One of the issues with mental illness is that it is frequently, normally, an enduring illness. Depression and anxiety seldom simply go away. They are conditions that need to be lived with, through, and beyond. They are also sneaky conditions. They are quite capable of appearing as if out of nowhere and taking their victim captive. These have been my enduring experiences of depression and anxiety. It all sounds pretty bleak, doesn’t it?
The good news is that it is possible to live beyond these two twin impostors. One of the ‘tricks’ I have had to learn is to look back and remind myself that I am still standing, that I did get through some pretty rough times and, that my worst fears didn’t come to their ugly and toxic fruition. Learning the art of remembering, if not well, then better, is a key tool in my box of mindful strategies.
Remembering well doesn’t mean re-writing history, nor does it mean trying to forget the really bad things that have happened in our lives and, the truly painful periods we have experienced but it does, for me, mean accepting the simple fact that I am still standing, that I have to a greater or lesser extent moved on, or beyond. As a Christian this inspires, in some ways, a sense of awe and wonder: ‘How is it that I didn’t simply capitulate? Where, or from whom, did I find the strength to keep going?’ Psalm 27 has become one of my key texts. I often read mindfully:
‘The Lord is my light, my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the refuge of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?……………..I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, have courage and wait, wait for the Lord’
Slowly and mindfully reading this wonderful text helps me to remember well, to look forward (or beyond my immediate condition) with some hope. The relationship between remembering well and hope is foundational to my ability to live with, through, and beyond depression and anxiety.
On the Mindfulness course I attended a few years ago one of the strategies participants were given was to consciously bring to mind our troubles and anxieties. We were invited to picture them as clouds moving before us; into our field of vision and beyond our field of vision. I don’t use this strategy, as taught, any longer but I have adapted it, and placed it in a liturgical setting, as part of my night-prayer (Compline). This is what I do:
I start my night prayer with the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation before reading Matthew 11, 28-30, ‘Come unto me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest…….’ I then seek to, mindfully and prayerfully, bring before God my burdens. I do so in the knowledge that it is my historic burdens that are most likely to feed Impostor One: depression. As a depressive I am perfectly capable of ruminating on, holding onto and even in some ways cherishing my deepest hurts. For me a deep sense of regret can also be a significant burden; ‘if only’ is my most unhelpful, most toxic, mantra. So in order to live beyond the burdens of hurt and regret I need to practice the art of giving them away, to Jesus.
Next I read 1 Peter 5, 6-7: ‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.’
Humility is important because despite knowing that I can’t solve all my own problems, there is still lurking not very far below the surface, a Messiah Complex and, a belief that I need to be strong; heroically so. Anxiety(Impostor 2), for me, derives from the writing of a pretty dire future orientated script. What I have learnt is that my past (burdens) and future (anxieties) are inextricably linked and, because, remembering well is something I need to constantly work on I tend to assume that the worst will happen. So mindful reflection on this Scripture provides me with the opportunity to name my deepest anxieties before the God who cares. Mindfully placing my burdens and anxieties into Jesus’ hands has, thus far, allowed me to live with, through, and (mostly) beyond depression and anxiety.
I finish my night prayer with the Nunc Dimitttis and Lord’s Prayer. I do so for several therapeutic reasons: First, it is important to end a period of mindful prayer. I have found that if I remain focused on my burdens and anxieties for too long it becomes very easy to start ruminating and ruminating is the precise opposite of ‘coming unto….’ and ‘casting all anxiety.’ Secondly, I take great comfort in saying the prayers of the church (the Nunc Dimittis & the Lord’s Prayer) for I know that all around the world people of good faith, all of whom have their own issues to deal with, are saying these precise prayers. These prayers are capable of playing a role in breaking down any feelings of isolation and bringing me back into community. Thirdly, because they are effortless prayers all I need to do is say them and, trust in them.
So there you have it: my own modified and liturgical form of mindful prayer, designed to help me live with, through, and beyond depression and anxiety.
Key words / phrases: Remembering well or better, hope, consciously bringing to mind troubles and anxieties, impostor, prayerfully, liturgically, humility, trust.