Last week I wrote 50 Things I am grateful for on my 50th birthday.
After posting that list, I received a request from one of my favorite fans, I’ll call her “F” from Dubai. She wrote, “I would love if you would talk more about your journey with overcoming depression. That would be so inspiring to many people.”
Here ya go, F…
Depression is different for everyone. For some, it is intense and debilitating. For others it can be more subtle, hitting us only hard enough to let us know it’s there, but not so hard that we can’t hide it from bosses, coworkers, family, friends, and even our spouse.
Depression robs us from today. It keeps us stuck, feeling sad about the past while anxiously fearing the future.
But like any illness or imbalance, depression is just another way our spirit calls us home.
Depression is a call for healing.
Depression is often triggered by loss or disappointment.
Depression asks us to go deeper. To feel something we’ve been avoiding.
It’s important to distinguish between grief and depression. Grief is an intense emotion brought on by loss. Whenever we lose someone or something that was dear to our heart — a person, pet, job, relationship, business, home or even a dream — a necessary grieving period takes place.
In my mid twenties, my boyfriend of four years broke up with me, on the phone. My pain turned into anger, then fear and eventually depression. Had I been more resilient, I would have grieved the loss and moved on. But I wasn’t.
In my family there was a lot more criticizing and belittling than there was encouragement and support. Whenever I would do something “wrong,” like accidentally spill a glass of milk, I was yelled at, spanked or sent to my room (or all three). In eighth grade, while on vacation at a resort, I happened to say something the wrong way to my older brother at the pool and he publicly humiliated me by dunking me under the water over and over again until I was in tears, gasping for air only to be dunked under the water again. My parents told me to stop bothering him. The punishment always seemed way worse than the crime. And that’s what I learned.
I learned that when things went wrong, it was MY fault.
When things went wrong, it was because there was something wrong with ME and I should be punished.
So when things did go wrong in my life, e.g. a breakup, it was all my fault. I screwed up my life. My parents reinforced this thinking by saying, “I told you so. He was never going to marry you. You never should have let the relationship drag out as long as you did.” And the implied, “You’ll now suffer.”
So when you’re 26 and you feel as though you screwed up your life forever, it’s easy to feel like you can’t go on. There WAS in fact something wrong with me, I was UNLOVABLE.
I tried therapy, but the problem with therapy is that it only helps you reflect on everything that went wrong. It didn’t offer me any tools for moving forward.
In order to move forward, I needed to MOVE, I thought. So I did. I moved 3,000 miles away from New York to San Fransisco where a number of my college friends were living. This was the change I needed in order to escape my problems and get away from my parents and all that, “I told you so,” crap.
While my social life instantly improved, a year later I found myself unhappy in my career. The job scene I faced in San Francisco was not the same as in New York and I got scared that I had screwed up my life even more by screwing up my career. Once again, it was all my fault. So when a former boss called to offer me a job in New York as Assistant Art Director at a major children’s publisher, I jumped at the chance and moved back home.
Again, I ran from my problems. I wanted to be somewhere I felt worthy.
But over time, I got burnt out. All that unworthiness I felt got translated into a desire to work harder and harder. I put in extra hours, neglected my health, and filled the emptiness inside with more work. I even freelanced on the side for a friend and when he offered me a job in San Francisco I jumped ship again.
Each time I moved, I was so excited for change I didn’t feel depressed. I had so much to explore and do. But over time, depression always caught up with me, wherever I was.
For years I played this same ridiculous game:
- Make new start
- Prove myself worthy by overworking
- Burn out/Feel depressed
- Jump ship
It never occurred to me that I was avoiding my own pain of feeling unworthy.
It wasn’t until years later, I found myself happily married, but unhappy with myself. I was struggling to become a Mom and nothing I tried was working, including adoption. It felt like it was all my fault.
After five years of this insanity, I finally realized that I needed to do something different. I was so unhappy, yet instinctively I knew that having a baby would not take away all my pain. I needed to figure out a way to be happy first. I needed to be happy for myself before I could ever be the mother I wanted to be.
And that’s when I discovered gratitude.
Here is what practicing gratitude did for me and my struggle with depression:
- Gratitude allowed me to focus on what was going right in my life, instead of what had gone wrong. This helped me build resilience because over time I no longer felt like I had screwed up my life.
- Gratitude allowed me to practice what I call todayfullness. It got me out of my head and my thoughts about the past, and into my heart and my dreams about the future, all while appreciating the joy of TODAY.
- Gratitude taught me to appreciate myself. This was the first step in healing my pain of unworthiness. I am still working on this now, and it takes a lot of my energy. My unworthiness can still get misdirected into anger or fear but being aware of these tendencies makes it easier to self correct.
- Gratitude allowed me to lift my mood on a daily basis. Practicing gratitude is scientifically proven to boost serotonin and dopamine, natural mood enhancers. Starting your day with gratitude is like taking a vitamin – Vitamin G!
- Gratitude allowed me to prioritize my health over my workload. This one has actually taken me a long time to master and only recently have I truly embraced my self worth as being separate from my ability to be productive with my career. Letting go of the need to prove myself in my career has freed up the time and energy I need to take better care of myself. I give myself more time to rest, to go for walks in nature, to meditate, to cook for myself and my family and to be present with my husband and our four year old son.
- Gratitude allowed me to connect with my true being. Whether you are a spiritual person or not, practicing gratitude helps you get in touch with your true spirit. Over time, your gratitude journal becomes a blueprint for joy, showing you exactly what matters most to you so you can prioritize those things while letting go of others.
And that is how I overcame depression.
Depression is not simple. I do not believe it is a disease of the brain. Depression is a symptom of an imbalance in one’s life. Gratitude helps correct those imbalances whatever they may be. It could be physical, it could be emotional.
Gratitude points you in the direction of what FEELS good.
And by doing more of what feels good, we are able to rebalance and re-nourish our system.
I hope my story is helpful. Please share below your own experience, successes and struggles. I can’t wait to hear from you!