Having suffering from frequent debilitating bouts of depression for a considerable chunk of my life – and having now overcome the struggle with depression – I felt it was time for me to impart some advice for those who are going through it.
The first thing that anybody thinks when they’re told by an authority figure that they are “depressed” is usually: “Well, that explains everything. Now I know why all of this happens and why I am like I am.” Countless times, I’ve spoken to somebody who has been diagnosed with some variation of depression (or indeed other types of emotional or mental conditions) who have seen it to be “the answer” to the problem that is the way they are. The issue with this is that what soon follows (if not immediately) is that the diagnosis becomes a badge you wear and you begin to define yourself based on this badge.
This definition based on the badge you’re wearing is beneficial when it comes to explaining to others why you are the way you are. It certainly gets them off your back – provided they are sympathetic to your badge. The other side of this, however, is that your experience of life begins to become directly affected by this diagnosis. Rather than the depression itself affecting your life more than anything, this new badge you’re wear begins to alter so many things. It becomes a reason not to do things; an excuse for treating those who care about you poorly; a reason to abuse yourself – in body or in mind – in any number of ways; and most of all, it causes a relationship with your self which is based on labelling, condemning or even abhorring certain aspects of your self and those around you. Personally, I’m yet to see many positive benefits arise as a result of being diagnosed as “depressed”.
So, why listen to me about this? Well, when I was much younger I was diagnosed “depressed” and prescribed “mood stabiliser” pills. Before the diagnosis I would experience several days every few weeks where I would become genuinely foul to myself and my family. There were times when this would be more frequent than every few weeks and times when it would last longer than a few days. During these episodes – as well as the general unpleasantness – I would often harm myself physically, get drunk to escape my self, get high to avoid my self (and family – they wouldn’t be around me when I was high). These episodes usually included fits of rage, aggression, hysteria, paranoia, apathy, intense periods of crying for hours at a time – the list goes on.
The times outside these episodes, I was bouncing off the walls – ecstatic and full of laughs. My relationships with my parents and siblings suffering massively due to my emotional instability. There were times when my younger sisters would be scared of me.
When the diagnosis came through and I was prescribed the “mood stabilisers” things changed a lot. No longer was I experiencing intense bouts of very low emotion. But neither did I experience my more bouncy emotions. Everything levelled out. My moods plateaued. Instead of being very depressed sometimes and ecstatic other times, I was just sort of depressed all the time. My moods had been “stabilised” but at what cost? And the biggest question was: “is this a cure?”
The difficulty here is that the way that our modern society tends to treat any form of abnormality is as though it’s a terrible inconvenience to the rest of society. As such, it’s deemed that it would really be much better for everybody else if those who feel depressed would either hide it or have their symptoms suppressed to aid the comfort of those around them. Now, when the depressed person is a genuine threat to themselves and those around them, the suppression of symptoms (as a temporary measure) could be beneficial. But that still isn’t treating the underlying cause. And, upon reflection, it’s noticable that stamp somebody with the label “DEPRESSED” doesn’t help either. In fact, it causes them to generate an entire perspective of themselves which is dependant on that notion.
When it came to my attention that I was feeling much worse with the medication than I felt without it, I made the executive decision to throw the pills in the toilet, flush them and begin to take ahold of the reigns of my life in a much more proactive manner. At first, things returned to the way they had been – mood swings, periods of general internal turmoil for days at a time – but then, over time, I began to change things. Soon, the episodes went from being every few weeks to once a month and then from once a month to once every few months and so on. And now, depression is all but a whisper of a memory.
So, what is my advice for those who have the badge of depression and want to be free of it?
1. Recognise that “Depression” is a mood – not a condition.
Like happiness and frustration, depression is a mood. It comes and goes. All moods – when prolonged beyond a healthy length of time – can have adverse affects on your body and mind as well as your overall experience of life. If someone who is happy very often defines themselves as a “happy person” then their relationship with negative emotions is going to be significantly affected. In fact, most people that define themselves as “a happy person” are going to find themselves suppressing negative emotions sooner or later. That leads to a whole mess of problems. If the “happy person” simply allowed themselves to just be however they are (and act only on constructive impulses) then they would see that, like depression, happiness comes and goes like tides of the sea. None stay forever. They wash up and wash out – we breathe them in and breathe them out.
