Back in April I wrote about my relapse into depression, and at the time I promised a follow up. I sensed then that it would be important – I could feel deep within my soul that even though I couldn’t see it, there was meaning and a purpose for what I was going through. But even so, I never could have guessed back then just how much I would learn during this season, and just how deeply it would impact me and my life. What I’ve learnt over the last few months has forever altered the way I see the world, especially this thing we call ‘mental illness’. This post is a pretty raw recount of what I discovered through darkness and – having come out the other side – what I think is the real reason behind the mental health epidemic affecting our generation, and what we can do to solve it.
How I Healed My Depression
Here are the facts:
- 1 in 5 Australians have directly experienced some form of mental illness.
- Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24.
- Suicide rates in Australia are at a 13-year high, up 13.5% from 2013.
- The World Health Organisation estimates that by the year 2030, depression will be the number one health concern in developed nations.
In our culture we seem to hold the belief that sadness is ‘wrong’ and happiness is ‘right’ – that if we are sad then we need to be fixed. Nowhere is this more evident than in our treatment of mental illness. The accepted narrative is that our symptoms are a result of a chemical irregularity wreaking havoc in our brains and skewing our perception of the world. Bottom line; there’s something wrong with our biological make up and we need to fix it. But what if the chemical imbalance wasn’t the cause of depression and anxiety, but a symptom of something much deeper?
As I come out of this dark night of the soul, I am convinced that depression has very little to do with brain chemistry. The fact that suicide is the leading cause of death for 15-25 year olds speaks to a problem greater than a chemical imbalance. It’s a sign that something in our society, culture and way of life isn’t working.
There are plenty of potential culprits, but they all come down to this; we are out of alignment. Our mind, body and soul are trying to tell us that something doesn’t add up.
If you’re looking at the world today and you’re not grieving, I don’t think you’re really looking.
From the moment we’re born we are conditioned to compete with one another for empty idols like money and attention, we grow up in an education system that stifles our creativity only to graduate and realise we have inherited a world on the brink of destruction and are grossly unprepared to handle the challenges that face us, the planet is suffocating under the weight of our endless consumption, we have a corrupt economic system that channels wealth and power from the masses to a select few and thousands die every day in futile conflicts orchestrated by a fear-based power structure that uses violence to further their own ego-driven agendas.
We are bombarded by advertising that encourages us to spend our time, energy and resources striving for unattainable standards of ‘beauty’ and ‘success’ while subsequently eroding our self esteem and we have foregone our innately spiritual nature in favour of an obsession with the physical, taking our need for validation, guidance and fulfilment outside ourselves. We bear constant witness to violent images of death and destruction designed to overwhelm and desensitise us and we have built a society based on economic principles like individualism and competition over humanitarian values like community and relationships. Add to that the widely unknown effects of the barrage of toxic chemicals we ingest on a daily basis and it’s no wonder we feel helpless, disconnected and out of control in our own lives.
Maybe my inability to adapt to the world is not because I’m crazy but because I’m paying attention. I’m the canary in the mine and you need my sensitivity because I can smell toxins in the air that you can’t smell, see trouble you don’t see and sense danger you don’t feel.
Glennon Doyle Melton
What if being anxious or depressed could more accurately be described as having an acute sensitivity to the state of the world and our place within it? What if your ‘mental illness’ was in fact an allergic reaction to modern life?
Because we are all expressions of the same consciousness, what happens to one of us is felt by all of us. It doesn’t matter how sheltered or #blessed our lives are, it doesn’t matter if we don’t watch the news or know what’s going on in the Middle East, our spirit has the ability to pick up on things our mind can’t comprehend. Our energy is attuned to that of people we may never meet but whose pain we can feel as if it were our own. What if our sense of hopelessness and foreboding was an invitation to get our collective act together, or a precognition of what’s to come if we don’t?
The wisest question when we are deeply sad is not, ‘How can I end or numb this pain immediately?’ The wisest question is, ‘What is the meaning of this pain? What is it revealing to me? What is it calling me to understand?’
If there is anything this year has taught me it’s that every season serves a purpose, even if we can’t always see it. Sadness itself holds a special place in our evolution; it is the birthplace of change. Sadness is the siren call of stagnation, alerting us to the areas of our lives – and our world – that aren’t working, so we can do what we can to change them. It’s an invitation to unravel, to allow what we know to be destroyed so that something better can take its place.
