When you’re in deep in the trenches with depression, it’s very hard to know what…
Walt Disney died in 1966, five years before Disneyworld was opened to the public. A journalist remarked to Walt’s brother Roy at the opening of Disneyworld, ‘It’s too bad that Walt isn’t here to see this’. Roy replied, ‘He saw it first. That’s why you’re seeing it today.’
Do you have a vision of your life without your chronic low mood as clear as Walt Disney’s vision his creation, Disneyworld?
Perhaps that’s a bit of a hard question…
Try these instead…
Can you imagine yourself living without depression? Who you’d be? What you’d do? Can you
imagine how your life would be without those crushing feelings of despair, disappointment and discontent?
I don’t mean that you’ll be happier and laugh more and have more fun. Not like at Disneyworld…
I mean, can you see, feel and taste, in detail, how your life could be different without the unbearable anguish and misery of a chronically low mood?
Now, if you can’t, I completely understand.
Chronic low mood is just that, chronic. If you’ve been living with chronic low mood for many years it may be very hard to imagine a life without it. You may simply not recall what it was like before the depression. You may not even believe that there was a time before you became depressed. You probably don’t know how to live without depression.
I can hear you say, ‘But I already know I want to get rid of depression. I want to be well! I have made that decision! I want to happy! Who wants depression?’
Who indeed wants to live with depression? No one I know.
But it’s the details of that life without depression that will motivate you to make the thinking and lifestyle changes that need to be made. Once you know how to live without depression, everything will fall into place. Perhaps not immediately, but you’ll know you’re on your way.
In sports psychology, visualisation is a powerful method for getting elite athletes in the right frame of mind to win. They picture themselves crossing the finish line first, standing on the podium with the cup in their hands, smiling and waving to the spectators who are cheering them on.
Sportspeople get into the feeling of winning, imagining the scene in the pool or on the athletic track,
crossing the finish line easily or jumping the highest or furthest, kicking the winning goal and holding the trophy in their hands.
Getting into the feeling of winning spurs athletes on when the going gets tough. It’s as though they’ve already won!
But you don’t need to be an elite athlete to use imagery and visualisation. To start the journey to a brighter future, it will help you to know exactly what that life might look like.
How will you spend your day? What will you wear and how will your house look? Who will you spend your time with? What will you do? What hobbies, sports or interests will you take up? What kind of job will you have? Will you have pets? Will you grow your own veggies? Will you travel? What will your friendships and relationships be like?
Once you have a clear picture of how to live without depression, this vision will give you the impetus and motivation you need to get started.
Recovery from depression is not a journey to take alone.
The first step on the road to how to live without depression, is to gather your allies around you.
Because depression is an isolating condition, asking for help and gathering a support crew around it can be difficult.
Remember the ‘thinking’ symptoms we talked about earlier? They can play havoc with our mind when it comes to relating with other people. Here are the main three excuses that we often think about when we are depressed and considering asking for help:
Maybe you feel you’d be bothering someone if you asked them for help. Their own lives are really busy! Why would they want to help you out?
Don’t make the decision for them. Ask them and you may be pleasantly surprised at how many people react very positively. They may be happy that you want to make changes and be willing to help you out whenever you need.
In fact, some of your friends might be delighted with your decision to free yourself from depression’s grasp and be only too happy to support you.
They probably don’t.
You know, most people we come across in our daily lives are so bound up in their own problems that they just don’t think as much about us as we think they do.
Your close friends and family members probably do care very much about you.
If you feel they don’t, there may be two things happening: they’ve been treating you badly because they’ve got their own negative thought patterns going on.
Or, you’ve been putting meaning into their actions and words that were not intended.
Your sister’s in a foul mood? Must be your fault.
Your best friend isn’t calling you? Obviously she hates you.
Your father seems grumpy today? Clearly you’ve upset him, again.
No, no, no.
This is depression thinking. You are not necessarily the centre of other people’s worlds!
Your sister has just had an argument with her boyfriend.
