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  • Writer's pictureKelly Gifford

What The Hardest Year Of My Life Taught Me

~An Ode To Depression~

If I’m really honest with myself, the past year or so has been the hardest time of my life.

I’ve had to confront experiences that I had spent years prior bending over backwards to ensure they never happened because I was terrified that if they did, I couldn’t handle it.

I had to soothe the worst heartbreak of my life while in a foreign country on the other side of the world from everyone that I knew, besides the person who was involved in the heartbreak.

I’ve confronted so much being entirely out of my control, having outcomes in my business, finances, relationships, and overall life ripped out of my tightly gripping hands over and over and over.

I have been confronted with agony that has brought me to my knees time and time again.

And as I sit here snuggled up in this freshly washed, cozy blanket, hearing the tropical rain wash over a brightening morning sky, the significance of one thing is very palatable.

That while confronting a phase of life with a torturous amount of difficulty, loss of control, and emotional suffering… I’m still here.

I still experience regular moments of joy where the corners of my mouth pull into a wide smile and my heart blasts open.

I still experience moments of deep, fulfilling connection, getting so wrapped up in an engaging and uplifting conversation with another that time elapses and I’m fully cemented in the present moment.

I still experience laughter that erupts from the furthest pit of my stomach and echoes through a room of people that can’t help but turn their heads at the sound.

I still experience synchronicity, undeniable miracles, and the profundity of insight, creativity, and inspiration.

I still experience always having something to look forward to, as small as it can be at times.

I experience all of this, minimum, on a weekly basis.

The significance of all of this is not lost on me.

And it is so easy to forget the significance of these things in those moments where you are tunnelling through a spiral of anxiety, or curled in a ball drowning in your own tears, or after having fallen to your knees from the weight of hopelessness and the pain of the cracks in your heart.

And over the last year, I’ve had to accept that there is no convincing myself out of those moments. No amount of gratitude, or seeing the bigger picture, or trusting that things will eventually be okay, is going to unload the heavy heart when what it’s trying to do is feel the heaviness.

In those moments, we really only do have two options: allow the heart to feel the pain, or resist the pain and suffer anyway. 

And I have gained lots of experience doing both.

I’ve had moments where, deep down, I knew all I needed to do was cry and feel the defeat and loss of control fully move through my body… but instead, I chose to keep my mind busy, trying to find my next strategy to fix the issue at hand, scrolling social media and comparing, distracting myself with miscellaneous tasks that really didn’t need to get done right then and there.

And it’s choosing that path that always led to perpetual anxiety; having my mind be continuously pulled into worst case scenarios while carrying around the heaviness of dread in every waking moment, often having that feeling wake me up in the middle of the night and inhibit me from falling back to sleep.

And here’s the thing, I have compassion for the times I made that choice.

In fact, I’m not even sure I would agree that I had a choice in those moments. In a lot of ways, it felt like distraction was on auto-pilot, and there was purpose and wisdom guiding me away from my body because I wasn’t ready to process what was coming up within it yet.

I’ve also had moments - plenty of them, in fact - where I recognized the discomfort arising in my body while my mind was trying to take front-and-centre, going into fix-it mode and taunting me with all the worse case-scenarios that I potentially had incoming. After recognizing the sensations of discomfort in my body, I’d drop out of my mind and more fully into the discomfort with presence and the intention to let it be there as much as it wanted to be there.

I’d let it consume me.

I’d let it bring me to my knees.

I’d let it make horrendous noises.

I’d let it crack me open until I felt beaten and bruised, hopeless and helpless, defeated and without control.

I’d let tears stream down my face as I permitted debilitating fear, heart-shattering sadness, insufferable grief, or gut-wrenching shame to have the microphone and take centre-stage.

And you know what irony came from these moments?

That while I brought presence to debilitating fear, I had never felt more free, deeply supported, and at-peace.

And while I brought presence to heart-shattering sadness, I had never felt more love.

And while I brought presence to insufferable grief, I had never felt more connection and wholeness.

And while I brought presence to gut-wrenching shame, I had never felt more acceptance of and secure within myself.

That’s the paradox of transformation; the very thing you’re running from, opens you up to what you most deeply want.

And as I’ve allowed myself to stretch into new edges of my emotional pain, consequently I’ve expanded into new edges of emotional liberation.

The extent to which I feel joy when joy is present is more palpable than ever before. In the past, I remember experiencing joy as if there was a cloud around it, fogging it up and cutting me off from the full experience of it.

