“If I give my brain different orders or commands, or better guidance, then I start to get better results in my life.”
Upon leaving the Australian Army, Pauline Longdon signed her discharge papers with an “X.”
After years of service as an Army nurse, at the rank of captain at that point, that X was the best she could do at that moment. Heavy anti-depressants had so thoroughly fried her brain that she could no longer read or write.
As she drove home that day, she headed toward a tree she had scoped out a few months before. And as she neared it, she sped up with every intention of ending it all.
Instead, she braked just centimeters from the tree.
“A voice in my head screamed, ‘Stop the f-ing car!’” she says.
She isn’t quite sure what happened, but fortunately, she was alive.
Depression Develops… While Deployed
That dramatic moment came after years of struggle with severe depression. When mental illness had come on, Pauline was deployed in East Timor, an island country in Southeast Asia.
Deployment in itself was stressful – being far from home, facing an enemy and carrying a loaded weapon. But hers was made all the more so with relentless insults from her boss, who knew just how to push all Pauline’s triggers.
Pauline had worked under the woman for years, but now stationed together 24/7, there was no break.
“It was like slow-burning acid, just her being in my life all the time. And anything I did, she’d criticize or she’d have a smart-mouth comment about it,” Pauline says. “There was no way to escape except the toilet cubicle. Behind the closed door, I would just sit there mostly crying or trying to breathe.”
So began the downward slide into depression. Pauline stopped eating and sleeping, and started withdrawing from life.
She held it together through deployment. But once back at her regular barracks, it was difficult to keep up with life as usual.
The Downsides of Depression Medications
Doctors, her colleagues, threw therapy and medications at her, but they didn’t seem to change her condition. Depression had numbed her; the medications numbed her even further and left her feeling disconnected from life.
When one set of medications didn’t work, doctors recommended that she switch cold-turkey to others. She felt like a lab animal being tested and observed with new combinations.
“Some of them were just sending me right off the deep end,” she says. “I didn’t like who I was becoming, but I was compliant because I was trying to preserve my military career.”
And as she pivoted from one cocktail of meds to another, she ended up in the hospital with serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when medications lead to too-high levels of serotonin in the body.
For Pauline, it felt like every cell in her body was contracting. She could feel loud noises through her skin and see the minute flickers of fluorescent lights and computer monitors.
It’s not that the medications didn’t work at all. They helped some, but Pauline likens them to a Band-Aid trying to stop a hemorrhage.
“I knew intuitively that I had to get off medications and deal with the situation,” she says. “Anti-depressants don’t work for some people. You need to do what works for you when it comes to depression.”
Working on Her Self-Worth
Back home after deployment, Pauline’s mental health didn’t bounce back. Reluctantly, she left the Army.
Following the depths of that discharge day, she had no idea where to go next.
“If I was not meant to die that day, am I meant to be here to do something bigger and better?” she wondered.
The answers wouldn’t come right away. Pauline needed time to heal and soul-search.
Over time, off medication and out of a stressful situation, she regained her ability to read. And oddly, a spiritual book on her shelf kept falling out.
Unable to ignore it any longer, she sat on the floor and read the book cover to cover in one sitting.
She’d rather not mention the name of the book because, as of today, the theory behind it has changed so much that it’s no longer the same. But she describes it as promoting the power of positive thinking.
“I changed my beliefs from ‘I’m worthless’ to ‘I have self-worth,’” she says. “It helped me understand who I was as a person. I didn’t have to be like everyone else. It’s OK to be different. I’m not meant to be the same as everyone else.”
For the first time, she began to believe that, possibly, her depression wouldn’t be forever.
“Am I actually meant to have depression forever?” she wondered. “That sounds like a horrible life sentence for a crime that I didn’t commit.”
‘Flipping the Switch on Negativity’
Pauline went on to find more influential books and attend retreats she never imagined would be her scene.
“I was way out of my comfort zone,” she recalls. “There were people with crystals and flowing frocks.”
She also tried neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and hypnosis. All of it was effectively reversing the years of destructive programming from her boss.
“Just really flipping the switch on my brain’s negativity,” she says.
However, she realized that she didn’t need fancy therapies to retrain her subconscious. She could do it with self-talk.
“What I worked out with the subconscious mind is that you need to stay awake at the wheel and actually give it new orders,” she says. “If I give my brain different orders or commands, or better guidance, then I start to get better results in my life.”
With all her efforts, each day, the darkness began to fade a little more.
“I was getting results. People were noticing changes in me,” she says.
While still unable to write, Pauline drew pictures and stick figures of how she felt. Then later, she went on to write a book for others experiencing depression, and included many of those drawings. From Depression’s Darkness to the Light of Life: A Personal Journey captures Pauline’s own journey and helps others find a path out too.
She also discovered a new career in copywriting – a surprising choice for a woman who had been unable to read or write a few years before. With dedication and focus, she has gone on to build a rewarding career as a writer, working with some of the top copywriters in the industry.
For her career, or any area of her life, she applies the same positive self-talk strategies to nurture her mindset.
“I’m giving it little orders and commands every day, just to keep it doing the right thing instead of going off course,” she says.
While life is immeasurably better now, Pauline still has her moments. But she also has strategies for taking control of negative thoughts.
“Let’s have an overcast moment,” she says. “Like the clouds were over the sun, but you are not taking my whole day. I forbid you to ruin my whole day.”
She’s also found a strategy that serves as a guiding light in her life.
“My future self… I want to make her have a good life because, seeing what we went through with depression and what I’ve put her through, she deserves a break.”
Pauline’s Strategies for Flipping the Script
- Reverse the negative self-talk – Tell yourself, specifically your subconscious, that you have value, that you have worth.
- Accept and get a do-over – On days when Pauline wakes up feeling down, she wonders, “What do you want to tell me now?” She acknowledges her emotions, has a down hour and then gets back up to start the day over.
- Be gentle with yourself – Pauline takes care of her current – and future – self by making decisions that will nurture “both” of them.
If you enjoyed this story, you might also like: 5 Simple Meditation Practices for Depression and Anxiety.
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