My Very Personal Story: Why Slapping a Smile on Depression, Anxiety does NOT Work

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Duncan (my husband) and I at a recent wedding

Please Note: This article was written in 2013, and continues to be one of our most commented upon posts.

I'm not sure how to start this, so I'm just going to start. Did you read about the life coaches who committed suicide together?

I read this article with incredible sadness. That someone's pain (we read emotional pain here) is so great that they commit suicide is such a desperate waste of human life. It's tragic. And the fact that these two vibrant young people had a radio program called "The Pursuit of Happiness" means that the media are really enjoying the irony - and it makes front page news.

If only we talked more about mental health, about emotional pain, anxiety, depression, despair. If only we knew what to do with these emotions when they arise. But we don't talk about it. In our modern society there is shame attached to feeling bad. And so we don't learn how to cope. And when the pain gets bad enough, for some people the answer is suicide.

So, before I rant any further I have a confession to make. I am a successful life coach, entrepreneur, have a great life on a small island with a great husband. And I have chronic anxiety. The 'chronic' part means not only is it serious but it has been going on a long time. Oh - and I also recently found out I have ADD.

In addition, a few years ago - before I found a great therapist to help me - I was depressed too. Depressed because I had spent years educating myself. I had read endless books on different theories - attachment theory, gestalt, spiritual books, philosophy and so much more. I tried a number of counsellors and techniques ranging from positive affirmations to meditation to CBT to gratitude, massage, journalling, acupuncture, energy healing and of course life coaching. I analysed myself endlessly (so now I have a really clear picture on WHY I am the way I am) and it's not to say these things didn't help. They did. Some of those techniques like jounralling and meditation I still do - and love. But the anxiety did not improve - and that's when the depression set in.

And yet, in the last 10 1/2 years while I was severely anxious, miserable (inside), depressed and having ADD I got married, moved country (from the UK to Canada), retrained to become a life-coach, built a successful life-coaching business, moved to a gorgeous small island community, started The Coaching Tools Company and Life Coach on the Go!, built a cottage and started a B&B - and more. OK, so the point here? Well:

  1. JUST BECAUSE WE ARE 'SUCCESSFUL' in society's eyes does not make us happy.
  2. You can't tell from the outside who is truly unhappy - and who is despairing.

The fact that I was a life-coach made it very difficult for me to talk about depression, anxiety etc. We positive life-coaches should 'know it all' surely? I felt like a fraud and a failure. And of course that just makes the issue worse. Then we judge ourselves on top of everything else.

Interestingly, once I had a good therapist, I actually started to share with my clients that I had anxiety and/or depression. I shared that I was high-functioning AND successful AND 'happy in life', just not 'happy inside'. That it was normal. That it was OK. That THEY were OK. For ALL of the clients whom I shared this with, they said they found it helpful. Now they know they're not alone - and if a successful life coach can feel like that sometimes, then maybe it's OK for them too.

I would like to stress that I have also sent many, many potential clients (enquiries) onto counsellors too. So many people come to life coaching when what they really need is deeper therapy.

And now I have revealed much more than I intended to! But I am PASSIONATE about helping people get over the issues I have faced. I want to write a book about anxiety within the next 5 years and I suppose it will all come out then anyway.

So, eventually I found a therapist who (gently) forced me to really look at myself, my negative beliefs about myself and the world, the RAGING critic I have that judges and literally abuses me when I mess up. This therapist gently loved, guided and supported me as I learn to love and accept myself. As I move the focus of my life away from achievement to enjoyment. As I learn to change my incredibly deep-seated negative and very habitual thinking patterns. So I'm not worthless? Wow!

But before I wrap up I have some issues with the positive psychology and self-help movements. And before you read on, please know that I am INCREDIBLY grateful (intellectually) for all that I have - food, shelter, clothing, movies, washing machines, friends, the capacity to do and buy (even if it's on credit) pretty much whatever we want. I recognize that we are unbelievably lucky and many people in the world are not so lucky. But this is what kept me TRAPPED in my anxiety - "I have no RIGHT to be depressed, anxious, despairing - there are people starving, being raped, families murdered, tortured as I write this - and lucky 'ol me in my heated office with laptop computer and all the modern luxuries - I'm depressed? How dare I?"

So the traps we have in modern society:

  1. "Getting rid" of unpleasant feelings doesn't work. You can't slap a smile, be grateful for all that we have (and in our modern societies we have a LOT) and expect that to magically fix deep-seated negative beliefs about ourselves and the world.
  2. We believe feeling unpleasant means something is wrong. However, there is nothing wrong with unpleasant feelings - they are a NORMAL part of life. Our feelings are a signal  - and if we only paid attention to them and took care of our emotional needs, asked for help - they wouldn't escalate to despair (at least not so often). We MUST listen to and to take care of all our feelings - the (so-called) negative AND positive.
  3. We MUST learn to love and accept ourselves AS WE ARE NOW - not as we will be once we've improved ourselves.
  4. Wouldn't it be great if we didn't feel so alone when we feel miserable, depressed, anxious, despairing? If people don't talk about how they feel when they feel down, then that gives a (hidden) signal that there is something shameful about it. We must get out there (when we're strong enough ourselves of course) and SHARE our experiences.

My goal? To learn to enjoy life WITH my anxiety. To stop fighting it and wishing it were otherwise. To allow it and love ALL of myself, to accept and learn from my feelings. To share and encourage others to share what is going on for them.

So, let's be honest, let's get out there. If 'successful' people can have mental health issues, then it might be easier for people who are not so lucky (to be high-functioning like me for example) to seek and get help.

Depression, anxiety, despair are NOT things we can slap a smile on, be grateful and affirm our way out of. These valuable techniques may work for minor incidents of mental health issues - but they don't work for serious and deep-seated negative thoughts, beliefs and feelings of worthlessness. Avoiding, getting rid of, ignoring - doesn't work. We need to look at what is underneath, accept the feelings and stop running away. Only then do we learn that we CAN handle it.

