Life after depression: 5 therapy tools I still use

I realise that I have a tendency to start off all of my blog posts very direct but I simply don’t know how to beat around the bush and always feel like getting straight to the point.  If you haven’t read about why I got my depression in the first place – and if you’re interested – you can click here to read it.

Getting through my depression wasn’t easy. Yes, I attended therapy but what that actually entailed was homework. You heard me: homework! I would describe the process as a workout for the mind over a longer period of time. Something that I will need to maintain for who knows how long. Perhaps for the rest of my life.

Before my depression I’d never been to therapy so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect specifically. I thought that she might want to dig through my past but even though she, of course, wanted to know who I was, where I came from and my relationship with the people around me we actually never touched upon my past during sessions. It was all about the now and the future. She recommended a book to me – The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris – and because I’m such a Ravenclaw I lent it from the library, copied useful pages from it and saved it all in a file. No matter how awful my depression was, what I learned from it has been, and still is, extremely useful. I learned so much about myself and what I stand for that, in some ways, I’m grateful for the experience. If you think this sound bonkers then don’t worry, it sounds kind of bonkers to me, too.

If you want to learn more: my therapist used what is called ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

HOW TO FEEL AND SEE

The tricky thing about having a depression is that you don’t feel much, but our psychological state is linked to our bodies, so my therapist asked me where my feelings were located. Physically. I had no idea so that became my homework before seeing her again. It wasn’t easy to do. I’d never been that much in touch with my body to begin with and being depressed had only further estranged me from it. After days of trying to find out where my feelings are located I found that I would sometimes feel a “knot” in my diaphragm. Almost as if my feelings had tied themselves together because they were hurting so much. After I returned with my new knowledge she taught me to see my emotions like a radio. Songs, or feelings, come and go all the time and we can choose to sit back and watch them without engaging with them (defusion) or take them on and act on them (fusion). Often, people fuse with their emotions, or even worse: push them away, without knowing it and let them run their lives. I certainly had done so my entire life. The fact that I’m a sensitive person doesn’t help. I also learned that emotions are just that, and that they all just are. Anger, hurt, self-loathing, fear etc. They only start to control what you do if you fuse with them. Knowing that made me able to defuse, take a step back and analyse the feeling and the reason behind it, and it helped me a lot. It takes practice, though, and it’s nice knowing that just because you feel something doesn’t mean that you have to act on it. I tried this method when I feel fear but I have yet to succeed. The most important thing I learned from all of this is to not try to push unpleasant feelings away. My therapist said that doing so is the human default because we want to feel pleasant emotions, but that discarding certain feelings isn’t healthy. You have to allow all of your feelings to exist and then choose which you’re going to fuse with.

The most common way I do exactly that is that whenever I feel sad I give myself a time frame to be as sad as I need to be, let’s say 10 min. I also discovered that if I feel sad I can tell myself that it is okay and that I am going to dedicate time to this emotion at a more convenient time, e.g. when I come home. The key here is to keep the promise you made to yourself. You keep promises to other people all of the time, right? So why break them when it comes to yourself?

HOW TO VIEW TIME

I’ve always been a person who worried about the future. I thought it would be nice knowing how certain things would end so that I’d know if everything would be okay. During the time of my depression these worries became very dominant and my constant worrying began to stress me out. My therapist told me to try and set a time limit so that I would only worry about the now. I decided on 2 months and it worked for me. For a year or so my future only ever extended itself 2 months ahead. It took my mom some time to get used to not asking me where I saw myself in, say, a year or more. Now, 3 years later, I sometimes still worry about the future and begin to feel the stress of not being able to control or know what will happen. When that happens I’m grateful to have a tool that allows me to ease that worry.

LEAVES ON A STREAM

While being midst depression I was also extremely stressed and I had a hard time sleeping. In the book by Russ Harris I found an exercise called Leaves on a Stream. It’s basically a cognitive defusion exercise where you imagine a slow stream and put every thought you get on a leaf that you then watch fload slowly down the stream. My therapist warned me that for some it’s a tool to push away emotions and, like I stated above, that’s unhealthy. We don’t want that. But I found that the exercise works for me. It took some practice, though (a few weeks of doing it every night), and if you suddenly find that the stream is becoming faster in any way you have to stop the exercise and start over. I’ve done that many times.

The great thing about this particular exercise – for me at least – is that I then have a tool to be able to fall alseep. It does put you in a sort of meditative state. I’ve never tried to be hypnotised but I imagine it being like that. You’re in control but you sink into yourself in a very peaceful way. Sometimes, just knowing that I have that tool makes me relax, but at other times where I am stressed or worried, and my brain won’t shut up, I have to use the exercise. I still use it to this day although less frequent than before.

