Depression and Radical Acceptance

I have been wanting to do this post for a while but was unsure how to go about writing it. I wanted to write it originally in order to help others, but I know that it is going to help me as well. It is hard to write because I am struggling with both of these issues in particular right now, as I am not where I want to be and I am not getting what I want in life, and I am suffering because of it. I started writing it months ago actually, when I wasn’t nearly as bad off as I am now. Writing can be therapeutic though, and while depression can be a major roadblock, I don’t think it is good to write only when you are happy. Anger, grief and a myriad of other emotions can inspire great writing.

What is depression?

I believe that a fundamental element of depression is anger. It is said that depression is anger turned inward. I also like to think of depression as “lazy” or “unproductive” anger in some scenarios. I believe that depression is often what happens when someone has been deeply angry for so long about something(s) and/or they don’t know what to do about it. Their anger is not aggressive or outwardly visible – it is kind of like it has been frozen inside of them. They don’t know how to express it or properly vent it or may not even understand that it is anger to begin with. Some people may insist that they are not angry, just sad, or that depression is all sadness (and for some it may be), but I believe there is always an element of anger.  I also like to think of depression as a type of grief, and an essential part of grief is anger. Many also say that depression is a chemical imbalance, but, and while this may be controversial to say,  I believe that often times it is due to life situations and things that have happened that one isn’t accepting. Kind of like when it comes to smoking and cancer – smoking doesn’t cause cancer, but it makes you more vulnerable to get it; chemical imbalances and structural differences may make someone more vulnerable to a mental illness or depression, but it doesn’t necessarily follow or “correlate” that one will end up mentally ill or depressed.

Saying this is definitely going to rock a few boats, and who knows, maybe I am totally wrong, but hear me out. Radical acceptance is one of the skills that is taught in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which was created by Marsha Linehan and is the go-to therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder. It also is used as a general tool for sufferers of all mental illnesses and I believe a key to solving depression.

A lot of my info from here is based on some DBT worksheets I received while completing an outpatient program at a psychiatric hospital (where I spent the last half of September and the first half of October after a suicide attempt in September). I’d rather not write too much about what happened, but needless to say it was awful. I have been struggling since then, but I am very glad because some good things have been happening in regards to my writing, and of course I am alive and get to enjoy all that that has to offer. I realize that I could have been dead and wouldn’t have been able to see what would’ve happened next in my life. I feel ashamed, frightened and in disbelief about what I did, but I am grateful for the help that I got and am getting. I even wrote a short film (that I got paid for!) semi-based on my experience. Who knows what will happen with it, but I am proud that I am getting paid for writing about my life and experiences.

Part of the reason I made my attempt was distorted thinking and lack of radical acceptance.

What is radical acceptance?

Radical acceptance means to accept something completely, with your mind, body, heart and soul. It is the understanding that rejecting reality does not change it, and that if you want to change reality, you must first accept it. It is the profound knowledge that when you refuse to accept reality and reject it, it turns pain into suffering. Radical acceptance is realizing that you need to change some behaviors in your life that may be creating suffering for you and others.

There is no benefit of not accepting reality- it will cause tremendous, never ending suffering and you won’t be able to see opportunities to change your reality so that you can stop suffering. It leads to depression, anger, shame, bitterness and sadness, and a plethora of other emotions.

Radical acceptance is stopping fighting reality (and as I’ll say later), throwing adult temper tantrums when reality is not what you want it to be

While acceptance may lead to sadness, it won’t cause the suffering you are experiencing now.

 Radical acceptance helps you have the opportunity to see how you may be contributing to your suffering and the current life situation that you find yourself in. Thus, it allows you to find ways to respond to the situation that is less painful for you and others around you.

People who don’t practice radical acceptance often feel like life just happens to them- which leads to suffering and victimhood

 

How to practice radical acceptance

This is extremely difficult but I believe it may just help to transform your life and mine.

Figure out what it is you need to radically accept

This is a major first step towards radical acceptance. If you can identify what it is you are struggling to accept- congratulations! You are already halfway there. Can you make a list of one or two major things you need to accept in your life right now in order for you to move on and stop suffering right now? Also, rate your level of acceptance on a scale from 0-5, 0 being denial, 5 being total acceptance.

For example, I am having trouble accepting the fact that at age 32 I have never been in a stable, long-term relationship for more than 9 months, and have currently been single for over two years now. I am not in denial about this, but I certainly am having trouble accepting it and wish it weren’t so. I rated my acceptance about a 2.5.

When doing this, avoid judgemental statements like good and bad. Make them factual, not based on opinions.

This will help you to take inventory of your life and to pin-point what is precisely causing you pain.

There are several ways to develop radical acceptance

Some of these exercises delve into wise mind which, while part of radical acceptance, is a topic in and of itself and I’d rather focus on radical acceptance, so I’ll go into it later.

Exercise 1 – Observe that you are fighting/ resisting reality.

Exercise 2 – Make a list of pros and cons of accepting vs. rejecting reality

Exercise 3 – Tell yourself that reality IS what it IS

Exercise 4 – (one of the most important ones IMO): Consider that there are causes of reality and that there are causes to your reality right now. Accept, nonjudgmentally, that causes exist.

Exercise 5 – Accept all the way

Exercise 6 – Allow yourself to feel disappointment, sadness, anger, frustration, etc.

Finally – Acknowledge that life can be worth living even when there is pain

 

Practice self- affirming statements:

Those of us with mental illness especially Borderline Personality Disorder, Asperger’s and Bipolar Disorder (all of which I have been diagnosed with) deal with extreme, overwhelming emotions. We also often deal with lack of self-love, confidence and acceptance, and unhealthy self image issues. And even if you don’t have one of the above and just suffer from depression, this can help you. Self- affirming statements like the ones below can help us combat some of this and also radically accept aspects about ourselves and our lives. Remember to repeat these over and over again to yourself and to even meditate on them, and even come up with some of your own!

