My Mood, My Choice

Cyndi Roberts
21
101

“People are just as happy as they make their minds out to be.” -Abraham Lincoln

I remember, just four years ago, when I was wrapped up in the grips of depression, that this quote made me very angry. I thought it was so absurd that I was in control of my thinking, that happiness was my choice. At the time, I believed I was my diagnosis— which actually was a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder— and that I had no control over it. Doctors told me that I was “sick”, that I had a “brain disease”, and that it was just the way it was for me, and the way it always would be. I also endured severe anxiety that was so intense I wouldn’t leave the house most days and fantasized about death as a way to relieve my suffering.

I believed those doctors and suffered tremendously and silently for the next twelve years, wrapped up in my many addictions and a lifetime of negative thinking. As chance would have it, I started to feel that something was seriously wrong with me, and consulted a naturopathic physician for help. Blood work revealed that I was unhealthy in every way possible and that I had about six months to live before my liver failed completely. It was overloaded with chemicals and toxins from medications and my addictions. Miraculously, my intuition hadn’t been completely silenced after all.

With nothing left to lose, I’d reached the point at which I had to make a choice: to fight, or to give up. Though things seemed to not be going my way, I decided to take back control and make drastic changes in hopes to survive. That’s when yoga, meditation and nutrition came into my life, but first, I had to find a doctor to help me get off the medication I was currently on. The doctor I’d been seeing had refused to help, so I printed out a list of doctors covered by insurance and made some calls. Each nurse I spoke with wanted to help but doubted the doctor would take my case on. Weeks and thirty-seven “Nos” later, doctor thirty-eight finally said “Yes”. This doctor was not covered by insurance but had a sliding scale payment plan available, which made it possible for me to see him. The painful journey of detox began and so did my intense study of meditation, yoga and nutrition.

Up until this point in my life, I was searching for balance, peace and happiness outside of myself rather than looking inside, where I know today that it really resides. Yoga and meditation allowed me to journey inward and take a look at my internal world. Through daily yoga and meditation practices, I began to get to know myself better and discovered the way my brain worked. I uncovered a stream of negative thinking about myself, others, and the world around me. I began to see that these thoughts made me feel terrible and would often spark more negative thoughts and depressed or anxious feelings. With what I learned from meditation, I began to notice and be aware of my thinking, and then my moods. I learned to become the observer of not only my thoughts, but also my emotions.

Being the observer made me aware of what was going on in my body and in my mind. I realized it was the awareness of what I was feeling that enabled a change within, for it is in the light of awareness that darkness can dissipate. Gradually, with commitment to my practices, I got better at noticing negative thoughts and would make a conscious choice to change them and not get hooked into that negative stream anymore.

The more I decided to shift my focus, and practiced it, the easier it became. I started to examine my thinking off my yoga mat and in everyday life. I noticed what happened to my thoughts when something didn’t go my way or I wanted to change some situation but couldn’t. I soon realized that most things were out of my control and instead of feeling like there was something wrong with me, feeling discontented or disappointed like I used to, I chose to find something neutral or positive to focus on. With a great deal of practice, I didn’t allow that negativity to determine my mood anymore. I felt for the first time that I was indeed in control of my happiness.

As I examined the workings of my mind more and things started to shift, I found myself questioning everything. I remembered that when I was first diagnosed bipolar, something felt wrong. Part of me felt relieved that what I was feeling had a name to it but part of me felt as though that wasn’t necessarily true. Because I trusted doctors, I trusted the diagnosis and went along with the treatment they prescribed in hopes it would help and because I knew no other way. Down a long destructive path, however, I came to see that the medications did more harm than good.

During my time of healing, as the medications and detox symptoms slowly wore off, my intuition grew stronger and I started to trust that intuitive voice even more. One chilly October morning, I was sitting at my table, meticulously finishing up the final strokes in an oil painting, when the thought came in to question my diagnosis of bipolar.

I thought about growing up, and my behavior as a child and a teen, and I realized that I never exhibited bipolar symptoms such as mania or euphoria before I was put on prescription medication. I was able to take a step back to examine my past, and I saw clearly that my extreme moods could be explained by unresolved emotions, an unhealthy diet, consumption of processed cane sugar and processed foods, alcohol, drugs, an erratic sleep pattern and irregularities in my hormones and thyroid function.

I sat in stillness, staring at my painting and felt deeply in every fiber of my being that the depression and the anxiety I had experienced were very real, but the mania was not. I only experienced symptoms of bipolar and mania after I started taking prescription meds, and then things got worse. As I held my hand steady to paint a few final strokes, I silently and undoubtedly felt that I never truly suffered from bipolar disorder and it was only my desire to end the suffering of depression and anxiety that I wanted that diagnosis to explain what was wrong with me.