To bring it back to the trigger for sharing all this. I find it interesting that their radio show was called "The PURSUIT of Happiness". It seems they were in pursuit of happiness, but did not find it. Reading this, you will also have no idea how hard I worked to be happy. But pursuing doesn't work. We must learn ABOUT ourselves - what's important to us and pursue THAT. We must align our lives with our values and take care of and be kind to ourselves. AND I believe we need to help others in ways that are meaningful to us - and work to be better people and better citizens. AND priority number one - is that we must be willing to LOVE AND ACCEPT OURSELVES as we are NOW.

"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."  Nathaniel Hawthorne

So, my depression is long gone. But the anxiety on some days can still be all-consuming. Still, thanks to a great therapist (the 6th person I tried) and a LOT of difficult and painful work around my feelings, beliefs and abusive inner critic - I am learning to enjoy and live my life WITH the anxiety and feelings of worthlessness. I have learned to stop fighting and wishing it were otherwise. It's hard for sure, but it's the ONLY thing that has worked.

Finally, if you are feeling anxious, depressed, despairing - seek help. Please. And keep trying until you find the right person for you - it may take a few goes, but it IS worth it. YOU are worth it.

Love to each and every one of you. Emma-Louise.

 

You may also like my follow-up article:

Or this:

78 Comments

  1. Angeline

    Thank you for sharing your personal story with us Emma-Louise. It really helps to know that successful people struggle too! You have inspired me to continue the ongoing (and sometimes painful) process of working on my own mental health issues. 🙂

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks Tracy. I am still a little nervous - knowing this article is out there and I did it! Your comments help me feel better - knowing that I did the right thing. THANK-YOU. Em xxx

      Reply
  2. Lynda

    Hi Emma, I think your personal sharing is so important - and real! In the first 10 years of my social work career - I lost 3 social work colleagues by suicide. These experiences were very formative for me as they taught me a lot about the humanity of helpers AND how professionals often do not get the help they need for themselves due to stigma and whole bunch of other reasons. I think each time a professional, like yourself, can speak out about your own experiences you give something liberating and healing, that benefits yourself and others too. No one is immune to mental health issues and they are very prevalent in our society (for more information on mental health statistics and helpful coping strateties/resources - the Canadian Mental Health Association - http://www.cmha.ca/ In other words, you are not alone.
    I think when successful people, like yourself, can share your experience - you help to lift the stigma around mental health and also open up such important and healing conversations. In years past, I dealt with some vicarious trauma due to the high trauma crisis response work I was doing - and I know it really helped to identify it and then deal with it openly. Bravo to you for getting the help you need to live with anxiety and also for encouraging others to do the same.
    Emma, to all the ways you make a difference with your open heart and lived experiences, thank you, Lynda

    Reply
  3. Karen

    Thank you so much for writing this. A friend that I know shared this on Facebook and it was perfect timing for me. I am a very successful person and have actually just finished my life coaching course. I had a breakdown just over 3 years ago and have struggled with depression and wanting to commit suicide during this time. To people I appear happy and successful yet the hidden shame and struggle I have faced has been so overwhelming. I am in the process of starting to write out my story. Even though I still may battle it is so encouraging to hear that I am not alone and it is ok. It is about living with it and being real. I also hope to encourage to other to stand and they are not alone and to remove the shame. Thanks again for taking a stand and sharing.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Karen, I am so glad you found this article helpful. It's so tough dealing with this stuff - we're not shown how, and I think that shows in the society we live in. I'm so proud of YOU for showing up and commenting! The best way to beat shame? To get out there and be proud. (Ask me if I still feel that way on Monday after it's gone out to 4000 people)... The timing for me was right. When your timing is right, you'll know. Love, Emma-Louise x

      Reply
  4. Evelyn

    I read your story...and sympathize and can relate on many levels. My first thought is that you have something physical that is causing the anxiety. Do you have a heart murmur, do you have mitral valve prolapse (MVP) or perhaps a condition called dysautonomia...basically a hypersensitive nervous system. The MVP does not cause the dysautonomia but is a marker, an indicator you could have it. A large percentage, 40%, of folks with MVP also have dystautonomia. You can have dysautonomia without having MVP. Anyway, basically this means your body overreacts to stress hormones. Sooooo, avoid anything that rises your stress hormone level like dehydration, caffeine, stressful events. Drink LOTS of water. Then, you can take a low dose of a medication like a beta blocker like I do that moderates the response to stress hormones on the cellular level. Takes about 2 to 4 weeks to take affect. My dose is very low since my blood pressure is on the low side. Study biofeedback...very very important. Have a very positive outlook. Get lots of rest. Avoid insulin spikes so watch your diet. Eat small protein rich, low sugar meals several times a day. Slow down your breathing. Around 2000, I suffered terribly from severe tachycardia, anxiety, and panic attacks...came on suddenly after working with an abusive boss. I had every test imaginable and was put on a low dose beta blocker and I read everything i could get my hands on on MVP and dysautomonia. I am also an empath as I suspect you are so it is very important to manage boundaries and the "burden" you take on. Today, I am 100% symptom free. I do not let this define me and I hold off any anxiety the absolute second I begin to feel any sense of anything even close to "anxiety" or a heart pang. You can even wear an elastic band on your wrist and snap it when you feel the anxiety coming on. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason for you to suffer...absolutely none. I am proof of that. Be well!

