Empaths & Depression

Last week in the Enlightened Empathy community, we had an awesome conversation about empaths and depression. One of our community members, Aaron, shared the most vulnerable, deep, profound and amazing story about his experience. It made me cry, obviously.

With his approval, I wanted to share it with you. It’s a must read for anyone who’s experiencing depression, and for all humans in general, who might one day find themselves in need. Feel free to send it to the people you love, who you think might benefit. Here goes:

For years, I was severely depressed. But the fact I just used past tense should be some sort of consolation.

From personally having lived through years of being in the depths of depression, behind these words lies an intimate understanding of how soul-deadening and life-sucking it is to perpetually end up stuck again and again in that gloomy cavernous bottomless colorless void of emptiness and debilitating soul-ache heaviness.

Yes, I know that feeling well.

I also know the reality that it certainly doesn’t occur as a fleeting feeling, such as “feeling hungry, angry, tired or mad” but instead, as an all-consuming reality, like a bad dream you can’t wake up from.

I may not understand your personal pain, but I do share with you the journey of going through that personal hell.  And while our lives, problems, situations, and pain may be different, the aspect we all share is being at rock bottom.

ROCK BOTTOM. We know that place, and some of us have seemed to set up residence there. With nothing but a view of darkness and the overwhelming climb upwards out of the bottomless pit.

THE CLIMB. It often seems impossible, many times we simply give up on it, just to hunker down and survive (and that is okay). However, as I’ve now managed the climb out, and stay out, my perspective has shifted vastly.

It was the shift in perspective that came first, that enabled me to climb out and stay out.

As -> I <- changed, due to a huge paradigm shift in how I viewed myself, and my situation in the bigger picture, it  in turn positively affected my mood and behavior, which in turn created a spiral of upward momentum, learning and discovering strategies that kept me “surfing the wave” all the way up and out eventually, out.

Yes I stumbled, yes I learned amazing tools, yes my mood got better, yes the pain eventually has subsided, yes I became happy again. But before all that was the perspective shift.

The Perspective Shift

At rock-bottom, I don’t see “sufferers of depression,” I see warriors who bravely withstand, and at times dare (against the seemingly impossible odds) to eventually get back up and (despite countless falls and regardless of the seemingly hopelessly infinite odds) still continue to bravely attempt “THE CLIMB.”

To be a warrior there must be a battle,
To be brave there must be an enduring pain.
YOU ARE A WARRIOR.

Yet somehow it feels further from the truth than ever. The stories of brave warriors and epic battles seem glorious on the outside. But the internal unromanticized person lived-reality is often experienced as very different, as any true warrior who’s fought the fight will tell you.

Whether you believe it or not,
whether you feel it or not you,
YOU ARE A WARRIOR.

You can conquer this, maybe not today maybe not soon.

Yes, your present reality may feel absolutely debilitating like you can’t possibly take feeling like this any longer.

But if you look back on your life there were awful awful times, 10x more awful than today, when you thought (like today) that you couldn’t possibly endure, and yet here you are, time went on, those situations faded. So looking back long term, you are stronger than you know.

However, I also know that doesn’t necessarily help the pain of the current situation. My advice would be to heed the best doctors I know of (in no particular order):

1. sunshine
2. air
3. exercise
4. water
5. diet
6. rest
7. laughter
8. dancing
9. music
10. audiobooks
11. pets
12. spirituality
13. sex
14. fresh fruit

These are some of the best doctors I know of that make “THE CLIMB” more bearable, even joyful sometimes.

Medication and Support

There’s also nothing wrong with real doctors or real medication like antidepressants. Nor should these be substituted by anything else. Medication can be a great resource if pursued properly, meaning: It’s crucial to be in a stable place with support before you go about trying any.

Because the first medication prescribed probably won’t be “the one” and every single medication you go through and try out, you have to spend at least 3 months with it to learn the effects.