What I first thought was a huge step back this year ended up being one of the most fertile periods of growth in my life to date and I have come out the other side because I did the work. Instead of suppressing the pain (as I have done countless times in the past) I dove headfirst into it and – with the help of mentors, psychologists and guides – I felt my way through. I became a student of my suffering and the lessons I learnt this time around – how to deal with failure, receive with grace and break my addiction to achievement – have changed me on a cellular level.
Now I want to change the conversation around mental illness. I’m no longer buying this narrative of depression and anxiety being life long battles that require a lifetime of medication just to get by. This isn’t something that we should be slapping a bandaid over, this is something that needs to be hauled into the blinding light of day. Yes let’s break the stigma, yes let’s get people talking about their experiences, but to what end? So a GP can write a prescription to sedate you long enough to continue about your “normal” life, or so the pain you are experiencing can finally crack you open and reveal to you all the areas of yourself, and our world, that are ready to transform?
I’m not naive enough to believe that what worked for me will work for everyone. I also know that there are cases in which medication has been used to bring people back from the brink and give them the time and headspace to heal, and for that we can all be grateful. But it will never be a substitute for the deep, healing work that this illness is inviting us to do, in ourselves and in the world. We need to listen to our bodies and give ourselves permission to feel. If you need to grieve, then grieve. If you need to scream and cry for no apparent reason, let it happen. Your soul is mourning things your mind can’t understand. You are adjusting to a life bound by the limitations of an earthly body, on a planet severely out of alignment with the natural world, in a culture founded on values fundamentally at odds with your true nature. Of course it hurts. Let the pain lead you down the dark path of your shadow self, seek out those who can hold a light for you there, and then emerge with the wisdom that only darkness delivers. Find an outlet, build a platform and share your story and ideas with the world.
Out of all the periods of human history, this is not the time to numb. In numbing against our own pain, we in turn numb our ability to connect with others in theirs. True compassion is cultivated in our lowest moments, when we have fallen from grace and the mercy of others becomes the soothing balm to our open wounds. And when we refuse to allow ourselves to fall, we alienate those who need our help most because they are a reminder of a pain we don’t want to face.
Depression and anxiety are not physical problems, they are spiritual ones and the chemical imbalance is a symptom, not the cause.
Mental illness is not something to be downplayed or romanticised, nor is it something to be relegated to a mere physical ailment that can be ‘managed’ with a pill. Those who have been brought down by it are not crazy or broken and we don’t need help numbing our pain, we need help healing the world that caused it.
To my mental health warriors,
Being attuned to the injustice, fear and oppression in the world doesn’t make you weak, it makes you awake. I know it feels dark, heavy and overwhelming, my heart breaks when I see lower energies surfacing all over the world. But in this new age of authenticity and transparency, everything that no longer serves us is coming up to be healed. It’s all part of the plan. Humanity is waking up, and you and your beautiful mind are being asked to lead the way. The inner transformation you are about to undergo is a microcosm of the shift you were sent to bring about on the planet.
My prayer is that you would be empowered by the knowledge that your pain serves a purpose, that there is beauty in your breakdown and messages in your mess. Above all I pray, that in whatever way, shape or form it takes – whether it’s now or as we pave the way for generations to come – all of our suffering would be of service.
‘Fine, I’ll come back,’ I said, ‘but I’m coming back with a mission. I’m not stepping back into the matrix, I’m going to join the special forces who are trying to free everybody from it. Because yes, I’ve got these conditions – anxiety, depression, addiction – and they almost killed me, but they are also my superpowers.’
Glennon Doyle Melton
All my love,
Want to share your experiences? Start now in the comments below. I can’t wait to hear from you.
Ps. I’ll be doing a Facebook Live on this topic over on my FB page this Thursday night. I’ll be sharing more of my personal journey and answering any questions. Make sure you’ve liked my page: facebook.com/jaeschaefer and tune in at 7pm. See you there! x
Tears to Triumph, Marianne Williamson
Depression, sadness & Grief from a spiritual perspective:
A Mind of Your Own, Kelly Brogan