I knew then that I was not my diagnosis, and the belief that I was fell away. For some time, I experienced incredible anger toward psychiatry and the medical model and felt as though I was a victim. Looking back, I see clearly that it was just another part of my journey to confront those intense feelings, work them out and let them go. It was in my control once again to determine my mood. I realized that I was the one who’d trusted doctors and I was the one that filled the scripts and swallowed the pills. I took full responsibility for those decisions and empowered myself by letting go of staying in victim mode and deciding to take responsibility for my life. After all, every decision led me here, and ‘here’ had to change if I wanted to survive.

Since the gift of having to face my mortality, I find that I am committed to feel, whatever that may mean at any given time. I embrace the ability to feel a normal range of human emotions and when intensity comes in, I use my practices to get me through. Examining my mind has been the greatest gift and I am able to see that most times it’s not the situation that makes me unhappy, but my thoughts about it that do.

I also see how easy it is to get wrapped up in self-loathing and self-doubt and to let those thoughts run wild, creating an unpleasant mood. Awareness and knowing myself on a deep level bring these habits into the light, which is where I heal from them. I choose to focus on what feels right or like a blessing in life instead of self-loathing and negativity. I have found that gratitude is always the quickest way to get me out of a low or negative mood. I think of things that I am thankful for, most times something as simple as how happy my dog is to see me or how grateful I am to have clean drinking water. I choose to find a positive or neutral thought. It takes practice but I can assure you, it is worth it!

I feel empowered and continue to deepen my practice and my relationship to my self. Over time and with hard work, I’ve softened around my life circumstances and choose to go with the flow of life, instead of feeling like I’m constantly fighting an uphill battle. I choose positive thoughts and surround myself with positive people and, together, we support each other through difficult times. Feeling better is most important to me; the life of suffering served its purpose, which was to show me exactly how I don’t want to feel anymore.

Today, I do not rely on traditional medicine. I have found that holistic healing and ancient teachings resonate with me on such a profound level and believe that these teachings can benefit all human beings. After all, they have been working for thousands of years. They were the key to my healing and really are the only things that have worked for me. Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, taught me about what life is like in the present moment. It seemed like such a simple concept to me but I discovered just how much of a challenge it is to practice. So many of my thoughts were regrets from the past or worry for the future and the teachings in this book allowed me to break through old and limited beliefs I had based my life on. This book was difficult for me to read and was almost like another language, so I listened to it as an audio book, which seemed easier for me to grasp. I listened over and over, took notes, and grabbed the pieces that resonated and then applied them to my life. I was consciously making a choice to be in the moment and use this knowledge to assist my growth.

I learned to look inward in each moment and discover my thinking and my reactions to life. I was also able to get to know myself on the deepest level possible and see when it was in my power to create suffering and drama for myself or work through it. I was able to see what was here for me in this time without getting hooked into past thoughts or future worries. These teachings guided me to feel and let go, rather than ignore or stuff down feelings, creating turmoil and pain within. I not only noticed my interior world but also my external world and my place in it. I realized all things are connected, inside and out.

The realization of interconnectedness allowed me to discover root issues and the source of addiction and my suffering instead of treating things separately. Rather than treating issues with a pill or altering my chemical state with alcohol or drugs, I found the courage and strength within to face the intensity of emotional distress and go through it instead of stuffing it down or running from it. Today, I use food and thought as medicine and diet; yoga, meditation, art, and connection to nature are my prescriptions.

With a committed practice to my physical and mental health, I no longer suffer from overwhelming negativity, depression, severe anxiety or extreme moods. Over time, I literally changed the way my brain works and my body chemistry has also drastically changed. Negative experiences, trauma and medications slowly worked their way out of my tissues and cells through yoga, breath work, exercise, massage, chiropractic care, and craniosacral work, and I now live a healthy, vibrant and happy life. I share these practices and my knowledge through lived experience by teaching yoga, meditation and nutrition, which bring me so much joy and give my suffering purpose.

I no longer limit myself with labels or symptoms. I am simply a human being feeling the natural emotions ebbing and flowing through me as I live. I no longer rely on something other than me to feel better. There are many things I use to face the intensity I feel some days and allow it to pass. Food, movement, breathing, art, music, and stillness are my “medication” now. Health is my priority and I feel empowered to know that how I feel in each moment is my choice. I have suffered in the darkness and have basked in the glory of the light. Both were my choice and I choose happiness.

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21 COMMENTS

  1. That’s one of psychiatry’s primary functions: to look for what’s wrong. Negative thinking is almost culturally cultivated (always looking for a fault, a flaw and what’s wrong).

    I once wrote a letter to my kids. It was a very solemn and pure moment in my life. The four of us were sharing a room in a domestic violence shelter. While they slept and I sat gazing on them, and I knew they were going to be taken, this is what I wrote:

    Children, come and listen to me. I will teach you to worship the Lord. You must do these things to enjoy life and have many happy days. You must not say evil things and you must not tell lies. Stop doing evil and do good. Look for peace and work for it.