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Evelyn, thank-you so much for taking the time to share what has worked for you. I think if you have a nervous, sensitive or very empathic nature - avoiding sugar spikes and caffeine, eating well and exercising are very important. For me I realised my anxiety comes from the nature of my thoughts - I am abusive towards myself. This is what causes my panic and anxiety - and I am learning to be kind and compassionate towards myself and let this be my guide in life, and not the abusive, judgemental inner critic. This abusive critic - that I developed early on as a coping mechanism for some extremely difficult emotional states/situations - served me for a long while. But no longer. I really appreciate your heartfelt suggestions. Warmly, EL

      Reply
  5. Ariana

    Dear Emma-Louise,

    This is such a brave, lucid, heartwarming article! I'm so proud and thankful. I'm a life coach myself (from Portugal)and I also have issues with the "dictatorship" of positive thinking. People don't need more pressure, people need more acepptance. We need, as Alain de Botton calls it, "a kinder, gentler philosophy of success".
    xxx

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks Ariana! I love the quote you share. One of my guiding principles is to shift success to being how I feel, not how much I achieve. So true. Warmly, EL

      Reply
  6. Caroline

    Well done for telling your story - it's a very courageous move and I know from experience takes a lot of guts. All the best with your continuing therapy.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks so much Caroline. (I love your surname by the way!). I was just so upset by not only the life coaches' suicides, but the way the news portrayed it. I think the newscaster said at one point "They obviously didn't take their own advice". So callous and insenstive, and oblivious to how difficult it can be to change deep-seated negative mind states. And who says we can't be a life coach AND have difficulties in our own lives? THANK-you for your support. I really appreciate it. Em x

      Reply
  7. Becky Scott

    Hi Emma-Louise,

    You have been an influential fixture since I started in the coaching world in 2010. Now long ago certified (currently Pres Elect of Philadelphia ICF!) and deep into my practice of teaching folks with learning issues how to love themselves, I reflect on your "rant"... You have given a gift to the world. Those ready to hear the message will have the opportunity, to experience a shift in the way they view themselves.

    On a personal note, I send you love and compassion. And yes, truly, compassion for yourself coupled with self knowledge will open the doorway of acceptance. Then you are free to fly!

    Best to you!
    Becky Scott

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear lovely Becky! Thank-you so much for your kind words. And you are so right - self-acceptance is where it's at. If only we could just flick a switch and say "I get it, NOW I accept myself!" I can do that intellectually - but (for me at least) it takes a while longer to actually sink in and be a real, authentic part of who I am... Thanks again. Warmly, EL

      Reply
  8. sam

    Thank you! In fact a million Thank You's for sharing ... I really resonate with what you have shared with us all and will save this post for the next time I have a little wobble. My heart goes out to the families of those 2 beautiful people too that felt suicide was their only solution 🙁 Much love to all! XxX

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Sam. Thank-you! We all expect so much of ourselves. Once we realise it, we can change. But like life, healing is a process too. Thank-you for your kind thoughts and self. Warmly, EL

      Reply
  9. Betty

    You are very courageous to have shared your full story. Thank you for your vulnerability. It all hit home. Keep up your writing and your own work. You make a huge difference in the world with your clarity and wisdom-and your own experience.
    Love, Betty

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thank-YOU Betty! For your support and encouragement and witnessing. Your compassion and understanding shows through. Warmly, EL

      Reply
  10. Sue Hasker

    Emma-Louise, so proud of your courage and touched by your story. Know that you are not alone.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks Sue. Thank-you for your support, encouragement and for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate your kind words. Warmly, EL

      Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Tonia, thank-you for making the time to comment. So glad it was helpful. Know that you are wonderful and beautiful and wise! Em xxx

      Reply
  11. Tom Schweickert

    Emma -

    My word, Emma, but you are an inspiration! You may recall that I once told you, "All that wisdom in one so young!" That certainly holds doubly true after reading this. My admiration for you has increased greatly.

    Emma, it is certainly a privilege to know you!

    May our Kind Father wrap His tender arms around you and your loved ones and give you His peace and comfort in these interesting times.

    Tom

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear lovely Tom! Your ongoing kindness, support and encouragement are very much valued. THANK-you, thank-YOU, thank-you! Em x

      Reply
  12. Jan Carley

    Thanks for sharing your story Emma-Louise. You are such a kind, caring and generous individual and that showed up again,in the vulnerability of your story. I find as a coach that my own experiences are what shape and add deeper levels of richness to my coaching and I am sure your clients feel the same way. Keep up the fantastic work!
    -Jan

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks Jan! And I agree - the more we explore our own vulnerabilities the more rounded a coach we become. Thank-you for your kind words and support. And keep up all YOUR great work too. Warmly, EL

      Reply
  13. Kate

    Hi Emma-Louise,
    I hadn't heard about this incident until I read your newsletter this morning and googled. I totally agree with you about the media handled it.
    Thankyou for sharing your story. I'm a coach who has been through depression too. I have mild bouts of anxiety now, but a few years ago I had paralysing panic attacks and severe social anxiety. I totally agree with you about sharing our stories. I think it's essential to bring these things out into the open. If it saves just one life in the future, then each of us who shares our story turns from life coaches to life savers!
    I absolutely loved this piece and there were a few different points that you made that were a totally new perspective for me. It's really cool to read something fresh and learn something new.
    Thanks for sharing your story and for the great work you do. I love reading your newsletters and blog.
    Kate x

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Kate! Thank-you for your kind and supportive words. And a HUGE thank-you and acknowledgement for sharing your own story. Mental health (and difficulties) take many forms and affect almost everyone at one time or another - to varying degrees. We so need to talk and be open, so that it's easier to get help. Keep up all YOUR great work and thanks again for your inspiring comment. Warmly, EL

      Reply
  14. Tina

    Emma-Louise,

    Just wanted to say that I realise how much it takes to be honest about what's going on inside so what you've shared is really appreciated.

    All the resources you provide on your site have encouraged me to go down the road of becoming a coach, your enthusiasm is infectious!

