Anti-depressant medication provided me with a solution to the immediate needs of my unregulated emotional state that made me ill with clinical depression for 24 years.  My illness occurred during a time when it was believed that Major Depressive Disorder was a chemical imbalance in the brain and SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) were a class of drugs typically used as anti-depressants to treat it.  Genetic predisposition was also believed to be a factor. 

I shudder to think whether I would have ever crawled my way out of the psychotic, major depressive episode I endured in 1988 without the anti-depressant medication.  Even if I did crawl my way out, how many more episodes of clinical depression would I have endured in addition to the half a dozen episodes I did experience, had I not had the medication?    I am grateful for the medication, treatments and the doctors who administered it, for I don’t know that I, or my family would have made it this far without them. 

By 2011, I reduced my anti-depressant medication to the lowest dose possible and began to work with a life coach as a means to support my desire to go off medication completely.  The two years of life coaching that followed helped me to understand my behaviours and patterns in a way I had never understood them before. This understanding fueled the confidence I had hoped for so I came off the anti-depressant medication as anticipated.

Then, as synchronicity would have it, in 2014 while I was seeking a solution to create a more structured and operationally sound foundation for my small business (Decorenza), I was blessed to cross paths with a strategic advisor/business coach who worked with conscious entrepreneurs (entrepatheurs{TM}) seeking to take their operations, staff and service to another level. After working together for a few weeks, she offered me an observation that was truly life changing. 

While coaching me through the difficult content of an email that detailed the transition of ending a long standing business relationship with a client, she told me that what she saw through my inability to focus on the email content and my body language was not about finding the right words for an email at all. It was likely an unconscious emotional block, deeply connected to events from my past that showed up as my inability to write an email.  She suspected I had unresolved trauma around ending a relationship.  She had modalities to help with the emotional component underneath the task at hand and I agreed to try them.  “Parts work” as it’s known in transformational healing circles, dates back to Carl Jung (early twentieth century psychiatrist) who came upon this methodology while exploring his own subconscious. It’s based on an understanding that a healthy personality is made up of many sub-personalities or parts. And when we begin to make our parts conscious, they no longer rule our lives from the unconscious.

From that day onward, whenever an emotional trigger/block showed up in our business tasks, she facilitated me with Parts Work methodologies like Voice Dialogue or Active Imagination so I could better understand the part of me that was blocking me and somatic (body) methodologies so I could learn to release the physical manifestations of these emotional triggers and blocks from my body and energy field.  These processes allowed me to move unobstructed into the task at hand of elevating my business. Her unique and extraordinary skillset offered support and coaching for both the professional tasks and the emotional components surrounding those tasks.  It was the most meaningful coaching and learning I had ever experienced.

For the first time, I began to see parts of myself who were very much “alive” and functioning underneath my level of awareness of them. And I came to learn that the emotional triggers and blocks showing up as difficulties in moving my business forward were actually the symptom of repetitive life trauma which my business coach recommended I work with in psychotherapy. 

She recommended a transpersonal psychotherapist and I have been working with that therapist since 2014.  Initially it was once a week and now, only as needed.  I learned the skills of self-care, honouring my needs and effective communication which continue to be the pillars that keep me emotionally healthy.  These skills learned through various trauma, Parts and psychotherapy tools and methodologies allowed me to process my emotions rather than deny and bury them. This denial and burial is what I now know made me ill and caused my multiple deep plunges into Clinical Depression. 

My Psychotherapist is quite unique.  She is a Spiritual Psychotherapist, a Shaman, highly intuitive and is trained in very specific therapies like Family Constellations that address family dynamics and family trauma. It’s important to work with a specialist trained in trauma methodologies. But in my experience, that’s not enough. It’s also critical to work with a transpersonal psychotherapist who works with the whole human experience (conscious and unconscious aspects us). 

Seeing these unconscious patterns and beliefs is an essential first step to self-awareness. And then as if by magic, new choices, never considered before, suddenly appear.  This first step to self-awareness allowed me to transform from numb to raw, then to healing and then to emotional self-regulation that solely taking anti-depressants did not provide me. The Parts Work therapies and the trauma therapies revealed truths that I supressed and in some cases completely disowned in order for me to survive my life experiences.  This work was painful and it took commitment to keep showing up and trust that there was knowledge and healing on the other side of the revelation of the pain that was piled high atop my joy.  

