I find it harder to talk about my experiences with depression than I do my battle with alcohol addiction. This is because I know my alcoholism is behind me, but I don’t yet feel the same confidence when it comes to declaring victory over depression. I’ve definitely become better at managing the dark cloud when it arrives, but I would prefer if it never visited at all.
I fear depression, but it has also been my greatest teacher. Here are six of the important lessons it has taught me:
1. Most of My Suffering is Due to Resisting My Feelings
The turning point in my relationship with depression happened last year when I stopped trying to resist how I was feeling and instead just started to observe what was happening. When the low mood came, I noticed a lack of energy in my body, and some mental sluggishness, but it wasn’t anything too terrible. Instead of reacting, I just sat with those feelings and nothing bad happened to me. Best of all, this period of depression lasted far less time than usual – a few hours instead of a few days.
I discovered most of the symptoms of my depression were due to me just not wanting to feel the way I was feeling. The low mood would trigger a chain of thoughts involving all my failures and fears for the future. I would get angry at myself for feeling so weak and negative, but this only made me feel worse than before. I’d get caught up in this downward spiral where all I wanted to do was sleep and escape my thinking.
I’ve discovered that it isn’t only depression that occurs due to resisting my feelings – it is the cause of most of my suffering. It always starts with the idea ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this way’, but this is a crazy way of thinking because what is there is there. The feelings themselves are never so bad, it is more often the resistance to these feelings that is causing the problem.
Lesson one – happiness is about accepting what is there right now and dealing with it
2. Thinking is Not the Key to Happiness
The more depressed I’m feeling, the faster the thoughts speed around in my head. I’ve never been able to think my way out of depression, it only makes things much worse. In fact, it is the patterns of thinking that arise in response to my low mood that are the real source of my suffering. I’ve also noticed the happiest times in my life all involved being completely caught up in the moment and not thinking too much about anything.
I don’t consider myself particularly intelligent, but I do think too much, and this has been a real barrier to my happiness. I have no real control over the thoughts that appear in my head, but I do get to decide how much of a part they play in my life. I no longer look to my intellect for answers on how to find happiness – I trust my intuition instead.
Lesson Two – I can’t think my way to happiness
3. The Only Losers in Life Are Those Who Are Afraid to Play
When I’m feeling low, it can open the door for all sorts of negative shit to take over my thinking. The recurring theme is that I’m loser who is never going to amount to anything. This mental chatter steals all my motivation, it can get so bad I can’t even work, so I’ve had to learn how to combat it – I have a family to feed.
So long as I keep playing this game called life, I haven’t lost yet. Amazing things do happen, and who knows what is around the next corner. Getting up each day and trying my best is all that can be expected of me – it’s all I have to give – and as long as I keep doing this I am a winner at least in my own eyes.
Lesson 3: So long as I keep on trying, I will never be a loser
4. The Importance of Self-Compassion
If I spoke to other people the way I allow my inner-voice speak to me, I’d be in jail or in a box. Nobody in their right mind would put up with that level of abuse and negativity. I used to believe that this inner-soundtrack was motivational, but it is actually the ravings of a sadistic bully who loves it when I fail.
Depression has shown me the importance of self-compassion. This means that instead of beating myself up for feeling bad, I self-soothe instead. I’m only offering myself the same level of compassion as I would offer a friend – don’t we all deserve that?
Lesson 4: I need compassion when I’m struggling and not criticism
5. Life is Always a Matter of Perspective
One of the most important lessons depression has taught me is that my perspective has a more significant impact on my level of happiness than what is actually happening in my life. If I get out of bed on the wrong side, even the slightest niggle can send me on a downward spiral that lasts the whole day or even longer. On the other hand, if I wake up in a good mood, I can put up with a lot of shit that would normally have me feeling overwhelmed.
This understanding about perspective has changed my relationship with the world. I’m a bit skeptical when it comes to stuff like the ‘law of attraction’, but I’ve no doubt that my level of happiness is determined by my perceptions and not my possessions.
Lesson 5: The problem isn’t the world, it is my current perspective
6. Life is Tough for Everyone
People can rub me the wrong me the wrong way, and there are certain personality traits that bug the shit out of me, but my depression has made me more compassionate. I understand we all have our struggles and none of us asked to be here (at least I don’t remember asking). We all have feelings, and we share far more in common than our differences.
Lesson 6: We all suffer and we all deserve compassion