I have a very important question to ask you...
Have you ever experienced depression? Whether mild, severe, chronic or seasonal? And if so, did you tell anyone or seek support?
In the wake of the shocking suicide of iconic handbag designer, Kate Spade, I want to speak to you today about depression and mental illness, with hopes of destigmatizing this mental illness which plagues so many and takes thousands of lives each year.
I'd like to share with you my personal, short-term experience with depression.
I am and have always been a very spirited human being. I find joy, pleasure, and gratitude in most days. Except of course, in times when life has thrown me hard breaks. But even then, I have been able to navigate my way through them, building greater strength and character along the way.
Until 4 years ago when my 13 year old dog, Kobi, passed away -- leaving me with a massive hole in my heart and in my life. Every past pain and hurt that I experienced throughout my life, that I thought I had healed from or neatly tucked away, came surging through. The actual physical pain I felt in my heart was so unbearable that there were moments that I believed my heart might literally break and that I might suffer from a heart attack.
It was nearly 2 months after my dog passed away when I couldn't get out of my bed, no matter how many times I told myself to, that I realized I was depressed. And though depression is a natural phase of the grief process, this degree of pain and sadness was extremely novel to me. I wanted to run, escape from my pain, or sleep it away. I was clear that I didn't want to end my life, but I wanted to end the pain. I wanted to sleep until the pain was no more.
The weight of the grief became so heavy on my heart and on my body that it hurt me to move and get out of bed. It was as if the weight of an elephant sat on my chest. Each morning I would tell myself to get out of bed, but each morning turned into 1 to 2 o'clock in the afternoon. My family would call routinely to check on me and encourage me to get out of bed. Sometimes my sister would even come by my New York City apartment and usher me out of bed.
My lowest moment came when my mom encouraged me to take a bath to feel better, and as I sat in the tub, until the water turned from hot to cool, I discovered that I couldn't lift my body out of the tub. Something so heavy was weighing me down. I took each leg into my arms and lifted them one by one over the bathtub banister. I then broke down in inconsolable tears.
I remembered hearing, either before or after my dog's passing, an interview with Madonna Badger, the New York City advertising executive who tragically lost her 3 daughters and parents in a Christmas Day fire in their Connecticut home in 2011, say during an interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday, something along the lines of:
"You can't think your way to right action, you have to move (act) your way to right action."
As many times as I thought about getting out of bed during those dreadful days, it didn't happen until I deliberately and very consciously moved each limb one at a time.
Can any of you relate to this? Maybe a loss, a break-up created a similar experience for you?
I didn't have any experience with depression but I knew I wasn't myself, so, I told my mother, "I'm not nearly over this yet. You've got to keep an eye on me." I didn't really know what I meant but I knew I wasn't over it and I didn't want everyone close to me moving on with life and thinking I'm okay. I let all of my loved ones know, "hey, I am NOT okay. I need you."
Although I didn't seek professional treatment with a therapist at that time, because there was a part of my brain that still had much clarity and stability and knew that I needed to sit in my feelings and experience all of it. I didn't want to rush through my grief, and though each day was tough, I felt myself slowly moving through it each day. I wanted to take this time to heal myself completely, so I worked closely with a highly qualified spiritual coach.
But what happens to someone who has a history of depression or mental illness when they experience a traumatic event like this? It could have even graver affects on someone who already struggles internally with chemical imbalances, depression, and suicidal ideation.
You see, we all have our breaking points. None of us are exempt from pain, loss, and suffering. None of us are beyond experiencing something that topples us over. We are human and the human spirit is fragile. We are designed to feel and experience life's joys and equal pains.
This is why it is so important for us to not only check on our loved ones, especially after a traumatic event or big life cycle change, which can also engender deep feelings of pain and grief, but to share with others when we feel off or not like ourselves. It is crucial that we speak up about our silent struggles. When we do, we find that we're not alone. That everyone is dealing with some type of struggle.
There is no shame in seeking help when we struggle and find ourselves not able to move through it. There is strength and self-love when we can ask for help and support from others.
There are many trained professionals to support individuals with mild to severe depression.
Here is a brief note from a former client, Darnell, whom I worked with last year who was struggling with mild depression:
"Angela was an anchor during a time of grief. In just a short 8 weeks of working with her, I was able to overcome a two year depression. I am forever grateful she introduced me to some valuable tools that I practice daily and that she held me to the highest standards, in which I wanted to see myself. I am experiencing life again and I feel as though I belong in this world and it's a beautiful feeling when you can truly and deeply love yourself." ~ Darnell
There is love and support out there for anyone struggling with depression or other mental illnesses. Sometimes we have to ask for it and seek it ourselves. Please, if you are feeling depressed and it hasn't mitigated over a 3 to 6 month period, please seek help. Give yourself the support that you need. Talk to someone, anyone and let them know that you're struggling.
If you're struggling with mild depression, a Life or Spiritual Coach may be able to assist you, however, if you suffer from chronic or severe depression contact a licensed therapist or psychiatrist.
As a society we must do more in our efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness and encourage people to get mental health check-ups. Just as we would nurture and care for our physical bodies and get annual check-ups, we must too, care for our mental and spiritual bodies. Encourage the men in your lives; husbands, fathers, sons, uncles, and friends to have their mental health checked on, as men are the least likely to seek support.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with severe and chronic depression and suicide ideation please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Lastly, if you wonder how I moved through that period of depression in my life, I will share with you as I have shared on my platform before, that I turned my pain into my purpose. I took to writing and pouring out everything that was in my heart. I spoke and taught about self-love. I shared my vulnerability with my audience and created Love Sanctuary. It truly healed me and made me whole once again.
Whatever you need to do, that is healthy and safe, to move through any pain, I encourage you to do so today. Find the support that you need.
Together, let's bring the microscope under mental illness and make it a regular and normal dialogue.
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I always look forward to hearing from you! Wishing you much love and God speed.