The gift is that the study to know ourselves on deeper levels of awareness creates a scholar in a conscious, aware and healthier life, simply by knowing and living in our truths rather than the stories we tell ourselves to survive.  Thinking that our beliefs and needs are not worthy or that the forces supressing them are stronger and more deserving than we are, also contributes to those stories.

I had indeed not processed my trauma and simply carried on for 24 years without giving it a second thought because I did not know any better.  In fact, it was only in an exploratory session with my spiritual psychotherapist that I came to learn that I had experienced multiple traumas in my life. When she asked me “Your life experiences are deeply traumatic experiences for any human being to process.  How did you process them at the time, or get through them since then?”, something clicked. Something profound opened in me.

I cannot tell you how big the burden was that lifted in that exploratory session with my spiritual psychotherapist.  Having just been told by a therapist that my life experiences were deeply traumatic, my answer, “I just kept going” spoke volumes to me in that moment.  My strong will and desire to overcome and move forward from the Clinical Depression succeeded in creating a hugely successful life in spite of the underlying trauma that had not moved from within my psyche and from within my body. 

The revelation that my experiences were traumatic and that trauma was to be “processed through” not “gotten through” was by far the biggest aha moment of my journey.  It was the first time I felt that mental illness was not who I was, it was just something that I experienced as a result of untreated, unprocessed trauma.  That was liberation in and of itself.

The joy that depression buried with sadness and that anti-depressants indefinitely kept buried was able to surface – but only after Parts Work and trauma therapies first uncovered and then helped me work through the sadness.  One layer at a time I worked through the numbness to the deeper sadness that I did not even know was there. Not the surface kind but the sadness pushed so deep, from so long ago that I was unconscious of, until it completely paralyzed me with Clinical Depression.  Clinical Depression was the symptom and unresolved trauma was the cause.

You see, this stuff is so painful, that in order to “keep going” we bury it far away – but the thing about the subconscious is that whatever we place there, stays there, until we retrieve it and release it.

Parts Work, spiritual psychotherapy and trauma therapy allowed me to experience mental illness as a transformational process and strengthened my spiritual connection.  They were the bridges to self-awareness that empowered and supported me to learn how to rewire my brain to emotionally self-regulate so that medication was no longer necessary and an authentic, balanced and joy filled life could emerge.   

My teachers (coach & therapist) showed up when I was open to an alternative to the highly successful, numbing effect of anti-depressants that made my life a manageable and livable existence.  A deeper understanding of the behaviors I could no longer tolerate in my life lead me to a coach for my business and that coach, through her ability to see my behaviors inextricably linked to triggers and blocks from trauma, suggested I consider working with a spiritual psychotherapist. That sequence of events was life changing.  

Today I am unrecognizable to myself and my life has joy, meaning and every moment is a miracle of emotional connection.  I am no longer afraid of what might be lurking underneath the numbness because I’ve learned to recognize when something has affected me and I have the inner resources now to process it in real-time.  I have created a deeply feeling and compassionate life that I feel worthy to experience, and I believe this is possible for everyone living with Mental Illness. 

What if there had been other treatments along with the medication?  What if treatment had included keeping the deep sadness at a manageable and liveable state until I was able to focus on the root cause of the sadness that was not visible and buried underneath the obvious depths of darkness that I had spiralled into?  What if clinical depression could be seen as a symptom of an underlying and unconscious trauma that the person experiencing the symptom (clinical depression) was unaware of?  What if the treatment created a safe place to recognize, acknowledge and see the trauma as the cause of the symptom?   

These are the questions running through my mind. And it is from standing in these questions that I can vision a different future for those suffering with and affected by mental illness. Where mental illness is experienced as a transformational process, where treatment includes the whole person (conscious and unconscious aspects) and where emotions are a tool to improve the quality of our connections with self and other.  This is what I hold in my heart.