    All the best to you,
    Tina

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks Tina! It did take courage - and I was also fired up by indignation at the way the media covered the two suicides. I decided it was time - and I was ready (mostly!). The outflow of support (and me too! (in a good way)) has also been amazing. Thank-you for taking the time to comment and so glad you enjoy all our resources. Warmly, EL

      Reply
  15. Robin Leigh

    Dear Emma-Louise,
    I applaud your openness and willingness to share your truth. Thank you so much for lifting the veil. As a fellow life coach who deals with my own depression and anxiety, I know how scary it can feel to share that truth with the world. We all have struggles, and it's been my experience that as we share them with one another (instead of hiding them) we can all benefit. Thank you for the work you do in this world.
    Warmly,
    Robin Leigh

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thank-you Robin. I really appreciate your kind and thoughtful comments. And YOUR openness too - this is how the world is changed. It is so heartwarming to hear other people's stories and compassionate understanding. Keep up all your great work, and see you around! Warmly, EL

      Reply
  16. Johnny

    Thank you Emma-Louise for your story.

    I believe we all have a story that needs to be told, but most of us are afraid to tell truth about ourselves and the world we live in. We fear removing our social mask. In your story Emma-Louise you have simply told the "TRUTH" and as I know, you already know we really have nothing to fear from the truth.

    When we tell it as it is we experience our authenticity, our authentic self, which gives us a great release and a sense of inner peace and joy.

    I have found that having a positive attitude can be an advantage however if you deny your negative feelings you neutralize those positive feelings.

    Personally I have found AWARENESS to be the answer. Being truthfully aware of our inner and outer self helps us to stay centered which gives our lives a sense of balance.

    There can be no balance without truth.

    When I feel good I try to know exactly why I feel good, and when I feel low I also try to find out why I am feeling low.

    Being truthful with ourselves and others helps us to understand; and when we understand we can be compassionate; and when we show compassion we can love; and when we love we feel happiness.

    Love is the only thing that can bring us peace and happiness and we must begin by loving ourselves because unfortunately we cannot give something to others, that we don't already possess ourselves.

    AWARENESS = Understanding, compassion and love.

    Thank you so much for sharing your truth with us Emma-Louise it has reminded me of my own truth (:

    Warmest regards,

    Johnny K Dublin Ireland

    "Understanding, compassion and love to you all from the bottom of my heart"

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Johnny,

      Thank-you so much. I agree that awareness (without judgement) is SO very important. There is so much assumption, judgement and shame that goes along with mental health issues/difficulties. If we could all be 'allowed' to be aware of our issues without the shame, to look at them without fear (that may take some work!!!) and seek help when we need to, there would be a lot less people struggling alone, getting depressed, committing suicide. Your comments are kind and thoughtful, and show your wisdom. Keep up all your good work Johnny. Warmly, EL

      Reply
  17. Jasna

    Dear Emma-Louise,

    You have obviously hit the nerve for many. I congratulate you for such courage and honesty in writing this. While I understand what you are saying and I appreciate your personal story, you really have raised an issue that has been bothering me for a long time now: coaches with depression/severe anxiety who coach other people.

    I know that we all go through life and face challenges, but I really do have a problem with so many life coaches working with clients when they, themselves, are struggling with mental health issues. I know that this comment will upset many (not even sure if you will choose to publish it), but I do think that some coaches who struggle greatly with mental health issues should not be coaching.

    My belief is that we have to create the most sacred space for our clients and I am afraid that it might be possible to do that if a coach has anxiety and mental health issues of their own. There is something so hypocritical about coaching others if a coach is unhappy, unfulfilled or is not able to overcome their own challenges.

    If I knew that Tony Robbins had depression or anxiety, I would lose all belief in his method and his work. Same goes for my own personal coach. I do believe that there are individuals our there who are strong, healthy in all aspects and resourceful with their own life that are true coaches and an inspiration to many. Part of the fact that life coaches get a bad reputation is because people whose lives are a mess are coaching others and there is absolutely no integrity or authenticity in that.

    Once again, this is not about your story but it did raise a larger issue that has been bothering me for some time now. If someone struggles with severe depression and anxiety, they should not be coaching. I see this all too often when meeting life coaches in the area. It is dishonest, hypocritical and is not serving them or those that they may potentially serve.

    Hope this makes sense and I thank you for bringing us such thought provoking piece.

    Best,
    Jasna Burza
    http://www.jasnaburza.com

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Jasna!

      Of course I will approve your comment. Discourse - listening and allowing other different points of view (as long as they are not abusive) is incredibly important to growth, learning and a democratic society!

      I think you have been very brave to raise this question/subject. And I think you also represent many people who feel the same way - both coaches and people in society. I think I will write a post inspired by it. I would love for you to read, see what you think and comment on it once it's done!

      Where I could agree with you is if a coach has severe depression and anxiety AND they are not seeking or getting help with it - that speaks to a lack of awareness. And that can be dangerous.

      You have prompted me to explore this further. Watch this space for an article to follow.

      THANK-you Jasna. Warmly, EL

      Reply
  18. Beth Burgess - Recovery Coach :)

    Hi Emma-Louise,
    Thanks for sharing. Mental health issues are very common, and the more people share about them, the less stigma there will hopefully be.

    Personally I have recovered from bulimia, social anxiety disorder, alcoholism, depression, borderline personality disorder and self-harm. Funnily enough, I'm now a Recovery Coach! I combine Life Coaching with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy to help people get over issues that are sometimes quite serious, and rebuild their lives the way they want them.

    Part of my MO is sharing my own story - because I want to spread hope and shatter stigma. I am not ashamed of everything I went through, and although I have to be vigilant against relapse forever (particularly with the addiction!), I have come through it and it has enabled me to help people in a very special way.

