I finally gathered the things I need in order to know how to thrive.
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Originally published on The Ascent
I think I have finally cured my depression.
I have been depressed for ten years. And that is enough. And I think I’ve finally beat it.
Unlike other times I thought I had won, my healing was not due to willpower, or by forcing myself out of the darkness with willpower alone & convincing myself that I did indeed feel better.
Instead, everything changed because I changed my environment into one which allowed me to gather tools & learn how to use them & manipulate them into the things I needed to be. And most importantly, an environment that let me use them.
After almost a decade of being (never formally diagnosed, but I know how I’ve felt) clinically depressed, I finally feel like I’ve actually won. I’ve had my moments before of triumph, of discovering some secret that let me be happy for sometimes months at a time. But it was never like this before.
See, every time I felt “cured” before, I was always afraid that it was all in my head. That one day, the depression would come crashing back down on me. I never could believe that maybe I was actually cured. Because the other times, the feeling of “cured” had come about so suddenly that I usually couldn’t see a logical reason for why I felt that way. Not to say that those times of being cured didn’t mean anything, because they meant a great deal. It’s just that they couldn’t last because there was no concrete reason for WHY I felt cured.
And mostly it was because despite my “healing”, I was still the exact same person inside. I was still just a depressed person experiencing happiness for a while.
But this time, it’s different. And this time, I’m not afraid.
Because this time, my healing wasn’t this sudden miracle that happened out of the blue. My healing was a slow, deliberate process. It’s been a long time coming, but I feel like it finally might be here. And I feel like this time, it’s going to last.
I have finally learned the tools & put systems in place that are necessary to keep myself happy. I have built those tools & used those tools & figured out how to best make them work for me. I have molded those tools into systems & new actions & new ways of responding to life. I have built a solid foundation out of these tools. I have used these tools to become a different person.
This is why I believe my happiness foundation is stable now. It’s didn’t happen by magic; it happened by gathering & learning tools, & by using them.
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Author & speaker Darren Hardy says that learning is the ability to produce a result. If you haven’t produced the desired result, you haven’t learned it yet.
Since January this year, I’ve been part of author Benjamin Hardy’s outstanding 52 Weeks of Momentum course/mentorship group. Thanks to being part of the group, I’ve read the most amazing combination of high-level books that I’ve read in any year, ever. My mind has linked together so many concepts between various books & I’ve had numerous breakthroughs that have utterly changed my life.
Benjamin Hardy’s newest, best-selling book is called Willpower Doesn’t Work. The book centers around the idea that rather than using willpower to try to change your life, you need to change your environment so that it causes you to naturally become the kind of person you need to be. Once you’re the person you need to BE, you can do what you need to DO so you can have what you want to HAVE.
But the biggest thing this course has done for me was totally reinvent my mindset in the best way possible. The books I’ve read throughout the course, plus Benjamin Hardy’s mentorship, the exceptional other members of the group, & the course content have taught me a whole new mindset, which I then applied to my life in brilliant ways. Brilliant, especially the ways I am finally understanding how to apply them to my life.
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In the middle of June, I had a huge mindset shift. Everything slowly began to change. I can’t name a specific THING that changed it; the assemblage & combined influence of everything I was learning & experiencing & doing in all aspects of my life finally were mixing together in the perfect way.
And over the next two months, I made a lot of changes that shifted my mindset majorly. I started listening to podcasts & audiobooks in my car & at work whenever I could. I filled my mind with high-level stuff & surrounded myself with the environment & the people I needed to be around, to the best of my abilities. I committed to eating healthy & exercising. I committed to living a life that I loved. I started committing to caring for myself & my goals first, prioritizing them above the noise of the rest of the world. Because if I am not shining as bright as I can for myself, how am I supposed to be a light for others?
In the back of my mind, I guess I realized it. A lot of difficult things happened in the span of those two months, things that tested this new person I was becoming. But in the back of my mind, I still knew it was true.
I was slowly becoming less depressed. Slowly becoming deeply & unequivocally happy.
The sun rises slowly, & we still see darkness until we realize the sky has become light again. I didn’t usually realize how the depression was fading & happiness was becoming a more predominant emotion until I realized.
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It turns out, the environment I most needed to change was the environment inside me. And there I was, slowly & quietly chipping away at the darkness which had held me back for so long. Slowly building a better foundation, brick by brick.
Then the breakthrough happened. And the foundation was suddenly recognizable as a foundation.
I was listening to the audiobook version of the excellent book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza. It’s one of the books we’re reading for the 52 Weeks of Momentum course.
