“Depression is a symptom of life in survival mode. We treat depression like there is something wrong with the person. When it’s actually a natural response to an unhealthy environment.” ~The Holistic Psychologist~
Whilst writing this article, the above quote crossed my path on Instagram. My entire body lit up with a huge YES – it is the essence of what I share here and has formed the basis of my recovery journey that began seven years ago.
In Gabor Maté’s book “When the Body Says No”, he sites many examples of repressed emotions, especially anger, manifesting in depression and other chronic illnesses. If you think about the word repress and its meaning – to “subdue (someone or something) by force” – it starts to make sense.
I wish I had known this 30 years ago. But we don’t know what we don’t know, until such time as a seed of knowledge, wisdom or curiosity is planted! Then, as so aptly put by Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”
This article is about planting seeds of curiosity and possibility. I don’t know your experience or what you believe about depression, but when I started to discover the possibility that it wasn’t an illness I was stuck with for life, I started to feel a sense of empowerment and renewal.
For transparency, I am not a medical doctor. What I share here are my own opinions, my personal experience, sources of inspiration along my journey, the culmination of re-training in a number of modalities, and what my clients have experienced.
When I look at the UK’s National Health Service website, it suggests a number of causes of depression: Stressful events; family history; personality; giving birth; loneliness; alcohol or drugs (to name a few). Each one written in such a way as to suggest we are powerless to change them. For example, under personality, it says “you may be more vulnerable to depression if you have certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem or being overly self-critical. This may be because of the genes you have inherited from your parents, your early life experience, or both”. Whilst this is true, I have discovered we can heal from ALL of these. Pharmaceuticals are not the only option. I know this, because I am living proof of it.
As a teenager I was diagnosed with Depressive Illness. Alongside this came the prognosis that it was hereditary, ‘just’ a chemical imbalance, I would have it for life, and I would be medicated forever. This model of depression, shared with me at an influenceable time, was hugely damaging to my already tattered self-worth.
With this diagnosis, I felt flawed. A broken and malfunctioning human being. I was led to believe I had no power to heal from or influence my symptoms. Does this sound familiar to you?
Fast forward to 2017, almost 30 years later, I came across the work of Kelly Brogan (author of A Mind of Your Own); Gabor Maté (author of When the Body Says No); David Perlmutter (author of Grain Brain) and Mark Hyman (a leader in the field of Functional Medicine).
It was the work of Kelly Brogan that first shone the spotlight on the possibility of recovery. Her book “A Mind of Your Own” was life-changing. It answered the niggle I’d had for a while “surely there has to be another way?” This marked the start of major transformation and the gradual journey home to myself.
In the book “There She Glows – Volume 3”, I share my burn-out journey. In it, I elude to the complex combination of inner and outer world circumstances that lead to burnout. What I didn’t share explicitly in that book was the final series of events that lead to my breaking point. I hope, in sharing my story, it will plant seeds of inspiration and possibility for you.
In 2016, happily married, with a well-established career and a lovely home, it was time to start a family. Feeling strongly that I did not want to be medicated whilst pregnant and that I no longer needed medication, I followed medical guidance and tapered slowly and systematically from the anti-depressants I had been on for more than 15 years. A few after taking my last pill, symptoms of anxiety and depression started to return. I was mortified. What did this mean? How could this happen?
Over the course of six months, I descended into full-scale burnout. I felt like I was falling down a giant ravine, clutching at the sides, unable to find anything to hang on to. I hadn’t yet discovered the powerful tools, techniques and knowledge that would help me recover.
At the bottom of that ravine, exhausted beyond words and unable to function, I started to slowly find answers. As I shared in my last article, “I turned my burnout into a breakthrough.”
In hindsight, what had really happened, as I tapered from anti-depressants, was multi-layered. I was experiencing complex withdrawal symptoms and I had pulled the cork out of a tightly sealed bottle of unhealed complex childhood circumstances, repressed emotions, and a plethora of limiting beliefs, behaviours and conditioning. My crippled self-confidence, zero self-worth, perfectionist, over-achiever and people pleaser was running the show.
So, when I took away the one thing that was, in my opinion, repressing and masking that giant melting pot, it started to spill out. The lid was blown off the pressure cooker. It was unstoppable. Not understanding what was happening and why, I was in total overwhelm, fear and chaos. I was disconnected from my body, my heart was closed and my nervous system was in overdrive.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because I want you to know that radical healing is possible for those who are ready and willing to work deeply with themselves. It might not be the easy path, but it could lead to profound self-discovery, life-changing transformation and a return to living a fulfilling, expansive life.
