For months, I have been in a state of anxiety and depression. My mind has looked back with deep sadness and I’ve lived in those moments of trauma. Then when I have tried to shift my mindset, I’ve looked to the future and been terrified by what might or might not happen. Then this week, my CBT therapist suggested I focus my attention to the present: right here; right now. Let me tell you – it has been a revelation!
Living in the moment
In order to cope with parenting while in a depressive episode, I’ve had to focus on activities. I’ve had to do what is in front of me. I could no longer plan and lived day by day. However, I wasn’t able to do this for any other aspect of my life, and even in my parenting, I wasn’t really present in the moment – I was just going through the tasks to help move me through the day.
As I’ve started to recover (you can see more about mental health recovery in this section), I’ve started to be able to be more present. By that, I mean I’m engaged in the activities I’m doing. I’m concentrating on what I’m doing not thinking about something else. The weight of anxiety and depression hasn’t overwhelmed me so much that I can think of nothing else.
Amongst other things, this means I can now watch a movie or read a chapter of a book. I can enjoy cooking a meal. At times, I have even managed some conversation. For months, the only thing I could talk at any length about was the mangle of thoughts in my mind. Small talk was impossible. Long conversations were a lot of effort. And any topics that I found remotely stressful meant I switched off immediately. My poor husband must have been pretty lonely having one way conversations for months. It feels good to be able to listen again and hear about his interests.
Depression and anxiety must have made me seem very self absorbed. But honestly, that muddle of thoughts was so noisy, it’s all I could hear and so all I could talk about. It was totally absorbing.
There’s nothing worse than being trapped in a prison that you’ve previously escaped from.
Anyway, back to now. Whilst I have felt a shift in my mental health, I still experience that drop in my emotions that drags me into my black hole and out of the moment. At the moment, there seem to be endless triggers for my anxiety and depression so that familiar drop keeps happening. (I mean that literally – a change in mental state is accompanied by a really unpleasant physical drop like someone has attached a weight to your insides and thrown it overboard). At first, I let the drop pull me down. I accepted that it would be a dark day. I didn’t believe I had any control over the emotions (and at first I didn’t) so when I felt my mood change, I accepted that my enjoyment of the day was over. This was progress – because for a good few months, I expected that drop in emotions to be constant. At least now I was experiencing moments free from the fog of mental illness.
But it’s not good enough. This is not the way I want to carry on living. And once you remember what it feels like to live without that physical cloud of mental illness encompassing you, you want it more and more. Feeling so awful suddenly becomes worse – you’ve tasted freedom from your prison cell and suddenly being trapped by your own mind again is torturous. I had to find a way to switch back after something had triggered my depression and anxiety. I had to find a way back to feeling ok rather than accepting it would be a bad day.
What matters right now, is what is happening right now.
My negative thoughts often cycle around fears and trauma. What has happened and what might happen. These thoughts are dark and overwhelming. For example, Instead of enjoying the ice cream I’m holding while I stroll along the beach with my daughter, I’m thinking about how life has been so cruel. I wonder if we will ever carry a pregnancy. I get scared that I will never be mentally well. The ice cream is eaten but I haven’t tasted it. I haven’t heard my daughter laugh. My brain is in a different time zone.
But here’s the revelation: it’s ok to feel nervous about the future, it’s ok to have hurt from your past … but it’s also ok to just enjoy what is happening right now without taking all of time into consideration. I can just experience right now without simultaneously thinking about the past and future. The past and future does not need to define right now.
So when I’ve felt that drop this week, I’ve acknowledged it. I’ve taken a moment to recognise what has triggered the change in my emotions and then made a choice to park those thoughts for later and put effort into focussing on what I was currently doing. It has been hard work. My depression and anxiety throws some pretty intrusive thoughts in to my mind making it a real effort to ignore them and concentrate on what I’m doing.
I keep saying – I deserve to enjoy today. I don’t need to think about one thought all day at the expense of all else. I can think about it later if I still feel uncomfortable. I deserve to enjoy the activity I have chosen to do right now. I deserve to do this activity without feeling awful. It’s ok to be calm. I don’t have to accept anxiety like it has a free pass.
After I’ve reminded myself that I don’t need to stay anxious and depressed, I take deep breaths to remind my body what it feels like to be calm. Then I choose to focus on what I was doing before my mood veered me off course.
And 9 out of 10 times, it has worked. The negative has drifted off. I’ve allowed the black cloud to ebb away. It hasn’t turned a moment into a bad day.
There’s no way I could have done that a few months ago. No way. But I have worked really hard. I have persevered. When it felt like nothing was getting better, I kept going and working on improving my mental health. Now, I truly know that one bad day doesn’t spell disaster. 1 bad moment doesn’t mean a ruined day. Depression and anxiety are not in control. I am.
It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s relentless and exhausting. But – I am in control. Keep taking those small steps. You are going somewhere. You are moving mountains.