This week I thought I’d develop the theme of why depression was the best thing that has happened to me. Because of the depression and anxiety, I had therapy for a long time during which I learned so much about myself, it was like I was reborn. However, I just want to make clear from the beginning of this post that this is not a linear process; I still have moments of struggle and days when I feel like a fraud and that everything I have to do requires the same amount of energy to launch a rocket into space. Lately though, most of the time I’m good.
My childhood was different from that of the other children I knew, including my siblings, as being the eldest more was required from me. My parents had a business and I had to help out from an early age, before school, after school and during the school holidays. So when most children were happy for school holidays, I always preferred the time spent in school, which for me was the equivalent to play time. My father always expected me to work in the business like an adult, he criticised every single action and every single mistake I made; nothing was ever good enough for him and he was never pleased with whatever I was doing. If all that wasn’t enough to make a little girl feel inadequate, he also loved to humiliate me in front of the customers and the other children that lived on our street and were always playing out. When I was growing up in the 70’s, my parents did things to me that make me cringe now that I had therapy and learned it wasn’t right, but all my life – although I didn’t feel good about it – I carried the weight of shame and guilt as if I could have changed things. For example one Summer my family went out for a day in Spain and I stayed at home alone because there was no room for me in the car, I was 10 years old. Can you imagine how a little 10-year-old girl would feel being left home alone waiting for her family to come back home? My parents, my brother, my sister, my auntie, my uncle and my cousin; they all went and I was left at home. What I remember most of that day was that I was at the window all day waiting for them to come back, it must have been one of the longest days of my life. I knew that I was the least worth person in the family because I was the one they left behind without a second thought, or apology, or any kind of bribe, there was no need I just had to accept the fact that there was no room for me. Today this would have been classed as child cruelty, I’m sure. Not only I worked for my parents business without any pay or recognition, I was also the least worth child in the family. This was one of many identical situations. In my parents’ mind, because I was the eldest I was almost classed as an adult, every issue between myself and any of my siblings was undeniably my fault for the simple fact that I was the eldest and therefore should know better. What they forgot was that I was only 18 months older than my brother, so also a child. My brother was good and it wasn’t his fault that he was the only one allowed to play out while I had to work or the one that got a bike while I never had one. I never got given toys for Christmas or birthdays, while the other girls exhibited their dolls on Christmas day, what I got was pajamas and chocolates from our cafe. I always felt in disadvantage and turned into an adult with an immense need for love and acceptance, but with very low standards, which lead me to very bad decisions – but I won’t go anymore into that for now.
What I want to focus now on this post is that due to the depression and anxiety, for the first time in my life I had to face all these ghosts from the past in therapy and learned that my parents were abusive towards me, not physically abusive but emotionally and mentally, which leaves long-term marks that we don’t see. I learned that it wasn’t my fault that my parents didn’t know how to love me and how to appreciate me or make me feel like a worthy human being. I love them, but I hated how they made me feel and that is ok. I learned that I did the best I could with what I had and there is nothing to be ashamed of. I did really well actually and I have raised three beautiful children who I always made sure to feel loved. After the depression, I learned my worth and I know that I deserve to be loved and respected and that allowed me to find the person that treats me the way I deserve, my lovely husband. All my relationships improved after the depression, but most importantly my relationship with myself had a massive boost. It’s still a work in progress, but everything changed for the better.
“We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance.”
Parrot on my Shoulder
Who do you think you’re fooling? Everyone
can see through you, you’re nothing but a fool,
not interesting, not funny. Nobody likes you!
But Sandra has invited me for coffee and
the team at work sent me flowers and
chocolates. My sister calls every day.
Everyone just looks at you with pity! They feel
sorry for you! You’re nothing but a burden, if you
disappear, everyone would be so much better off.
My children need me, they would miss me and
my mother likes to call and talk to me. You don’t
know the meaning of your words. You’re mean.
You haven’t got a clue what you’re doing. What
made you think you could be a mother? You
can’t even hold the love of a good man.
One of these days I will shut you up. The nasty
things you say to me are empty advice, not my inner
voice. I have raised three beautiful children.
Your father was right! You’re a disgrace, not even
‘worth the water, you drink’… a waste of space.
Where are your accomplishments? Can’t you see it?
I am starting to ignore you, I promise! For too
long I listened, gave you too much credit.
Parrot, you’re stuffed, a work of taxidermy.
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
How do I explain?
I don’t know what you want to know. You ask
if I’m better like I broke a leg and I’m walking
with crutches. It doesn’t work like that. Today
I feel tired, but yesterday I was over the moon.
I don’t know why I feel this way. God knows
what it’ll be like tomorrow. I can only hope it won’t
be dreadful. This isn’t like healing a broken bone
or a runny nose, you know? The best analogy I
can give you, is the British weather. If moods
were weathers… I can experience all four in the
same day, or the space of a week. I can only
hope that the British wintry days become rarer
and the exotic tropical island days become
the norm. I don’t know what it is to be
better and wish people stopped asking.
In 2010 I was diagnosed with clinical depression and I thought my life was over. I lost track of time, stopped enjoying all the things I used to enjoy, lost interest in everything and the smallest event would cause me terrible anxiety. After months of struggle, I ended up losing my job, which eventually resulted in the loss of my house, making me and my three children homeless for eleven months during which we lived in a high-security hostel. So, why do I think that this was the best thing that has happened to me?
I lived all my life being scared, feeling wrong and inadequate, most of my actions were driven by either fear or seek for approval. I made so many mistakes, from trusting the wrong people to getting into debt and everything else in between that only added to my low self-esteem and lack of self-worth. I will leave the details of those for another post. What I want to focus on today is the benefits of therapy – it is fair to say that I owe my life to CBT. Through hours of therapy, I learned to make peace with my past and consequently, I started being kinder to myself. My most valuable lessons were:
- It’s ok not to be ok.
- I deserve to be loved for just being me.
- I can love my parents and still hate some of the things they did to me.
- I am a good mother.
- I didn’t deserve the horrible things that were done to me.
- I am not a failure.
- Self-love is not selfishness.
- I’m only responsible for my actions.
- Grieving is a process.
- Guilt is bad and serves no purpose.
- I am not responsible for other people’s happiness.
- I cannot change the past.
- The past cannot hurt me.
- The future doesn’t matter.
- The power is in the now.
As a result of all these lessons, I became more self-confident and my self-esteem improved massively. I became aware of my self-worth and I am not afraid of asking for what I believe I deserve. When I think about my past mistakes and bad choices, I accept responsibility without judgment; I am now more accepting of myself and of others. Before the depression, I used to get terrible anxiety about how other people felt and wanted to fix everything. I used to live under a hard mask, but now I am just me. And although I am not always over the moon, that is ok. I know when I am not ok and when a low mood is approaching and how to act unless I haven’t the energy, which is also quite alright.
“Put your ear down next to your soul and listen hard.”
There is nothing wrong with being average,
let go and enjoy the ride. Being passionate
is better than being perfect. Not every
aspect of a project needs to be ticked.
Relax and enjoy the ride while crossing
the bridge from perfection into action.
Average can be satisfying and get the
grades. Let go of perfection and have
the courage to break the wall built on fear
of failure. More gratifying than being idle
is getting out there – feel the fear and do it
anyway – you won’t regret it. Correct me
if I’m wrong, but this addiction to perfection
has taken you nowhere. Don’t neglect the
power of imperfection. There are lessons
to be learned with fun along the way.
A Noiseless Patient Spider
by Walt Whitman