How Befriending My Anxiety and Depression Helped Ease My Pain

“‘What should I do?’ I asked myself. ‘Spend another two miserable years like this? Or should I truly welcome my panic?’ I decided to really let go of wanting to block, get rid of, or fight it. This would allow me to learn to be able to deal with my panic and help me to meditate and increase awareness. It was something I accepted. The panic subsided in consciousness and it was then that things began to change. The panic was at the surface, but underneath it was awareness that was holding onto it. This is because the vital first step to breaking the cycle of the anxious mind is to connect to awareness.” ~Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

For at least 15+ years I have been suffering from depression and anxiety. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. Although they both nearly killed me, I’ve learned to deal with them rather than trying to fight them.

While I didn’t act on any suicidal thoughts in the moment, I wouldn’t lie if I claimed that I had. While I did not make plans for it, the idea of suicide did eventually take over my life and was almost all-consuming. I also reached a stage where I didn’t care if I died.

My life was made worse by alcohol. Strangely enough, I think beer may actually have saved me from death. After leaving work one day, I went past a bar and got extremely drunk. After I became incapable of making any worse decisions, my wife told me that she needed urgent medical help.

It would take a lot of effort to pinpoint the exact reason I felt anxious and depressed. The age at which I first began suffering from anxiety and depression would also be difficult to identify. Even in my earliest years, I believe I have always been a worrier.

My upbringing was blessed in many ways. I had loving parents; we weren’t a wealthy family, but we didn’t struggle either. We had plenty of food and we felt loved.

That said, things weren’t perfect, as my dad worked away from home a lot. My dad did this to support his family and me. I admire him greatly, but it is not something that I feel resentful of. However, it left a gap in our home and placed a lot more responsibility on my mom. I may have some separation problems as a result.

When it came to behaviour, my parents were strict. This is what has made me who I am today. These people gave me solid principles for which I am thankful.

It wasn’t always easy to live up to my mum and dad’s expectations, though. I can recall feeling stressed about it and fearful of being laughed at. In comparison with what some children sadly have to tolerate, I feel a little silly saying that, but I’m trying to give an explanation for my anxiety in later life.

Bullying was a constant companion in my childhood. Name-calling and physical abuse left their mark. I can clearly remember the indignity of being drowned in another, older, bigger, stronger child’s spit.

The main focus of my tormentors was that I was “ugly”, “nobody would ever fancy me,” and that I would “never find a girlfriend.” I managed to disprove all three as an adult. Well, maybe I am “ugly,” but, frankly, as a happily married man, as long as my wife doesn’t think I am, I’m not sure it matters all that much.

However, what matters is the scars that this taunting caused. I’ve never really regained my confidence after them. I’m not sure I can, and they cause me to be hard with myself, leading to anxious and depressed thinking.

Perhaps it was bullying that fed my anxiety and depression. I’ve been the victim of domineering, abusive behavior as an adult too, and there is a fragility inside me when faced with such onslaughts. I also have a very keen idea of justice and don’t enjoy seeing it being compromised.

However, bullying has not been a factor in my mental illness. Without the ability to do that, I believe I’m destined for anxiety and depression to be lifelong companions. That may sound defeatist, but my reality isn’t as gloomy as that last sentence might suggest, and the reason for this is something I can definitely point to.

My depression went untreated for years. GPs did not mention my anxiety. The day following my escapism from suicidal thoughts through inebriation, my wife made me go to the A&E Department at our local hospital. A doctor finally listened and diagnosed my anxiety as a precursor to depression. He also suggested other things that could help me get better.

The best advice I was given by my medic to help me regain my health was meditation. I’d dismissed meditation in the past as “hocus pocus,” laughing at and pouring scorn on it. It was that day that something in me responded positively to the idea, and that is why I’m eternally grateful.

I was given a list by the hospital of locations where you can find tools to meditate. Apps, recordings, videos. So I decided that I could lose nothing and gain everything. I followed their advice.