And I heard this phrase:
“[…] train the body to be the mind in order to live a predicable future based on a memory of a known past.”
And he talks about how when something happens & you feel a certain way, your body remembers the way it feels, it keeps firing those neurons together until they wire together. If they fire & wire together for long enough, eventually the emotion from that singular incident can end up becoming your personality.
That’s when I had my breakthrough.
All or at least most of my depression throughout the past decade most likely stemmed from my first bout of it that I experienced when I was 14.
At 14, the feelings of depression were new & interesting & mysterious. I reveled in them, wanted to explore them because I’d never quite felt that way before. I felt a sense of connection with others, even fictional characters, who felt that way. So feeling depressed became a way of feeling connected to something bigger & more interesting than myself.
And because that was my mindset, whenever something happened, I’d feel like it was a relevant time to feel depressed. Something along the lines of, “If I am a depressed person, this would be a time that I should feel depressed so I will look for those feelings of depression in this situation until I find them.” So I replayed the feelings in my mind, felt depressed, & did it all over again.
I’m not saying none of my depression would have happened if it wouldn’t have experienced that first episode & found it so interesting. I think it’s likely I still would have experienced depression from time to time naturally due to fluctuations in brain chemistry. And I’m not saying what worked for me will necessarily help you feel better. But I’m sharing this here because I hope it helps someone. Because it helped me. And I want you to know it DOES get better.
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This cycle of feeling depressed & finding it interesting began to grow on its own. Out of my control. Then it wasn’t so interesting anymore. Then it was something I had to struggle through. Something I had to fight off ferociously so that it would never succeed in its desperate efforts to push my head under the water & keep it there. Sometimes, it took everything I had to just to push it away one more time. It would retreat for a while, but hours or days or months later, there it would be again. It became darker & harder to control as it grew.
The depression became a big part of my personality. It became an addiction, in a way. I almost felt incomplete without it.
I tried feeling better. I used all the willpower I could muster up. Tried to force myself out of it. Pulled myself up by my bootstraps, time & time again. Sometimes I felt “cured”. But like I said, I was still the same person inside. Still a depressed person deep down who was trying to be happy. I still didn’t have any foundation in place to make the good feelings stick around.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve really been trying. I’ve been learning. And I’ve been taking action on what I learned. But it was just over the past few weeks that it finally all clicked.
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Admittedly, I was afraid to move on from depression. Terrified to let go of it actually. Because after having it for so long, I was terrified that if I moved on from the depressed feelings, I’d always feel like something was missing. That my art & my personality would be lame & one-note without it. That in the back of my mind, I would always be longing to feel those feelings again. Craving them.
But the quote from Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself not only showed me the cause of my often depression-based personality, but also why I was afraid of moving on from it.
A memory of the known past.
I was afraid to let myself be happy because I was so used to being depressed that a happy future was also an uncertain one. At least with my depression, I had its cold stale hand to hold, a familiarity I knew I could always return to. With depression, at least I knew what my future would feel like & how I would cope with it.
But once I realized both the cause of my depression & the reason it was terrifying to move away from it, it all became so flimsy, like a house of cards in the breeze.
And then all it became was something in my past. Not who I was anymore. Not who the future fated me to be.
I started being able to see myself as someone that a joyful, vibrant future was possible for, & I’ve never felt that so deeply before. I tear up a little bit as I write this, because five years ago, I never could have fathomed a future as full of possibility as the one I’m able to see now. Back then, it always seemed like all the future could hold was more darkness, more depression, & more emptiness. I didn’t know how I was going to deal with all of that, unrelenting, year after year. But now, I feel the deepest confidence & faith in myself that I not only will everything be okay, but I will too because I’ve become the kind of person now who will always find a way to thrive.
I am going to keep adding new tools to my toolbox. I will keep searching & seeking & exploring & finding new ones to add to it. Especially when it comes to something as important as mental health, it’s vital that you don’t become complacent. This is something I will always be tweaking & improving & discovering new things about. I recognize that being cured is still dependent on me building & maintaining the foundation I have built. But I know how.
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And I’m not saying that I will never feel down again. I assume that at some point, I will. It’s just that I will never let it become part of my personality EVER again.
Because now, I finally have a sign that I’m heading in the right direction.
I am filled with an expansive playfulness & enthusiasm towards life & towards the kind of future that I can not only build for myself, but use to light the way for others too.
I feel genuinely transformed. Instead of being world-wearied & fearful when I think of the future, I am filled with a deep, unrelenting confidence now. The confidence that whatever happens, I have the tools & know how to keep being the person who can handle it.
And I am exceptionally excited to see what comes next.