My ego tricked me!
I have come to understand the importance of self-love, self-care and self-compassion and I have become really good at putting them into practice. I learned how important it is to look after myself, to fill up in order to serve. I have dedicated spiritual practices that support me on a daily basis. I teach this stuff to other people.
But for some reason, my ego tricked me! I thought that because of my self-care and my spiritual practices, I wouldn’t experience a postnatal diagnosis. But here I am, with postnatal depression and anxiety and holding my hands up to say, ‘my ego tricked me!’
So, how does it affect me? I notice my heart goes too fast. I find myself overwhelmed. I experience the debilitation of sleep deprivation. There is a change in my appetite, a loss of energy, of vitality, of positivity. I cry, a lot! I notice my self-critical voice is louder than usual. I have a lack of focus. I feel like I want to run away. I withdraw. Social situations shake me. I am constantly exhausted, utterly exhausted, tired to the very bone. My head feels sores, my body aches. Smiling can feel harder. I laugh less. Humour feels like an effort. I notice more negativity, in myself and in others. My language is different. I feel like screaming. Isolation. Depression. Anxiety. And yes, I have thought about suicide. When I do sleep, my dreams are dark, alive with messages from my subconscious…
Yet despite this darkness, here I am, trusting the light will follow the darkness.
I wasn’t sure about sharing this, with anyone, never mind the internet. But the more that I lean into the support of those around me, the more they help me to realise that there are gifts to be received in this darkness, gifts to be received in a diagnosis.
I’m only giving you a tiny flavour of how postnatal depression and anxiety affects me because that’s not really what this blog post is about – that isn’t the juicy stuff. I wanted to write this to show my own vulnerability, my own suffering, to recognise and admit to myself that I am only human.
I am a mother after all and that means there are little people (and perhaps big people) watching how I navigate through this darkness. So here I am, braving the wilderness once again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and therefore to be human. We all experience changes in our mental health. I am human and I experience suffering too.
Mental health as a term seems to carry stigma but the reality is that I haven’t yet met one person who hasn’t experienced a change in their mental health at some point in their life, because I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t experienced suffering on some level.
So here I am, practicing what I teach, checking in with myself, being my own friend and at times, being my own parent. I am having to really practice being kind to myself. Checking on what I am doing and the impact it is having, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I am saying no to a lot more. Sometimes I am just not saying anything at all. And often I am reminding myself to ask the question, what would love do?
I choose not to answer calls. I often forget to reply to messages. E-mails are stacking up. I am not writing Christmas cards. I am giving up on those things on my to-do list that actually really don’t need done. I am pausing on the things that I can press pause on and doing what needs to be done.
Then, I am doing these things with as much love and mindfulness as I possibly can. Thankfully, I can still source love, affection, presence and playfulness with my children. I feel deeply grateful for my ability to do this, to dig deep and source these things on a daily basis. I can experience both suffering and joy.
This diagnosis has been an invitation to slow down, to lower my expectations of myself and to let go of control. I find myself retreating, going inward, quietening. I am saying no to the people and the things that simply don’t feed my soul. I am staying in the house a lot more and (practicing) not judging myself because of it. It is almost like a hibernation as I approach the very threshold of my own winter, descending into my body, into the darkness, into the depth of my own caves, as I surrender to the darkness.
Today is our Winter Solstice. Once upon a time, the Solstice was understood as a period of descent into our own darkness; it was a respected time that was required in order to find our light. The only way to experience the grace in the light and the dark is to truly accept both.
I wonder at the coinciding diagnosis alongside the season and the Solstice. Winter is my teacher. It asks that I awaken my heart to hold myself with awareness and allow myself to grieve, cry, rage, laugh, delight and face into whatever it is I need to in order to be more free and in order to reach deeper healing on all levels.
I am coming to accept that this is a time to rest and withdraw into this womb-like love, in order to bring fire and light to my home within. I will emerge after this hibernation with some treasure from the depths of my being. This is not my usual pattern though, to offer myself this. I am used to offering myself and my services to others for their healing, growth, renewal; but right now, it’s time I offered myself what I have been offering others. It is time that I show the love I find so easy to source for others, to myself.