    I wonder if you have tried NLP for your anxiety. That's how I first got into NLP. After trying everything else under the sun, an NLP Practitioner cured my anxiety disorder with a special combo of NLP and EFT. I now use this for my own clients, and it hasn't failed me yet.

    Thanks again for sharing your stury with us. There is never a reason to be ashamed of being ill.

    Best wishes,
    Beth
    Recovery Coach

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Beth,

      Thanks for your kind comments AND for sharing your story! Wow - you are very strong and courageous. Way to go! And congrats on turning your experiences around and finding a way to help others.

      So, I have been an NLP practitioner since 2005. NLP techniques can help as coping strategies for sure. But the only 'fix' that has worked for me is to love and accept myself. To bring awareness to the negative, abusive voice inside and to STOP identifying with it. AND to stop trying to "get rid of" how I feel. This is such a biggie in our current society. We feel something unpleasant? Stuff it down, ignore it, blame someone else!

      EFT is something I haven't explored much, but it sounds like it might help with dealing with difficult feelings.

      Now, I am learning to allow myself to have anxiety AND enjoy life. It sounds like it shouldn't be possible but with practice it is. And gradually, in combination with many other strategies, techniques and coping mechanisms - especially including developing a strong, kind ALTERNATIVE supportive inner voice I am rewiring my brain - and my anxiety.

      We are both on our paths! I thank-you from the bottom of my heart for your kind and supportive thoughts. Em xxx

      Reply
  19. Dedra

    Emma-Lousie,

    Thank you for sharing your story. You are an inspiration to others and by sharing your story, you contribute positively to the movement to remove the social stigma related to mental health issues. Thank you for your courage.

    Respectfully,
    Dedra

    Reply
  20. Toni

    Hi Emma Louise

    I think you are really brave to put yourself out there and tell your story. The reason that I like coaching is that coaches do share things including resources even though they are trying to make a living themselves. I read with interest Jasna's comments. I too have suffered from stress and anxiety in the past and am a high functioning professional helping very vulnerable young people. Years of counselling did not work for me and I thought that I would feel like a 'fake' for ever (how could I help others if I could not help myself), but I did indeed help lots of others. What changed my life was finding a good coach (who had suffered from anxiety in the past). He helped me see that I was the expert of my own body and mind and all the answers were inside myself. I have since changed my job to one that gives me more fulfilment, lost 2 stone and I have started to enjoy my family more and the many good things in my life. Like you I have learned to accept myself for who I am now and am not waiting to live until I have improved myself. Knowing that he (my coach) understood and had made it through the darkness himself helped me trust him and change my life. I have not had any anxiety for 3 years and hope to become a coach myself soon. People who suffer from anxiety and stress do not suffer from it all the time and I ask the question - would you stop a World Champion runner coaching others if his leg was amputated? Coaches have supervision and know themselves and know when they should be coaching and when they need to take some time out. Sorry if I am rambling but it makes my blood boil when people think that just because you have a mental health problem you are a danger to others. We are stronger because we cope with our symptoms and function at a high level despite them.
    Best Wishes Toni x

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Toni! Thanks for your support and for sharing YOUR story. I understand your frustration about the comment. It's hard when we know how hard it is to have issues, how hard we work at them, and how we KNOW we have helped others.

      For me, that person took a great risk in sharing what many other people are in fact already thinking. By sharing her concerns, she gives us the chance to address them - and to create a dialogue - hopefully a dialogue for change. Many people think it, but don't say it out loud - this is much more dangerous (in my mind).

      I will be writing a post in reponse and will be interested to see what you think too! Thanks again for your comments and kind words. Warmly, EL

      Reply
  21. Dian Reid

    Thank you for sharing your vulnerability so openly and courageously here, Emma-Louise. I've often felt some of the same things you've shared here—that because I am successful in life and business I should not *allow* myself to feel depressed or unhappy ... as if it is a choice! My bouts with depression and anxiety are minor and still, I feel shame in feeling it at all. This article you've written reminds me that we all are human, and we all have a right to the emotions we feel, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. It's also a wonderful reminder to take a look at the pieces of myself I need to look at and handle with some TLC and do some work around accepting all these parts of me that make up the whole. We are whole people, Emma-Louise, every last one of us. It's so important that we accept all of who we are and create our lives from that whole, rather than only the pieces we perceive as "positive" or "acceptable" by society.

    Much love and light to you, my friend. xoxo.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks Dian! I love your genuine and honest response. And yes, the more we share, the more we realise this is ALL of us. Our feelings are outside of our control and, as I know you already know, if we allow and acknowledge them, we can get their message and move on. But it's hard to do sometimes! THANK-YOU again for sharing and making the time to comment. Em xxx

      Reply
  22. Lisa Lipsett

    Hi Emma-Louise
    I can`t help but wonder if your honest infectious persona is just that because you allow yourself to fully feel. You are so real and open. It is tough though.
    For example the more bliss I feel, also the more pain I experience. Like my open heart must feel regardless of the quality or valence of the experience. The most difficult thing I find is the resistance and judgement I still have to certain states of anxiety, depression and stasis. I am very attached to feeling fiery, gregarious, productive and expressive. Depression, anxiety, introversion, inadequacy, being overwhelmed and in need of support are still tough to navigate at times. Painting what I feel often helps me to step outside of a state as does yoga BUT and this is a big BUT- both make me more sensitive and therefore more feeling!!!! The most clear and calm, sensitive yet balanced I`ve ever felt was when I ate only beautiful living raw food- kind of like the Elves in the Hobbit.
    Thanks so much for sharing.
    Lisa xox

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks so much Lisa! You raise some really great points. Especially around how we're attached to the so-called 'positive' states and would rather avoid the 'negative' states. Of course we are! None of us want to feel icky.

