Mess to Meaning: From Breakdown to Breakthrough

defeat depression detoxification health topics meditation psychiatric medications self improvement tapering

The stumble from grace

You were feeling great! You decided to taper your antidepressant medication, did the Reset, reclaimed your body, took a red line marker to many of your former perspectives and beliefs on health, and you were loving all of the spiritual tropes parading across your Instagram feed, feeling super proud of the fact that you were at half your dose of Pristiq.

Then something shifted.

You binged on cookies, lost one, then two, then 8 days of meditation, and you had a potentially relationship-terminating “discussion” with your brother. Now you’re what you used to call depressed. Again. You tell yourself you were an imposter to think you could ever break free. You question all of your gains. You question your ability to get off of meds. And you question who you are. I don’t even know who I am or what I’m doing hereYou sob. And you withdraw. You’ve had to let go of the rope, and now it’s whipping around in front of you behind a boat that’s getting smaller and smaller in the distance.

This is bad news right?

Not to me. In fact, during a taper process, if I do not share a tearful, even sob-inducing (the ugly, snotty kind of sobbing, not the sweet plaintiff kind) session with a patient coming off medication, I think, well, we haven’t even begun yet, have we.

The dark night, the self crisis

Viktor Frankl, renegade psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote:

“Existential frustration is in itself neither patholical nor pathogenic. A man’s concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease. It may well be that interpreting the first in terms of the latter motivates a doctor to bury his patient’s existential despair under a heap of tranquilizing drugs. It is his task, rather, to pilot the patient through his existential crises of growth and development.”

What is an existential crisis?

It is a point of total dissolution. When your entire defense system, your personality, your familiar (though dysfunctional) habits melt into a protoplasmic blob and then you enter a white out blizzard of disorientation. The thing is that this white out blizzard is necessary – it is alchemically required – to cover over the tracks of your old unconscious programming so that you can lay down brand new ones.

These days, if you have moved through this space with consciousness, you are a chosen one (in my humble opinion). Most people that you know and love will have NO idea what you are going through or why because we have been taught, as a collective, to suppress, oppress, and repress these experiences in any way possible. So if you feel separate, alone, and alien…it’s because you are. You are an unusually courageous soul doing hero’s (heroine’s!) work.

Remember that.

It won’t feel like that at the time, because the nature of this work is sitting with your own ugly insides. It’s learning to love the parts of you that you’ve been beating up and hiding for years. It’s awkward, cringe-worthy, and very unsexy.

There is no way around however, but through.

No pain no gain

I believe that we have all agreed on this quantum reality – that growth comes through pain. We share a knowing that there is a silver lining to every cloud, even if we don’t know how to consciously live this way, and because of this held belief, it is true! Growth and evolution do come from and through hardship. As Rupert Sheldrake would say, the morphic field of transformation through adversity is very much attracting human experience to itself.

Given that, it may very well need to suck, it may need to hurt, it may need to be confusing, disorienting, and even worse, suicidality-inducing in order for it to break you down and break you through.

The kind of change we are looking for, is self-reclamation and integration. For most of us, it involves turning toward the part of ourselves that we have been taught by society, by our parents, and by that internalized inner critic, to hate. That shameful, lazy, weak, stupid, ugly loser inside each and every one of us. This is our arrested childself begging to be unconditionally loved. Begging to finally feel seen, heard, and safe. If you don’t, that child will continue to tantrum. Those tantrums look like self-sabotage.

Instead of soothing her, we lock her up, and add more and more bolts to the door and try to ignore her screams.

But guess what? That’s just not working any more, is it.

And it’s time to finally feel like yourself, feel like you’re can drop into your own skin. Feel like you are whole.

Remember these tips:

1. Turn towards and it transforms

One of the trade secrets in shadow work is that there is a tremendous payoff for owning your struggle, turning towards your darkness, and accepting all aspects of yourself. It’s relief. It’s transformation, and, a special kind of freedom. Yes, it’s possible for you to feel more like yourself even if you are also a hot mess. It’s possible that people will feel closer to you and love you more, even if you aren’t what you imagine they want you to be. But you have to take responsibility and own this vulnerability. Be with your struggles, do the field research on them that will help you help someone else who’s in this place in the future. And give up all hope of controlling this process. The day you do, the shift will happen.

2. Have self compassion

The antidote to your inner critic is a special kind of softness. This softness is not the same as making excuses for yourself, babying yourself, or lowering the bar. I’m not into any of that. This is about understanding the tenderness that motivates your stuck behavior, your rigidity, your negativity. It’s about looking beneath your habits of control, self-criticism, and layers of victimization and learning more about the hurt that these behaviors are (trying to) protect. Beam love and soul-acceptance to these parts of you because they are asking for your attention, and have been for a long time. Let that little girl out of the locked room and give her a hug. She only ever knew how to scream, sulk, and kick to get your love.

3. Find meaning, unconditional meaning

This is your ticket to freedom. To find meaning in every single experience that comes your way, receiving and engaging with curiosity at the same time. In fact, this is the fundamental difference between medicated consciousness and medicine-less consciousness.

Let go of the mandate to resist and fight everything and anything that feels outside of our control, and play with the idea of saying “I don’t know, but I’m sure there’s something in here for me.”

Psychiatry wants you to live in a meaningless world, and calls meaning making referential thinking! But the emergence of quantum physics and the consciousness movement are asking you to break out of the cage you’re in. You can do it, and all it takes is a curious perspective on your hardship.

Hold your vision of what freedom feels like to you. What I hear over and over is that it feels like finally being yourself.

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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