Through the looking glass of Self-compassion

How I discovered an exercise to practice Self-compassion through depression

In thoughts — Picture taken on the periphery of forest corridors of Kanha, India

The text prompt in this portion of medium asks us to “Tell our story”, so I decided, I will.

I am Nikita, and I am suffering from Clinical Depression, as I have been for the last 8 months. I am taking treatment now, but before I had an understanding of what was actually happening to me or how I was supposed to have been taking it, I was trying to figure my own way out from the middle of what felt like a dark sea with thundering clouds all around. It felt cold, lost, unanticipated, and certainly unprepared. But as I was foraging for clues, answers, respite, and often times, comfort — I stumbled upon a pattern.

This pattern began drawing itself as I hit up stories of people’s struggles online, the things people have had to say — broader patterns. 
Over this period, I also began reading voraciously — lesser non-fiction, more fiction to find respite. I found that pattern again as an underlying weave of emotions and experiences that had eventually stitched themselves up into the skin of the character.

Finally, after months of avoiding any form of confrontation, I began writing. In an almost religious fashion, I began pouring out my feelings onto the paper as they ebbed and flowed. I wrote down as much as I could — the good, the bad, the ugly — on any form of blank paper I found around me.
But this was where the finer dots began to settle in into the broader pattern I had discovered.

This pattern, chanted over incessantly by that inconspicuous little bum on our shoulder, is the pattern of a diminished self-worth.

Self-worth. So descriptive in a capsule. So powerfully resultant. Yet, so underestimated. A lack of self-worth stemming from a lack of self-compassion.

Self — Compassion

As an exercise to draw out the meaning of this word better, I would like to highlight a couple of definitions of compassion that I found across sources.

Wikipedia explains Compassion to us as the quality that —

“ … motivates people to go out of their way to help the physical, mental, or emotional pains of another and themselves.
Compassion is often regarded as having sensitivity, an emotional aspect to suffering, though when based on cerebral notions such as fairness, justice, and interdependence, it may be considered rational in nature and its application understood as an activity also based on sound judgment….

Also, another resource says —

“Compassion is aspired to as the noblest quality of the human heart, the motivation underlying all meditative paths of healing and liberation.
It is a multi-textured response to pain, sorrow and anguish. It includes kindness, empathy, generosity and acceptance. The strands of courage, tolerance, equanimity are equally woven into the cloth of compassion.”

- Feldman, C. and Kuyken, W. (2011), Compassion in the landscape of suffering

Kindness. 
Empathy.
Acceptance.
Courage.

To apply them in the light of struggles when they are needed to envelop another individual is perceivable.

However, the most difficult task is to apply that compassion to ourselves — unfailingly, every day.

Absolute compassion requires one to accept our flaws, our mistakes, to own up to them but with kindness as the first few gentle steps. In perceiving our flaws, we do not justify them, but neither do we berate ourselves. We do not let ourselves whirlpool in shame or anger or rejection of the constituents that compose us. 
Instead, we try to look deeper without judgments to understand.
Only to understand..

I have struggled to accept myself every day. And I can vouch for how hard it is to do just that. But I have observed that in learning to accept even an inch, I find myself liberated atomically. In loving myself for the smaller things, I have come round to gently evolving my perception. The knots in the chest begin to loosen up a little as I exhale out the acerbic self-deprecation every day now. I realize the complexity and struggles of this practice.

An exercise that helped me progress towards being more compassionate towards myself happened by a fluke. Here, however, I am listing down the simple steps to practicing it -

  1. Dig up old pictures of yourself from childhood.
  2. In reminiscing, also study yourself as a kid and try to remember your quirks as they were before adolescence hit.
  3. This next bit is relatively hard. Take down a pen and paper, and write to yourself. Write in adoration of that little child — sporting a toothless grin or impishly smiling or lost in a thought — gazes out at you.
  4. In that adoration, tell the child of the little quirks you shared.
    Talk about the silly mischief and adventures you pursued. Tell them something good you love about life. Then some things you always felt good about yourself (at any point of time).

At every point while writing, try being honest and very, very loving to this little child.

I found this exercise extremely difficult. I wrote through tears, I wrote through a period of fading hope as it pricked me. I wrote too, at a point, out of pure, unadulterated love. I doggedly tried writing, and as I did, I felt something break inside me.

I think it was my own glass wall that had been separating me from my own person, my lighthouse, my own voice.

I haven’t given up on this practice. It continues to help me.

I have written this piece with the sole intent to share my experience with the struggles of depression in the hope that it can act as a source of inspiration to someone on a similar boat.
I strongly recommend anyone reading and relating to the aforementioned struggles to immediately seek counselling and medical help.

All my love.