By Sam Taylor
Can the negative be the raw material for the good? In the midst of my crisis, going through recovery and afterwards, I was lucky enough to have the support of friends. Reasonably often, I heard comments such as, “You can get through this, you’re really strong”. Or afterwards, “You were really brave throughout it all”. In no way am I critiquing or being ungrateful for this verbal support and encouragement. I’m not in any way urging anyone to steer away from it. I would however like to explore the idea that it kinda sometimes, if not more often than not, doesn’t really strike on the truth of how many people might get through a mental crisis. I felt weak, lost, and certainly not brave.
Not brave at all
I can tell you, matter of factly, that there was almost no strength or bravery involved in the way I dealt with or recovered from my severe mental breakdown. These qualities were absolutely nowhere to be found. I know this, because I remember when the depression hit so hard and so profoundly. I felt completely abandoned by any positive quality I might have once had before. Gone was my hope, gone was my strength and my vitality and gone was any shred of bravery. I would tremble from the severity of how harsh it all was, literally lose my ability to speak and could hardly move from the shock of what occurred in my mind. No semblance of my old self appeared to remain and I felt like a pathetic wretch.
I can still remember what it was like, and how I prayed and wished and hoped for some energy to sweep through me that would get me to the other side, prayed for my strength to return. For those of you who have been somewhere similar, you will understand me when I say that no matter how much one prays or wishes, one can still feel utterly devoid of any strength or positive quality. The feeling is all-engulfing, and to see light within such mental and physical darkness is nearly impossible. A person can feel irrevocably changed. Changed into something that doesn’t feel very pretty at all.
The trouble with linking strength, bravery or quality of character to recovery, is that if such things were required for recovery then many of us would be absolutely beyond a doubt totally screwed. I mean, if we need to be strong to recover, and we know for a fact we ain’t strong, then yeah we are kinda screwed.
Though I have no doubt that these positive qualities have carried many out of a mental crisis, what I’d like to explore is what on earth does someone do if such qualities have seemingly abandoned them? The problem with thinking we have to be strong to recover means that the prospect of recovery can feel all the more out of reach. If only I was strong enough to stop the torrent of my mind from bombarding me, and to muster the determination to get out of the door and do the exercise I’ve heard is so good for me. If only so many things!
The idea that I could fight or work my way to recovery through doing certain things felt both unrealistic and overwhelming to me. The fact I couldn’t act, couldn’t think straight, couldn’t muster any courage or hope left me totally distraught. At this point, these qualities or abilities were simply out of reach. In the fires of crisis, all things appear to have been burnt up in the sheer intensity of it all. Attempting to fix things with positive action, intent or bravery when such things are actually physically impossible may only intensify the feeling of being broken and without hope.
In actual fact it was not hope, optimism or bravery that were the heroes that saved me and carried me to the other side of my mental crisis. I feel that I was really not brave, and instead, I thank rather more negative qualities for my recovery. Shame, regret, fear, exhaustion, a lack of trust for the world and later a negatively biased critical mind. Feeling good or strong would’ve been extremely counter-intuitive during my crisis.
Although whilst I did not think so at the time, it was negativity that I needed; negative mental states would be my salvation. The exhaustion slowed me down, the anxiety kept me indoors and kept me from overstimulating an already wired mind. My fear of death kept me alive in the darkest days. The harsh feelings and lack of energy in the end humbled me and brought me back to earth and sobriety. Feeling such dark feelings so intensely and at points not being able to feel at all forced me to face up to the simple fact that for some reason, I was in a very bad place. They also helped to keep me safe and give me space to recover.
As the months of depression raged on, I tried desperately to stay afloat and continued to wish for my old self to return and save me. My old self, of course, in my eyes was a lot stronger than the broken, crazy wretch I currently was. Yet, this version of myself never showed up, not during crisis and not during recovery either. It was only in fact when I finally accepted I would never be the same again and finally gave in to all the negative currents surrounding me that recovery began. At some point, I gave up the fight and did perhaps the only brave thing I did throughout the whole ordeal. Surrendered. Gave up, and let everything that was there just be.
Surrendering to the darkness
It feels extremely counter-intuitive to surrender to your darkness. You know you want to head back to somewhere that feels good. However, in doing so I was slowly able to process and accept what had happened to me. It might not have felt good, but the things that my depressive state of mind fully accepted and brought to me changed and helped me as a person in ways that are difficult to ever fully articulate. If I should try my hardest to put it into words, I would say that through experiencing myself as my worst, at my weakest, I was humbled. In the end I became more forgiving to the different elements of myself. Such a positive view was not with me at the time, though.
From a state of disgusted, broken-down depression, life did slowly start to return to me. From a state of complete weakness I began to set my focus on everyday life again. I did so while dogged by negativity and with a crazed mind and exhausted body. Nevertheless I slowly began to move in a direction that felt more optimal. As I returned to work, as I laughed for the first time, as I broke the cycle of insomnia, it was done not with lightness and positive qualities, but with a hesitantly embraced acceptance that I was broken, fucked up and that this simply had to be okay. It had to be okay, because there was no other way to do it. No angel was coming, no miracle was overdue.
Recovery came and was born from the acceptance and embracing of nothing positive whatsoever. I dance with the idea of using this kind of terminology. But I can’t help but naively ponder whether the depressive state isn’t in fact one of the smartest, most natural survival qualities we might be endowed with.
The negative was raw material for the good
As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, I moved back into the world, slowly and steadily. What I previously would have thought of as quite dastardly qualities actually protected me while holding me back. To quote an old proverb the negative indeed was the raw material for good. Slowly (and I mean very, very slowly) life returned and so did mental stability. So did, in time, many beautiful things. Yet, I was not brave, I was weak. I wasn’t strong, I was pathetic, scared, shaking and broken. But in such a way, I survived my mental crisis and recovered.
I guess I want to share this because, well, for the same reason I write anything here. It makes me feel less alone and I hope it makes you feel that too.
For those who are strong and it works I think that is fantastic. But for those of us who aren’t, it doesn’t mean that it’s game over. It might simply mean the rules are changing, or that we are changing. It might mean that living life however we feel or cope, is perfectly okay. That it’s perfectly okay, to not be okay.
Reproduced with permission, originally posted here