10 Things I Learned From 10 Years of Struggling With Depression
For 10 years, I waged an ongoing war with depression and anxiety—the toughest fight I’ve faced in my life. Ultimately, I was forced to take a year off from my job, and that year, I found myself doing more work than ever before. I worked on connecting with my true self and my deepest needs to create a formula of sorts that enabled me to become healthy in mind, body and spirit.
My decade-long battle felt impossible at times, but as I look back now, I can see how much I learned from it and how those lessons have led me to a more joyful life.
Here are 10 things I learned from 10 years of dealing with depression:
1. How to be a partner with my illness.
Once I accepted the notion that depression was an illness of the mind, things began smoothing out. I stopped feeling the raging battle inside my core; instead, it became an exercise of give and take, a balance of what the illness needed to calm itself, along with the things that my spirit and soul needed to feel nourished. I learned to listen deeply to what my soul craved. And I learned how to balance it all within the illness.
2. How to create balance in my life.
For me, balance is not simply something that’s nice to have; it is crucial for my well-being. This means continually monitoring how much I take on, saying no when that is in my best interest, and being vigilant in staying aware of my internal responses. It means becoming crystal clear on my values, and it means being discriminating in how I spend my time and where I dedicate my energy and creativity. I was surprised to learn that even good things can cause anxiety—if the temperature of the goodness is too high for my temperament and sensibilities. This skill has become especially important in my recent retirement, as I find myself with “all the time in the world” coupled with numerous temptations for how to spend that time. I am in the glorious position of being free to choose, and I’m accountable to no one but me for maintaining a healthy balance.
3. How to fight for myself.
I learned to stand up inside myself by listening deeply; to recognize myself as a person of value who needs tending to, as most people do. Only then could I stand up to the world and say, “I matter.” This skill empowered me to clearly communicate my needs and limitations to my employer, which made it possible for me to keep working until my retirement date—the majority of my career having been spent in the dance with depression. I developed the confidence to be the expert on my condition.
4. To listen to what my spirit had to say.
My spirit taught me that creativity needed to be more than a pastime for me; it needed to command a central place in my world as nourishment for my soul. I could no longer leave it lagging, entertaining it only as time permitted. I learned how to keep my creative spirit fed, ensuring that it continues to be fully alive.
5. The right anti-depressant can be a godsend.
When I eventually experienced the positive effects on my symptoms from taking the right medication — following years of living without medication — I was blown away in amazement. I was gratefully relieved of the heavy emotional, physical and brain strain to which I had become accustomed. I felt reacquainted with my true personality, becoming the happy self I used to know prior to my first bout of depression at age 17. It is hard to imagine how delicious that is unless you have lived without it. Is it any wonder that gratitude comes easily now?
6. Divine Spirit is real and must be part of my day-to-day life.
It was through following Spirit’s lead after a desperate plea for help that I learned how to manage my illness in a healthy and lasting way. By consciously fine-tuning my inner ears through daily meditation, visualization and paying close attention to instinct, I became fully open and receptive to divine guidance. I know it was Spirit who led me to the exact books and online courses that I needed, exactly when I needed them.
7. Depression is a whole-person illness.
It might affect our family and the relationships within our social connections, our ability to earn a living, our physical body, our mind and motivation, our interests or lack thereof, our ability to perform everyday tasks and make choices (never mind making decisions), our relationship with our self (attacking self-esteem and confidence), our sleep (too much or too little) and our appetite (too much or too little). Even our general appearance and hygiene are affected by depression, sometimes making us not care about brushing our teeth or hair. It’s absolute misery! To make matters worse, the illness is invisible to passers-by, turning it into a heavy burden that you carry alone, or so it seems. What I learned, in fact, is that you cannot carry it alone if you hope to get well. I learned that reaching out is a must, which is further complicated by a brain whose thinking abilities might be impaired. Thankfully, I also learned to rely on my husband and best friend’s guiding intelligence rather than my own.
8. My faith is my anchor.
Not only does my faith ground me, I learned that it partners perfectly with the law-of-attraction principles. I began my days in prayerful meditation and spent time visualizing the day ahead, imagining the positive outcomes from specific situations, or how I wanted to feel throughout the day. I imagined positiveness in all things in order to counter-balance my negativity default. When in depression, the brain might revert to seeing all things in a negative light; it especially loves catastrophic and black or white thinking. In my experience, it takes a disciplined voice with a good dose of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to reverse that thought process. Prior to taking the right meds, this process was excruciating; after the meds, it was easier, thanks to my dogged determination to get well.
9. I am not my thoughts.
Just because I think a thought, which engenders certain feelings, does not make it true. Through CBT, an invaluable technique for learning to recognize and manage false thoughts by digging a little deeper to understand their underlying reality, I learned that there is more to our thoughts than we think. No, I am not my thoughts, but a happy marriage of the ego and the deepest self and soul—that’s who I am.
10. How to develop character.
Having lost much of my identity to the illness, I learned how to adopt new values by practicing them one at a time, as if they were already mine. Through this practice, over many months, my chosen values did become mine. That’s how I became more than I was before depression. It was Matthew Kelly’s “Perfectly Yourself: 9 Lessons for Enduring Happiness” that showed me the way. I learned how important it was to keep my focus on my progress, on my forward momentum, rather than on my past failures. And, using the author’s phrase, I became “the best version of myself.” Kelly’s book helped me defy emotional paralysis and turn the darkness into hope.
These lessons enabled me to create a joyful life for myself. I wish nothing less for you, dear reader.
Follow this journey here.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Thinkstock photo via Lu-Pics.