I am not my thoughts, vibrant life on the other side of suicidal thoughts, with Sydney Lander – Integrally Alive podcast

Sydney works at Mindvalley, the well-known online university. She’s also an artist at Asterphire. And she is passionate about exploring the link between emotions and thoughts and understanding their nature, so we can use them as a system, rather than being controlled by them.

Today she takes us into her powerful personal story of childhood depression and suicidal thoughts, and how she overcame it to become the vibrant young lady she is now.

In this conversation we bust a few myths:

  • children cannot be depressed, and / or have suicidal thoughts.
  • If (s)he was depressed, (s)he would tell / we would see it: the happy face paradox!
  • having depression is a sign of weakness.

Turns out, all of these points are wrong!

Busting a few myths about depression and suicide; and Sidney’s way of overcoming them

  • 01:15 How did Sidney childhood depression and suicidal thoughts begin and develop… While being a really happy child!
  • 04:00 In her teens:how the scholar system encouraged chasing for perfection…
  • 07:19 … eventually leading her to exhaustion and negative self-talk : “I would end that day, and I just felt like I have more and more things on my plate. (…) I want to do things with my life, I want my life to be fun and interesting (…), I want to be able to contribute to the world in some way. And I felt like that would be impossible to me: (…) I’d be sitting in class and my teachers would look at us and say, like, why can’t you guys even just do homework, you know, life isn’t always going to be this easy. Right now you’re in school one day, you’re going to have to be in the real world.”
  • 08:45 The silence, why she didn’t ask for help: “I didn’t tell people because I didn’t see it as a problem: I thought of it as my feelings as a person, as my personality and my character. (…) This is something that I should be able to handle, because everyone goes through school, everyone graduated, when I have a problem with it. If I tell any one, they’re going to realize I’m broken. (…) I felt as if everyone around me was able to handle life (…), and I’m the only one who doesn’t. So I can’t tell them. I’ve got to just get it together. I need to be able to organize my time better, I need strategy, and stop being such a complainer.” The sadly common behavior of feeling you are the only one to struggle.
  • 10:50 The “what’s wrong with me” syndrome: “I shouldn’t have any problems. Because I’m going to this prestigious school. I’ve good parents. I’ve a good family environment. Therefore, everything should be good. And I’m somehow not good. Like, what’s up with that? And like, the voice of like, What is wrong with you? Why are you feeling this is ridiculous.” When the negative self-talk becomes a voice in your head, increasing the shame and blame spiral: “Stop being such a child. (…) It got to a point where I even wouldn’t sleep on my bed. I’d see my bed, I just hear this in my head, say:”Oh, no, no, you don’t deserve it. You don’t get to rest until you finish what you’re supposed to finish. And so I would lie on the floor. And that voice just keep going over and over in my head. Like, what is wrong with you? Why can’t you do anything?” And feeling more and more separated and empty: “I just felt like the facade I was showing people that was okay. And then I felt almost like oh my God, when this thing finally cracks… I can’t let it crack. Because if it did, everyone’s gonna see that there’s nothing under there.”
  • 12:35 Keeping a “happy” face: Why so many people struggle in silence with depression, and no one around can see that something is wrong… While the situation is getting worse and worse: “I remember I was essentially crying every day at that point. And I didn’t even question it. Because it had just slowly developed over the course of many years. I just thought all this is my personality. I’m just like, really shit.”
  • 14:28 Toxic advice, how we take beliefs of others and actually change our life according to them: “If you do something you love, then you’re probably not going to be happy, because you’re going to be stuck with really bad pay. Or even if you do something you love, you might actually have to sell out and do things that are not actually aligned with what you enjoy in that area. (…) I just felt like: I’m unhappy now, and all I have for the future is unhappiness and living a small life.”
  • 17:40 The final push to suicide: “That’s when I felt like: Holy crap, Life is just going to be painful and pointless, cause I’m never going to be able to do anything that’s going to mean anything to myself or anyone else. That’s when I finally didn’t see the point anymore. And all those thoughts of: Oh no, I can’t commit suicide. I could never do that. Like, there’s a social status and see what happens next, and see if it gets better. And I was like, I’ve done the projections. It doesn’t get better. And the voice in my head is right. I am worthless. This whole thing is pointless. (…) And then finally, I was sitting on my bed thinking through these things. And it’s like, all right, this is the last night. I’m done.”
  • 18:30 The voices in the head disappear, leaving space for realization: When I finally made that choice, and said “I’m done”, the noises in my head finally stop. (…) And then I heard his voice from my heart: “You’re not done yet, please don’t kill yourself.”. (…) And I realized: “I think I have depression.” How she understood that it wasn’t who she was, it was a state she was feeling.