Things aren’t always going to go the way we would like them to go in our lives. We all have highs and lows, the salt and the sweet. It’s natural. We can enhance our wellbeing by learning to love what we have in our lives already, to accept things as they are. I have to surrender to the ebb and flow of my life, of my emotions and my relationships. By practicing the art of allowing, I can accept that change is constant, that control is not possible and then gather faith that whatever arrives next is meant to be and will flow into my life with ease and with grace.
In a recent dream I jumped on to this tiny island, on the island was a cage and a wild beast. I somewhat bravely jumped onto the island on my own, leaving the safety and security of the mainland (and of the other people) behind me. Suddenly, in my aloneness, I realised that I had woken up hundreds of wild dogs from a dormant slumber. I quickly went inside this cage – a cage which was not secure – I was smarter than my greatest fears and they could breathe on me, touch me, even scare me, but they could not overpower me. I was facing into my fears, into these demons, with my eyes wide open.
This descent into our own bodies can be scary, suddenly we become face-to-face with emotional knots of the past and things we have hidden in our own dark caves, not wanting to face them, avoiding them until their echo becomes so loud that we have no choice.
Nature really has amazing lessons for us if we just learn to pause, notice and listen. There is nothing constant; all ebb and flow holds the seeds of change and we just need to learn not to resist this impermanence. We can do nothing to change the ebb and flow of the tides. When it’s time to wait, we simply, must wait. This storm will pass.
I read something earlier this week about a child who was asking their mother about the disasters they saw on the news, and the mother’s response was to ‘look for the helpers’. I want that kind of focus; I want to keep looking for the gold. I want to take the beauty from this pain. I can look for the gems. I can fall into my heart and accept that this is a practice.
Winter will pass, Spring will arrive. I am using this time to plant the seeds, to rest, lay low and to know that mental health affects us all, reminding myself that I am only human. Despite what I am experiencing as a result of this diagnosis, I can still experience this abundance of love for my children, my life and this world. I can still proactively seek the magic in the everyday, I can still practice gratitude, access joy; I just need more support around me than usual. I need to accept help. Sometimes, I even need someone else to initiate this help.
I remind myself that I am not my emotions. This diagnosis does not define me. I have to practice more fiercely loving myself during this darkness. In order to be loved, we have to love ourselves first, which means we have to understand. To develop this capacity, we have to practice looking and listening deeply within ourselves so that we know how to practice self-compassion.
Compassion is the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten the darkness. To develop compassion in ourselves, we need to practice mindful breathing, deep listening, and non-judgmental observing. Compassion contains deep concern; you look and listen deeply in order to be able to touch your shadows. We all have shadows.
In this time of waiting, I am seeking medicine of nourishment, warmth and of love to hold space for me in my darkness. I am looking for the gold, standing beneath the stars and reminding myself that the only way I can appreciate the beauty of the stars is to embrace them in the dark.
In a group call this week, we were invited to do an exercise looking at who or what is bringing medicine to ourselves, our souls, our spirits. Firstly, we looked at the medicine that used to serve us but that is no longer serving us, or may even be draining us, leaving us feeling depleted. Then we looked at the medicine that was illuminating our bliss.
It was amazing to bringing this awareness to the people and things that ARE serving me right now, to refocus and look for my helpers, my medicine, the people and practices that are illuminating my bliss. I want to direct and invest my energy on the people and things that illuminate my bliss.
That’s not to say I won’t experience what I’ve mentioned above, because I do have a diagnosis, I am suffering and this isn’t a quick fix kind of job. But, practice pays off. I have been doing so much for so many years to help me when this kind of darkness (or diagnosis) arises. I have tools, practices and people that can support me to heal, to grow, to trust in the ebb and flow.
On this Solstice, I hear the gentle reminder that no matter how dark the night, the light will return. And equally, no matter how light the day, the darkness will inevitably follow.
We exist in this world of light and dark, highs and lows, the salt and the sweet, the struggles and the joys. These may appear separate but they are part of the whole; we must experience one in order to fully embrace the other.
I have planted many seeds this year and now, I need to continue to trust that these are taking root during these cold winter nights. Spring will arrive with an abundance of light and I will remind myself that this time of rest, of dreaming, of gathering my strength has been needed in order to grow. I have to remind myself that I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, to teach what I teach, to be who I am, without experiencing how it is to be human, how it is to suffer.
I have come to learn that it doesn’t matter how many times I venture into the light or the darkness, what is important is how I allow these experiences to move me, change me, soften me, awaken my being, touch my soul and inspire my journey.