Beating Depression, One Step At A Time
Depression. The word alone may have caused some of you to shutter. It’s an ugly place and the reality can be far worse than what many can comprehend. It’s a place that even others may have been but no one's story can be completely understood by another.
Things are going good... you have all that you need, you are blessed, and from the outside looking in, “you should be happy”. But you aren’t, at least not all the time. It’s a rollercoaster you’re trapped on. A real-life horror.
You make plans for a weekend out with friends and the simple thought of the weekend approaching gives you anxiety and has you tirelessly rolling through the Rolodex of why ‘you won’t be able to make it.' It wears on every other part of your life until it comes and goes. You sit in the darkness of the storm knowing that you were supposed to be somewhere else, but you’re not.
It wakes you up at night, and won’t let you go back to sleep. It leads you to a dark room in the middle of a beautiful day to sit confused and overwhelmed by your thoughts. You feel guilty for not being able to focus on what’s good, but rather what’s not.
It’s listening to a room full of happy, playful and charismatic people and wondering what’s wrong with you. ‘Why can’t I feel those emotions?'
You’ve listened to the advice and encouragement of a friend, a loved one or maybe even someone you look up to, and even though you hear the words, and they make sense, you can’t apply them.
Being stuck in this place, left feeling like the only one person on the outside looking in, hating who you are and living with the anxiety of not being able to make changes can destroy your life. I know, I lived there once myself.
Me telling you how to pack up and move out of that space may not help, and probably won’t be the instantaneous fix you hope it will be. But what I can share is the success I’ve had, and encourage you to do the same, even if that means starting over every day.
Depression is something that took a hold of me at a pretty young age. I was a young teenager, formidable years for anyone, and rather than growing, living out loud and flourishing, I became sad, angry, withdrawn and an outsider.
My parents moved to a small town, even smaller than the former when I was 12. I dove into a small school where most who attended had been there since kindergarten. I, of course, was new, and unwelcome.
I’ll spare you the accounts of high school and the encounters that have so boldly stayed in mind. However, it was there that my battle with depression really took hold, patterns I didn’t recognize at the time as anything other than “situational”.
Flash forward to the first few years in college, I was on a rollercoaster. One day I was full of life, the next I was down, sinking and unsure of where to go next. I had hopes, but no goals as I was always too afraid that I would fail if I actually attempted achieving something. I couldn’t see past where I was or the moment that I was in. No one understood, no one would genuinely or sincerely lend me a hand. At least that’s what it felt like to be where I was.
Two years later I stood in shock, frozen, motionless, and void of tears for the simple fact I had not one single complete thought running through my head. ‘I’m pregnant? I’m a wreck, how can I be a mother?’, I wondered. Little did I know that the moment of such uncertainty could be the point of saving grace in my life.
It was time for action. For my hopes to become actionable dreams and goals. I knew that in order for me to be the mom I wanted to be I had to become the person I could be proud of and the woman who could find her strength and balance.
I didn’t know where to start. At the time I was in college finishing prerequisites to become a nurse and worked part-time as a receptionist at a health club. I knew the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle but I never truly implemented them into my life. I was always flaky at best, and sporadic with exercising. “That’s it”. I’d start by moving my body, every day and see if the exercise would help keep my head above water.
Slowly over time, I began to create healthy daily habits. I could glance at the calendar hanging on my fridge and see the big X over every day that I went for a walk. The consistency motivated me to continue every day. Even on the days I fell into the, ‘I don’t want to’, way of thinking, I would see what I had already accomplished by the simple X on the calendar and do what needed to be done. One foot in front of the other.
What I didn’t know at the time is that down the road science would actually prove that exercising three times per week was as effective as taking a prescribed antidepressant. I was fortunate enough to have stumbled upon this way of reducing my stress and finding happiness and I didn’t even know it, yet.
Over the years, I continued this pattern and later I became a runner. I would buckle my, then, two children in the jogging stroller and head out on a local trail. By then I was a certified personal trainer and health coach and I began to better understand the science behind why my life seemed to be more in my control than in previous years. That didn’t mean I didn’t still fight with the occasional battles with sadness and depression. It only meant I was more aware of how to combat the feelings.
I tell you that shortened version of my story only to convey that you are not alone. So many men and women battle with this daily. A battle for some that leave them hopeless and lost. I wish I could wave a magic wand for you who suffer, and if I could, I would. But what I can do for you is give you some love and encouragement, and reiterate to you, you are in control.
What feels like sadness and emotions out of your control can be, at the least, redirected to fresh thoughts and feelings. Those moments when you’re in the darkness remind yourself that it will pass, it always does, even if it’s only momentarily. You will get to the other side again, and when you do you will make a new guidebook for your life. Let me walk you through it.
Begin when you are clear minded, holding onto some hope or pieces of positivity. Get a notebook and a calendar (you can get them for $1 at the dollar store).
On the first blank page write your name. Just below it write the words that best describe how you want to feel, for example; vibrant, hopeful, positive, kind, patient, capable, calm, energetic. Then take a moment, close your eyes and envision each one of those feelings, and words you wrote. Attach it to a moment, even a fictitious event you would like to have happen. When you are done turn the page, and in letters as wide as the paper write ‘My Future...’ what do you want your future to look like, what do you want to achieve? Where does next week, next month, next year lead you? Write down in as much description as possible exactly what you want to happen. Then read it out loud, taking time to envision each of those things happening in your life. On the next page, I want you to write down what you are good at. Example; compassionate friend, a thoughtful partner, a good cook, a kind parent, a loyal employee, etc. Replace anything that pops into mind that you ‘aren’t’ good at and replace it with a positive- trust me this takes practice. To be truthful this is still an area that I work on daily, and it’s ok if you do too.
Your homework is to review those pages every day, even hourly if needed. Read them out loud, envision them, and take time to resonate in those words you speak.
Next, open your calendar to the current date and mark a big star. This star signifies the day you will begin putting yourself first, and recovering your life. From this point forward your goal is to move your body, daily, in a way that you are capable of. For some that may be a five-minute walk, and somedays that may be all you have to give. Even then, return to that calendar and mark the X that signifies you accomplished a goal- you are taking care of you, and this is a big step.
Working on these small steps and consistently directing your thoughts, and actions in a positive way will begin to redirect your life.
You have control, you can reclaim your life and move away from the storm. Remember that this is an ultramarathon, not a sprint. Learning to love your life and to take action for a happier future comes one choice at a time.