  • 20:30 Now it is possible to ask for help, finally being diagnosed with “mild” depression (sadly so many are diagnosed after their suicide): “I think I really have something that isn’t working here. It’s not just me, fundamentally. (…) That’s the moment when it started just breaking down everywhere. I couldn’t hold it together. Now everything is open for me personally, not hiding it for myself either. And so then I couldn’t hide it from other people. And it was so much less scary than I thought it was, finally being cracked open.” So many people just shut up because they have all kinds of ideas of what will happen if they talk, but actually, even before talking, as soon as they take ownership on what’s happening, it’s so empowering. And in every story I heard through the Integrally Alive project, the moment they decide to talk, they realize, that instead of being rejected, they have so much support from everyone around on them.
  • 24:39 Taking the decision to change environment, and finding resilience. When Sidney began to choose her rules and changed her beliefs : “It’s true if it works.”
  • 28:20 And she turned into a new person, in just a few weeks: In the new school, “the first things people are saying to me is:”Wow, you’re so radiant, you’re so attractive. You have this natural charisma and leadership.” I immediately started getting responsibilities. (…) I was like damn what just happened to the entire world like I switched some stuff up in terms of how I see the world and it literally felt like the world all changed around me because I was changing.” So quickly that if just a few weeks before, someone would have told her it was going to be fine, she would be successful, and have many friends, “I don’t think I would have even been able to hear that.”
  • 30:29 How Sidney found her strategy to deal with the lows: “I still do get times when I feel something very similar to how I felt when I was suppressed, emotionally speaking, physiologically speaking.” One key finding: There is no logical reason! “If you ever see someone else who’s going through pain or something difficult, emotionally speaking, you just sit with them, you hold space for them; and you’re not feeling what they’re feeling. Over the years learning that I can develop this for myself. That it’s not wrong for me to feel this, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with me as a person, there’s nothing wrong with my character.”
  • 35:50 A tool for resilience: Acknowledging pain, feeling it and sitting with it, like we do with thoughts in meditation. We don’t need to act on these thoughts! “With an emotion that you don’t want to feel for a really long time, the best thing to do is actually accept the experience of it. Whereas you’re like trying to ignore it, or reject it or make it wrong, suddenly, you have it stuck in your system. (…) When you get sick (…) we don’t suddenly go, Oh, my God, what is wrong with me as a person? Am I a bad person for being sick? (… ) But we do that when we get emotions that we don’t necessarily think we should feel.” We can watch our emotions and thoughts like a TV show!
  • 40:00 Pain is part of life, and pain and suffering are very different things. As long as we don’t identify ourselves with our emotions and thoughts, they don’t have power on us: It is all the difference between “I am angry” and “I feel anger”. This is an expression of life as a person. “That’s the beautiful thing about being alive: be able to enjoy the experience.”
  • 42:25 Busting the false idea that having depression is being weak: this idea itself is weakening us, and adding to the shame, preventing us to seek help and change anything. When Sidney found the courage to face her situation and suicidal thoughts, she found more and more strength on the other side. Being strong is not pushing through something that you you feel you cannot do anymore. And vulnerability, which we label often as weak, is actually one of the strongest thing we can do: actually being open about what’s going on with us. Hiding what’s going on appears as strong, but inside is total weakness. Which is even more difficult for men, because of society standard imposing “strength” on them.
  • 47:05 Being strong doesn’t necessarily mean you feel strong.
  • 48:20 The one thing Sidney wish someone told her back when she was struggling: “You you might be going through this now, it doesn’t change how I feel about you. And I feel no need to fix you. Because there is nothing to fix.” And really, presence is so much more important than words, being really present, listening, and not trying to make the other person fit in for your needs; Because many people are not comfortable with pain, and when they say things to cheer you up, they are actually trying to be themselves more comfortable.
  • 50:14 What makes Sidney feel alive? For myself, it’s constantly exploring my relationship with myself, my awareness of myself, and how much can I accept and love myself. And then (…) I want people to know that beyond just you as your body, your emotions, your thoughts, you are fundamentally okay. And I would love to live in a world where most people have this understanding of: “Life is supportive of me.”

Where can you find Sidney?

Resource we mentioned: René Brown’s TED talk “The power of vulnerability”

(her other talk on listening to shame is also worth watching)

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