Within a matter of days, I had used up all the resources that the doctor provided. It was enough to convince myself that I could actually get relief. I still felt anxious and depressed, but for the period of time while I meditated I got, for the first time in years, a real sense of relief that wasn’t alcohol-fueled.

Unsure of where else I could find guided meditations, something triggered in my brain and a thought emerged: “I am sure Buddhism has something to do with meditating.” I went onto YouTube and typed in “Buddhist meditation” and got a huge number of results. This was the beginning of my journey to mindfulness.

Meditation didn’t miraculously cure my anxiety and depression. As I mentioned, they still haunt me. However, it gave me hope and a light that I knew I could use to help them cope. It also allowed me to see a way to give my life a dimension I had long wanted.

I can’t say specifically how meditation has changed things for me. But I do know it did. It is said that brain plasticity can be found. The brain can grow and change with time. Meditation is a good example of how activities such as meditation can help to develop healthier neural pathways. It’s almost as if the change has happened subconsciously. What I do know is that, as a result of meditating regularly, I’m calmer and better able to deal with crises than I had previously been.

After making meditation a regular practice I started to look into Buddhist philosophy. These are the ones that worked best for me. It is possible to reap the same benefits with other philosophical teachings. The idea of not fighting your negative emotions, but instead beingfriended them was one that I came up with.

It sounds contradictory. When we get a feeling we don’t like, whether it be anxiety, depression, or anything else uncomfortable, we naturally want to run from it. This does not relieve the feeling, but only reinforces it.

Perhaps that’s why people get locked in cycles of negativity. The uncomfortable feelings are fought, which strengthens it. So they continue to fight them. It keeps going in a vicious circle.

Instead, by accepting the emotion, letting it be, and recognizing that the feeling isn’t inherently wrong, that it’s just a sensation, it somehow softens it.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, whose quote I have quoted above was the first one I heard talk about this process. His panic attacks were often cured by this process, which was also the case for my anxiety and depression.

I was first introduced to meditation by this charismatic Nepalese Buddhist. I specifically remember the moment I found his video “A Guided Meditation on the Body, Space, and Awareness with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche,” on YouTube. His gentle, humorous style allowed me to almost feel his support as I went through this process. I’ve been practicing meditation daily for over four years but I always return to this video to help me get back on track.

My belief in anxiety and depression will somehow go away is an illusion. However, they don’t frighten me anymore, and I have learned to cope with them. I would wish them “good riddance” if they did pack their bags and go, but they don’t dominate me anymore. I live with them and they aren’t going to prevent me from enjoying a positive existence.

Online resources are abundant and offer guided meditations as well. While some are religious and spiritual, others are more secular. You can use it in whatever way you like.

These few simple actions have made a huge difference in my life. I’m more content than I can ever remember being and like to think of this transformation as proof that anyone who suffers similarly can regain happiness. I would be lying if I said it isn’t hard work, or that there aren’t periods that are more difficult than others, but it is so worth it.

I have been able to stop drinking for three years, which has had an impact on my mental and physical health. While I noticed a difference in my mood, not that I was drinking less, this does not mean I believe being teetotal can be a panacea for your health. A lot of people have found that drinking beer and wine helps them feel better.

The information in this article does not constitute a prescription. I don’t believe anyone can offer a recipe for wellness, as it is dependent on the individual, and I strongly doubt that two people would ever find that what works for one, works exactly the same for the other. It will have been worth it if the above text provides hope, and not anything else.

Andrew McDonald

Andrew is an Irish freelance copywriter who works with businesses to create marketing content. You can visit his website. Andrew is also certified as a Hypnotherapist. Andrew draws from his professional and personal experience to assist people with overcoming the challenges life presents. His hypnotherapy website can be reached for more information.

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Tiny Buddha published the article How being friends with my anxiety and depression helped me ease my pain.

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