Unemployed and emotional pain turning into physical pain
The onset of depressive symptoms becoming alarmingly apparent was triggered by a relationship breakdown. I was in a four-year relationship that dissolved. This coincided with a resurgence of Repetitive Strain Injury symptoms that came about as a result of chronic negligence of my body and compounding ‘psych ache’ from depression coming together. (How I Beat RSI). I entered into unemployment and then tried to focus on getting physically better.
So I tried and tried, believing most of the problems were bound by physical distress. Really knowing nothing about the emotional maelstrom producing the pain and conflict within. I tried and tried but not to avail. Everything began to seem hopeless; I got fed up with making promises and resolutions to myself. The world started to become a bleak place, even previous and dear things to me, such as classical and film music, lost their appeal and power, a numbness began to set in and overwhelm and dominate my emotional system.
Depression and Anxiety grew and I was growing into a state of constant fear and malaise punctuated by daily panic attacks, repetitive thoughts and over analysis. My chronic pain condition gave me ammunition for my mind to be constantly going an fretting about something. In many ways it gave me a cause, something to latch on to, something my own. The physical pain became an externalization of my inner, inward, psychic pain. In that sense it was comforting, finally something I could see and show others. The pain was definitely uncomfortable, but the fact that it was somehow definite was comforting. The pain being located in the unconscious a dark, chaotic disorganised space where direct control is impossible is a lot more disconcerting.
I spent a year or to trying to get to the problem of the chronic pain. I had x-rays, CT Scans, MRIs, blood tests, saw massage therapist, chiropractors, physiotherapists, herbalists, Rolfers, acupuncturists, dieticians, Alexander Technique specialists, Pilates instructors, all to little or no effect. I couldn’t get to the root of the problem. See How I Beat RSI for the complete and more thorough breakdown about this attempt to cure my chronic pain.
For many years I resisted the fact the problem was in my mind. There was such a natural instinct to resist this idea. I knew I was not ‘insane’ and that I was able to think and reasons to a certain degree. For many years, systematically I disguised the unhealthy nature of my thinking and my behaviour, to get better meant directly confronting some maladjusted and harmful ways of thinking and acting.
This awareness began when I first started psychotherapy in 2004. By then I had been unemployed for a year and a half, had mounting debts, was in chronic pain and felt cripplingly ashamed and low and sometimes suicidal. In psychotherapy I began to look back to my childhood, how I tended to absorb a lot of stress and anxiety, how I tended to feel that the world was an inherently unstable and unpredictable place and how I tended to guard and shield myself from pain where possible, the instinct to not put myself in further pain led me to make decisions about how I engage with relationships.
To be honest these few weeks of psychotherapy were excruciatingly difficult, I felt old emotional pains surge forward into my mind, I felt terrified and really believed my mind was caving in. At one point at home I was curling up on the bed in fetal positions completely crippled and paralyzed by severe fear and anxiety.
I didn’t continue with psychotherapy. From the psychotherapist’s perspective I was engaging in ‘resistance’ and didn’t want to experience further emotional pain. From my perspective I felt slightly uncomfortable paying someone nearly $300 Australian dollars per week to sit there and mostly listen to me rant and rave oscillating between genuine heartfelt reflections and slightly neurotic babbling.
There was the additional problem of not being able to sleep. I was suffering from protracted sleep disturbance, often awaking early in the morning after only sleeping 2-3 hours, this was going on for months and I really was sick of not being able to sleep (just another thing, on top of the pain, to worry about).
So goodbye psychology, and hello psychiatry!
I started seeing an awesome psychiatrist in Sydney city who started me on Avanza which I was to take for the next year and a bit. It kicked in quickly and with remarkable results. I was able to sleep and sleep properly. The first few nights I slept for 10-12 hours and began to settle back into much healthier sleeping patterns. The psychiatrist also offered weekly psychotherapy for 6 weeks. Again like psychotherapy this was difficult but extremely rewarding. I was learning that at a young age I began to incorrectly take responsibility for my parent’s problems. I thoughts there was something inherently wrong with me which was causing friction between them. I didn’t have the maturity or the knowledge to separate their issues with mine.
Looking at others kids parents and other families who appeared to function so normally I felt that I was bad, and something was wrong with me. This deep-seated belief launched me on a trajectory that was to culminate in severe and chronic depression which became ultimately manifest when my body broke down during my RSI episode.
