Learning from my depressions
Suffice to say that I had two depressions in my life so far. Once when my father passed away, and I felt guilty that I could not make it in time for his funeral. In addition my business was in financial difficulty, and I was comparing myself with my most successful friends. The second one happened more recently when I suffered a burn-out at work just before my retirement which escaladed into anxiety and depression. In both cases, I needed professional counseling from a psychologist. It took about nine months for me to recover from my first depression, and much longer about two and a half years to recover from my second one.
So what did I learn from my two depressions. First, I learn that depression can really hit anybody, not only emotionally and mentally weak or dysfunctional people. It is not good to be too hard on myself. By writing my thoughts on paper, I could clearly see how hard I was to myself. In the future, I would definitely not compare myself with other people who seem to be much better off than me. This always lead to a lose-lose situation, which may result in depression. There should be no guilt and shame in struggling with anxiety and depression. Would you feel guilty and ashamed if you had cancer? Surely not, so why would you harbor guilt and shame just because you suffer from anxiety and depression?
It’s alright to ask for help from your loved ones, friends and professional health specialists, like psychologists or psychiatrists. I needed understanding, support, time and space to heal when I was coping with my anxiety and depression. In our society where the "pretense of happiness" is more important than expressing negative feelings in healthy ways, we are taught to conceal those feelings. When you conceal any emotion that you judge to be negative, you can end up feeling isolated, alone, and even invisible to others. Don’t pretend to be alright when you are not. I was always authentic with my loved ones, never hiding anything from them during both of my depressions.
When I had my first depression, the cognitive therapy, outlined in the book FEELING GOOD by David D. Burns MD was a great help to me. The cognitive therapy I used consisted mainly about writing my thoughts down. I saw that they were all extremely negative and distorted. For example, I would write that I was the worst son ever for not attending my father’s funeral. Or that I was the most incompetent executive in the federal government because I did not met my boss expectations. During my second depression, the same cognitive therapy was less effective. I had to take some anti-depressant pills. My gratitude journal was very helpful. I used it to write all my blessings, small and big ones. Writing in my gratitude journal had the effect of changing my mood for the better. I also found that physical exercises, especially yoga were most helpful to my recovery.
Being surrounded by loved ones and close friends was essential to my recovery. Feeling understood and loved without judgment was very crucial for me to cope with my anxiety and depression. The healing process can be a very slow and frustrating process. There will inevitably be ups and downs. The bottom line is that nobody but myself could get me out of my apathy and depression. I had to accept the fact that there was no point in blaming somebody else for my depressed state. Taking responsibility for my state of mind and knowing that I needed to make the necessary effort to slowly get better was the first step to my recovery.
Nobody else can do the hard work for you to get better. If you really want to overcome your anxiety and depression, you need to ask for help but, more importantly, you need to help yourself! The link below is a great resource in explaining what depression is, and providing some great advice. Please seek help if you need it.
As I came out very slowly from the dark thick cloud of anxiety and depression, I became more fully available to my loved ones, friends and my circle of influence. Slowly but surely, I reconnected with everything and everybody close to me with deeper understanding, empathy, humility and compassion. I thank God for the hope that he left in me all along, even in my deepest sadness, doubt and yes, sometimes, despair. I always learned from my experiences and grew stronger to become my best in order to serve others better.
Excerpt from my updated book: Become your best, to be published in February 2014.