Falling Up

anxiety defeat depression health topics self improvement

This blog post contains excerpts from my new book, Own Your Self, now available for pre-order.

Have you ever been in a life free fall?

Complete with the sense that you’re heading towards inevitable doom, your insides are twisted up in your throat, and your mind is screaming ‘NO!’ as you wince your way through each excruciating second of your life?

This passage is often called the dark night of the soul, and its hallmark is the childlike terror that overcomes your formerly adaptive adult faculties.

I have patients who spend weeks in this state. Not months, not years. Just weeks. And the key to the bounded timing of this process is mindset, context, and a radical shift in perspective out of victimhood and into meaning.

Taper-induced free fall

I had a session with Tracy when she was in this free fall, last week (and also one with Diane, and one with Ricky, and one with Tintu) and she told me:

I need it to be over. I can’t do this anymore. I feel like ripping my skin off. I can’t stop crying. Nothing matters. I don’t matter. I’m scared all the time and everything hurts.

She is in her last 10mg of Zoloft after 28 years (yup, since she was 16 and had a bad breakup in high school), a medication that rendered her functionally disabled over the past ten years. She just kind of slowed down and energetically flatlined – became unemployed (she was a lawyer) and unable to engage her life and her relationships. This is, of course, what Robert Whitaker and Peter Breggin have been reporting on for years – the capacity for long-term use of psychotropics to induce disability and chronic versions of the short-term symptoms they were intended to treat.

We initiated her taper to unstuck her in her life and to welcome her soul back into her body.

And, just like in the birth canal when even homebirthing women ask for the epidural as the baby is crowning, she sobbed ugly tears to me knowing that there is no way out of the journey she consciously committed to when we began the taper a year ago.

She felt, intuitively, what Robert Frost said, the best way out is always through.

How do you move through?

I’ve written about techniques to navigate the dark night and even help someone who is suicidal, but here I want to discuss framing and context, and I want to introduce a phrase I hope you’ll adopt.

Let’s call it Falling Up1.

What if this sense of everything disassembling…this sense of disorientation…this sense of confusion… the near-mocking mantra of Who am I? What am I doing here?…what if this is all a part of the deal?

This is how the old story of you dies. It just simply feels this way to have an awakening. It feels this way to shed a false and former skin because it’s no longer you.

The ways in which you feel safe in the world include control, organization, and understanding. This process strips all of that away and you are left naked and vulnerable. You cannot direct this process because you’d be doing it from your old programs which are exactly what you are looking to shed. The only understanding that you are mercifully offered in this process is that this is purposeful and it is preparing you for happiness.

Surrender and you may even laugh

And the amazing truth is that, if you truly raise the white flag, this black place transforms. As Louis C.K. jokes, joy is right on the other side of this pain, and when you let it out – scream, journal your ugliest thoughts, dance – you might even find that you laugh for a moment.

You are feeling what you stuffed down, sometimes for decades, and feelings need room to be before they evolve and move into other feelings and states. But you are feeling and that is the defining feature and gift of our humanity and so much more gratifying than the distracted low-grade whir of numbness and anxiety that characterizes the American life experience. We need practice feeling. We need support. And we need a new way of receiving our emotions.

Feel it and reclaim yourself

It is all of these feelings – sadness, anger, fear, joy – that get woven into the tapestry of happiness. Because happiness is immensely complex and an emotional state that we have to ready ourselves to inhabit (contrary to the mythos of our culture that dangles the magic pill, quick fix bait).

It is through the inclusion of the totality of your feelings – perhaps, especially the ones that you would rather not experience – that you can finally feel whole. And feeling whole means that you achieve the long-sought after sense of ok-ness. And of gentle arrival into your own skin, walking your own mysterious and glorious path in this wild world.

I like to think of darkness and lightness as rooting and expansion rather than bad and good. You are going down to solidify our capacity to move out and into the open. You are falling in order to ascend. You are falling up.

Interested in more insights and tools to help you Own Your Self?

My brand new book, Own Your Self, helps you discover the meaning behind your symptoms and your struggle as a way to reclaim your health and your Self. Click below to claim your copy!


  • 1 You may remember that Shel Silverstein has a wacky book of this title!

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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More