      BUT, I think you're so right. In order ourselves to FEEL FULLY; joy, awe, bliss - we also need to allow anger, sadness, despair. It's a full range - and we don't get to choose which is there at any moment in time. But when we allow all and stop being afraid of the so-called 'negative' states life just gets so much easier - and less scary! My experience anyway.

      Thank-you for sharing - and commenting. I really appreciate it. Em xxx

      Reply
  23. Sheila Stewart

    Dear Emma-Louise
    It is wonderful that you wrote this article! I recently wrote a book that includes tips on this very subject. It's so great that the world is now starting to see that stuffing the negative not only doesn't work, it's toxic.
    The days of glazing over and stuffing the negative with positive thoughts and affirmations will soon be over. We need to feel those negative feelings and emotions and not stuff them. It's OK to be depressed and go to bed whenever we need to...Finally we are waking up to the truth that we are OK just the way we are, negative and positive. We need to acknowledge all our feelings so we can be in balance.
    Emma-Louise, You are an inspiration to so many! Thank You, Thank You!
    Blessings 🙂

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks Sheila! Yes, the stuffing of negative is huge. Only yesterday I listened to a podcast where a child lost his egg and spoon race. The father, acknowledging that ALL is thought and perception (which is true - it's all just a thought...) says "Let's go and get some ice cream!" Whilst this is great - it doesn't first acknowledge the child's disappointment. Yes, we don't want to WALLOW in negative emotions, but first feel them - before running off to get on with a happy, positive life... "Oh, you must feel really disappointed!" (or an acknowledgement of what they are feeling if they can verbalise it). Then, "Hmmm. That's tough!". Pause. "Would you like to go and get some ice cream?" (And even with that I'm thinking, are we then soothing our feelings with ice cream - does THAT become a habit?").

      OK so too much thinking there. It's just what came up. THANK-you for your words of wisdom and support. If we all keep talking, things will change! Warmly, EL

      Reply
  24. Jacqueline

    You Said: “JUST BECAUSE WE ARE ‘SUCCESSFUL’ in society’s eyes does not make us happy . . . Then we judge ourselves on top of everything else.” Emma-Louise I could not have said this better. What a tragic loss of lives regardless of what their profession happened to be. The fact that they were Life Coaches makes it that much closer to home.

    My thoughts: I am extremely proud of the brave stance you’ve taken to speak out from a personal viewpoint. Sharing in this way does make us feel vulnerable and wide-open but I agree it is very necessary. The fact that these two people couldn’t see another way hurts and cuts deep. I was reminded of a poem by one of my favorite poets Paul Laurence Dunbar: “We Wear the Mask”. Now, obviously we know the history behind this poem is an expression of the internal anguish of the black race; however, I believe that for this error we currently live in; it my opinion that this very same notion is very much prevalent in the lives of those who try to be all things to all people, who are silently suffering and imploding while hiding behind this mask we have fixated to our faces that is depicting a lie to everyone it smiles back at. By speaking out and supporting others through these unlabeled and challenging moments we strip off the mask, thus we are able to breathe and not be judged by others or self. We are able to exhale and live. Read on…

    WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, —
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.
    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
    We wear the mask.
    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
    We wear the mask!

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      THANK-You Jacqueline. For your kind and thoughtful words. And the beautiful poem to ponder on. I really appreciate your support. Warmly, Em x

      Reply
  25. Rodney Merrill

    Emma-Louise,

    I don't think anyone who really understands positive psychology coaching would suggest "slapping a smile over depression" is a good idea. In fact, a coach has no business dealing with serious depression without referral from a psychologist. There are exercises that sound like this; but they are for people who in good psychological balance.

    Rodney Merrill
    Life Coach

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Rodney,

      I agree! In the title 'slapping a smile over depression' it's a nod to our culture and the self-help industry overall - not life coaches in particular. There are a lot of people out there who do not have depth of knowledge - they take spiritual and psychological wisdom out of context and this can be very damaging for people with more serious issues. An example would be being grateful - while I think gratitude is important AND it's good to practice it and change our outlook on the world - is NOT a fix for all ills. And yet it is paraded by some as THE answer. Then when we don't or can't feel grateful, people feel bad and judge themselves for not being able to feel it. It also suggests that feeling bad is not acceptable, because all you need to do is look at all the wonderful things in your life to feel better.
      My point - it's OK to feel bad sometimes. It's a normal part of the human condition.

      But I think you agree anyway. So the main thing to clarify is I'm talking about society and the self-help industry in general. And NOT life-coaches...

      Warmly, EL

      Reply
  26. Craig

    Emma-Louise,

    I just found your article and the reference to the NY coaches, which I hadn't heard about, and was very moved. I've been in the psychology, alternative medicine and coaching world for almost four decades now, as a student, practitioner and trainer; and one thing I've noticed is that people are attracted to these endeavors because, whether they recognize it or not, their first priority and interest is finding out what makes themselves tick. In a way, its a survival motivation and a search for greater happiness.

    That they can make a career out of it comes second, and unfortunately the first motivation often gets lost.
    You are describing your personal journey - and no personal journey is easy when you look it directly in the eye - and anyone who aspires to "help" anyone else better get humble in the face of their own process or they're in for some serious wake-up calls. Working on Self is toughest career there is.

    That is my observation and I, of course, have no idea what was going on for the coaches who took themselves out, other than there is a lot more to this story than meets the eye, and which we may never know.
    Anyway, thanks for bringing attention to the larger social issues, too.
    Any society, like any individual, that attempts to sweep pain under the rug is only going to get more of it.
    That's just the way it works....in my observation.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks Craig! You make excellent points and I agree that most people drawn to these professions like ours are on a personal journey to understand themselves and search for greater happiness. When there is awareness this can be a powerful ally in both our, and our clients', healing. And when there is a lack of awareness - it can be (incredibly) destructive.

