10 Years of Life – WASTED…?

Why I am grateful for all the time of life I lost to depression…

I mourned for years about the time of life I thought I lost to depression.

All the time I wasted. Life wasted. More than 10 years of my life that I could have used to further my career as a doctor, to help more people get healthier, to make more money…

Thinking about this wasted time makes me still sad sometimes.

If you are reading this, can you relate? Is there a time in your life where you were stuck in darkness, sadness, strife, struggle?

Maybe you are still there? Suffering in silence, with not much support from sympathetic human beings?

If you are, I understand.

And I want to encourage you to keep reading, and here is why:

I’d love to tell you what I learned since then that made me realize that there is NO time in this life that is lost.

And why I am truly grateful for now for all the time when I wasn’t productive, wasn’t valuable to society, actually cost the healthcare system and my disability insurance (and all the other people that paid and are still paying for it) quite a bit of money…

And why I am feeling a responsibility these days to pay back (in a good way)…

This was the darkest night of my life…

I was lying on the floor, on a thin mattress, curled up in the fetal position, writhing in pain.

I had been put in a 3x3 room, tiled to the ceiling, with nothing but a mattress on the floor and a hole in one corner where I could relieve myself.

All belts and strings had been removed from my clothes, and there was nothing but a thin blanket in this room with me.

The steel door was locked behind me and every now and then I could hear someone on the other side lifting up the flap of the window in the door to check on me.

I wasn’t in jail, although it certainly seemed to me then.

They put me in this room to protect me from myself.

You know, my brain hat malfunctioned. My mind had spiraled out of control.

On that day I was absolutely convinced, that my only way to get out of the crushing emotional pain I felt was to end my own life.

This emotional pain, which was worse than any physical pain I had suffered so far (and I had given birth two 2 children and suffered excruciating physical back pain before).

So I was really convinced, absolutely sure, that ending it all was my only way out.

And so they put me in this room – overnight – to protect me from myself.

To protect me from finishing what I had tried to do. To stop me from carrying out, what other humans, who at this point cared more for me than I did myself, knew was an irrational act.

Something I really didn’t want to do myself. They knew it and I didn’t.

They knew that this, too, would pass. And they believed in so much in my potential to heal that they decided that I was worthy.

That I was worth enough as a human being to be protected from hurting myself.

To put resources of the Canadian healthcare system to work for me. To invest in me, a wreck, but still a human being with potential.

You may have guessed by now where I was. I don’t really remember much about this night in the QT (quiet) room of our local mental hospital.

I do remember, though, very clearly, the agonizing emotional pain, the utter desperation I felt, and the deep embarrassment of being robbed of all my human dignity.

I am grateful for this today…

And today, I am deeply grateful for the doctors in the ER, for the psychiatrists and the psychiatric nurses who recognized that I had potential for the future, who saw something in me that – at that time – I couldn’t see myself – and who cared enough to protect me from myself so I could see another day, have another chance on living a good life and fulfilling my purpose.

I am also deeply grateful for the other patients who shared the locked inpatient ward in this psychiatric hospital with me, who treated me like one of them – just another suffering human being.

In this ward, I was no longer the doctor, the role model, the person who had it all together, the person who thought she had to be perfect to be worthy.

I just was another suffering human among many, using the same washrooms with saloon doors without locks.

We were all wandering the same dimly lit hallways at night, up and down, driven by the unrest of an unsteady and unhappy mind.

We were taking turns looking out of the small barred window at the end of the hallway - overlooking Halifax Harbour, seeing the ships sail in and out, thinking about – if I was thinking about anything at all – how I was no longer part of this “normal” world.

I had arrived.

At the bottom of what any human can achieve.

Involuntary confinement to a psychiatric hospital – taking away a person’s basic human rights and freedoms, is only legal to protect others - or the person themself.

At that time, I was truly a mortal danger to myself.

These days, I am still very grateful for the people who, during these dark days, protected me from taking the life of my teenage boys’ mother, my future husband’s wife (I didn’t know him then…yet), my parent’s daughter, my brother’s sister…

… and maybe even from taking your opportunity of meeting me in person some day and you reading this today.

You know, this time – over 23 years ago - marked a milestone in my life.

It started a completely new career, very different from the profession of the doctor and naturopath I had before.

Descending into the depth of human suffering myself, not just writhing and sobbing in physical pain, but in the deepest emotional pain possible, I truly had arrived at what (as I learned later) philosophers and thinkers many hundred years earlier had named “the dark night of the soul”.

This is not unique to me. It is part of human experience. Of many, many individuals before me – and sadly probably of many after me.

These days, we have a big book that tells us what to name it. They call it the DSM-V. It classifies mental illness of all kinds and gives you one or more “labels”.

Fancy names for how they try to classify your suffering, try to put your humanity in a drawer.

You can probably tell I am not a fan of this book, of labels. The DSM-V (forgive me if I still have an old number, it may be the DSM VI, VII or whatever by now), is also called “The Bible of Psychiatrists”. And it is constantly updated, expanded, new labels and definitions are added.

It started as a big book, and by now has morphed into a hard-to oversee jungle of numbers, names, explanations, definitions and more, a nightmare for most practitioners who only want to help suffering individuals.

And yes, it does have some useful applications. It helps to administer healthcare and financial disability benefits, and when choosing medications…

(I’ll give you my 2 cents about psychiatric medications at another time)

Having a certain label helps the person access those services.

Do we need these labels?

