In our traditional western model of mental health, depression and anxiety symptoms are viewed as something we should be running away from.
Many of us have learned about depression and anxiety symptoms from a pamphlet in a doctor’s office, a commercial selling an antidepressant, or maybe we have experienced it for ourselves- in way that felt deeply shaming and isolating.
The cultural messages around depression and anxiety paint a very clear picture of how we should ‘deal with’ our symptoms: We are taught to numb, lean away, resist, contract, and burry them deep within our bodies; and if they do happen to surface and erupt too much into our daily functioning… well, there is a quick fix for that.
My depression and anxiety symptoms became my first true experience towards understanding the connection between my mind & body.
It was not until I felt the full aches and weight of a depressive episode, and the sheer chaos and tightness of an anxiety induced panic attack, that I truly understood just how connected my mind was to my body, and in the end my heart.
And so began my quest to understand- theoretically at least- what anxiety and depression looked like, why it happened, and how one could heal it.
Little did I know, my quest for knowledge would unlock an entire world of connecting pieces and parts- and shape my holistic-integrative approach to connecting the mind, body, & heart to guide well-being.
My approach has guided many women and families to experience a new way of ‘meeting’ and ‘leaning-into’ their painful symptoms. What they learn is that before you can journey-out of the place you find yourself in, you must journey-within.
Here is what brought one woman to begin her journey back within:
Kate was a 36-year-old mother of 3 children. She had been married for 10 years, felt happy with her kids and marriage, and was excited to be embarking in a new job opportunity. She prided herself at being able to always “balance everything she needed to, and still be seen as a good mom and wife”.
Kate began her journey back within, and ultimately back to her ‘self’, when she started experiencing moments throughout her day of paralyzing tightness in her chest, racing thoughts, and intense irritability towards her family.
In the evening, after the kids were asleep and the chores were done, she found herself craving the same sweets and carb-rich food she had as a teenager. She would often eat a tub of ice-cream, and an entire bowl of chips, while watching Netflix late into the night.
She found herself longing for that moment in the night when all was quiet and asleep. The low hum and glow of the T.V. felt comforting in it’s silence. And then came that sweet moment of bliss- her belly was full, her mind was silent, and her entire body felt protected from the chaos she unconsciously knew was looming around the corner when she would face the next day.
When the blissful feelings of her indulgences subsided, she would finally fall asleep, usually on the couch, to a lullaby of self-hate, guilt, and shame.
Frustrated with her lack of energy, and weight gain, Kate visited her Family Doctor, and was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety and Depression, and put on an antidepressant. This helped for a few months, but then Kate gained an additional 15-pounds, and found herself with no libido or zest for life at all. She then started to feel the full weight of her depression and anxiety symptoms again. And so, she reached out and connected.
So how can being lost in depression and anxiety help us understand ourselves in a deeper way? How can it guide us to find our true authentic selves?
The first step is recognizing that your symptoms are calling you to look closer at your lifestyle. Ultimately, it is asking you to explore whether the path you are on is taking you closer, or further away, from yourself and your hearts-purpose.
For Kate, her journey began when she started leaning-into her symptoms. With me and her village of supports, joining her during the deep, painful and scary parts- she began to contemplate the following questions to find hope for her journey:
- What if I could meet my symptoms with kindness and compassion- because I knew they could ultimately bring me closer to my true authentic ‘self’?
- What if I knew that these symptoms could serve as my compass for my journey towards wellness?
Perhaps anxiety & depression symptoms are like the coming of winter- we know it will be cold- and perhaps miserable- but with it comes beauty and stillness.
Within that stillness, we can explore our surroundings in a deeper way. And like anxiety & depression, winter can come with the innate hope that soon the weather will change to the abundance of spring.
Kate eventually found the abundance of spring in her life. Through her journey within, she has become deeply intimate with the telling symptoms that arise in herself when she has wandered off her path. And although she still faces her symptoms from time to time, she has become resilient- because she holds the compass to find her way back onto her path towards wellness.