      Working on self - especially when we look at the dark and that which most scares us - absolutely the toughest job in the world. And not made easier by our society's blindness and lack of awareness.

      The word (I realise afterwards) that I failed to use was shame. And only by accepting ourselves, and what is supposedly shameful, can that dissolve.

      So, thank-you for your kind words. I'm thinking about a follow-up (or series of follow-ups) to this first article. Curious to see what you think - and have to add.

      Warmly, EL

      Reply
  27. Julia Menard

    Hello Em! Thank you for your courage in telling a bit about your personal story! I love the practice of self-acceptance "AS WE ARE NOW." Yes! Talking about how any of us are not perfect helps dispel that competency compulsion so many of us are prey to (myself included). I love myself just as I am. Thank you again Em! Well done!!! 🙂

    Reply
  28. william welsh

    Emma-Louise, the more I read from you and about you my admiration grows and grows, I have told so many people here in the UK about you and your fantastic site and company. I think you should start writing your book now and get it out as quickly as possible, look at the site http://www.lulu.com
    You are an inspiration to me, if ever you are in the UK let me know and I would love to meet up for a wine and chat.
    Stay strong, stay healthy.
    Kind regards,
    William

    Reply
  29. Karen

    Thank you so much for your candor in sharing your story. I just read it today after receiving your email and it really touched me. This has been the toughest and emotionally challenging years I've ever had in coaching. My mom died in January after years of dementia, my uncle 2 weeks later, my lifelong best friend has 6 months to live after years of suffering from early onset Alzheimer's and my son had my first grandchild this year - by a bipolar mom who's manic and not on meds.

    As you can imagine, there are days when I've felt depressed and anxious, and sad to the point where it seems like there's a bowling ball size hole in my chest. Usually I can switch to my "happy face" and the upbeat attitude I'm known for and set my problems on the back burner. Not this year.

    Despite all this turmoil in my life, I've continued to coach. Coaching others has been like an anchor. No matter what's going on around me, focusing on my clients has been cathartic. For instance, this spring, one of my clients was diagnosed with a very serious pregnancy complication that required her to be on bed rest for 8 weeks. Through coaching, we identified ways for this very active person to manage life cooped up in a hospital room. The happy ending is now she has a healthy baby girl. I visited them last week and met this little miracle who was once only the topic of our coaching discussions. I'm still smiling and grateful that I was able to help my client through this difficult time:)

    Coaching through my roller coaster year has allowed keep focused on possibilities - in my clients' lives and in my own. I've now taken my grief and turned it toward creating a "survival kit" to support older women who are grieving the loss of their elderly moms. I'm also taking better care of me - working with a nutritionist, doing acupuncture and, yes - taking a low dose of anti-depressant.

    So to your question today - should coaches who have depression or anxiety coach? I think that depends. If I ever thought my emotional state was detrimental to my clients' welfare, I would not coach. Think about it this way - doctors who have illnesses continue to treat patients. Therapists who are in therapy continue to counsel patients. If you can provide a professional level of service to your clients, then provide it. But if you have concerns over your ability to do that, then just like any other healing professional - get an evaluation and advice.

    On a final note, I think that that part of the value we bring as coaches is the gift of empathy. And that, Emma-Louise, comes as much from traveling the bumpy roads of life as the smooth ones.

    Wishing you much peace and thank you for the wonderful tools you create:)

    Karen

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Karen,

      Wow, that is some year you are having. It sounds incredibly tough.

      Thank-you for your honesty and vulnerability in sharing. Your story - and approach are very powerful to read. I love that you are working towards creating a 'kit' to help others. And that you're taking care of yourself too. You are an inspiration.

      And your summing up of when/whether someone should coach was beautifully put. We should look inside for the answers and trust ourselves more I think.

      THANK-you again.

      Warmly, Emma-Louise.

      Reply
  30. Flora Morris Brown

    Hi Emma-Louise,

    I applaud you for the courage to be transparent about your feelings, struggles and your tenacity in seeking the right help. If we insisted on a coach or therapist who is perfect, we'd never get help. There is no such animal! A professional who has successfully navigated through struggles is in a far better position to help others, than someone with training, but no real-life experience, or worse, who feels pressured to put on a perfect face. You've proved that we can accomplish much even as work through even chronic issues such as depression.

    When you share your personal story you help others feel free to share theirs and gives them courage to begin healing. Until your personal story is told, healing can't begin.

    Like you, I'm guilty of reading and studying until I get overwhelmed with all the options and theories. Add to that the news, our own life challenges and family, and it's inevitable that anxiety will result. (That's why I stopped watching the news.)

    I view the many techniques presented in spiritual beliefs, positive psychology, the law of attraction, and happiness theories as a huge buffet from which I can use what works for me. I don't expect any one of them to have all the answers, but one truth that seems to run through them all. Happiness is not the absence of sadness or pain, since the human experience will have a mix of positive and negative. It's how to perceive and react that makes the difference.

    Acknowledging what is going on in my life at any given time, even as I seek strategies inside and outside of myself, works best for me.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thank you Flora. For your kind words, encouragement and honesty! I love your summary and observations - you are a wise woman. Warmly, EL

      Reply
  31. Amy

    I really respect someone when someone is bold enough to come out and speak about their own struggles, especially when it is your job to help those struggling with similar things, so I applaud you for sharing your story. It is extraordinarily brave; unfortunately there are still some people out there that believe mental disorders are some sort of hoax in order to receive attention or take a slight hiatus from their career in order to put themselves back together in order to perform their jobs in the manner that they feel that they should. People should not be looked down upon for taking care of themselves.
    There are a great number of people that are incredibly lucky to never go through the misery of depression, anxiety, or whatever someone is suffering from, and though I am very happy for those people, I do not believe they will ever fully understand the toll mental illness can take on a person.
    In regards to whether people should continue working, I agree that if it is affecting your work and you are not able to perform up to the standards you know you need to. There is no shame in caring for yourself because in the end, once you have conquered those demons in your life you can return to work refreshed and ready to take on the job that you loved. It can even assist in helping you understand what your clients are going through and expand your compassion and empathy.

