Hallo! Welcome to my first blog series on Against The Stream. It is called Feeling Good and focuses on depression and the stages of moving through a very low or difficult time in life. Unless you are feeling well and able to function it is really hard to start living well and as God intends, so let’s start with the basics.
Now that we’ve seen some questions to ask and some things to do, as well as my story, let’s focus on what comes next, the deeper changes that help with recovery and becoming well. A big part of recovering from depression, at least, the kind I have been talking about, is changing the way you think.
In this post I’m going to look at three things to realize to help you start changing. I’d suggest tackling them slowly and with the help of a counselor. This is a time when you might have to be a little critical of yourself and look at yourself honestly, so it might be best approached when you aren’t in the pits of despair.
1.Realize you aren’t strong
A big part of changing the way I think started with figuring out that it is OK to not be OK. Being sick with a mental illness like depression is a valid reason for not being able to do something – and remember that depression is physical as well, so it will sap your strength. It is easy to get upset with yourself because you can’t do something you used to, but please, cut yourself some slack and remember that healing is a long process and takes a lot of energy. Realizing that it is fine to slow down and take the rest you need is really important to changing old patterns of behavior – and it will be just as important to learn to do this later on to prevent a relapse. By the way, this is also a great time of life to meditate on the parts of Scripture and mystic writing that talk about reliance on God. I’ve found learning about God’s strength really helpful to realizing my weakness.
2. Realize you can’t do everything
Connected to realizing you aren’t strong is realizing you can’t do everything. One reason why a certain kind of person is prone to depression is that they are taking on so many things and, often in trying to be helpful, burning themselves out in the process. Part of recovering involves taking a step back and thinking about the really important things in your life and putting a priority on them. For example, if I have an exam coming up, my housework and social activities suffer because I can’t spread myself over everything and still be ready for the exam. If you do try, eventually (and it took me a long time to figure this out) you spread yourself so thin that something snaps. So, learn to say no, prioritize what is really important and, although others may not like the new, “selfish” you, do what it best for your brain, both in a short-term depression and as you recover and stay well.
3. Realize you aren’t responsible
I’ll say straight away that this was the hardest one for me to wrap my head around – and it is still really hard for me to do! Figuring out that a lot of things weren’t my fault has taken a huge load off of me and really helped with recovering from depression. I come from a pretty bumpy childhood (not an excuse, just a fact) so worrying about stuff and thinking that I needed to fix things was a given. However, I’m finally figuring out that it is OK for me to leave my parents’ stuff to them to work out, or decide not to take someone’s comment about me to heart, or even to just accept that a bad day is not my fault, it just happens some times. Learning to let go of things and not control them is big step and an extremely helpful one, as is realizing that you only control how you respond to things, not the things themselves. Realizing where your real responsibilities lie is also something that takes practice and discipline to learn, especially if you tend to dwell on things like I do and run through them over and over again in your head.
By the way, here’s two thing I want to note before ending. First, changing the way you think is a big job. It is still very much ongoing for me and will take the rest of my life. My counselor is helping a lot, though, with the stuff that I most need to work on now, so don’t be disheartened if you feel like you still have a long way to go.
Second, the author of Overcoming Depression: The Curse of the Strong points out that the popular idea that depressive episodes are recurring is mistaken. The kind of depression his book is about and which I have been addressing hinges on patterns of behavior and ways of thinking staying the same. So, if you do the work and change the way you think there is a good chance things will get better and you won’t get bad again. But, be warned, it is IF you change and can maintain these changes in your life, as well as commit to working on yourself. Its an ongoing process, not a one-time thing. In addition and on this note, a wise person once told me that a big part of staying well and avoiding depression is to know when to take yourself back to counseling and medication, knowing when you need help to stay well. I’m going to talk more about staying well in the last part of the series too, so stay tuned for Part 7 in the next few days.