Editor’s note: Finding the right help can be frustrating. But know that you are in control of your own recovery. Andrew’s story on getting help for depression resonates with me and I hope it does for you too. Here is an empowering piece on self-care and personal agency.
I remember the night I surprised myself with my ability to cry. This was during my National Service. My mum was driving me back to camp and I started to tear while talking about how difficult NS was.
It was at that point when I realised that I had a problem, and I sought help soon after.
That night happened four years ago. I still cry, sometimes. I have my bad days.
But I do know this: that even on my bad days, I still have my sense of agency.
What exactly this agency entails is my own set of mental tools in coping with depression: awareness, acceptance and hope in not despairing.
One aspect of coping is meditating and reflective on your emotions. The gist is that you can’t control your emotional reactions, but you can choose how you wish to respond to them. I often use my day to day frustration as an exercise to observe my emotions. I’ve experienced frustration often and have noticed how quickly it rises in me like a stove’s fire- at previous therapists offices, in crowded busy places, when receiving poorly thought out advice and I’m constantly learning to try and simply let it be, and let it go.
In the earlier days of my depression, I would not only feel depressed, but feel guilt at being depressed.
“I shouldn’t be feeling this way!” I would think. It’s not an easy thing to do, but its important for me to remind myself every day that it’s okay to not be okay.
I think part of the reason why depression is a difficult illness to manage is that there are still many questions about the human mind and depression that science, psychiatry and psychology have yet to answer. How much of my depression is chemical? How much of my depression is due to environment? It’s an open ended question and there is a fair bit of uncertainity in the parameters of depression.
That uncertainty, I think, is the reason why unsolicited advice like “you just need to think positive!” is so infuriating. It’s not only insensitive, un-empathetic advice, it also serves as a stark reminder to the depressed person that his illness is an ambiguous illness that is poorly understood by society.
Part of the frustration of depression is that it isn’t a wound that you can show someone, physically, and make them understand and empathise.
Which is why that therapy has been a great source of help for me. It provides me with an environment where I can play out my thoughts and receive sound advice. I’m glad that I’ve been able to find a good therapist, and boy that was a challenge. Therapy is a hell of a lot like dating. I’ve sat on a great many sofas, couches, waiting rooms with certificates and answered many, many leading questions. It certainly can be difficult in finding a good therapist and it is in this regard that I have never forgotten my sense of agency in searching for a therapist that I can have a rapport with.
This is my life so far. I still struggle a great deal, but I’ve certainly come a long way. I hope that if you are struggling, that this piece of writing can provide you with some sense of solace. If you would allow me, here’s my own piece of advice for people who struggle. Never forget your agency. I wish you well.
Andrew Yuen is a freelance writer and photographer. His interest in writing started when he was given a vintage typewriter. He has an interest in human nature, alienation, and the struggle with meaning. This story is a synthesized version of two posts which originally appeared in his personal blog http://latenightfragments.wordpress.com/