I’m assuming that you feel pretty low and that you may have felt pretty low…
“Vickie”, I hear you say, “I want to get rid of depression because that will make my life better. Being depressed is a painful, horrible, bleak way to live. Of course I want to be well”.
OK, good. Where should we start? Do you know where to start?
The desire to be well might be there, but it is defeated constantly by negative thoughts that are telling you ‘it’s too hard, too much of a struggle, too confusing’. It may also be defeated by the physical symptoms of depression, drowsiness, lethargy, the lack of the physical energy to get up and get this done.
Believe me, I understand.
I was where you are now. Exhausted, filled with fear and hopelessness, unable to know which direction to turn in or what actions to take.
I slept so badly, lying awake in the wee small hours tossing and turning, never able to switch my mind off.
I finally fell asleep, just before I needed to be up and getting ready for work. Feeling groggy and fatigued. Just putting one foot in front of the other to get myself there.
Weekends were spent alone, in my messy house, weepy and frustrated. The only good thing in my life was my dog, who forced me out of the house and down to the park and was by my side as I wept and trudged through another day.
They were horrible, horrible years and you have my every sympathy if this is your experience right now.
I understand. I really do.
The answer is…and this is the first step on the road to living without depression, is that you need concrete motivation to defeat depression because this is a very hard journey.
Who would you be without depression? What would you do? What would you have in your life without depression?
Answering these questions will give you a framework around which to free yourself from depression.
You need to know what that depression-free life will do for you. You need to know why living without depression will make you feel better. I know that sounds strange, but please bear with me.
Stating your reasons for letting go of your depression in more concrete terms is more likely to provide you with the motivation to follow through.
Let me give you an example from teaching English to international students.
I always do goal setting with my students at the beginning of the course. I ask them what their goals are and they usually reply, ‘to pass the course’ or ‘to get an A grade’.
But of course they want to pass! That’s a given.
Just like you want to live without depression. That’s a given.
What we need are more concrete reasons. I ask my students to dig deeper and come up with more detailed reasons.
‘I want to learn English so that I can pass this course and have the confidence to hold conversations with local students once I reach university’.
Much more solid and clear, don’t you think? Having the confidence to hold conversations with local students once at university is a much stronger and more tangible goal that is easier to commit to.
Why is it easier to commit to?
Because it is centred on the reward that the student will receive when they pass the course. They are not aiming at passing because they want to pass, they are aiming to pass for the skills and experiences that passing will give them in the future.
This is a goal they can emotionally, as well as rationally or logically, connect to.
Reaching this goal is up to them.
There is no ‘speak better English now’ pill they can take. It just takes effort. As their teacher, it is my job to guide them to find the knowledge they need to reach that goal. It’s all within them. It’s up to them to access the ability I know they have, motivated and energised by the future they envisage for themselves.
I read once a quote which says something like, ‘Depression is the lack of imagining the future’. Remind me if you know the quote! Not being able to imagine that life could be anything other than the misery you are currently experiencing will keep you in depression.
So how to start imagining a different future?
1/ Start being more open-minded in general. Be aware when you are applying ‘black and white thinking’ to any situation. Do you find yourself saying, ‘I’ll never…’ Or ‘She always…’ Or ‘They hate me…’ Or ‘Nothing ever goes right for me’.
Try exploring the reasons why the situation happened. There could be any number of reasons why your friend didn’t call you back or that person was rude to you at work. Are you sure missing the bus means you are a total loser? Are you quite certain that failing one assignment means your entire life is ruined?
Be aware when you are thinking like this and try to find other explanations. The point is to open your mind to the possibility of other reasons/outcomes/alternatives.
2/ Start finding good things about yourself. Yes, there are many. We’re not looking for deep-and-meaningful things about your innermost soul. Keep it light.
I reckon I’ve got pretty good feet! Nicely shaped toes, good strong feet that get me where I need to be every day.
How about you? What parts of yourself can you really appreciate, truthfully and authentically? Good elbows? Excellent knees? Fabulous shoulders?
Then think about yourself as a person.
Are you helpful, kind, generous, friendly? Find the evidence. You helped a friend out with something? That was kind. You gave some money to a charity or a busker? That was generous. You phoned your Gran when she was in hospital? That was a loving gesture.
Try to be kinder to yourself and recognise your good qualities.
The point of these exercises is to try to change some of the negative, depressive thinking patterns and to open the possibility of change. When we are depressed, we feel that nothing can help us. There’s no way out. We’re stuck being depressed for the rest of our lives. Life is horrible, we are horrible, it’s hopeless.
Changing your thinking and being more open-minded and curious about what happens during your day and how you react to those events, situations and conversations will help train your brain to accept the possibility of there being more than one explanation. This will lead you to the realisation that there may also be more than one kind of future. Starting to believe that depression is not all there is for you in your future, will help you start to dream, to imagine something different, something more hopeful than you can right now.
It is possible to shift out of negative thinking patterns and create new, positive and self-affirming ones.
From there, You can start to develop a firmer picture of what your future could be like without depression.
If you'd asked her 15 years ago if she believed life could be a wonderful as it is today, Vickie would have answered, 'I just don't know, but it doesn't seem likely.' Now she knows that if she can turn her life around, it's possible for you too. Ask Vickie how she can help you design the life you'd really love to live and say goodbye to depression forever.