The Muggle’s Guide to Dementor Defence is based on my experience with mental health issues. Posts like this are more personal than, for example, my recent post about sleep and insomnia, but I hope to include some helpful advice as well as telling my story.
I struggled with many things when I was suffering from depression and anxiety, including issues surrounding my career, my relationships, my social life… It’s too much to talk about all at once, so I want to break it down and focus on one thing at a time. The following is based on notes that I made during therapy and is the story of not only what happened but how I came to terms with it.
Long before the events that triggered my mental health issues, I lost my faith. I didn’t really miss it at the time, but when I was depressed, I felt like I had lost a part of myself. It took some time – and a lot of soul-searching – to realise what the problem actually was.
It may surprise you to know that I was a Christian – and not just someone who goes to church on Sunday then lives a normal, ‘unchristian’ life the rest of the time. For over five years I was in a band that played at youth events, I attended evening services, study groups and rehearsals, I went for weekends away (both as a youth leader and as a youth) and went on the Christian Union’s Grub Crawl in Fresher’s Week (mainly because that appealed more to me than anything else that was going on!).
Don’t get me wrong, my faith was never particularly strong; I always had doubts and struggled to resolve the many contradictions between what I was told and what I observed in the world around me, but nevertheless, it was a big part of my life for several years. Then, after I left sixth form, things began to change. I never found a church/group to join in the city where I went to university and over time, my few ‘good’ Christian friends moved away and my faith slowly dissolved.
2011 was the year when it all went wrong for me. I felt like the reset button had been pushed on the last six years of my life and among the clusterfuck of thoughts, doubts and emotions, I started to question everything. What had gone wrong? And how could I begin to fix it?
As I’ve said, I didn’t really miss my faith before that all happened, but that summer I found myself pining for my church days. I even went back to church a few times because I thought that I needed to reconnect with my faith to be happy again, but it didn’t work.
Looking back through my therapy notes, there are various comments from around that time along the lines of “in my lowest moments, I cried out for help, but there was no response” and “my faith has abandoned me”. (Slightly over-dramatic, I know, but you tend to get like that when you’re depressed!) It may seem relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things, but it was something that was clearly important to me at the time.
Eventually, I came to realise that it wasn’t my faith that I missed; it was the people. It was the band practices, the Mario Kart tournaments, the music, the deep conversations at 4 am… I realised that, despite my self-styled persona as an anti-social nerd with borderline Aspergers, I actually missed having a social life. By the time my relationship collapsed, most of my Uni friends had moved away. I hadn’t noticed because I was so caught up in the relationship, but I suddenly found that my social life had all but dried up.
I have since reconnected with a few people from my Uni days and I’ve made more of an effort to make new local friends, mainly via m’wife. Now, I have a better work-life balance and a better social life, and I’m much happier as a result.
Processing my Thoughts
So, how did I come to that realisation? Well, remember earlier when I said, “It’s too much to talk about all at once, so I want to break it down and focus on one topic at a time”? Well, that’s basically the solution.
I saw a number of therapists/counsellors before I finally got the help I needed. Most of them suggested keeping a diary, but I never found it very helpful. It was only when I eventually met my amazing CBT therapist, Jo, that I found a way to make it work for me. She encouraged me to keep a diary, but not to just log the stuff that happened to me every day. She encouraged me to sit down every couple of days and to focus on a particular topic that had been bugging me – such as my career, my love life or the loss of my faith – and to write about whatever came into my head, but to make sure I focused on that one topic. This was a good exercise in itself, as it helped to get some of that stuff out of my head and onto the page, but she also told me to keep it raw and unfiltered; encouraging me to swear and rant if I felt like it, which made the process more cathartic.
But I went a step further, rewriting the notes into more-structured ‘essays’ on each topic. I’d talk through the problem, doing the literary equivalent of a pros-and-cons list and essentially debating with myself until I started to reach some conclusions. (These are the notes that these blog posts are based on!)
Some issues, such as losing my faith, were easier to process than others, but over time, with each little victory, I was able to reduce the number of toxic thoughts swirling around my head. This ‘divide and conquer’ approach may seem simple and obvious, but it is what eventually allowed me to resolve some of my issues and to start to live a happier, healthier life.
So, that’s how I came to terms with the loss of my faith. It took a long time, but by breaking down my problems and focussing on them one-by-one, I was able to work through them and, eventually, move past them.
This particular solution might not work for everyone, but I’d recommend giving it a try if you find yourself in a similar situation. The important thing is to persevere and to keep experimenting until, hopefully, you’ll find a solution that works for you.