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I Can't 'Snap Out' of Depression, but I'm Working on What I Can Control

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From firsthand experience I can say the darkness depression creates can feel all-consuming. If you have gone through it, you have also undoubtedly experienced interactions with other people who can’t comprehend how bad that space is. Someone has inevitably recommended that you focus on all the “good things” you have or suggested perhaps you just need to change things up a bit. I have also heard I just needed to drink more water or start exercising.

And those people are not entirely wrong.

I was forced to confront the power that negative thought patterns had on me when, recently, I was obsessing over how many negative experiences I’ve had in my life. I recognized part of the reason I’ve lacked positive experiences in my recent years was that I didn’t put any effort into enjoying the things I was doing. It was so much easier just to come by and sulk and talk about the worst parts of my day, I did not spend time looking for the good. Eventually, that colored all of my experiences — even the ones that were not inherently traumatic.

If you focus on the negative and avoid any information that might potentially prove your current worldview wrong, you are actively avoiding potential change, positive and negative. That keeps you only in the bubble of what you know. And since what I know was primarily based on negative experiences, the chances of suddenly thinking differently were obviously super slim.

Here is the issue though: how do you get yourself out of your bubble and into a broader world-view? Well, that depends on you and what kind of support you have. But at the moment, in that darkness, it is all you know, and so it will likely be the pattern you continue to follow.

I am not here to argue that people should stop trying to help those with mental illnesses unless “they’ve lived through it themselves.” Nor will I discount the impact a more positive outlook can have on someone’s quality of life. The issue is the assumption that depression comes to be by way of choice.

I want to be happy, but I also need to accept my limitations as a chronically depressed person, the same way someone with arthritis might accept theirs. Life is still going to be awesome, but you’ll have to navigate around certain things and sometimes face internal hardships to make it so. That also means the people surrounding you will need to compromise and do the same sometimes, too.

Pulling yourself by your bootstraps is even more impossible when you are depressed because depression implies a lack of straps altogether. And possibly boots. It’s not that the person is giving into the feeling of being upset, it’s more about the lack of feeling at all, and sometimes, not being able to understand or remember what feelings are at all.

Positive thinking will work just about the same on a depressed person as the reverse would work on a cheerful person. Forcing me to feel happy or to get out of bed when I am not doing well will only set a spotlight onto the fact that it hurts to get up. It makes me think about all the other things I am not doing well enough (laughing, being a good friend, being someone who takes a shower) and will inevitably, 10 times out of 10, make me feel worse.

I am not cured or always happy just because I learned to see the world brighter. What I do know is that this change in perspective is definitely helping me lead a more satisfying life. I am open to continuing to receive that different perspective through therapy, medication and reading recent research.

Darkness might be relative to each person’s experience, but staying inside of that headspace is often not up to us. What we can, and should, control is pushing ourselves outside of our minds. Not settling for the awful way we might be feeling and searching for ways to improve our lives. This means continuing the pursuit of what it means to be human, working to be your best self at all times.

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Originally published: July 5, 2019
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