For many years I accepted without question the idea that my recurrent depression was merely a neurobiological aberration, a chronic relapsing condition that would require potentially life-long medication. Psychotherapy might help me to live with it, or to develop more constructive thinking patterns, but it wasn’t a real treatment. All this, despite the fact that the drugs didn’t really make me better – in fact may have made me much, much worse – and that therapy was what had actually kept me alive through the darkest moments. I accepted it simply because it’s what I’d been taught: the biomedical model of depression is the one most widely promoted by – and to – general practitioners, psychiatrists and the general public.
However, in the course of withdrawing from antidepressants, going back into long term therapy and reading more widely on mental health and social issues, I’ve gained a very different perspective (not to mention a huge source of material for future posts). One of the things that has emerged is a better understanding of the role traumatic events in my past have played in shaping who I am today. Exploring and dealing with those traumas has been the current focus of therapy.
In common with many people who’ve experienced adversity or loss, something with which I’ve struggled is the desire for things to be as they were before. Wanting myself to be like I was before. I know how easy it is to become trapped in searching for the elusive point in time at which everything was ok and trying desperately to find a way back that simply does not exist. I am coming to see that a large part of healing from trauma involves coming to terms with the reality that one cannot go back, and in finding a new and different way of being that is hopefully “good enough”. It’s an approach which ties in well with the philosophies of some of the adjunctive therapies I am using, including yoga and mindfulness meditation (in addition to general meditation classes I’m currently participating in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction – MBSR – program).
One particular incident in therapy gave me a sudden insight into the way I had been thinking and has made it a little easier to change course and to work more constructively:
My therapist’s chair was a little the worse for wear, and he had patched it up with the packing tape used to mark parcels as fragile. This annoyed me intensely, and one day towards the end of a session I brought it up. I said that it looked like he needed a new chair, and he replied that he preferred to fix things instead of just getting rid of them, and he liked having made a feature of the repair. I told him that if I was repairing a chair I would have researched how to to repair vinyl and plastic so as to do it properly, or at least used tape the same colour as the chair, so that you couldn’t see the repair and it looked as good as before. A lightbulb moment occurred as I realised that this whole conversation was a metaphor for our different approaches, and I began to ask myself if what I expected from therapy was that I would go back to being “as good as before”, with seamless and invisible repairs. I have finally begun to accept that I must work with where I am now. It’s still hard work and is going to take a long time, but it’s definite progress.
(Oh, and for the record my therapist did eventually get a new chair).