The Mighty Logo

12 Lessons I've Learned While Recovering From Depression and Anxiety

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

How many of you are on your own journey with depression and anxiety? Are you traveling that long road to recovery, like I am? If so, then you will be able to relate to what I’ve learned on this lifelong journey.

“We become what we think about most of the time, and that’s the strangest secret.” — Earl Nightingale.

This was not my first time trying to recover from depression and anxiety, but this was the first time I was truly determined to get better. I finally found a counselor who was perfect for me, who was able to really help me dig deeper to figure out where some of my feelings and behaviors were stemming from.

Some of the things I’ve learned were expected, but there were some things I had no idea would affect me. My journey with depression and anxiety was much different than I had imagined it would be. There were some parts of it that were much more painful than I was expecting.

It’s definitely been an eye-opening experience, and I’ve gotten to know myself better than I have my entire life. I’m still in the middle of my journey, but I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far. It may not be what you expect… but then again, you may be able to relate.

1. It’s painful.

I had no idea how painful and difficult it would be to face some realizations about my life and the things I went through. I had to deal with the past so I could learn from it and learn to let go of it. Your journey is about moving forward. I just didn’t know the level of emotions I would feel when looking back.

2. The anger out of nowhere.

It’s funny because when I first began my journey with depression and anxiety, I was very sad, very emotional and down. I honestly wasn’t even sure why in the beginning. I just knew I was in a dark place, and I needed help getting out. Along the way, I figured out why I was feeling so down — why I struggled so much with depression and anxiety. When I started to understand the reasons behind my struggle, yeah, I became angry. Really angry. Which ended up being one more thing I had to work on, along with my depression and anxiety.

3. It’s scary.

Well, yeah. It’s really scary having to face all of these emotions and deal with each one a little at a time. It’s also scary having to really face yourself and be honest with yourself and your own behaviors. But owning my part, realizing part of the reason I was stuck in this vortex was because of some habits I had learned, and that I had to work hard to change them — this was probably one of the most important parts.

It was much scarier to think about continuing to live my life in the pits of depression and anxiety. I had to get out; I was determined to get out of the dark hole I was in.

4. The power of self-awareness

This is actually pretty cool. Becoming more aware of your thoughts and behaviors is actually an interesting experience. It was a little hard at first, but the more I practiced and started paying attention to my thoughts, my words and actions, I realized how negative I actually was. I was practically oozing negativity and had no idea I was doing it. Once I was paying attention, it was definitely an “OMG” moment.

Every time I caught myself saying or thinking something negative, I would stop myself and replace it with something more positive (or at least less negative). I even set reminders on my phone in the beginning, reminding myself every two hours to think positive thoughts.

5. Having some anxiety is “normal.”

What? Feeling anxious is “normal?” OK, well, to a degree. My levels of anxiety were not normal, nor were they healthy. Most people actually feel some level of nervousness when trying something new, meeting new people, and so on. I learned how to change my irrational thoughts and fears into rational ones, or dismissing them altogether. Still working on this one… but I’m getting there.

6. Depression has many facets.

Apparently, there are several different types of depression you can experience. I have trouble with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and I didn’t know that a lot of times, depression and anxiety go hand-in-hand. Some of it was also situational. Feeling so stuck in this lifelong routine had taken its toll. Knowing this helped me because that meant there were steps I could take to help with feeling depressed.

7. Relationships change.

My journey with depression and anxiety has had an impact on my relationships with those around me. It’s been a good thing, but also a little overwhelming and scary. I have a much better relationship as well as interaction with my kids, as well as my significant other. We all enjoy each other so much more since I’ve started feeling better!

On the other hand, I have had to either cut ties or limit my time spent with some of my family members. This is the difficult one. I’m sad I have to do this in order to get better, but I know it’s what’s best for me.

8. It’s OK to put yourself first sometimes.

I always thought that thinking of myself and my needs was selfish. Therefore, I always put myself on the back burner, while putting everyone else and their needs first. What I didn’t know was that this was doing more harm than good, and it was actually preventing me from truly being there for those who needed me.

My counselor told me, “How can you take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first?” I was like, “Umm… I don’t know?” Her response: “You can’t.”

By taking care of yourself, you are essentially helping to take care of others. I realized that if I’m not OK, then my kids aren’t OK and my significant other isn’t OK. They worry about me and want me to take care of myself. In essence, by not putting myself first when necessary, I was hurting the ones I loved. I am much more productive when I’m taking care of myself. Make sense?

9. There will still be “bad” days.

Anyone and everyone human has bad days. It’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows, and that’s OK. It’s normal for you to have days when you just want to lie around or avoid the public. As long as it isn’t your routine, or becomes a habit. It will pass; we’re all only human, perfectly imperfect.

Always remember — tomorrow is a new day, a fresh start to begin again.

10. I have more control than I thought.

I realize I can choose. I can choose to stay in a dark hole, or I can choose to fight and climb out. I can choose my thoughts, behaviors and actions. I have more control than I ever knew I could have.

I used to tell myself I couldn’t help how I felt — and in some ways, sure, this is true — but by consciously making the effort to choose to get up and choose more positive thoughts, I become more in control of my behaviors. Sometimes I really have to push through, but if I want it bad enough, I will prevail.

11. I know myself more.

One of the best benefits (to me) of my journey with depression and anxiety is I have truly gotten to know myself. I know more of what I want and where I want to be in life. I have goals I’m determined to achieve, and for once in my life, I finally feel like I can achieve these goals.

It’s been one of the most empowering journeys I’ve ever taken. It hasn’t been easy, and I’m still working on myself every day. I have come so far from the person I used to be, and I refuse to ever go back. I know now I have more strength and determination than I ever thought I was capable of having.

12. Journaling helps a lot.

Writing down my thoughts and feelings has made a huge difference. It allows me to empty my mind in a safe place, with no judgment. And, it gives me the opportunity to self-reflect. By keeping track of my progress, I’m able to look back and see just how far I’ve come, and how much I’ve changed. It’s very motivating, and writing is good for the soul!

To sum it all up:

This has been one of the best experiences of my life. I credit my progress to my amazing counselor and my determination to never give up. Yes, it’s a lot of work. And yes, it isn’t going to be easy. But it is so very worth the time and effort to go through this journey with depression and anxiety.

It can and will change your life, but I will tell you: You have to be ready to do this. You have to be ready and willing to be honest with your counselor and with yourself. Prepare to feel every emotion you can think of while going through this transition. But know you can do it. Your life can get better; you can get better!

All you need to do is give yourself a chance.

Advice for Depression and Anxiety Recovery

Originally published: October 13, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home