In Part 1 of this series (Depression/Bipolar Part 1 – Why Traditional Western Therapies Weren’t Enough for Me), I explained why the traditional western therapeutic approach to treating mood disorders (in my case, depression and/or bipolar II, depending on which psychiatrist you ask) wasn’t enough for me. With the traditional approach, I was merely surviving, but not thriving. In this post, I’d like to share what is working for me. But before I go into that, I’d like to make clear that I don’t mean to imply that I am now happy at all times with never a moment of depression. Yes, it’s true I can now say that I finally understand what it means to truly live and that I have experienced and continue to experience true joy, creativity, passion, gratitude, and love to depths I had never dreamed of before. Yet, I still have times when I will sink into the depths of depression. Even now, my mind sometimes falls into those old habitual thought patterns that have been engrained over the course of 35+ years. These times are much less common and don’t last nearly as long, but they still happen. So maybe it would be more accurate to say that the approach I’m about to describe is simply a process that I suspect won’t end at some final destination where I am eternally blissful in every moment of every day. Perhaps that state of being is possible, but I’m not holding my breath. My sister, who is the CEO of a small business, recently shared an insight which illustrates this idea. She has been noticing that many young people fresh out of college have the expectation that they should be able to find a job in which they will be happy all the time. She pointed out that this is simply an unrealistic expectation, and that no matter how much you love your job, not every day will be perfect. There will be days when you wonder why you didn’t just stay in bed. (My sister is wise. That’s why I call her Yoda.) The same is true for me with my mood. I’m a work in progress. Still, the approach I’m using now has been so life-changing and so much more effective than the traditional approach that I feel it’s worth sharing in hopes that it might resonate with some of you struggling with similar issues.
Everything started to change for me during my training in the therapy I now practice called Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (BCST). This training wasn’t your typical class. It was organized into ten, five-day modules spread out over almost two years, which means there were about two months between each module in which to integrate what we experienced/learned into our everyday lives. I quickly learned that in order to be an effective practitioner of this therapy, I needed to live the teachings myself. To be honest, this was the only way I could prove to myself that this therapy really works. I wasn’t going to practice a therapy based on someone else’s stories or just accept without question the underlying theories. I needed first-hand experience. And so I decided to dive in head first, allow myself to embrace the experience, and see where it led me. It was over the course of those two years — with support through my group training and from individual BCST therapists — that I began to transform. I discovered that the therapy I was learning to give to others was the key to addressing my own issues, most prominently the debilitating depression I had been living with since I was a young child. Below is an explanation of the three main components that have been vital for me in this process.
- Listening to my body with a perspective of appreciation. One of the most important steps I took was to simply feel and listen to my body with curiosity and appreciation. This is easier said than done, believe me. To do this, I first had to let go of all the analysis about why I was depressed. My teachers called this “letting go of the story.” After many years of therapy, self-help books, and personal growth seminars, I could easily name all of my underlying belief systems which I was sure were contributing to my depression. I could list my childhood traumas or talk about my parents until I was blue in the face. Unfortunately, that approach was largely ineffective for me. I also had to let go of the idea that there was something wrong with me that I had to battle and eliminate. The key for me was a change in perspective from one of judgment and pathologizing to one of appreciation. I began to recognize the incredible intelligence behind how I manage my experiences. I realized that I had made it this far for good reason, and that whatever I had been doing worked. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be around to debate it. I’d be dead. So with this perspective, I started to listen to my body in a way I never had before. I let go of the story and started listening and looking for the intelligence in my system instead of the problems. A whole new world opened up. I was (and continue to be) amazed at the incredible intelligence at work behind my so-called detrimental “patterns” and “belief systems.” Bit by bit, simply by listening to my body, I experienced more and more ah-ha moments where I realized certain patterns I had always hated in myself (e.g., shyness) are very intelligent responses to my particular life circumstances. These reflexive patterns are how I managed and currently manage my experiences to survive and to fulfill specific vital needs — and they work. This change of perspective was a huge key for me because my bind of self-hate was finally released. Once I stopped fighting and hating myself, other possibilities I could not previously see began to open up.
- Connecting to my underlying healing forces & who I really am. One of the focuses of BCST is supporting the underlying intelligence/healing forces/healing ability of the body. As a practitioner, I can actually feel these forces at work in the client’s body. But in order to feel these forces in someone else, I needed to feel them in myself first. And as I started listening to my own body with curiosity and appreciation, I started to palpably feel these forces at work within myself. This connection to the underlying intelligence of my system led me to felt-sense connection to who I really am at a core level — the one underneath the depression — the one who could heal my own heart and mind. I suppose some people might call this core level the “soul” or “spirit.” Whatever you call it, this connection to that center of who I am somehow led me to the insight that I am the one with my own answers. In fact, I am the only one with my own answers. I have found that, for me, working with my depression is not about fighting it; rather, the work is about staying connected to my core or center. For me, this is a tangible experience with incredible results. The more I focus on staying connected with that core part myself rather than on fighting my depression, the more my state of being is one of joy, love, gratitude, beauty, creativity, and inspiration.
- Surrounding myself with proper support. The most critical part of this process for me has been having the right kind of support. Basically, I need people around me who can recognize and reflect back to me who I really am at the core level. In addition, these people all share the following crucial qualities:
- They recognize that I am unique and complicated. They know that what will work for me will be unique to me. There are no cookie-cutter solutions.
- They realize that I have my own answers. They are not there to give me answers. Instead, they support me in finding my own unique path to health.
- They have a perspective of appreciation rather than pathologizing. They are not interested in fixing me or making me better.
- They trust and recognize the underlying intelligence at work in my system and know that they do not “know better” than that intelligence.
- They trust my process and are neutral as to the outcome or results.
- They can see who I really am at the core level.
Of course, many of these people were classmates in the BCST training, my teachers, or therapists who had done the training. I have also found a few amazing friends who share these qualities. Having these people in my life is vitally important because they can see through all of my crap to who I really am, even when I cannot. Oftentimes, it is that reflection of my core self that helps bring me out of my states of despair and back to a connection with my center. These people are rare, but they’re out there.
My hope is that some of you reading these posts might resonate with some of what I’ve shared of my own experiences. If so, I’d encourage you to first find people to support you who have the qualities I listed above. It’s easy to find all sorts of people who think they have your answers and want to fix you. You might even feel like you need to be fixed! But for me, the trick was to find those people who recognized that I have my own answers and know that the keys to my own healing are inside of me. That is true empowerment. That is how I learned to take real responsibility for my own health.