Highs and lows

I asked my therapist friend who has been practicing for more than three decades in the UK if I needed antidepressants. I was surprised to hear that he had only suggested antidepressants to two or three clients in all his years of practice and didn’t believe that I needed them because of my oscillating internal state of being that takes long jumps from feeling high to low, more often than not. I had started to become tired of this cycle and resented myself for being unable to protect myself from this internal mayhem.

Depression is a mental illness and I fully endorse the idea of seeing a psychiatrist if one feels that there is a prolonged sad state of mind that stops one from leading a functioning life. Having said that, it is important to understand what depression is and according to my therapist friend, ‘it is a deep deficit from early childhood, a feeling of emptiness that can’t be filled or/and a turning of anger against the self.’

I can imagine that many like me occasionally feel an emptiness inside; a feeling of bleakness accompanied by anger towards one’s self for arriving at this place again and again. For many months, I have been swinging from a state of feeling settled within and grounded with bright shades of hope and motivation to jump into the sea to a place of despair and helplessness and hopelessness and utter sense of chaos within. The states have a mind of their own and where at one time I imagined them to be a guest (feel-good) or uninvited guest (feel-sad); I am beginning to realise that they are not guests but a permanent host within my body-mind and am embracing them; permitting them to arrive when they will anyways, will contribute to growth and integration of the psyche.

We have to honour the life we have led; the coping skills we employed, and the habits we picked up and accept that it was our way to survive whatever cards life dealt us. We have to accept all the roads we travelled to get here, and by accepting that, we can be inspired to choose different roads and take risks and learn to trust to find a way to meet ourselves in profound ways.

Being a self-aware therapist, I can say with confidence that I am aware of where these processes emerge from in the context of my narrative but even with that awareness at times, I am unable to ground myself when I feel blinded by overwhelming pain, and anger following right after towards myself for feeling so helpless to this sense of despair and questioning why the calm before the storm is so transient. The question around, If I needed antidepressants, stemmed from a rush within to escape these feelings.

I don’t judge myself for wanting to escape them. We all want to avoid pain at all costs, don’t we? But what I have recently come to understand is that I have to let these feelings pass through and stop resisting them. Resisting is futile anyways and they persist for as long as they want to and I only give them more energy by berating myself for meeting the pain within me once more. Who is keeping score anyway? Processing pain is so personal and by diagnosing it and wanting to shut it down; I am in turn dishonouring the traumas I have experienced in my life and the courage I had displaced in the face of it and more importantly. how they contributed to my life choices and made me the person I am today. Having said that, I am also learning not to be defined by my story and moving on from defining myself in the context of my story. Back then I did not have any choice. Today I can choose to be whoever I want to be and for now, just believing and carrying that image within is all that I need to do for myself.

We can learn to trust the world while experiencing the mistrust in every fibre of our being. Let’s hold the opposing forces within us; whether it is a place of hope or hopelessness within; despair as an old memory pops up or utter joy when someone special recognises that we exist and so I will surrender to the call of darkness within, but also remember that light is around the next corner. As Rumi says, you have to keep breaking your heart until it opens, and so I look forward to every time my heart breaks, as it’s only opening up to let more love and light come in.

Zara Maqbool

The writer is a BACP (British Association For Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited individual and couple psychotherapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at zaramaqbool@yahoo.com or her official website.

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