Some have very adverse effects that you may not really notice until the dosage gets higher. It’s a very hit-and-miss process and it may well take a year to nail down the proper prescription. So just know that before you try this route it’s well advised to be in the stable place with support. Also know that if you do manage to find the golden perfect medication, it’s not necessarily the end-all-be-all of solutions, but it certainly does help a lot.

And while having found the proper medication has certainly helped a lot, I would say the biggest things that really helped me overcome depression was doing a lot of inner-self work and learning to love myself. Counseling can be an invaluable asset in helping to unlock both these fundamentals, not to mention being a great support system and it’s helpful accountability aspects.

The Golden List

The simple things collectively make a huge difference, start small by slowly adding and making habits of doing all the things on that list I mentioned above.

Make a list of the ‘those’ things that always seem make you happy or lift your spirits. Don’t stress about making this list, in fact, it’s very important not to brainstorm this list all at once.  Just go through your day-to-day life and simply add things to your list as you notice in the moment that you are happier and in uplifted spirits.

I call this “My Golden List” and it’s an invaluable tool if made in the happy moments.

It becomes an amazing tool when you put it in a visible place, because when you’re feeling deeply depressed… these things won’t naturally occur to you, but seeing it allows you access. You probably won’t feel like doing any of them at the time, but if you trust in the promise made by “happy you” and “just do them anyway”… even if it’s out of a negative place or sense of challenges such as:

“Stupid golden list is full of S***, I’m going to prove it wrong. This is so dumb, just watch” (then do it anyway)

You’ll most likely afterward feel happier and uplifted, out of a downward spiral, and probably admit to yourself:

“(Abashadly smiling) Yeah… it worked…”

But moving on…

Having had and overcome severe depression, I can tell you one thing:

It may not end now, it may not end soon, but all things come to an end sometime.

And believe it or not you are way stronger than you think you are—you’ve survived so much already. There have been days in your past where you felt 10 times worse and still, here you are.

You may feel like you’re in a deep dark pit right now, but let me tell you this:

You are learning the strategies to take yourself out, you are learning about yourself. You are learning your own personal tricks that help you climb out and stay out.

While it may be harder than hell trying to overcome the first deepest dark pit, in the process of climbing you learned the hard way the strategies and tips and tricks to help you climb out the fastest.

The being willing to do the inner-work is key. And yes it can be difficult at times to really look inside and uncover everything. “THE CLIMB” if often as much journey inward, as a journey of climbing out of the deep dark pit.

It does end.

As you keep being brave through simply carrying on, and daring to persist in doing even the small things, whether you realize it or not, whether it feels like it or not, you are getting closer. Don’t worry about when, simply continue on and keep slowly adding those things that give you the upward momentum.

It DOES end.

Continue on, and I promise you that — in time — you will reach it. You’ll be standing there on the surface and you’ll realize that no deep dark pit ever again, will ever have the power over you that first one did.

You’ll realize that upon learning the tips and tricks and strategies, upon knowing yourself to your beautiful, messy core, upon the accumulated lived experience of putting them into practice, if you happen to fall into another deep dark pit again, you’ll know all the secrets to get yourself out of much much much quicker!

You may not be able to avoid the pits completely, but lemme tell ya, it’s much easier to scale them the second or third time around, and this time you’ll be so much more emotionally resilient, it won’t take nearly as long nor seem nearly as daunting. I hope this gives you hope.

And once you know that, at the experiential level, they’ll have a lot of trouble getting you down…
Or at least keeping you down…
Because you are a brave warrior whose lived and mastered the tactics

And once you get there—because you can and will—maybe pass along your experientially gained wisdom to those new recruits and watch as they too climb to become your comrades in the sunshine.

There’s a place for everyone in the sun. And we’ll laugh together when we’re both here. And bask in its warm giving radiance.

Until then…
take my map,
take my tools,
take my flashlight.
It’s dark down there.

And once you get HERE…
Please lend them to a fellow traveler.

Good luck and it gets better. Stay strong 

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