I have had the fortunate experience this weekend to watch my mood change from hopeless to hopeful. I have been in a depressive funk for several weeks now, coming in and out of moods daily, sometimes hourly. When life feels out of control I find it important to find some semblance of normalcy that keeps me grounded and focused on the bigger picture.
I have come to believe that a change in perspective is typically needed to help shift me into a different gear. I used to believe that medication was the answer to all my problems. When I felt out of sync I would immediately reach for my phone to call my psychiatrist. That had served me well for years but was failing with greater frequency and intensity as of late.
I have developed a much stronger connection with my psychologist who regularly pushed me to create distance between myself and my illness. She would describe it like walking behind a waterfall. My illness was the waterfall that would continue to fall with consistency and severity. When I was able to step back from the constant flow of rushing water. I was able to begin to witness my illness passing by. I was able to realize that I was not the emotions I was feeling. She taught me to label those thoughts as thinking and return to focus on my breathing.
Of course, in the midst of an emotional attack (anxiety, manic or depressive episode, or any other mood disorder), it is extremely difficult to create that space. Sometimes it takes tears. Sometimes it takes shouting. Sometimes it takes a long walk, away from everything and everyone. Sometimes it simply takes acceptance. It definitely doesn’t require a diagnosis to be overwhelmed!
I have developed skills over the years to help me through those difficult situations. What I have learned is most important for me is acceptance. When I try to “fix” my mood prematurely it often results in putting me into a hyper-critical state of negativity. I begin to look at everyone around me, wondering why I have such a difficult time. I wonder why I am destined to fail. Of course, none of these are true.
Re-wiring my brain, in conjunction with the right medication regime (and medication compliance), has helped me succeed when I could have failed. There are five primary emotions that humans experience including anger, fear, worry, grief and joy. Four of them are negative! I had to re-learn from my childhood that life isn’t about being happy and joyous all the time. Life is about the details in between those moments. When I learned that 80% (simplified based on the above example) of our emotions are negative I gained a much better understanding of what I was experiencing.
I also learned that while my brain chemistry was wired incorrectly and I had to work harder than others to find joy. I also learned that it wasn’t impossible to change my default thoughts to produce different outcomes. There are two significant events that occurred in my recovery that have lead me to the conclusion that changing my default thought patterns was possible. One, I became a witness to my thoughts and feelings, much like standing behind the waterfall. Second, I began creating a gratitude list daily to help change my perspective.
The difference is quite simple when I started to look at life this way. Standing under a waterfall is punishing and unforgiving. It will assault all your senses until you give in and get washed away. Many of us will fight the good fight and stand as long as possible. That was me! I stood there, barely able to breathe, fighting the waterfall. I was looking for those moments of joy in between the drowning of all my other emotions knowing that if I only stood there long enough I would be happy! (I stood there for 33 years before I was able to experience the change.)
There are days, like the past several weeks, where I might have stepped back into the waterfall temporarily. In reality, I believe I was actually just getting close enough that the mist was drowning me! I worked diligently on becoming the witness again and I focused on my gratitude list. What I had learned are that my gratitude, those that come from my heart and spirit, can never be taken away. The superficial, material ones might change, however, when I have an actual re-wiring of my brain, the items on my list cannot be taken. And, the reality is, that if they are taken away, I can focus on looking for the gratitude in why I lost them.
What I have learned is that gratitude is the most significant part of my day that allows me to create distance in my life from the noise. It allows me to create a mindset that helps me find peace and silence in the midst of all the chaos going on in my brain. Reflecting on the past holds me back from achieving my future potential. Focusing on the future prevents me from maximizing today’s life! When I am overwhelmed with life, which happens more often than I like to acknowledge, I return to my gratitude and my breathe.
The simple, daily practice of re-wiring your brain, to pause when things are out of control, is an amazing experience and I wish everyone the best of luck in feeling better!
Originally published at medium.com