SOMETIMES YOU GOTTA DO WHAT YOU GOTTA DO

A huge part of why I was so stressed was because I felt trapped. I knew that my relationship was bad, and I knew that something had to be done about it, but I had no idea what. I felt lost. Completely stumbling-through-the-dark lost. I remember my therapist asking me what I thought my options were, and when I couldn’t seem to come up with anything she asked: “what about moving back home?” I immediately denied that as an option. I love my mom but the thought of living with her, especially when I’d been living on my own for 4½ years at this point, was unbearable and I was afraid we would kill each other out of annoyance. I admitted the real reason to myself after I moved back home. I don’t remember exactly how long it took for me to accept but the fact is that I felt like a failure. When you think about all the shit I’d been through this feeling seems so unfair to myself and completely untrue, but I have never been able to shake it. When I look back today I can logically see that I was not a quitter for making that decision, I was saving myself, but the feeling I have is still that I failed. I quit. I didn’t try hard enough, and I don’t know if that feeling will ever go away. To this day it’s the only time in my life where I’ve felt that. I’ve made many mistakes but only once has it made me feel like I failed.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes you have to do something drastic to save yourself. Sometimes, you have to think about what’s best for you. I know so many people who put everyone else first on their list of who to take care of when in reality we cannot help anyone unless we help ourselves first. We have to be mentally fit to take care of others, and it is okay to let someone take care of you once in a while.

GETTING TO KNOW YOUR GREEN, YELLOW AND RED LIGHTS

I feel like a part of getting to know myself again was also getting to know my green, yellow and red lights, meaning to notice when I’m starting to feel stressed or overly worried so that I can take action before my yellow light turns red. This is just how I visualise it, your imagery might be totally different. Before my depression I didn’t recognise that my mind was stressed so I continued pushing and pushing until I broke, and now I probably won’t ever do that again. I will know signs of stress when I see them and be able to slow down and take action before it gets really bad. For that I am forever grateful. Not thereby saying that everyone should experience having a depression but it is definitely worth your time getting to know yourself to that extend.

Just to wrap up this post I will say that even though I’ve been free of my depression for almost 3 years I do still stop once in a while to appreciate the fact that I can feel. You don’t really appreciate that fact until you’ve tried not being able to feel anything at all, and I guarantee that no matter how aweful feelings of longing, loss, heartbreak etc. is, I would still rather feel all of that than feeling nothing.


Let’s connect!
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Life after depression

Have you ever struggeled with depression? Or do you know someone who has?
How did you deal with it? What did you learn from your experience?

Be sure to leave your thoughts and comments down below.

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14 thoughts on “Life after depression: 5 therapy tools I still use

  1. Britt K

    What many people fail to realize is that therapy for mental health isn’t one of those ‘I did it and it’s all done’ things. Instead, it’s preparing us to handle life and cope with situations in a new, and healthier, way. It arms us with tools like these so that we are prepared moving forward and can avoid falling back into the same trap we once struggled with!

    Like

    1. Agreed, and some of it I wouldn’t be without. I do hate, though that people who either have had or have a mental illness are treated differently, or not taken serious in some cases. So unfair.

      Like

  2. Rachael Tomlinson

    Reblogged this on Accessible Rach and commented:
    It’s always interesting reading other people’s take on therapy and depression, I am in therapy with relate at the moment, it was something the MS Nurse recommended, I am not depressed as such, it’s an outlet for me to understand what I have lost.

    When Pernille mentions the traffic light system, that is something I use regularly for both managing my illness and measuring how much the loss affects me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rachael Tomlinson

    I have reblogged and shared on mine, this is something that resonates with me especially the traffic light system, thank you for sharing

    Like

  4. I found this post interesting and helpful, so I re tweeted it. I struggled with depressing and anxiety. I checked myself into therapy. I went to therapy for two years. Writing in a journal, taking a hot bath, and using a planner helps me with my depression.

    Like

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you found it helpful. Therapy can be really good as long as you find the right therapist for you.
      I agree that writing down your feelings can be a great way to get them “out of your system” without them being forgotten.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. elkassih

    Thank you for sharing this enlightening blog. When I found myself suffering from post-partum depression, I found that therapy/counseling was one of the best things I did. It definitely made a lasting life impact after recovering and I still use some of the techniques my counselor provided me to this day.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much! I can’t imagine what that would be like. Not only having a newborn but being ill on top of all that. I’m glad that you’re better now, and that your counselor was able to help you. Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  6. Huda Saleh

    First of all, congratulations on tacking that. Mental illness is so hard to get over, and it makes me happy to see people who actually do. I’ve suffered depression for years, and I am incredibly thankful that I got over it on my own without the need for therapy or medication, but it was still a tough process and you always have those “withdrawal” type of moments. Very inspiring read. Thank you for being so open and willing to share!

    Like

    1. Thank you so much! It is, and obviously it depends on what kind you have and why you have got a depression (or another mental illness). I got through it by removing myself from my abusive partner, and hard work. I do like that people have got the choice whether they want/need medicine – and doctors need to get better at not thinking everyone needs medicine.
      Thank you for stopping by!

      Like

  7. Anonymous

    Very open and honest post about depression. I’ve found that most people who actually go through depression don’t really handle it how people would expect them too. I really hope some reads your post and takes something away from it. Thank you for sharing!

    Like

    1. Thank you. I’m not sure what you mean when you say that we “don’t handle it how people expect us to”. Would you please clarify that for me?
      Thank you so much for your kind words, and for stopping by!

      Like

  8. Thank you for being vulnerable and brave at the same time in sharing your story and how using these techniques is still helping you. I know how hard it can be to pull yourself out of depression, whether it’s something that you experience all the time or it’s brought on by a temporary situation and having ways to manage those feelings is extremely helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

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