    When it comes down to it, caring for yourself is the best thing you can do, so that you can return to your job and ready to face the world. We need to support each other through these times without the fear of being judged. I would take great pride in what you did by sharing your story.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Amy, thank-you so much for your kindness and compassion. It kind of took me by surprise (writing and publishing the article!) but I had been so upset by the media coverage of the two suicides. It is my plan to write about this stuff, I like to educate around our emotions, feelings, happiness, dealing with sadness. It all just fit. But it was certainly scary! The support I received was wonderful - and surprising - and gave me hope for the world too. Thanks again Amy. Em x

      Reply
  32. Jenny

    Thank you for having the courage to write this article, it is so inspiring when someone can bare their soul like you have and be real. I am also a life coach who has faced depression and also suffered from post traumatic stress. I feel having these experiences helps me to empathise with and understand the daily challenges people face. I totally agree that you can't just slap on a happy face and say your affirmations and everything will be alright. I see too many people try this without any success, then feel like they are a failure when it doesn't work for them. I think that life will always be a journey of ups and downs and maybe that's the point because there is always something positive we can learn from these experiences, if you chose to look for the positives. You also spoke about your RAGING inner critic which made you even more human, I hear what you're saying girl! My inner critic is an absolute classic, totally convinced that my identity, which I thoughtfully chose as an abused child, is basically that I am worthless. Now this is really helpful in times of stress or feeling "negative" emotions, because it instantly fires up and reaffirms the old messages of "This always happens to me, I'm a really bad person, I'm an idiot and or I am so stupid or I deserve to suffer." However, I'm happy to say that I am finally on to it, it's taken nearly 6 years of reading and thinking and wondering when I would finally have my light bulb moment, but I think I'm there. Ironically it wasn't reading, doing affirmations or becoming a life coach that made me wake up, it was listening to my little girl say "I'm such an idiot!" as she sobbed over something she had done that wasn't "right". Well as you can imagine, this was literally like a slap in the face, an OMG what have I done? moment, I decided in that moment that I had to change the way I was, because it went against my highest value in life to continue to be this way. I now have the ability to stop myself, most times, and correct my thinking, which causes me to stop my old pattern of self abuse. My motivation for doing this is simple, I could see my kids doing the same pattern saying the same things I was saying to myself when I beat myself up over something and they have never been abused, only loved and treasured. I suddenly realised that I was passing on a very psychologically damaging way of being, that had the potential to cause massive emotional pain for my children in the future. My life purpose, the reason I life and breathe, is to stop the cycle of abuse, to make sure that my children never have to feel like I felt as a child. This wake up call happened for a reason and I was ready to learn that I had to change who I was in order to achieve my life's purpose. Since that time I now choose to always be kind to myself, to strive every day to demonstrate that there is another way to handle stressful situations and not let my inner critic run the show.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Jenny. Wow. All I can say is thank-you. You have great courage and determination - and put everything so beautifully. Thank-you for your support, kind words, encouragement, and honesty. Warmly, Emma-Louise xxx

      Reply
  33. Patty

    Kudos to you, Emma-Louise for revealing your truth. Too many of us don't have the courage to do so. And if more of us were brave, as you were, society could see just how common these disorders are, and the stigma would finally disappear. Congratulations on your meaningful and courageous admission of humanity.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks Patty! I agree, there are many people suffering to various degrees out there - many more than society is willing to admit... We really can all make a difference!!! Em xxx

      Reply
  34. Catharine Hay

    I applaud you for having the courage to speak out about your experiences with depression and anxiety. I know how difficult that is as I suffer from depression and anxiety as well, along with having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and being a little bit ADHD (I figured this one out myself after my youngest son was diagnosed with ADHD.) I have been outspoken, for the most part, about my mental illness because I am aware of the stigma surrounding it and at times my speaking out has led to people confiding in me about their suffering, when they had been keeping everything hidden. In our society, as you have already mentioned, we are expected to put on a happy face and act like everything is fine. After I had a severe mental breakdown many years ago, a co-worker told me that I just needed to have a positive attitude. This, as I am sure you know, was so grossly inadequate that I have no words to describe how I felt upon hearing it. I don't hide my mental illness because I have done nothing wrong. We should be no more ashamed of being mentally ill than we would be of having cancer. People react negatively to things they don't understand and are afraid of. The media perpetuates this ignorance and fear by irresponsibly depicting people who are suffering from certain disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and OCD, as being dangerous. It makes for "good" television. Unfortunately, most people are not interested in educating themselves about mental illness, so the myths abound. In my opinion, the suffering I have experienced has made me more compassionate and empathetic. These traits, I believe, are a definite plus as a coach. As a women's entrepreneurial coach, my focus is on expanding self-esteem and self-confidence, along with valuing oneself. Sadly enough, there seems to be a greater need for these particular things for those of us who are of the female persuasion.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Catharine, thanks for sharing your personal experience. It's so good to hear you're not alone - and I completely agree, when we unashamedly acknowledge our difficulties we diffuse the stigma - and hopefully begin to educate people. We need people like you! Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  35. chental

    Emma so very brave I 100% align with all that you have posted! You are making a big difference sharing your story for others to follow to understand that the only real important thing in life is to be the true est version of ourselves and learn to love that, we are enough just the way we are. loved the article, thankyou for sharing, Chenty xx

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Chental, thank-you for your kind and thoughtful comments. It's good to know we're aligned! Storytelling (and our own especially) is such a good way to help people move through, realise they're not alone and speak our truth 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply

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