On being the Doctor, and the patient
The stigma of depression and mental health
When my battle with depression came to a head, I was a Doctor working for Discovery Health Channel. From the outside I sure did have it all together. But on the inside — things were very off kilter.
Some people might wonder how that could possibly be. I was a qualified physician. I had been on the Dr. Oz show, and Oprah, twice no less! I was making money doing a glamorous job — the American dream, you might say.
So what was going on?
Have you ever done something that you didn’t really want to do, but you felt like you should do it? Those things feel kind of good on the surface level. Take studying a subject that your parents choose for you, just as an easy example. You would have the approval of your parents, and that would feel good, in a surface level kind of way.
You might even feel approval from your community. And again, the surface level satisfaction box is ticked. But inside, on a personal level, it feels off. You might even feel empty.
Now imagine living a substantial chunk of your life this way — doing what you ‘should’ do. Living somebody else’s purpose instead of your own is now becoming more widely reported as a contributing factor to depression, and even anxiety.
But we are only starting to talk about this now. Until very recently, the only acceptable trigger for depression was a chemical imbalance or a major trauma.
I, for one, am so pleased that the world is waking up to the conversation about purpose and the way we live our lives. It is so important.
So back to my purpose…
When I finally admitted to myself that the path I had been on for so many years, while a good one, wasn’t really the one for ME, everything shifted. But it had to really fall apart before it got better — and I mean REALLY fall apart. As a doctor seeking help for my own depression, I was in a strange place for a while. We all know there is a stigma attached to mental health — so imagine asking your industry peers for help with your darkest, most closely guarded thoughts.
It was odd to be the one seeking help and advice, rather than giving it. But sometimes, a complete 180-degree change is needed to give you a fuller perspective. If you never change your position in life, you never see anything new.
But once I had seen from a new viewpoint, there was no going back. I had to change the path I was on to heal myself. I needed to listen to my soul and follow my own internal compass, if I was going to stay on this planet for much longer.
So I changed.
Looking back at my formative years, I remembered my father telling me that music was a hobby, not a career. And eager to gain my father’s approval, I had squashed down my desire to sing and focused on the medical sciences.
And it worked! In the short term, of course. The immediate pay off was approval. But remembering what I said about things that only feel good on the surface level — yeah, that was what I was feeling too. Approval from others very rarely has anything to do with your soul’s purpose. If you want to be truly happy, you really do need to be brave and choose your own inner guidance over anybody else’s agenda for you — no matter how well meant it is!
This is where real self love comes in. The voice inside you of, the one that tells you what you care about, is the voice that you must value over all others.
Does that freak you out? That’s okay, it does most people. And this is simply because we are conditioned to value the opinions of our parents, wider family and even community members. Which I am not saying is wrong — I’m simply saying sometimes we take that too far. When we value the approval of others to the extreme, we undervalue our own voice, our own inner guidance.
So what’s the answer?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t care what our family thinks. Far from it. I think we can love and respect our family, and value their opinions, but without compromising on our own journey.
That little voice inside of you, IS you. And there’s only one of you. So please value that voice too.
The best way, I believe, to learn how to trust that voice, is to work on loving yourself. That’s why I’m so passionate about the #RealSelfLove movement. It’s all about giving us permission to be who open and honest about who we are, what we feel, and the kind of life we want to live.
I had no idea that sharing the truth about how I got free from depression on that TEDx stage would launch a global speaking career about living authentically. And I never knew I’d share my deepest spiritual journey in a book. But since I opened up I have connected with other people who also went down the path of conformity and lost a part of themselves along the way.
It can be scary and quite lonely when we finally admit what we’ve been hiding that has caused us so much pain, shame and fear. But I believe an international dialogue about mental health, emotional wellbeing, and living as our authentic self with real self love is long overdue.
That what the Real Self Love Movement is for! Through online meetups, live events, and my radio show we are gaining momentum. We are committed to supporting, inspiring and empowering one another on our collective mission to heal holistically, love wholeheartedly and, live authentically.
Feeling social? Join our private Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/RealSelfLove
Originally published at www.andreapennington.com on February 2, 2018.