I recently completed a piece of mindfulness homework that had an unexpected effect on me.
It seems the people who run the blog at Mind thought it was pretty special too. They asked me nicely to remove the swear-words, and then… they published it.
Mind is one of the UK’s biggest mental health charitable organizations. With actor Stephen Fry as it’s President, it brings awareness of mental health issues to a wide audience and provides advice and support to thousands experiencing difficulty. You’ve probably heard of it.
Editorial update, May 2014: MIND have made some changes to their site and are yet to migrate their historical content. Until I have a new link I’m posting the piece in its entirety here:
Dear depressed me,
Well done for digging this out. I know things seem pointless right now so thanks for giving this a go.
Chances are you’ve been slogging away and just realized that, instead of “getting through it”, you’re actually sinking. We’ve been here before, right? We know the signs: stuff gets top of you and instead of standing back and prioritizing, you’ve tried to do it all and done none of it well. Everything makes you cry, the fear and negativity in the world seem overwhelming and you no longer find pleasure in simple things like a shower or fresh sheets. You wake in the morning exhausted wondering how you’ll get through the day. Your concentration’s shot and your inability to remember what you were doing two seconds ago is confirmation of your inadequacy.
It took me ages to write this because I didn’t think anything I could say would penetrate the cocoon of flaccid lethargy I know you’re sealed in right now. But what kind of a writer would we be if I believed that?
There are some important things you need reminding of; the first being: we make a great team, you and I – you feeling, me putting it into words. You might think you got the bum deal there but believe me, my part’s no cakewalk either. Now, if you haven’t already put this note back thinking, “Oh shuddup you arrogant twerp”, you’re already doing great. Just keep reading these words we wrote together before this black cloud descended.
Don’t beat yourself up for being a lazy-arsed waste of space. You’ve got a husband for that and you know in your heart of hearts he’s only winding you up, however much you want to latch onto something negative. BPD means we live life as a performance and furtively view the world from backstage, constantly evaluating our execution. We’re our own harshest critic and this saps energy like nothing else. Its not surprising things come crashing down every once in a while, and people’s love feels like pressure or criticism.
We’ve come so far and learnt so much; don’t belittle it. For some, the world would be a hollow place without you in it, however much you tell yourself “They’ll manage.” Your husband and children unhesitatingly turn to you for love, support and advice. Your greatest fear of something terrible happening to them is also their fear for you. Don’t be the one to make it their reality. The words we write together reach others in lonely places all over the world. You make a difference.
You ask, “Must I keep pushing myself to be social, productive and successful my whole life, or can I just give in to my natural inclination to be a hermit and accept my fears instead of fighting them?”
The answer to both is “No.” You don’t have to keep forcing yourself to go against your instincts, but neither should you let fear limit you. That liberating feeling of “F**k what everyone else thinks!” that depression’s making you feel right now? Hang onto it. It’s right. It’s what’ll get you through this.
You need to put yourself first – it’s not selfish or arrogant like you were always told; it’s recognizing that you have as much value as anyone else, and having the self-awareness to own your needs; accepting them and dealing with them responsibly. That voice in your head… you know, the TRUE You? The one we try and get down on the page? You need to treasure it. The True You is far more valuable than anything you can construct. Trust it. You’ll be surprised. It actually has all the answers you’re looking for – you just have to listen.
That tenuous spark of connection you feel with the greater, wider world is the real thing. That’s why you feel better when you get yourself outdoors. The negativity you feel is something you’ve learned to manufacture for yourself; a poison originally administered by those who couldn’t or wouldn’t be true to themselves and sought to pass on their regret and disappointment so they could say they weren’t the only ones to foul up. Go for as many walks as you want, just do it – don’t wait for excuses to form. Depression detests fresh air!
You’ve learnt so much in the past year – you’ve really started to wake up. You’re writing, drawing and reading more – reconnecting with your true You, coming out of the trance. With BPD, identity is a stream of consciousness, not a solid structure. It’s difficult to pin down, but when you know who you are, you stop letting people’s perception of you define you. Tune in to what comes from within – don’t take your cues from outside. You’ve learnt big lessons about the pressures of achievement, religion, gender and society and you’ve recognized they’re just paper cutouts that distract from the real thing. Remember what Bruce Lee said:
“ It is like a finger pointing to the moon; stare at the finger and you will miss all that heavenly glory.”
Hold on to all that you learnt about mindfulness. Take a break right now and do a 3-Minute-Breathing-Space. It’s three minutes. That’s nothing. You don’t even have to move, and you know you’ll feel better for it. It’s an easy achievement score. Go on, I’ll wait.
Ok, good. Now, I want you to do something for us. In the days to come, revisit the mindfulness course, re-read the series we wrote on it. Make your vows afresh. Take small steps. Watch “What About Bob” with the kids; and baby-step like Bill Murray. For now though, go and do something that’ll make you feel better, even if it seems pointless; run a bath, grab a book, go for a walk and take the camera. THIS is where you need to put the effort in, don’t waste it keeping up appearances for others.
Don’t forget – everyone else out there is doing it too, conforming to expectations, measuring their “worth” against others – they’re all wearing the same mask. We’ve seen the magazines at the supermarket checkouts – everyone has doubts, worry’s they’ve missed the boat, fears inadequacy – they hide it just like you do. The minority are those with the awareness, strength and courage to refuse to do it anymore, we don’t hear so much about them.
Let go your belief that everyone else is better at “life” than you are. This is a tool you use to cause yourself emotional pain – it’s impossible for anyone else to hurt you in this way. You’re not that world away from perfection you think you are. It’s just an illusion. No one finds it easy.
Remember your negative thoughts are not facts. So just stop. Catch yourself and stop. All that mindfulness practice means you can spot it a lot more easily now. This, my friend, is progress. Remember how excited that realization made us feel? It’s still there, even if you don’t feel it right now. It hasn’t gone; you haven’t lost it. We can continue exploring it together when you’re ready. Hang in there. Like everything, this will pass.
Ok. That’s all. I hope it helps, but more than that, I hope we don’t have the occasion to find out.
Love and loyalty,
Your optimistic other You
Author’s note, June 2014: Since the time of writing I’ve been re-diagnosed with Aspergers and Bipolar II. I no longer meet the criteria for BPD and given the existing cases of Aspergers and bipolar in my direct family I have to admit this re-diagnosis seems a more accurate explanation for my symptoms. Oh, the beauty of hindsight…