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How Getting ‘Naked’ Can Help With Depression

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1992. I’m running up West 10th, past Safeway, past the Starbucks. I’m running like an exploding jack-in-the-box. I turn a corner, running past that craggy maple tree, past the fire hall. I’m running naked. I am naked. I’m not taking my medication. Seriously. No, that’s not a joke; well, it is and it isn’t.

Months earlier, after a six-week psych ward stay, I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder 1. I was given a label and a prescription and I refused to accept either. The pills left waiting in a bathroom drawer somewhere.

As a result, I find myself on a dazzling summer’s day in an even more dazzling manic psychosis, naked (and looking for God, no less). I’m full of love for mankind and any kind of man. Colour blurs by: green leaves, bright sun, hard concrete. And before I can dive into a juniper bush to hook up with the Divine — into where I’m sure he or she is — I am now, somehow, wearing a neighbor’s bathing suit wrapped, in a towel, gently being led by a constable to sit in the back of her police car. 

Stigma is tenacious. Not a six-week club medication stay, not even my nude jaunt down the street in my birthday suit could slap me awake to the fact that something was going on: something like mental illness. It took two more psychotic episodes and an additional hospital stay before I was able to “get naked” with myself and accept what was really happening.

A perfect storm of losing my car, job, boyfriend, money, pride, dignity and hope propelled me into seeing the truth — what I call the “crazy naked truth” — that yes, indeed, something was amiss and I needed help.

As soon as I got honest with myself about that, my life began to take a turn for the better. Since I acknowledged there was a problem (no, I won’t call it a challenge; this was a big fat in-your-face problem), I could then look for support and find help. And I did. I found the right treatment at the right time, which made a huge difference in the trajectory of my recovery. Access to early and appropriate treatment, which so many people don’t receive, improves chances for the best outcome. I was lucky.

Accepting the “crazy naked truth” (that I was dealing with not “just mood swings” or a bad few years, but in fact a psychiatric condition) not only helped me recover from bipolar disorder but also helped me recover my career.

Here is how to get N.A.K.E.D. in five easy letters:

1. N is for Negatives.

The more self-reflection I do and the more honest I can be about my “negatives,” my “weakness” — about what I can’t do and isn’t a fit — the closer I come to finding the perfectly imperfect fit.

My shortcomings ironically guide me to find the sweet spot of my strengths, where “who I am meets what I do.” Respecting my limits means I can consciously choose to avoid doing what I’m not good at, and focus on what I am. My negatives don’t become a source of pain but instead one of empowerment. I adjust my direction. I trust that which I cannot see.

2. A is for Adjust.

When I run into a brick wall in my life, my job or in managing my depression, instead of relentlessly trying to push through the wall, I turn, adjust (maybe only a fraction of a degree) and move in a different direction.

It often doesn’t make sense to my head to change direction, but I’ve learned to trust that which I cannot see. My intuition, my gut informs me where to put my focus and although it feels at times like I’m turning away from windows of opportunity, I’ve learned I’m actually allowing myself to walk toward the door of my dreams.

3. K is for Knowledge. 

Knowledge of your non-negotiables. I know maintaining my mental and financial health are my non-negotiables. I will not — cannot — afford to sacrifice either. If I do, I slide down a slippery slope extremely quickly. My promise to myself: I will do what I love for work (being a speaker about mental illness and wellness) only if it offers financial stability and doesn’t disrupt my mental health. Keeping my health (mental and financial) as a priority is not a luxury; it’s a necessity and a non-negotiable. That knowledge is pure gold.

4. E is for Effort.

Effort and suffering are not the same things. Effort creates results. Suffering does not. That doesn’t mean there isn’t pain. There is. It’s an inevitable part of being human.

5. D is for Doing.

Doing what I love isn’t enough to be successful in doing what I love, and also what I’m good at. Often, what I love to do isn’t what I’m good at. Honest, naked evaluation of my skills is essential.

Stripping down and seeing what is — sometimes on a moment to moment basis — allows me, to this day, to make the choices I need to maintain wellness, experience success in my career and live a vibrant life.

© Victoria Maxwell

A version of this article was previously published on Psychology Today.

Photo by Jernej Graj on Unsplash

Originally published: February 5, 2020
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