Depression & Anxiety- How it starts and how to come out of it
I’m Registered MBACP Person Centred Counsellor, I ran my own private practice and founded a community project that offers free therapy in East London. I too experienced depression, anxiety, self-harm and trauma, since managing to overcome these I have dedicated my professional life to be involved in projects that actively support people experiencing problems with their emotional and mental health.
Let me explain first that I’ve started writing because my clients have told me I should, apparently, I convey issues with our mental health quite well, but I’m not a writer and I like writing in plain English, so this is my best attempt in reaching out to those who might find this piece helpful.
Can my depression/anxiety/insecurities/suicidal thoughts/low confidence etc ever change? Yes
How? Read a bit more and see the step-by-step process of how our mental health starts to be compromised and what you can do to help it.
So, where does it all start?
If by now you are starting to feel restless by the fact that you are yet to read a straight answer on how to snap you out of the emotions you are experiencing, I want to tell you that of all people you are the one that needs to continue reading, you are not ‘wasting time’ by reading this, please continue reading the explanations below.
Our depression, anxieties and variety of low feelings we have at times in life, or for some, on a day to day basis, starts at some point either in our upbringing by parents, carers or any other person or people who have a playing role in your life, it can develop at any time in our lives however, and usually it starts with us being denied the essential elements we humans need to thrive to reach our full self or full potentials.
I will use examples used in my training. Have you ever seen a plant that is far from direct sunlight but its leaves or flowers manage to bend to reach this sunlight? , see the picture below
Without getting to scientific, this has a simple explanation, plants and many living organisms need carbon dioxide, water and sunlight to grow and reach their full potential i.e. a beautiful plant with healthy leaves and shiny colours, we humans, have a similar growth process and like the plant, we too bend our ways to reach to those essential elements of growth we need and which might be lacking in our lives. This is the crucial moment where our emotional and mental health starts to get compromised.
So which are these elements of growth?
In no particular order:
Nurture + Acceptance + Acknowledgement
We humans need to be nurtured, accepted and acknowledged in order to feel and reach our full potentials, and when we do, we feel we matter, we feel we belong, we accept ourselves as we are, most importantly, we learn that we are good enough.
The easiest way to explain how we can provide these elements to self and others is by using the example below:
Look at the picture of this child crying
Now, consider what it is that you would do in this situation, pay close attention to the actions or emotions you feel by imagining this scenario as this would be a telling sign of how you have been taught to deal with pain and highly emotionally charged situations.
In this scenario, the child went to his mother looking for comfort. She looked visibly upset, told him not to cry because people were looking, tells him he is silly for crying, that he is a big boy, the fall wasn’t too bad and that it was a bit of his fault as he should have been more careful in the first place.
What the mother has done in her caring yet socially conditioned response to her child was to reject the true self of her child, his pain and his emotions, she has taught him that his emotions not only upset her it also bothers people, that he is not intelligent, worse yet, he is the only one to blame and as such he does not get his mother nurturing care as he should have known better.
The child learns how not to be and pretend. He learns not to cry the next time he falls so that he can be accepted by his mum and the world around him. When he falls again he shouts ‘I’m Ok!’ his mum beams with pride.. Good boy!
The child has learnt to hide his true self in order to be accepted, nurtured and acknowledged.
Like the plant, he has bent his ways to continue with his growth.
What does this have to do with our emotional and mental health?
Well, this example applies to most areas of our lives on how we react, pretend and even bend our ways in order to be accepted, belong or be part of the lives of the people important to us- this is what we often call a coping mechanism.
In order to be accepted, nurtured and acknowledged by the people we care about, we learn coping mechanism(s) to act and be in a way that will not upset those we care about the most, we learn to hide our true selves so that they do not leave us, or worse yet, abandon us, we do not trust ourselves to be good enough, our emotional well-being starts to be compromised.
Why do we start to believe or fear that people will leave us or abandon us?
Because when we tried to be our true selves, we caused so much upset and rejection in others that it taught us that it is an unacceptable form of ourselves. It must not come out again.
The problem with this is that it can also be the onset of a type of anxiety or predictive events we start to believe will take place.
How can we come out of all this?
This blog alone will obviously not give you all the solutions, however, I’ll share a powerful tool I use in my work with clients and which I hope you try and use it too:
Explore gently (not in a rush) the things or areas in your life you notice you naturally do, react or behave that is not necessarily giving you much contentment at present
Next, explore who do you do this for? yourself, parents, carers, lovers, friends, community etc?
What we need as humans is to be fully accepted in who we are, however at some point, faking it or pretending catches up with us and here is where the chaos in our minds start, we believe we are not good enough by not keeping up with what is expected of us, we believe ourselves irrational, stupid, waste of space, useless, wicked and so on.
The good news is that you are good enough and that most people, including those you are trying to please or impress, are likely to also be hiding emotions like yourself, probably in a similar overwhelming pool of emotions and inexplicable fear to be oneself.
As a therapist, I want to invite you to take risks in being yourself without wishing to be accepted, without fear of being disliked, left or abandoned.
This is not about letting aggressiveness out in the world, this is about gently liberating yourself from what you believe is wrong within you and take risks in letting out, little by little, the true feelings you have about anything and everything you have so far managed to hide.
I hope by learning how like the plant we find ways to get what we need to grow, that you are able to identify when you start bending your ways, rules or morals in order to get what people or relationships are not naturally giving to you.
Take a risk to be yourself, and as my favourite anonymous quote says:
be yourself, the world will adapt.