Your best friend is having a crisis with her child.
Your father didn’t sleep well last night.
It has nothing to do with you!
Remember how we talked about self-compassion? Having compassion for others is helpful here. Understanding that they have busy lives filled with their own worries, concerns and challenges will help you see that you are not the cause of their not wanting to see you or help you.
Some depressed people feel they have been ‘abandoned’ by people they love. Yes, sure, some family members do get ‘fed up’ with depressed people and shut them out of their life. It’s a way for them to cope. Not a very constructive one, obviously, but they are not the only ones guilty of unconstructive coping mechanisms!
Your friends and loved ones are only human.
They may also just confused about how to help you and may be saying things like, ‘Oh just snap out of it, what have you got to be depressed about?’
Not everyone understands your feelings. If you’ve never experienced chronic low mood you can’t possibly know how serious and intense the effects can be. Other people just don’t understand how hard it is to change, to be more positive and upbeat.
Sadly, many of your friends might have turned their backs on you. And frankly, it is difficult to hang around with negative people. If they are not getting much pleasure out of your company, they may choose not to spend time with you. Try not to judge them. I know this is difficult but try to offer them the same compassion that you are now showing to yourself.
You don’t need a big group of supporters; a couple of friends or even just one, will make all the difference.
Or maybe you can’t even identify a friend. A thoughtful neighbour, or even a kindly work colleague may be happy to help.
Think about your network of social connections. Does your aunt have a best friend who is socially aware and might be willing to give you a hand? Does your work supervisor talk about how her daughter is training to be a life coach and might be happy to coach you for ‘work experience’?
If you can’t find anyone in your social network, is there a minister, or a person who is part of a group you attend or used to attend (such as a volunteer group, environmental action group, musical group) who you could approach? If you are a member of a church or other spiritual organisation, can you ask the minister to put you in touch with someone who might be willing to support you?
If you are in college, is there a student welfare officer or student psychological services you could ask? They might even put you in touch with a psychology or social work student who could take you on for ‘practise’.
It is really important to give this some serious thought. I’m sure there’s someone in your town who would be willing to help you learn how to live without depression.
Depression recovery can be a long and challenging road and it’s not to be taken alone. You do need at least one real-time friend or supporter who can be there for you.
Implement Lifestyle Changes to Create your Depression-Free Future
This is why you need allies: to help you do the work of changing yourself, your lifestyle and your thought patterns.
Change is hard and it’s even harder when you’ve been feeling so down for so long.
Your vision of your depression-free future will give you the motivation to get started, but keeping on going, especially in the moments when you feel overwhelmed by your feelings, can be very, very challenging.
What kind of lifestyle changes do you need to make?
Remember when we talked, right at the beginning of this article, about how chronic depression means something in your life is out of whack? Well, we need to put that straight. We need to design a life based on the lifestyle of people who don’t have chronic low mood
So what are they doing right?
Look back at the list of ‘lifestyle’ symptoms that we discussed earlier.
Sleep. Diet. Exercise. Social connection. Meaning and value.
Then, taking a good look at your thinking patterns and changing the ones that are not working for you and living meaningfully according to your values is essential.
Finally, building resilience so that should you find yourself in a stressful situation in the future, that you don’t fall back into those negative ways of thinking.
So there you have it. Just do what non-depressed people do and you should feel a lot better.
Which is easier said than done…
More on the how-to of how to live without depression coming up!
What is resilience?
Resilience is made up of a number of skills which you can learn to help protect you from the return to overwhelming despondency.
Lifestyle factors which keep you physically healthy and effective thinking styles that help you interpret your experiences in a positive way are part of developing resilience.
Resilience is also about increasing self-compassion, gratitude and mindfulness.
If you practice these three, eat and sleep well, exercise and socialise, be flexible and open-minded you stand a very good chance of never again experiencing the painful effects of low mood.”
