrounding me break away. I pulled out some of my old martial arts books and read them as well as memoir of others like me, who lived through emotional darkness. I began to meditate more, do Tai Chi often and journal about my thoughts. I let myself cry and apologized for it later, learning as I went that the people who really loved me didn’t need an apology for my tear.
The meditation helped calm my defeated thoughts and the journaling was cathartic. But it would take almost a year and a half before I felt ready to really ask for help. In the martial arts we say “Zen it”, which means, acceptance. When I began to accept my darkness and depression I was better able to work through and find some light in myself. What I needed from others was support and understanding, I didn’t want them to “fix” me. I wanted them to listen to me. Talking through it was more challenging than any physically demanding class I’d been in. Emotional bruises take longer to heal.
As they say, the only way out is through. So accepting and taking baby steps toward feeling good were essential to my recovery. Had I not had all the tools my martial arts training had given me, I may have stayed in my dark place for much longer.
Maybe you have never experience these feelings, and all I can say to you is, that if you are helping a friend or family member through depression, be patient. We need love and support and a few trustworthy people to feel safe with. It’s like mending a bird with a broken wing. The bird is frightened because it can no longer fly, but if you give it a safe, warm place to heal, the bird will fly again. That’s what anyone experiencing depression needs too. We may have been broken but we can heal with unconditional support.
This is my story and while I didn’t get into specifics, I hope you get the feeling about what depression can be like, and more importantly how we can help each other learn how to understand depression and its dark grip on the ones we love.
Share, support and be patient. Let’s talk and help lift the stigma surrounding depression and mental health issues.