Spending a day at University with my daughter we are listening to a presentation about student life. She is conscientious and committed, but she worries that everything she learns won’t stay in her head and be there when she needs it.
I can remember my first episode of depression soon after I’d started a job in office equipment sales. Looking back I can see that the job itself was so mind-numbing that it was probably sufficient on its own to throw me into an existential crisis. But what marked it and subsequent episodes was withdrawal and detachment.
When we close up to stay safe we cut ourselves off from rescue.
At my worst, I have shrunk away into the background. But making my life smaller through sadness, anxiety, and depression made things worse.
So my spell in a psychiatric hospital was, far from being an indication of how far I had fallen, the point at which I had already begun to emerge, because I was learning every day. I was learning about why I felt like I did, which made it less frightening, and I was learning from other patients by listening to their stories and finding some sort of new truth in my own. Ultimately I was learning to feel less alone.
Implicit in learning is an openness to the process of exploring. Looking at myself was often painful and disturbing, but without it, I could never have understood how to be different.
There is often a time in therapy when we feel as if we are treading water, that nothing is shifting and, however much we plead for guidance, there is none.
In my own darkness, I would sit in silence with my therapist or say that I had no idea what to do in order to change. It was frustrating, but what mattered most was that I kept showing up each week, open and ready for clarity when it eventually started to reveal itself.
What I hope for my children is that their response to feeling overwhelmed will be different from the way mine was for most of my life. Most of all, even when they don’t have any answers, I hope they realise the extraordinary and underestimated value of just continuing to ask the questions.