The chronic pain condition became the catalyst for me to admit there was a problem and seek professional treatment for the problem. I started to get better, to really heal. This involved a lot of real genuine tears and reaching out to those I most loved instead of blocking them out. It wasn’t easy, but I don’t think any real growth is to be perfectly honest.
A great part of my healing was greatly facilitated by two things: joining a mutual support group, GROW NSW, and my conversion into Christianity and my decision to become a follower of Jesus Christ.
I found a GROW group in the hope I could connect with people with a similar physical pain condition. GROW is a 12-step program designed for people with mental health issues. I initially went to the group to find some comfort in people who had been diagnosed with chronic pain. What I found there was honest friendship and a spirit of genuine community that encouraged changing negative self-talk and being more engaged with others and the community at large.
I learned a lot from older people in the group who had battled severe depression for many years, often resulting in hospital admissions and ECT treatments. The GROW program is a CBT based booklet designed to correct unhealthy thoughts and helped me form a link between thoughts, behaviors and feelings. It all made so much sense, I felt for the first time I was getting a ‘education proper’, really learning about real life and how to respond and manage it without it managing me.
I was learning to love life again, and integral to this love was the acknowledgment of the importance of relationships and friendships.Through my healing and harmonisation with support group I also experienced a strong and profound conversion to the Christian faith and made Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour.
I grew up a nominal Catholic, went to a Jesuit school but very much drifted from God’s comfort and word during my life. I think I really discovered faith in GROW when I realised that the Spirit of Jesus is really on the broken and the marginalised. I became to realise that I indeed was a beloved child of God and that God looks into the heart of a person and not outward signs of success or power. And that know one knows me better than God, He formed and created me, and loves me unconditionally just as I am and not as I should be.
Jesus also healed my heart deeply, a heart which was strong but calloused badly and broken. I really learnt that the Christian faith was about healing and being healed, on all levels, spiritually, emotionally, physically, financially, because Jesus paid the price for us. These websites are designed to impart healing and hope, not designed to ram down religion down your windpipe.
So many exciting things have happened for me during the past 5 years, marriage being of the top things.
I have been employed full time since 2005 and spent most of this building a career in mental health. This includes:
- Homeless welfare and case management
- Social work in psychiatric hospitals
- Running GROW groups in homeless and suburban settings
- Getting a Diploma of Counselling from the Australian School of Applied Psychology with a distinction average
- Directly helping thousands, and through the How I Beat Sites hundreds of thousands of people recover from mental health conditions and addictions
I have made lots of quality friendships built great relationships and a reputation in the helping professions but most importantly I can truly love myself know. During my recovery I have has numerous periods of relapse, especially during stressful transitions in life like new jobs or marriages. My capacity to manage these changes
I feel really comfortable in my own skin and enjoy my own presence and company. I was able to get back into the workforce and for 6 years worked full time in the helping professions doing a variety of jobs from social work, to disability employment services to frontline homeless case management services.
This is true liberation. Not necessarily having tonnes of friends of being overly popular and admired but truly accepting who you are and being deeply comfortable with that – I believe in fact to too many people find this place, it’s often only found after trials and errors, sometimes quite painful ones too – such is life.
2011-2013 I am in an epic 2 year world trip with my wife, during this time we are going to build the How I Beat Sites. We teach English in Korea and have a travel blog Two Monkeys In A Tent
In many ways I’m a simple man so being properly connected to my wife, family, friends and God is all I need and everything on top is gain. My life now is quite beautiful. I still have very sad days, especially when I think about what is used to be like. But I know deep down I am on the right track, a track leading me home.
How Justin Beat Depression
His recovery took time. At least 3 years of extremely hard work on myself before substantial changes started to happen with lots of setbacks, doubts and stumbling along the way.
Justin began exercising to beat depression and since 2005 has maintained a program of at least 9 hours of exercise per week. This has given him greater confidence, energy and lifts mood.
Mutual Support Groups
GROW Australia was an important point of influence when it came to his recovery. In this group he found healing, a practical CBT guide and genuine and supportive friendships.
Justin engaged in psychodynamic psychotherapy and whilst not continuing it at depth breakthroughs and emotional catharsis was made through it.
Justin engaged with a psychiatrist and completed a six week therapy program in addition to taking a long course of Avanza (Mirtzapine) for treatment of clinical symptoms.
Becoming a comitted Christian gave Justin more secuirty and a greater sense of meaning and purpose.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Beating depression is about changing a deeply ingrained negative mindset this takes a lot of conscious effort sometimes and really is a lifetime practice. Justin practices CBT every single day and finds it a great way to beat depression.