Of course, developing resilience takes time. It’s impossible to suddenly be resilient. But people who know how to live without depression are resilient and you can be too.Building resilience comes from the work done to take yourself out of depression. Click To Tweet As you build your physical strength through regular exercise, adequate sleep and good nutrition, you are improving your body’s immune system and reducing inflammation and the effects of stress on the body.
As you reflect on your thinking patterns and choose more open-minded, flexible and positive ways of looking at the world and your experiences in it, you are acquiring better coping skills to handle the challenges that life with inevitably throws at us all.
Practicing gentleness and kindliness towards oneself and others, being grateful for the good (and perhaps even the bad) in your life and taking time to be aware of your thoughts, your surroundings and the needs of your body means we need not be surprised or shocked when we receive bad news or something unpleasant happens to us or around us.
Resilience is developed when we learn how to live without depression. Resilience gives us the skills we need to stay that way.
This series of posts (think of them as chapters in a book) are offered to you as a way out of chronic low mood.
In this series I will talk you through what I did to create a depression-free life for myself when I realised that anti-depressant medication was not going to do that for me.
The first step was to imagine who I might be and how my life might look without depression, how to live without depression. Have you ever tried to do that? I mean, to imagine, in detail, what your life might be like if you weren’t held back by negative thinking and behavioural patterns?
What you’d do each day? How you’d spend your time and who with? What your future might be like? Your house, job, relationships, hobbies and contribution?
Well, I don’t blame you.
It’s often hard to think about the future because that means…well it means change.
Remember when I mentioned before that the brain loves to be stable and that chronic low mood is a nice, stable condition?
What this means is that when you think the same thoughts over and over, or do the same things over and over, it creates neural pathways which are bundles of neurons which are activated together and form a system or circuit in the brain. The activation of these neurons is known as ‘firing’ and as the scientists say, neurons which ‘fire together, wire together’ forming a circuit which becomes the brain’s default.
This means we have to consciously reprogram our brain to create new neural pathways which serve us, that is make us feel happy and bright, not which make us feel low and gloomy.
You have to change with way you think about yourself and your experiences and do different things to create different, more supportive neural pathways in the brain.
The amazing thing is that this is possible at all! Back in the 1950s and 60s it was believed that the brain you arrived in adulthood with was the brain you were stuck with for life!
Not so, recent neuroscience tells us. Today, we know that the brain is impressionable, that is, everything we do and say and believe leaves an imprint on the brain in the form of neural pathways. What is exciting is that we can change those neural pathways, if we can just change how we think and act.
So, the bottom line is that there is hope.
You don’t need to suffer with the distressing effects of chronic low mood for the rest of your life.
You can learn how to live without depression.
For 21 years of my life I lived with feelings of overwhelming sadness, regret, helplessness and hopelessness but I haven’t experienced that truly miserable mood for over ten years.
Who am I?
No one special.
There’s nothing different about me or my brain that enabled me to do this. No, if I can do it, then anyone can do it. Really.
What you need is information, supporters and ultimately some kind of step-by-step system that you follow to take you out of depression using tiny baby steps and easy wins. Each of these tiny steps and easy wins is a success and gradually they accumulate into a much bigger successes.
You can experience relief from the symptoms at the very get-go. Those first tiny wins feel fantastic and are wonderful achievements, no matter how small. Each small step is a small step to a future free of persistent low mood and into a life which you can’t even imagine right now.
The following posts will tell you a bit more about me, my experience of depression and how I discovered the solution to letting it go.
I share the challenges and the breakthroughs and most importantly for you, offer you the hope that you can have this life as well.
Life free of chronic low mood means you have the control back. You decide how you’ll spend your day and how you’ll feel about it. Challenges and setbacks will arise, sure they will. But if you have resilience in your thinking they will not be the terrible burdens that they are when you are depressed.
Learn how to live without depression your way.
Stay with me and I’ll take you on a journey from where I was for a many, many years (where you are now) to where I am now.
Stay with me and I’ll show you how you can do it too. Read more.
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.