I took a tumble on new years day (and no I hadn’t had a drink!)
It was a pretty stupid fall but without real apparent damage. So aside from the shock it became a bit of a joke. Until 36 hours later when the bruising started to come through.
It was then that the extent of the pain was visible to others and concern and sympathy was in abundance. That it hadn’t been before is not a criticism of those gorgeous, loving people with me; if we can’t see what’s wrong, it’s so hard to appreciate what’s going on for someone else.
It got me thinking. What about the pain we suffer that doesn’t always have visible markers? I’ve experienced depression and anxiety to a lesser or greater extent for decades now and I know how hard it is for those who care about me to know what I’m feeling. I will keep going, pushing it away and pushing it down until it threatens to engulf me. I’m better at recognising symptoms and treating myself compassionately but to let others know – well it’s a practice and the past fortnight I’ve done less well and the demons have been prowling.
Most of the people I work with in my private cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy (CBH) practice are coming with struggles because of depression and anxiety and I have to keep reminding them, and myself, that we are not broken. We do not need fixing. In fact in a lot of cases depression and anxiety are rational reactions to the situation we’re in, not some kind of physiological break.
Let me explain. We all know that every human being has basic physical needs: for food, for water, for shelter, for clean air. It turns out that, in the same way, all humans have certain basic psychological needs. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel valued. We need to feel we’re good at something. We need to feel we have a secure future. And there is growing evidence that our culture isn’t meeting those psychological needs for many – perhaps most – people. I keep learning that, in very different ways, we have become disconnected from things we really need, and this deep disconnection is driving this epidemic of depression and anxiety all around us.
And since most of us don’t enjoy these painful feelings we will do what we can to push them away, avoid them, distract from them – work more, drink more, eat more, mainline Netflix box sets, sleep more, do more, do less (I’ve tried all of the above) – not appreciating that when you numb the painful you numb EVERYTHING… and so the circle continues.
You need to know that there is no normal. There isn’t a way you’re supposed to be feeling. As I’m often saying to clients, stop should-ing all over yourself. “Should be happier”, “should be better”, “shouldn’t feel this way”. Our culture doesn’t really recognise the gifts to be found in the more vulnerable aspects of life. If we simply repress every dark thought or feeling, how do we learn to resource ourselves for the inevitable challenges of being human? How do we learn to cope …?
So the first thing to recognise if you’re struggling is to know that you are not broken. In all likelihood you are a human being with unmet needs. The only real way out of this epidemic of despair is for all of us, together, to begin to meet those human needs – for deep connection, to the things that really matter in life.
A few days ago, whilst walking the dog I bumped into a local dad to be who’s just finished the hypnobirthing course with me. It was such a gift from the universe. He was effusive about how much they’d gained from our time together; how skeptical he’d been at the start and how surprised they’d both been by how much they’d learned, not just about birth but themselves and each other. At a time when I’ve been feeling low it was the most beautiful reminder of that all important sense of purpose and connection.
So if you too have been struggling in the dark month of January, first of all please know you are not broken. Just because the pain isn’t visible to everyone doesn’t make it less valid. There is a way through and there is valuable information trying to make itself known to you.
Can you take time to hear it? I’m here if you need help.
ps: that wonderful ‘normal’ image is created by @ritaplattsphoto,
with thanks also to @survivaltechniques and @atomgallery