Those who’ve never experienced depression often confuse unhappiness with depression. There’s a world of difference between the two.
Unhappiness can linger and bring one down, but it’s not an all-consuming emotion that drives one deeper and deeper into the dark recesses of despair, to the point where one loses all desire to exist. Depression is a dark place, and it only gets darker and bleaker by the hour, to the point where one is compelled to make a decision: to continue one’s painful existence, or to end it.
Take it from someone who experienced a 2-year depression, an experience that culminated in me teetering on the edge of suicide. I got as far as writing a suicide note, which was the sobering point for me.
Over the 2-year period, I was able to function as normal, though my closest friends got the full dose of my draining pessimism. Hell, I lost a good friend in the process because she couldn’t cope with my erratic ups and downs, or relate to what I was going through. It was the darkest period of my life. An experience I have no desire of reliving. Ever.
You slap on a brave face and plaster a smile on your face, because, well, let’s face it. Most people avoid talking about depression. It’s awkward. Meanwhile, there you are, putting up a front. A false show of normality that continues to drain your energy, making you feel even more insignificant than ever.
My depression made me realise the fundamental difference between positive thinking and believing. Thinking doesn’t make it real. Believing does. As long as you don’t believe it, no amount of positive thinking is going to change your perspective of reality.
There is no right or wrong, there are only shades of darkness. It’s an affliction that hinges on one’s state of mind, and how one chooses to perceive his or her reality. Each experience is different, as every individual has different stress triggers and emotional baggage built up over the years to contend with.
It took a great deal of resolve and a number of drastic changes to dig myself out of that dark hole, but in hindsight, I realise now that I needed to go through that experience, to discover a whole new side of myself.
An empowered side, with renewed appreciation for mental and emotional health.
It’s why I give priority to my inner peace in everything I do these days.
It’s so easy to numb ourselves to the stress in our daily lives, without realising the long-term and devastating effects it can have on us if left unchecked.
If you have friends wrestling with depression, do them a favour. ‘Chin up’ or ‘Cheer up’ is the worst possible thing you could ever say to them. In reality there’s probably not much you can say that will provide any real comfort, but it definitely helps if you’ve had first-hand experience with it. Being able to empathise with what they’re going through assures them they’re not alone. Getting them to talk about it might help, but don’t expect them to snap out of it anytime soon. It’s not like a common cold that can be cured by taking a couple of pills.
So how exactly did depression empower me?
Depression is an extremely lonely experience. None of my friends had any experience with it, hence they couldn’t offer the kind of emotional support I needed. I’ve never been able to confide in my family about personal matters due to our clashing differences in lifestyles and worldviews. As a result, I had to deal with it on my own.
I had to resort to severing contact with my best friends, because they were making it worse despite their best intentions. I needed space and time to sort myself out. I quit my job, which was a major energy-draining source in my life at that point in time. I proceeded to weed out the negative elements in my life.
In the process, I discovered that by putting myself first, I didn’t need anyone else to make me feel good. It’s often emotional dependence on others and seeking their approval that hurts us most.
Emotional independence was a critical factor in my recovery. It was also an aspect of my personality I never knew existed before then. In wrestling with depression, I developed a newfound appreciation for mental and emotional independence.
If you can’t embrace yourself and be happy with who you are, guess what? You’ll never be at peace.
2. Inner Peace
It’s only when you’ve experienced a prolonged period of a reality so bleak, convinced that there is absolutely no reason for your existence, that you will come to fully appreciate the true value of inner peace.
Being plagued by a daily fixation on the idea of suicide for weeks, months, years – it’s emotional and mental hell. It’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. To feel absolutely helpless in the grasp of a depressive mind, existing in a state of limbo where you’re unable to move forwards or backwards. Up till the moment you realise it’s time to confront your options. And there are only 2.
So I chose. I chose never to feel that way ever again. I chose to make it my mission to find inner peace.
“The pain of making a change must become less than the pain of staying in the current situation.” – Chris Guillebeau
Inner peace. It’s my emotional compass that keeps me grounded these days.
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” – James Baraz
It took a great deal of conscious effort to condition my mind to let go, during my recovery process. I started being more aware of my emotional state, paying attention to my reactions to upsetting situations. Over time, I gradually learnt to breathe, to process my emotional state in the moment, and move on.
I learnt to be mindful through depression, even though I didn’t realise it at the time. Letting go of things that happen beyond our control keeps us on an even keel. It enables us to maintain focus on the here and now.
For we can’t change yesterday or predict what tomorrow will bring, but we can certainly do something constructive right now.
4. Overcoming Fear
One of the books I sought comfort in during my recovery process was ‘The Art of Non-Conformity’ by Chris Guillebeau. It resonated with me deeply, on so many levels. In the book, Chris talks about asking yourself, ‘What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen?’ if things don’t go according to plan. Truth is, it’s usually not the end of the world.
It struck a chord with me. During the months following my decision to overcome depression, I started asking myself this question every single time something went wrong. It worked. By reminding myself that it wasn’t the end of the world, I learnt to overcome my fear of obstacles. I learnt to embrace challenges, and to enjoy them.
It might seem like a simple question, but it’s incredibly empowering.
So the next time something mucks up in your life, try it. It won’t be the end of the world.
5. Empowered State of Mind
I will always remember that moment of clarity, after writing the suicide note. The moment I realised I couldn’t possibly do that to my parents. The moment I made the conscious decision to sort my life out once and for all.
It was a slow process, one that took months of conscious mental conditioning before I could finally say, ‘Hey, I’m okay. The world looks different. Promising, and full of life!’
I emerged from the experience with an empowered state of mind. If things go wrong these days, I acknowledge the experience, learn from it, and move on with the resolve of doing better next time.
No point wallowing in it.
Life is too short to be spent being twisted up in knots over trivial matters. Let’s be honest, most of our daily grouses are over petty matters. What’s the point? Better to make the most of our time on this beautiful planet.
I know it’s not easy, but it’s simple. Our minds will weave the kind of reality we seek, and convince us it is the truth.
The question is: ‘What reality do you seek?’