Balancing the Light and Dark: Elisabeth's journey out of depression
What I love about my work is connecting with people’s essence. Their hopes, dreams, fears and pains. To go together to those places where our souls are speaking. Where our hearts want to be heard. Together, to find our way back to who we really are and what we are here for.
On Tuesday 11 August 2015, Elisabeth shared her story with me. A story of depression and how she found a way out of it. A story which is uniquely hers, yet reflects the experience of many.
My name is Elisabeth and I’m 41 years old. I grew up in Austria. For the past 6 months, I’ve been struggling with the most challenging depressive episodes I have ever had. I needed a break from it all. In an attempt to heal myself, I traveled to Thailand. This is where my story meets Deniz’. But first things first.
When I was younger, I struggled with depression during the dark and long Austrian winters. At the age of 27, I had my first severe depressive episode. My thoughts where running in circles around my own death. The darkness of my own thinking frightened me. I went to see a doctor. He prescribed me medication and psychotherapy.
The anti-depressants that my doctor prescribed me had awful side effects on my body and brain. I felt like I was poisoned. Fortunately, my following bouts of depression weren’t as severe. I used that opportunity to look deep inside myself, and every time I came out a little stronger.
About three years ago, I moved to Thailand with my husband in search of a healthier life. At that time, I was faced yet again with that dark hole. Fortunately, this time I was blessed with an abundance of yoga classes in my surroundings. I didn’t have anything to lose, so why not give it a try. When I came home from class, my husband asked me with surprise what I had done. “You’re shining!” he said. I realized my head wasn’t hanging down and a little smile played around my lips.
I wanted to give it a try. In my search, I found Deniz Aydoslu’s book Depression Decoded and realized she was giving a workshop right were I lived. The workshop was very inspiring. One of the best things for me was to meet other people who were going through the same thing. To talk openly about our darkest thoughts. The workshop changed things. Instead of going “1 step forward and 2 steps back”, I now started going “2 steps forward and 1 step back”.
I really felt like yoga therapy had saved my life. It had opened a new perspective. A new door. In spite of this life-changing moment, I continued to struggle with my feelings of lifelessness and heaviness.
Doing anything was hard. I wanted to give myself a kick in the butt to go to yoga class. Instead, I felt like I was stuck in a downward spiral that was pulling me to the floor. I didn’t have energy to take care of my daily tasks. I didn’t have energy to put into my relationship. My inability to get anything done was making me feel worthless. It was a continuous struggle to gather enough energy to take care of myself and my life.
More and more I became convinced that I had to accept the darkness inside of me as a part of me. Just like my other parts, it makes me the person who I am. When faced with depression, I summoned the courage to take a plunge and dive through the darkness. I allowed the darkness to completely penetrate me.
Then, I would make simple plans for the next day: “get out of bed, drink coffee, clean the house, feed the pets and give yourself a beauty treatment. I’d have to set very small goals because if I failed to complete my to-do list, I would feel more worthless and incapable than before.
Something that also really helped me was keeping what I call my ‘Anti-depression Diary”. Deniz inspired me to write a gratitude journal. Every day I would write down 3 simple things that I feel grateful for, no matter how small. It helped me to anchor in the small beautiful things of life.
On Sunday 15 January 2017, about 1,5 years after Elisabeth shared her story with me, I received an e-mail from her.
Yesterday I was thinking about what I am grateful for … and surprisingly I am grateful for my depressions! Without these dark times I would have never questioned myself with the intensity I did. Every episode marked something in my life that needed to be changed. After the hard part, I was always stronger and more close to my true self. I am also grateful to have met you, to read your book and to participate in your workshop. It was like an ignition.
My healing began with writing a Gratitude Journal. It constantly changed my focus from negative to positive. The inner peace which was growing from that change, laid the ground to start working with Meditation. In meditation I found an inner space where I can rest for a while if the darkness takes up too much room. It’s perhaps a kind of depression panic-room. After a few breaths, from that space of stillness, I’m able to balance the light and dark.
I’m still practising Yoga and Meditation. I do everything (even cleaning the dishes) with joy and love and the visits in my panic room are very rare now.
At last, I really hope that many people will find their way to you. I am through (for) now because you created the basis to heal within me.
So let me say again a big THANK YOU. I send you love and all my best wishes.
I felt so much gratitude reading Elisabeth’s letter. It was as though I could feel the space she had created in her heart radiate through my computer screen. Stories like hers show me every time again the beauty which can grow from struggle. The lotus flower that blooms graciously and has her feet firmly planted in the mud.
I share Elisabeth’s story with permission and hope it can help and inspire others too.
“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
Litany Against Fear, Dune, Frank Herbert