I wrote this article for Stuff.co.nz a few years ago...
"I battled with depression, dermatillomania and body dysmorphia from a young age. I escaped school, jobs and friendships until it seemed that escaping life was the only option left that would give me peace.
On the night I decided to take my own life, a voice reminded me that my children needed me. Through this epiphany I realised that I needed to leave my family in order to survive. I flushed all the pills I’d prepared and went to bed.
After I left my family, drug, alcohol and gambling addictions were quickly added to the list.
It took 10 years of self-analysis and self-medication to transform my mind from a cold, black, lifeless cell into a warm, rich oasis but it was worth every tear shed.
I’ve been everything-free for more than seven years now but lately my peaceful mind has become restless. It feels irresponsible to have been through the transformation that I have and not share the journey in the hope that even one troubled mind might see its own potential and start the challenging yet rewarding trek to free itself.
Where did I start?
Acceptance: Finding out this thing I had was called depression, and that others had it, helped me take small steps towards accepting it. There were also steps backwards but the steps forward became leaps once I sorted out my family life.
After having a series of almost comical interactions with professionals and the medication they prescribed, I realised I was the only one who could get myself out of it.
Changing my surroundings: After standing back and looking at my reality, I was surprised to find that no-one was forcing me to think the way I did. I had to admit to myself that it was all in my head and that maybe my illness was due to my perceptions of my reality.
I also noticed that others were living in worse conditions than me yet they seemed to be level headed and positive about their situation. Why couldn’t I be this way?
I set about overhauling everything I listened to, looked at, read, wore and did. I purged out anything dark, black or negative and surrounded myself with colour, positivity and hope. Even if my mind was still in the depths of despair, everything around me was supporting my intention to change.
Mantras: I walked everywhere and I started reciting a mantra with every step: “Every day in every way, my life keeps getting better and better”.
This was a classic ‘fake it till you make it’. I was reciting this mantra even as tears of despair were streaming down my face but what I realised was that while these words were going over and over in my mind, other more dangerous ones couldn’t.
Painting: I’d never painted before but someone gave me some paints and I found some scrap boards. I only had one rule and that was not to judge anything I did.
I went from timid scribbles to massive flourishes of colour. None of it was understood by or desirable to others but the paint may as well have been the blackness in my head and with each brush stroke I felt like I was hemorrhaging out years of darkness.
Writing: I wrote voraciously. I was living in a small caravan nestled between two beautiful big native trees on a bank overlooking the sea. While looking out over the beach, I would write endlessly until I got growths on my fingers.
I wrote about torments past and fears for the future. I wrote questions about my sanity.
I will always think of this time as The Great Purge.
I also created a Note To Self book where I would write any breakthroughs or positive comments people made that I could reflect on.
Music: I found that certain tracks triggered hours of sobbing, after which I always felt better, so I put together playlists of themes. I still have them to this day and when I hear them now, they bring back visceral feelings of that time but the tears are now of appreciation and gratitude of how far I’ve come since then.
Reading: I read every self-help book that I was offered or could find. Like the mantras, while my mind was being pre-occupied by external words, especially words of hope, there was no room for internal words of doom.
I set about learning about myself through numerology, eastern and western astrology etc and I found that a lot of the aspects I fought against or saw as negative in my make-up, I was able to reframe.
Sayings: I knew I had to cut the negative thought patterns off at the pass. So every time my mind started wandering down a dark alley of negativity, I would cut it off with an internal, non-negotiable voice saying ‘That’s not helpful!’.
Charts: I created a chart where I could monitor my ups and downs five times a day. I started noticing the correlation between those ups and downs and my monthly cycle, my diet, how much sleep I was getting, what substances I was taking and who I was associated with. I still use this tool when I go through the occasional down day just to check in if it might be because of one of these factors, or something deeper I need to look into.
Diet: When my living circumstances changed and it was my job to prepare healthy meals, the lifting of my mood changed dramatically almost overnight so I became hyper aware of my food and liquid intake.
Moving: In my darkest times I would spend 20 hours a day in bed. I had to force myself into the shower but then I would spend 20 hours alternating between bed and couch. What I noticed was that even though I was still not functioning, just the act of moving from one room to the other would often divert my attention from the constant cycle of doom.
Higher power: I knew I couldn’t afford to reject anything that might be helpful so I allowed myself to delve into spirituality. After an exceptionally moving experience one Easter, I hesitantly and skeptically asked ‘this God thing’ into my life with such profound results that I never doubted again. I went on to investigate (and reject) many different religions and just settled on the concept of God as the perfect aspect of my Self. This was probably the biggest turning point in my recovery. I’m not religious but I found that having a positive, all loving and compassionate external entity to believe in when I had nothing internal to pin my hopes on was transformative to say the least.
For ten years I was essentially in a constant one person, two-minded battle that I fought with words and images every single day. I knew I was extremely narcissistic but I was able to accept it because I needed to spend every second thinking about my Self in order just to survive.
I eventually understood that the manic episodes were just me trying to fit everything I could into the brief moments I felt normal. I would contact friends and family, apply for jobs, submit proposals, spend money I didn’t have, make massive changes to my surroundings and appearance and party with a franticness that knew it had a limited time span before the cave beckoned again.
I learnt that everything was relative to each individual’s frames of reference which helped me accept my appearance, background and skills (or lack of) as unique to me.
After I moved away from my home town for a fresh start, I had to ring my doctor back home to find out my blood type. When they admitted they’d lost my records, I suddenly saw my life as a crisp white piece of blank paper on a clipboard and it was up to me what got recorded on it from here on in.
As the depression faded away, so did every one of the other addictions. And I say ‘other addictions’ because, on hindsight, I realised that depression, for me, was an addiction to negative thinking. Once I broke that cycle, I eventually became free and today I’m a sickeningly happy and content 50 year old who wouldn’t change anything about my past because it gives me empathy and a visceral understanding of what others are going through."
Pimp My Attitude
This is where I think out loud as I transform my appearance, thought processes and most of all, attitude - no matter how unpretty.