    I wrote that on a piece of scrap paper, a cut up tax form. I still have it. What alarmed me, scared me, confused me and turned me into a blaring siren was how months later I read a very similar passage in the Bible that I immediately recognized. I threw the book. I only *thought* I wrote, authored, those words. I didn’t.

    I told a social worker about it. She insulted me by saying that I read the passage first, or heard it in church, and that my subconscious remembered it. She gave no honor and no respect to what was TRULY Divine.

    To this very day, I still have not read the Bible in it’s entirety. I had never previously read or heard that passage and I know I didn’t. At least now I know how it works – how the Bible is written “by the hands of men” (and THAT argument will NEVER work with somebody like me, in attempt to discredit the Bible as a “human” work and not the Divinity that it is).

    I later took that passage as my own Divine instructions. I think, for a while, I was obedient.

    It seems to me like you yourself have practically lived out your own version of that very passage. Transformation. And you now cultivate the Peace and Joy of Life. 🙂

    1 Peter 3:8-12
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Peter+3%3A8-12&version=NLT
    (this resource offers a drop-down menu to see alternate versions of the passage)

    You have an excellent, inspiring story of a self-determined life. Awesome.

    ~ mjk

  2. Cyndi,
    Your understanding of your journey and fight is a change affecting tool. I am deeply moved by your emphasis on fighting for your life. This sequence of having problems with one’s experience of living, reaching out to psychiatry, becoming morbidly sick while being “treated”, and then leaving “treatment” with the instinctual fight for survival – is unfortunately quite common.

    We need more people to find that fight and go live because tragically most people’s bodies are destroyed prematurely when they are “treated” by psychiatry. We also need more people to go through different doors to begin with and engage their contextualized suffering and or strivings in a self-directed way. I think that your well written story conveys these messages powerfully.

    I must offer a nuanced complexity as well though. I appreciate your call to not play the victim role and your argument that self-responsibility is the only way. I can’t overstate how important I think self-responsibility is to our human experience/psych-survivor movement and love the fact that you are stressing that. That said, while I think sometimes our movement drops the ball on self-responsibility, the psych-industry does need to be publicly blamed and held accountable.

    I believe we need both self-responsibility and a concerted societal effort to expose the manipulative harm biological psychiatry has perpetrated.

    I think you may have been focusing primarily on how you think you overcame and how maybe others can overcome and mentioning your responsibility for choosing to swallow pills, fill scripts, and choosing to want to believe in an erroneous diagnose – and just ignoring the blame psychiatry deserves. Maybe you weren’t suggesting psychiatry should get off Scott free and were just focusing on your personal role and ability in building or re-building a great life and living.

    That said, while I think this is a fantastic post overall, it is important for me to remind myself that in order for fundamental systems change – it is necessary to point out the blood on biological psychiatry’s hands. i.e. Just because someone who is to an extent desperate or compromised by being told lies and being manipulated – “wants” to believe in an erroneous biological brain imbalance and take drugs that the doctors know do more harm than good – doesn’t mean that Doctors shouldn’t be blamed for proceeding with diagnostic and drug interventions.

    Just because someone wants harmful treatment doesn’t mean it is okay for doctors to give it to them. It is manipulation, it is not ok, and they deserve blame just as much as we need to pursue self-responsibility and hold ourselves accountable.

  3. Cyndi,

    Thank you for your honest and beautiful story. I am inspired by how you took control of your thoughts.

    Like you, one of the most important ways that I came out of depression was learning to observe my thoughts and control the content of my attention. It was very hard. Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga were key to this.

    I came at my quest to come out of depression initially by experimenting with all of the non-medication treatments for depression that I could find, that had been validated by research and data. Mindfulness, meditation, and exercise have been shown to be as effective as anti-depressant medications in a lot of studies. I studied yoga and became a yoga teacher, as for me, yoga was a meditation on movement that stilled the mind, in addition to being good exercise.

    I write a blog about my experiences called “Mend: My Journey through Science to Fix Depression.” Here is a link to a series I wrote about the science of mindfulness.

    http://mend-depression.com/evidence-based-non-medication-treatments-for-depression/mindfulness/

  4. “People are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” How ironic that this quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, a man so profoundly melancholy that his friends arranged a suicide watch for him. Did he make up his mind to be so unhappy? I doubt it. Maybe he uttered this famous quote before the death of his sons, if he actually uttered it at all. Thanks for bringing it up, Cyndi! You’ve inspired me to read up on this great man. And thank you so much for sharing part of your own story here. It reminds me of another quote, attributed to Dallas Willard,

    “Feelings are, with a few exceptions, good servants. But they are disastrous masters.”

  5. Dear Cyndi

    Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    For me it’s very important to read stories like yours in order not to loose hope that one day I will find a way out of the darkness I’m in for over a decade now…

    Greetings from Switzerland