At what stage of life do you ask that big question “what’s the meaning of life?” Then (as if this wasn’t enough) an even more sinister question lurks in the wings “what’s the point of being here then?”
I want to share a part of my private psychological journey from girlhood to womanhood, with a couple of insights into the destructive thoughts that used to control my life. Scary dark secrets that tormented me, wiping out my self-esteem and confidence. Secrets about me kept well-hidden from the world.
My rude awakening to depression, worry and anxiety (plus suicidal thoughts) hit me during my early twenties once I entered the world of work and realised I hated every mind-numbing minute of it. From being a reasonably happy-go-lucky teenager without a clear career path, I’d never questioned the purpose of work, nor experienced the shame, confusion and utter despair of depression.
And this is when my first destructive, distorted thought reared it’s head: “I am weak, depression only happens to weak people.”
Let me rewind. Things nose-dived when I finished university in the early 70’s. Wearing my over-sized rose tinted glasses, plus a belief that the world owed me a living, this was my first major disappointment in life. It felt unfair, it felt personal and hurt like hell. After all my hard work and sacrifice damn it!
Then came my second destructive, distorted train of thought: “I am stupid and I am a failure, my friends have amazing careers. I am not good enough and I am not deserving.”
Amidst the shock and pain, the academic snob in me resented taking on menial jobs – typing and clerical work plus pandering to pompous men in suits. I was so ashamed and had never felt such self loathing. Jealously, anger, sadness and disappointment became part of my emotional landscape; take your pick, I had them all. I even stopped seeing old friends because I thought they would reject me, exposing my inferiority complex.
Cue destructive thought number three: “I am inferior, everyone is better than me. I am defective.”
It wasn’t long before depression (which I wore like a familiar overcoat) joined forces with it’s friend anxiety. They accompanied me wherever I went. This miserable duo snuck into my handbag on the weary London underground journey to work, and fuelled scary thoughts about how much better off I’d be under a train (than in it).
I wish someone had told me that depression wasn’t a rite of passage into adulthood. And I wish someone had also explained that it generated obsessional thoughts that made you hate yourself, other people and the world. No one ever did and it felt like a big conspiracy to cause me maximum pain and distress. No one else seemed to have my problem (or so I thought). All my friends and family were getting on with their lives and it felt like I was the only “defective” human on the planet.
I ended up finding relief in chocolate! I felt mildly better after consuming bars of it (although fatter) and the depression temporarily died down on Friday evenings. But it returned with a vengeance on Sunday evenings at the stomach churning thought of returning to work on Monday morning.
I spent a couple of years in this uncomfortable, nervous space, hiding my depression from everyone, including my family. Why had no one spotted the sad empty look in my eyes? On the outside I appeared to be working hard (powering through unbearable nine to five jobs), whilst on the inside my soul was dying from lack of purpose and fulfilment.
In my mid twenties I found myself with no boyfriend, another pitiful job this time in the cynical world of marketing (which made me long to become a nun) and depression. Could things get any worse? You’ll be pleased to know I managed to turn things around. Read part two to find out who helped me get back on my feet, how I utilised the power of positive thinking and affirmations, and my first discovery about “the meaning of life”.
first published in Eve Rebooted: courtesy of Jo Taylor