“When a person realises he has been deeply heard, his eyes moisten. I think in some real sense he is weeping for joy. It is as though he were saying, “Thank God, somebody heard me. Someone knows what it’s like to be me”
~ Carl Rogers
After two years of chronic pain that took away my sleep, I slipped ungraciously into clinical depression. The attitude of my employers to this most unfortunate situation was, to assist me by heightening my levels of anxiety.
Being both anxious and depressed is a tremendous challenge. Clinicians have noted that when anxiety occurs with depression, the symptoms of both depression and anxiety are more severe compared to when each disorder presents alone. In this situation, the symptoms of depression take longer to resolve, making the illness more chronic and more resistant to treatment.
Finally, depression exacerbated by anxiety has a much higher suicide rate than depression alone. In one study*, 92% of depressed patients who had attempted suicide were also plagued by severe anxiety. Like alcohol and barbiturates, depression and anxiety can be a deadly combination when taken together.
Anxiety and depression affect everyone differently — but dealing with both is more common than you think.
I knew I was sinking. Although it was to be a long recovery period, I sought help early. A newly qualified GP, arranged to see me as often as I needed. Scheduling me at the end of morning surgery so we had time to talk. Well, I did most of the talking; he, most of the listening.
After one of these sessions, and with great compassion, he looked directly at me and with unbounded kindness, he said:
“I will give you every support I can, but you have to accept you are in a hole and you are the only one who can get yourself out. If you struggle you will go deeper. Now is the time to dig deep. You have the wherewith-all to recovery from this, if you focus on this and start now.”
My GP had administered the greatest service in my hour of need. I had been heard and because of this new understanding that now lay between us, I had gained hope. I hadn’t been judge. I had been believed (my suffering was genuine) and I was no longer alone. Most importantly, he had delivered his prognosis with a huge pile of reality.
My recovery journey was long, but I always had this hope. The self-belief that things would change, they would get better but I couldn’t always see it and I didn’t know when it would come. Sometimes my hope was strong like a roaring fire, sometimes it was a mere occasional flicker of light. On my travels some of my days were dark, dank and difficult.
Time and time again here at the Walnut Tree, people who come to see us say that they feel truly heard and understood for the first time. This in itself can visibly relax both the shoulders and the mood albeit temporarily. However, it does provide a point from which to start.
Many have been trying for years to find their hope. Often it has been completely shut down by other peoples’ agendas, lack of compassion, or highly inflated egos; to the point that their lives have been completely obscured.
Just as we sense when we are being looked at from afar, we humans know when we are being heard. Even in our darkest hours we feel when someone is merely paying us slip service, compounding our original hurt. Layer upon layer.
When we are truly heard and hope is restored, our personal recovery journey is in sight. With appropriate support, self-belief is rekindled and the hard work begins.
It can be done. At Walnut Tree Health and Wellbeing, we have a smorgasbord of lived-experience and we are ready and able to pass the hope on.
*PubMed, Suicide risk assessment: a review of risk factors for suicide in 100 patients who made severe suicide attempts. Evaluation of suicide risk in a time of managed care: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9989117?dopt=Abstract
Sue Wright is Director, Operations and a Wellbeing and Recovery Coach at walnuttreehealthandwellbeing.co.uk, headquartered in Norfolk, UK. She served with the Royal Navy and is now studying for an MSc in Mindfulness Studies at University of Aberdeen. Sue is powered by tea.