2. Pay attention to your thoughts – but don’t take them so seriously.
The difference between those who get the badge of depression and those who don’t is the amount of attention and subsequent credence that they give to the thoughts which feed depression. This isn’t to say that thoughts should be controlled – we have between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day (on average) trying to control them would be insane. Instead, realise the effect that giving your attention to any given thought has. The more you take the thoughts associated with depression seriously, the more they will appear. Proliferating upon destructive thoughts leads to destructive actions. If you pay attention, catch them early and make the conscious choice not to feed them anymore then they won’t have such a hold over you.
3. Let go of the badge.
Take the step into freedom from depression as a badge by no longer defining yourself as “depressed”. Taking into account the previous two advices, treat depression as a mood that comes and goes. It may come more often for you right now but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. All it means is that you have taken the depressive thoughts much more seriously than the others and have subsequently invested some – or a lot – of your identity in them. My number three piece of advice is to step out of the box and let go of the story of “I am depressed”. Instead of speaking your self and saying, “I am depressed” you could say, “I am experiencing depression.” Or better yet, “there’s depression.” Both are stories in your mind – your choice of story here will determine how much of a hold the story has over you.
4. Give your self permission to feel how you feel.
While acting only on constructive impulses is beneficial, (constructive meaning, “serving a useful purpose”. This means, not motivated by emotion or the depression itself) you are feeling the way you are feeling for a reason and this is not to be ignored. There is a lot of attempting to “cover it up” when it comes to depression. Suppressing emotions might feel useful in the short term, in the long term it can lead to physical conditions and serious diseases. There is a tendency among those who wear the badge to believe that they are “broken” and in time this becomes a solidified part of their personality. There’s lots of advice from people saying to “embrace the beautiful mess” but the reality is that it is only a mess if you believe it is. And if you believe it is then embracing it is key but it’s not the end goal. Feel how you feel but don’t cling to it. As with moods overall, breathe the feelings in and breathe them out again.
I cannot endorse meditation enough as a tool for just about every improvement you’d like for your life situation. The benefits of meditation are boundless and so vast that there’s no point even trying to list them all here. It would suffice to say that the benefits of meditation on depression are incredible. Meditation brings your awareness more so to the space between your thoughts. Instead of being caught in the hustle and bustle of your mind-chatter, through meditation you’re able to get some relief from the incessant stream of thinking. While this is beneficial in itself, the realisation that comes of the back of this is life-changing. Through meditation, it becomes apparent that you exist without so much of your mind-made story when there are no thoughts on your mind. In fact, your story of depression is just one of many stories your mind tells you day-in-day-out. The story of depression is really no more special or important than all of the others. It is your investment in the story that creates the pain your know as “your depression”. Meditation has so many benefits. I wrote an article on the benefits of mindfulness meditation which is available here.
I’d like to be clear that this advice is not the be all and end all of overcoming depression. There are many causes and stages of depressive moods. There are, as such, just as many solutions to the difficulties. I could write a book on this topic alone but this article will suffice for now. If you are struggling with depression and would like help overcoming it from someone who has been through it, please feel free to use the contact page to get in touch.
All-in-all, your relationship with your self – whether it’s in terms of depression or anything else – comes down to the way you are treating things within your mind. What I mean by this is “the way you treat what comes into and goes out of your mind has incredible effects on the way you see, feel and generally experience your life.” These five tips are great ways to begin to invest less in the thoughts in your mind and they are the first steps on a powerful journey to return the colour to your world. Whatever happens, it can be done. I’ve been in the black and white world of depression and now I’m living in HD. It can be done. But it takes courage. But then, if there was one thing I’d say about those who experience depression, it’s that they are courageous.
I really hope this has served you well.
Live, love and play.