Well, I am probably the wrong person to ask this.

Let’s re-frame this question so I can give you my answer:

Did the labels: “major depression” and “avoidant and dependent personality disorder”, sorted in axis 1,2 or more, later updated to ”schizoaffective disorder, depressive type” serve me?

Hmmmmm…

In fact, they did serve me… to access disability benefits. To access psychiatrists, medications, and even a (wonderful) 6-week group psychotherapy day treatment program.

I needed these services at the time. So yes, they served me in this sense – in the short term, to bridge the time -  the gap -  until I was better.

And I deeply appreciate and am grateful that I was able to access these services at a time when I really needed them.

Did those labels help me to grow as a person, to excel as a human being, to truly achieve my potential?

Not really. On the contrary.

Having those labels affixed to my forehead and worse, believing myself that I was “a depressed person” and had “depression” and had “schizoaffective disorder” and had a personality (unchangeable?), a genetic disposition to be “dependent” on others and “avoidant” (to avoid what, life?)

Having – and believing in the validity of - those labels hurt my personal growth in the long term and lengthened the time for me to become the person I am today.

So, did I (or the system, or society…) really waste more than 10 years of my life?

I felt like this for a while.

 I blamed others. I blamed myself.

But I don’t think so anymore.

Now, here is the caveat: I realize that this is my experience. It can’t just be generalized and doesn’t apply to everyone.

So, if you think you need your label at this time in your life, I honor your belief. You are probably right, and you probably do need it right now. And this is okay.

But here is what changed my mind about my own labels: It was not the current medical system, nor my psychiatrist, nor my psychotherapist, and certainly not the medications I was prescribed and that I took for many years, believing I needed them.

What changed my mind was my own self.

My inner voice telling me that I was more than a label. That I was a human being, with (near) infinite growth possibilities.

The same inner voice that had kept me to actually finish the act of taking my own life when I thought that’s what I wanted – and the voice that instead directed me to the local mental hospital.

Do you listen to your inner voice? Sometimes, it is a good thing to do.

It also was my current husband – who always loved and accepted me as the person I was at the time and continues to do so through all my changes.

It also was reading books, journaling about it, thinking…

Reading books like

  • “Feeling Good” by Dr. David Burns
  • “Siddartha” by Herman Hesse.
  • Books like the Bible, the Bhagvad Gita, the Koran,
  • Books like “On Becoming a Person” by Carl Rogers
  • Books like “Psychiatric Medication Withdrawal” by Dr. Peter Breggin
  • Books like “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life” by Dr. Daniel Amen
  • Books like “Men’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl

And many more…

Slowly, over time, I reconnected with life.

It’s a process. It takes time.

In short, over the next years I re-invented myself again, evaluated my situation and took action. I changed things in my life. Outer and inner. Becoming better at it over time, becoming more and more strategic.

I changed things about my nutrition, added certain nutritional supplements, added physical movement (although I hate “exercise”), changed things about my lifestyle, worked diligently to change my thought patterns from mostly negative to realistic (I am not a fan of just “positive thinking”), I worked on improving my social skills and daily interactions with others. Changed habits. Found my meaning and purpose. And then I took targeted action from there.

First small, tiny, baby-steps. Then bigger, faster. I learned to run. In fact, I have to hold myself back now sometimes to not run too fast….:)

These are all things that I now teach my clients in my “Recover Your Sparkle” and other programs and help them to implement in their life.

Things I talk about in my recent TEDx Talk, on stage and on my videos on YouTube

Things I talk about on the BLU Talks stage (BLU stands for: Business, Life Universe) and in my bestselling books on Amazon…

Things I talk about – in person or most often online - with individual clients, with friends, with fellow physicians, fellow coaches, fellow public speakers, fellow businesspeople, fellow humans…

People have told me that I inspire them …. to change. To grow. To be their best self. That I am able to help them to find their way, to climb their mountains of life.

I am humbled.

Really, I am no better or worse than any of you. I am no more special than any of my clients.

I feel deeply honored to meet other suffering individuals where they are - in my current work as a coach, people who are going through “their dark night of the soul”,

and I am also deeply grateful to have the opportunity to sometimes even make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

I consider it a meaningful responsibility to be part of other people’s life stories. I meet others for a reason. And it is no coincidence that you are reading this now.

To be there for others is truly my passion and purpose. This is what gets me up every morning, excited and curious to start a new day. I call it: It makes me "Sparkle"!

I can’t wait to hold the mirror of their possibilities to someone else.

I treasure caring for people, having experienced myself what it means to be cared for by others.

And yes, I do feel inspired. The word means: “In Breath” or “In Spirit”. This is truly how I feel. Grateful to be a connector, a conduit.

A connector between life on this earth, between the mysterious human mind housed in a miraculous physical form called our brain and body, and the even more mysterious and truly unknowable Universe out there, whatever name you choose for this spiritual entity.

 Some call it God, Allah, Yahweh, Mother Earth, the Universe, the Akashic Field, The Energy Field (and there are probably many other names or labels for this higher intelligence that can lead us and give us energy and guidance – if we believe in it)

Statistics show that 80% of people believe in some form of higher power. For the first 38 years I was part of the other 20%, put off by traditional “religion” as I got to know it growing up.  

I changed my mind about this too, over time, as many of us do during their lifetime, before death – or maybe after death.

Are you grateful for your human experience?

I would love to hear from you.

Comment below and tell me what you are grateful for...

I am In-Spired by You. Thank you for being in my life!

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