I radically love myself; I radically accept myself; Like everyone else I have good and bad qualities; Nobody’s perfect; There’s a purpose to my life even though I may not always see it; Even though I’ve made mistakes in the past, today and tomorrow are new days and I can make new choices; I care about myself and other people; I’m a sensitive person who experiences the world differently; I’m a sensitive person who has rich emotional experiences; I’m becoming a better person everyday; Even though I’ve made some mistakes and bad things have happened to me in the past, I’m still a good person.

Practice mindfulness-

Mindfulness is being in the present moment nonjudgmentally. It is adapted from Buddhist mindfulness meditation.

When you are in the present moment you aren’t ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Practicing mindfulness helps us to see how our minds work and how our thoughts aren’t always helpful to our mental state. One major way to practice mindfulness is to simply practice noticing your thoughts without judging them as good or bad, just, there’s that word again, radically accepting them for what they are. You may discover that many of your thoughts are negative and may lead to your depression.

I recommend guided meditation (cd’s) and group meditation (which is often free and can be found in any city). This will help facilitate your mindfulness practice.

Willingness-

Willingness, like radical acceptance, is doing something wholeheartedly and “all the way”. It is doing what is needed in a situation. It is using wise mind, and acting with the understanding that one is connected to everything else. (This one isn’t particularly helpful for me, and tbh I’m not sure how it is connected to willingness or what it is supposed to do).

Willingness is the opposite of willfulness, which is giving up, refusing to deal with the moment and refusing to make changes, (leading to suffering), attempting to fix every situation, insistence on being in control, and wanting what you want right now damnit! (This has often been the case for me; I have had a lot of adult temper tantrums over this which is why I need to practice radical acceptance and willingness).

Willingness can be practiced through observing the willfulness, naming it,  radically accept that you are being willful, and that this cannot be fought with more willfulness.

Willing hands & half smiling

While willingness makes sense, but can still be hard, willing hands and half smiling at first, at least to me, come off as a bit- woo-woo and silly. And to be honest, I’ve only really practiced it half- smiling once. In the moment it helped with the downward spiral I found myself in, but it didn’t in the long term sadly. I will have to keep practicing it. Who knows, it may not work for me, but perhaps it will work for you.

How to practice willing hands:

For me this is very much related to Buddhism and mindfulness, because when I was taught meditation at Uni we always meditated with our hands in this position. It is said that DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) which radical acceptance, and all of this post pretty much, comes from, is very much related to Buddhism in many regards.

I feel that willing hands is perhaps one of the most powerful and effective things you can do to practice radical acceptance, because it is using your body to physically radically accept, not just mentally or verbally. it is said that your hands communicate to your brain.

No matter what position you are in,  (sitting, laying down, standing) this can be done. If you are standing, drop your arms down by your sides and keep them either bent or straight (but I recommend slightly bent). Unclench your hands, turn them outward, with thumbs out, palms up, and fingers relaxed. Think of radical acceptance as you do this.

If sitting, do the same thing with your hands except rest them on your lap or thighs. This was actually how I meditated while at Uni.

If lying down, lay your arms by your sides with your hands in the same position.

Half smiling, or the “Buddha” or “Mona Lisa” face

This might be even harder than willing hands as many of us won’t feel like smiling at all when we are experiencing overwhelming emotions. However, just like willing hands, it is a physical way to connect your body with your mind and radically accept with your whole being. This is hard because many of us may not feel like smiling at all when we are upset. But there is no harm in trying it. They say that smiling fully makes you happy, so don’t worry, half-smiling shouldn’t make you too happy, LOL, you’ll still be somewhat miserable. I like to think of half-smiling as a neutral, calm, nonjudgmental expression, and if you have ever seen a statue of a Buddha or the Mona Lisa, their facial expressions look like this.

In order to half-smile, first relax your face fully- your forehead, eyebrows, jaw, etc. Then raise the corners of your lips just slightly. Your facial expression should feel focused and serene.  You can practice this during meditation or at anytime.

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What Radical Acceptance IS NOT

Radical acceptance, like forgiveness, is absolutely, in no way about excusing bad, painful things that other people have done to you or excusing bad, painful events or emotions period. It is not about approval, love, or compassion. Radical acceptance is NOT against change- in fact it is the impetus for creating change.

Radical acceptance is not making light of or approving of anything, nor accepting that nothing can be done to change what is going on or prevent painful events in the future.

For me, acceptance is just the understanding that something happened or is happening, and that you can deal with it and move on to better things.

 

How can radical acceptance help my depression?

Radical acceptance can help you to to understand that you are depressed because there may be something that you aren’t accepting in your life. What are you resisting in your life? Is there something that you refuse to accept that is happening or has happened? You are already sad and suffering, so what do you have to lose by radically accepting? Radical acceptance can help you to understand where you are and where you want to be and how to get there. Radical acceptance is about nonjudgmental mindfulness and being in the moment, while depression is about rumination, judgement, the past, and not acknowledging the positive.

 

Thanks for reading, and I hope this post has helped you in some way.

 

-Gemima

 

 

3 thoughts on “Depression and Radical Acceptance

  1. Many years ago I decided to go to a therapist because I was angry ALL the time. I didn’t even realize I was depressed until she pointed it out and I immediately began sobbing. I agree that at times there is a correlation between anger and depression, though not all the time. I’m not typically an angry person, that is why I went in to see therapist because I was acting and feeling so out of character and had no idea why.

    Liked by 1 person

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