Each of us will face grief – it will come in many guises and disguises. You can choose to numb yourself down with alcohol, tobacco, gambling and pills and even food, as well as other addictions, or you can use depression to become conscious.
Memories of an advertising campaign using the words ‘Not Happy Jan!’ come flooding back as I reflect on a time in my life when happiness completely eluded me. Yes, I tried to pretend I was happy, and the one person I was deluding was myself.
In January, 1988, two events occurred which were to have significant effect on my life. The day before our bicentennial my 14 year son left to live with his father. The very next day my father was admitted to hospital and subsequently passed away after eating three oysters. He had cirrhosis of the liver, the result of a lifetime consuming a bottle of scotch a night. One, or perhaps all, of the oysters he had eaten contained a rare organism – vibrio vulnificus – I can still remember its name. The organism got into Dad’s bloodstream and attacked the weakest part of his body – his legs – before it ate away at the rest of him. I had never seen gangrene before, but the sight of his legs and the marks on his body were obvious.
In order to cope, I did the only thing I knew how – I shut down. I went into survival mode, and stayed there. Oh, I had been there before. Nine years earlier I had separated from an emotionally abusive relationship and had had to fight for custody of my two sons; had moved to the country to put as much distance as I could for my own safety and security; had lost my secure job and had to start again. I had to survive for my sons.
Did I have any understanding that all that stress was taking its toll on my emotional health? What emotional health? I was absolutely useless to anyone and everyone around me. I deluded myself that I was coping. I set up a business and went to work and became busy. I pretended that everything was FINE!
Relationships were non-existent. I had one very close friend and marvelled that when we walked down the street, men would always look at her, and ignore me! I was the original ‘ice-maiden’. I had built an igloo around me. Oh, I was nice and comfortable on the inside – and presented a frosty cold exterior!
Life had brought me to my knees
By June, 1989, it all came tumbling down around me. I could barely function. I found a support group, which got me to understand that what I was experiencing was grief. I worked through some of my issues at that time. Subsequently in 1996, two years after my mother passed away, and further emotional shutdown, I entered into a new relationship. What I didn’t know at the time, was that this relationship would highlight for me all the emotional issues I hadn’t worked on from my first marriage. It was one turmoil after another, and one of the biggest issues for me was that I couldn’t admit that I had made a mistake.
In 2004 I attended a weekend workshop on developing my conscious awareness. It was through that program that I discovered that what I had been dealing with all those years ago was a deep depression. I had shut myself down so severely that it has taken a lot of gentle work to bring me to experience the joy of life. I got to see the way in which I had deluded myself in my second marriage, how I had pretended that life was wonderful. I had the pretence of a wonderful life –and yet it was crumbling underneath me. I was not only morally bankrupt, emotionally bankrupt, I was almost financially bankrupt. Life had brought me to my knees. It took Christmas Day, 2009, for me to make a decision that I wasn’t going to do another Christmas in the relationship.
I didn’t know how my decision was going to be implemented. I had no money to speak of, and nowhere to go. In the September I was offered a job on the Gold Coast, and without hesitation I took it. Within a month I had packed my car and was on the highway north. Everything just flowed. The conversation with my husband was effortless; as was the drive north. The subsequent financial settlement had a few hiccups and what I was able to see was that those hiccups gave me the opportunity of working through issues that previously would have led me to shutdown emotionally.
So what is Conscious Awareness? According to J.C. Banerjee in the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Psychological Terms, 1944, “Consciousness is the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind”. Awareness is defined on www.psychologicaldictionary.org as “a person with awareness would likely be able to report on his or her internal and external states”.
So how does becoming consciously aware help depression?
Being able to name emotions as they are felt is the first step in the healing process. Then being able to identify them as they arise is liberating. Most of us are afraid of our emotions. We are taught from an early age that emotions such as anger and fear are not appropriate – and yet they are the scourge of our society.
Boys are taught that it is sissy to cry. They are told to ‘man up’. Becoming conscious of our emotions is healthy.By being present to emotions, and sitting with them, allows the emotions to wash through the body and therefore not get stored. There may be deeper emotions that are revealed, and being present to them again allows them to pass quickly. The deeper you go, the more access you have to what really drives the surface emotion, and you also gain access to the infinite intelligence of the body and being.
‘What else is there?
One of the simplest techniques to gain access to these deeper emotions is to ask ‘What else is here?’and allowing those emotions to surface and naming them. Sometimes emotions can’t be named, and there is resistance to feeling them. ‘What else?’is a simple question that allows the emotion to arise, be felt and the released through a deep breath.
What occurs through conscious awareness is the realisation that you are at choice every moment of every day.
When I realised that I became conscious – conscious of what I was feeling, conscious of the myriad of emotions and thoughts that previously would have led me to tell stories, led me to withdraw from life, led me to withdraw from others, to shut others out, to shut down to everything.
In August, 2014, when one of my brothers chose to take his life because of challenges with a rapid onset of aggressive Parkinson’s disease, the grief that came was able to be dealt with healthily.
Depression and anxiety are very prevalent in our society. Life does not discriminate. Each of us will face grief – it will come in many guises and disguises – whether it be through death of those near and dear; separation; divorce; illness; redundancy; or other things, but come it will. You can choose to numb yourself down with alcohol, tobacco, gambling and pills and even food, as well as other addictions, or you can use depression to become conscious. Through conscious awareness we become healthy and happy. I can honestly say that I can strike a line through the ‘not’ in that original advertising campaign, because life is unfolding in ways I could never imagine and I am opening and loving every moment of every day.
Jan Henderson is a trained counsellor. She has worked with people with anxiety, grief and depression for more than 25 years. She currently presents conscious awareness workshops throughout Australia.
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