I’ve been meaning to mail you for a little while now. Last year, you really helped me when I hit a deep low with a very traumatic situation I was dealing with in my life. I was thinking about suicide because the mental and emotional pain I was in was so intense, and felt permanent like it was never going to ease or end.
I’ve learned a lot since then. Researched a lot about how I came to feel that way in the first place, and things I needed to do to recover. And slowly, very slowly, and often with big setbacks, I have been healing. I am still on that healing journey today, but my world looks very different. The painful and intrusive thoughts and feelings have largely gone. They are no longer all day, every day, from awakening until blissful sleep. The pop into my mind a few times a day still, but much less intense, and more easily refuted. Frequently I go many hours now and realise that I have not even had such thoughts for that spell.
And the more I recover, the stronger I get, and the more able I am to fight harder still. My quality of life is pretty good now, I am glad to be alive, enjoying the springtime, my family, and just everyday things. People around me notice the change too.
I don’t know how many people you come into contact with doing the work you do. I suspect many come and go and you never really know what happened to them, or if you helped or not. So, I just wanted to let you know, you helped me. You listened to me and took me seriously when I really needed it, and you referred me to some useful resources too. So thank you. I know you are dealing with a hole in your own heart which is unimaginably difficult to fill, so I hope reading this mail gives you at least something back.
I’m going to share some things I did which helped me when I was trying to survive, and then recover from the despair of emotional pain of the kind which seemingly will never end.
Somewhere, you need to start trying to believe the truth that feelings and emotions are temporary.
Things can feel permanent. Like they will never change or improve. But they can if you do the right things.
Physical exercise can definitely jolt you out of a dark place, but I found it needs to be quite hard to work. Although going for a walk is better than sitting moping, it’s easy to still be at the mercy of your thoughts whilst walking. Running is better. You can try to focus on the cadence of your stride or breathing to keep your mind occupied. Better still is hard running, or running with a few minute-long sprints thrown in. Whatever your limit is. I would run as hard as I could sometimes so I would be gasping for breath and have to stop with my hands on my knees for a moment. This would give very temporary relief until I got my breath back, but I also found that once I was back home and showered after a hard run, there would be a mood lift. Not always, but mostly.
I took up bouldering, which is climbing without ropes. It’s a good physical workout, I enjoy it, and you have to concentrate on what you’re doing so again your mind is distracted. Managing to complete a new climb would always give a lift too. I would go climbing with my son, and having company also helps.
Phoning or zooming a friend, or even better, meeting up is usually a good mood lifter too, BUT, you do need to make the effort to try and spend at least half the time talking about stuff other than what’s haunting you. The more you can talk on other subjects, the more interesting it is for your friend, and the better it is for your mood too.
Get busy at work if you have a job where you can really get involved with things or put more effort it. You will be tired if you are suffering from long term low mood, but being productive seems to help alleviate both. Otherwise, get busy or active on some other project or hobby, something which really requires your attention. I found that gardening didn’t work too well for me, because I can mow the lawn or trim hedges and still be ruminating on thoughts I just wish would end. But learning to use a 3D printer, repairing a chair or fixing a toy all seemed to work better for me.
I still have days when the lows come back, and I think I will never be free of it again, even though I’ve now had plenty of spells even up to 1-2 weeks where I feel at least OK. When I’m in those lows and they seem permanent again, I try and do the things you’re supposed to do, try to avoid dwelling on the thoughts as much as possible, and remind myself that I have felt this way before, plenty of times, and then better days have come again.
I also noticed that some real-life crisis or emergency can also alleviate low mood, as you are forced to focus on the problem at hand and it dominates your mental and emotional bandwidth. I’m not saying one should seek to have crises, but it made me realise that it is possible to be jerked out of a depressive state quite suddenly with the right stimulus. So it must therefore be possible for me to do that myself.
I would really like to get to the stage where I have only better days. Where a bad day is one where I just feel a bit bored or tired, rather than ruminating on painful events and alternate realities. That’s how I used to be, just thirty months ago. It’s a fight every day. I’ve come a long way from the suicidal lows of a year ago, and those thoughts are only fleeting now if they come at all. It can be tiring fighting every day, but the other thing I’ve found which helps is to find a good TV series to watch. Maybe one or two episodes per evening, but find a good one where you really want to know what happens next.
Life is worth living now but I’m not “cured”, not yet. I don’t know if one day the thoughts will just be gone, or not affect me in the same way anymore, but that’s what I’m aiming for. Maybe a few months from now I will be totally fine, maybe I will have to manage from where I’m at for life, but I find it best not to think of anything as permanent.
One last thing, I tried meditating too. It helped a bit at the time, and some of the ideas and concepts have been useful too, so if you can identify a meditation app you can get on with, that’s worth giving a try too.
Sorry if this is a bit of a rambling essay . . . it’s just how the thoughts and ideas came out. Hope it’s useful.
Note from Anne Moss: Graham’s journey started with a google search and a comment on July 23, 2020. The post below is part II of his progress and the link to the original comment is in that post.