"Mindfulness has given me my life back"
My depression started in November 2013 as a result of a number of events that took place during that year: the death of a friend, having to reapply for my job, the attempted suicide of another friend and the reporting to the police of my sexual abuse as a teenager.
These events were the immediate causes of my depression but they also served as painful reminders of earlier problems I had experienced: the death of a close friend by suicide, the murder of another friend, the attempted suicide of a girlfriend and my own sexual abuse.
Depression, for me, felt like a crushing feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. I stopped working and I didn't get out of bed for 2 days. I felt as though I had failed as a person; both personally and professionally. I was so desperate that I signed off sick from work and, because I was unable to do it myself, my wife arranged for me to see my doctor and then a psychiatrist.
My psychiatrist introduced me to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) the drug Xanax and - as part of ACT - mindfulness. I cannot abide mysticism or new-age mumbo-jumbo and mindfulness sounded like both to me. But I had hit rock bottom and I knew that I had to do something to get better. I decided to commit myself to mindfulness and used Xanax when things got particularly difficult.
I chose to use mindfulness, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and cognitive Bbehavioural therapy (CBT) because I knew that drugs would relieve the symptoms of depression but they would not address the underlying issues. What attracted me most about mindfulness, ACT and CBT was that they were skills that I could learn to use and to reuse forever. They are tools constantly available to me without needing a prescription or taking a drug and that feels empowering.
For me, the principal benefit of mindfulness is that I am able to feel things for what they are, not what I imagine them to be. My imagination can often run wild and cause me to think judgementally but with mindfulness, I can see and feel things clearly. I recognise the imagined reality for what it is: a fantasy. Now I can deal with the constant stream of thoughts by acknowledging their presence but not allowing them all to 'stick' - this quietens my mind and helps me to sleep better. Some days I use mindfulness a lot and other days, I hardly use it at all but it is always there in case I need it. Mindfulness gives me time to think and energy to do things again: it has given me my life back.
Depression, suicide and sexual abuse are all taboo subjects which is why my problems have felt so much harder to deal with and talk about. That is why I have chosen to speak openly about my experiences with a view to helping others, if I can. I have now signed up to cross two oceans with the Clipper Round the World Race something I have always dreamed of doing. In my training, I discovered that sailing in this challenging way uses all of the same skills and tools as mindfulness does. With sailing there is no time for terrible imaginings, it is 'right now' that has to be dealt with - what a relief.