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How Finding Beauty Every Day Helps Me Manage My Depression

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Ever thought to yourself, once I lose weight or get that amazing job/house/boyfriend… then I’ll be happy? What if I told you that’s not how it works. Sometimes, the secret to finding that elusive happiness is actually to stop chasing it. Because it’s right in front of you.

I know. I didn’t believe it either. I kept thinking, “If only I could XYZ… then I’ll be happy.” But it took a steep fall into the darkness of depression to finally get it.

Clinical depression runs deep in my family. I have struggled with it most of my life, but this time was different. This time, I didn’t see it coming. It had been building for years and I didn’t even know I was slipping down a dangerous downward spiral.

I woke up one morning and found myself curled up at the bottom of a deep dark hole where I could barely breathe, wondering what happened. Wondering how I got here. And not really caring if I ever saw light again. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but so many things had happened over the years that pushed me here. Little by little, until I hit the bottom.

All of a sudden someone who thrived in the spotlight for years as a TV health reporter and model wanted to hide from the world. I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. I felt hideous and hated myself. I thought this would never stop. That I would never feel good. That the only way to stop hurting was to sleep so deeply I wouldn’t wake up. I had fleeting thoughts of suicide.

I finally found the strength to get help. It was a long tough climb for me out of that dark hole. I kept slipping back down. After months of raw excruciating work in therapy, I was feeling better, but still very vulnerable.

Then came November 2013. I was living in Ohio at the time, and winter was the hardest time of the year for me. Once the days get darker, the temperatures drop and the snow falls, I struggle to keep going. My therapist suggested I try to focus on the beauty in something every day to help me get through the next few months. He told me how positive psychology researchers have found people who notice and appreciate beauty are more likely to find joy and meaning in everyday life. I was skeptical, but decided to give it a try. Anything to ease the brunt of a brutal Ohio winter.

I’m a visual person, so I decided I would document the beauty I saw each day with a picture. I posted my images on Instagram using the hashtag #IChooseBeauty to keep them all in one place. After only a week, I noticed a difference — I started feeling hopeful. A few more days went by, and I was hooked. So much so that I didn’t quit when winter was over. I kept going. And haven’t stopped since. Just recently, I hit a huge milestone — my 1,000th day in a row (almost three years).

Taking a picture every day has helped shift my focus from the dreary times, to just noticing the little things every day — whether it’s a flower, a phone call from a good friend, a good hot cup of tea. I was noticing beauty everywhere I had overlooked before.

The amazing thing that has come out of this project, besides my healing, is that it has inspired so many people who are struggling in life. Dozens have joined the movement, posting their own #IChooseBeauty images and sharing how this process helps them, too.

But I’m not going to lie. I still have depressive episodes, and will probably have more of them — it’s in my genes. There are still tough days when I can barely get out of bed and can’t stand the thought of looking for beauty, but I make myself do it anyway. I’m honestly afraid if I don’t, I’ll slip back into that dark hole.

#IChooseBeauty has become my life preserver, and my daily images keep me afloat. It’s proof that happiness can be right in front of us, all around us. We just have to see it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Originally published: September 19, 2016
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