I remember in the past, my happiest moments were usually the ones where I felt the most numb from pain. As long as I wasn’t focusing on fear or sadness, I called that happy.

Now I see that it’s no wonder I didn’t have an answer to the question What do you do for fun?

It’s no wonder my plans for the weekend never strayed far from vegging out on my couch, going for a couple long walks with a podcast, and sleeping in without an alarm.

It’s no wonder I’d walk away from the social experiences I did (force myself to) engage in feeling drained and grateful that I finally got that over with.

Numb was what I was most comfortable with.

It was what I craved.

And I’m understanding the reason for that was because I was so exhausted from pushing myself through the motions of everyday life, running up against situations that triggered my emotional pain and then navigating my way around it by staying up in my mind, fixating on the past and trying to control the future.

I didn’t have anything left to give to joy, connection, and the heart-opening experience of being engaged with the present moment.

Numb was the best I knew how to do.

It was all I could reliably access outside of anxiety.

And I lived the first several years of my twenties oscillating between anxiety and numbness.

And as comfortable as it was from the shear familiarly of it, it caused regular bouts of comparison and affliction for the kind of life and experiences I didn’t feel capable of.

I’d scroll social media, watching how others were spending their time outside of the necessary to-do’s; engaging with hobbies, friends, events, fun experiences, and volunteering or helping out another.

I’d get hit with a sense of longing for what was so obviously missing from the way I was living my life… yet, it didn’t feel available to me.

Because I couldn’t imagine coming up on the end of a work day or a weekend knowing I had committed to practicing a hobby or helping a person move and not being filled with resentment and regret… because those commitments meant my window to numb out and recuperate from my exhaustion was closing quicker than it normally would, and the idea of that was unbearable.

Nothing about those experiences sounded genuinely enjoyable… yet I longed for them to be.

I longed to be the type of person who looked forward to my free time because I got to engage in something, rather than looking forward to it because it was my permission to disengage from everything and rot in numbness until it was time to get my act together again.

And nothing is more depressing than living your life that way.

And I never knew any different… until this last year or so.

Intentionally allowing for the darkest moments to consume me has allowed me to escape the range of numbness I was in for so long…. And I escaped it on both sides of the emotional spectrum: through the most insufferable pain, and through the most abundant and radiant joy.

And it feels more clear to me than ever than you can’t have one without the other.

My definition of happiness has cemented more fully on the idea that happiness is the allowance of all of it. Happiness was never about avoiding the negative emotions in favour of the positive ones, because that’s not how it works. You cut yourself off from one end of the emotional spectrum, and you equally cut yourself off from the opposite end.

But in the allowance of the negative emotions, my ability to access and fully engage in the experience of joy, love, connection, and inner-peace has tremendously blown me away. 

And it’s created these regular pockets of time where I’m sitting across from a friend, feeling high from the continuous eruption of laughter between us, feeling grounded from how safe and peaceful the present moment feels, and feeling my heart open wide from the connection with another human… and recognizing the significance of that moment.

Recognizing how abundant the moment really is, and how abundant moments like this are in my life these days overall.

Recognizing how these moments always come, and every bout of stress, hopelessness, and pain is always followed up with moments like these. Always. And they always taste sweeter from the contrast.

This is the first time in my life I have hobbies and regular plans that I look forward to from the moment they’re made to the moment they’re finished.

This is the first time in my life I’m putting myself out there to consistently engage in my life, rather than just going through the motions of what needs to get done and then latching onto any free time as my opportunity to numb out and escape responsibility while I can.

And life is so good this way.

It’s so, so, so, so good.

The roughness of the last year has taught me a lot, and if I had to summarize it into one tremendous lesson: it’s that anxiety and depression are a byproduct of running away from our emotional pain, and when we run away from emotional pain, we suffer.

Continuously stretching my capacity to feel the hardest emotions has taught me that was I didn’t want to feel, wasn’t nearly as bad as not feeling it. The cathartic release from permitting myself to fall to my knees and become immersed in the darkest depths of sadness, grief, fear, and shame is nothing compared to the never-ending cycle of oscillating between anxiety and numbness.

And by stretching my capacity to feel hard feelings, I became receptive to the life experiences that offer me so much life fulfillment, gratitude, connection, love, joy, laughter, inner stability, and peace… and I now get to experience those fully, clearly, abundantly, and without bounds.

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