I am not telling you to start tapering from medication. I am not saying you are wrong for taking it. It is a personal choice for each individual. However, if it is your desire to truly heal, to find clarity, freedom and a feeling of wholeness, then it is a process to be treated delicately and compassionately.
I had no idea what opening this Pandora’s Box would reveal. It is important to have an appropriate container in which the contents can be carefully tended to. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have the right support network (container) in place. It takes a holistic approach, looking at the entire physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and environmental picture.
I did it the hard way. I was following the tiniest nugget of intuition and I opened Pandora’s Box, oblivious to the impact it would have on me and those around me. It could have been a much smoother ride if I’d had the knowledge, tools and techniques that I now use and share with clients today. But I know it happened that way for a reason – so that I could guide and support others to find the correct path for them, without the pain of the trial and error that I went through.
It was many months before I began to create an appropriate container and to find the guidance that would support my true healing. Up until that point, it felt like chaos. As I slowly pieced myself back together, I came to realize how much of my life was lived through conditioning, programming, limiting beliefs, the pain of the past and a limited understanding of how my body works.
When I look back, I can now see the holistic approach that gradually unfolded over time. I now call this the PEMS approach – looking at our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual selves, discovering what’s out of alignment. Course correcting and re-aligning to our true selves, healing from the past, building relationships and a lifestyle that is truly fulfilling.
If we look at each of the four elements, we can begin to get a flavor of just some of the aspects that might contribute to symptoms of depression.
What are you putting into and on your body? How are moving your body? Do you feel connected to your body? Are you experiencing physical symptoms that could be clues of what’s being suppressed within? Symptoms such as pain and chronic illnesses can act as valuable signposts. How is your nervous system functioning and are you exhibiting signs that you are stuck in a fight – flight – freeze – fawn response?
What emotional burdens are you carrying in your present and from your past? Is there a default emotion that you seem to be stuck in? We can become stuck at an emotional set-point or we can feel overly responsible for other people’s emotions. How do you respond to emotions? Can you allow yourself to experience the full spectrum of emotions? Or do you try to suppress them, avoid them?
What are your thoughts and beliefs about yourself, your life and the world around you? There are very often many sub-conscious limiting thoughts and beliefs running the show. Propelling reactions and behaviours that might no longer be supportive to us. Subconsciously, we are programmed to look for more of what we know, because it is familiar. That doesn’t always mean it is correct for us.
What or where do you find meaning and connection to something greater than yourself? It is unique to each person and finding your meaning, your connection can bring a sense of peace and purpose. It can help you feel supported and part of the larger whole that makes up the Universe
we exist in.
There are many more factors that could be listed here, not to mention the relationships in your life and the environment that you live in. I have found that as I’ve worked with the four elements above, the environment and relationships that feel good to me have changed and evolved. It is a unique and profound journey for each individual.
A final point before you go:
Choosing to walk the path of deep healing and transformation requires self-compassion, self-kindness, space and energy. Not everyone around you will understand your choices.
A strong support network is essential. Once you take the first step, the Universe will conspire to bring the correct people, tools, techniques and knowledge into your life!
Radical self-care is paramount. As I shared in this article, it is never too late to start self-care. Keeping your body strong to support your evolutionary journey will also help you re-build self-trust.
Your intuition will expand. Your inner sense of safety and security will build. Your heart will re-open. You will begin to trust yourself again and you will ultimately return home to your whole Self.
It is a personal choice – whether to ‘go there’ or not. The gifts on the other side, the power of the journey itself is incredible. What awaits on the other side is YOU. The real YOU. The YOU you’re here to be. And what a wonderful gift that is to reclaim and share with the world.
Carli Thorpe is the creator of Vitality Naturally Holistic and a Wellness Coach & Mentor, certified as a Pilates Instructor, Energy Alignment Method Mentor & Life Coach and Embodied Dance Facilitator. She has also studied with the Heartmath Institute, completing the trauma-informed Resilient Heart certification; META-Health & Lifestyle Prescriptions; Therapeutic Exercise and has certificates in Anatomy & Physiology; Nutrition and Mental Health First Aid.
Carli empowers others to take back control of their well-being, so they can live with natural vitality and joy. By intuitively guiding self-mastery for wellness, she shares powerful tools, techniques and knowledge learned through her personal journey and studies, advocating ‘self-care first’ across the four fundamental elements of wellness - physical, emotional, mental and spiritual (the PEMS approach©). Carli passionately believes that everyone is worthy of wellness. Her vision is of a world where every person feels empowered and has access to use the tools, techniques and
knowledge that facilitates well-being self-mastery.