It took me more than a decade to recover from depression, partly because I had no clue what recovery was and how to get it. On top of this cluelessness, I struggled with doubting my ability to recover, invalidating comments by others, my self-identity, feeling alone with depression, and generally not understanding what to expect with depression and what to do.
Here are the 8 challenges I had to figure out to get past depression. I’m curious if you also faced all of these.
- What’s my role?
I figured my role was to figure out why I was depressed. I never figured this out. I then turned it over to doctors and psychologists and I became a patient. Years of being a passive patient didn’t get me beyond shaky stabilization so I decided if I wanted more I’d have to get it myself. Then came the hard part of learning what to do and believing I could do it.
- What does recovery look like?
I didn’t get that my goals weren’t the same as my doctors’. Doctors wanted me to get to some level of steadiness. I wanted to get back to the old me. As time dragged on I forgot who the old me was and clued in that having a major illness changes you, possibly for the better.
I underestimated how slowly recovery happens, and how it’s not linear and likely involves relapse. I underestimated how much I could learn from a relapse. I didn’t appreciate that setting expectations for recovery assured failure which would then give me something further to beat myself up about.
- What does increased self-awareness look like?
For the first few years self-awareness meant noticing the changes that the drugs caused, figuring out how to cope with tapering on and off and assessing the benefits vs. side effects.
Over time, self-awareness was about figuring out how depression showed up in me and what my triggers and warning signs were. Later I got fancy and learned to distinguish depression-related anxiety from normal anxiety.
- How do I cope day to day?
Part of recovery is determining what’s in your control and when. There are days when you can handle more because you feel stronger. I had coping strategies I used for good days and different ones for the bad days. Coping, for me, also meant developing skills in hiding depression so that I wouldn’t have to deal with unwanted comments.
- What’s my identity beyond being a depressive?
At one point, being depressed took over my identity because it consumed all my time. I couldn’t remember the old me. I felt altered by the drugs and by having a mental illness diagnosis. I had no idea who I was anymore. But it was a good day when I realized I lost myself.
- How do I manage with limited support?
I always had BFF Steph for support. No one else got it and, as you well know, that sets you up for all manner of invalidating comments by well-meaning but ignorant people. There were really two challenges: learning to ignore the “helpful” comments so that I didn’t start to question my own experience of depression and see myself as lazy, and learning how to have relationships with these people. I would either try to educate them or move to a more superficial relationship. Education rarely worked.
- How can I manage negative self-talk?
This is a monster challenge. It takes formidable practice to get it to be automatic. Psychologists helped but I would have been helped even more if I’d had access to peer support for their experiential knowledge of doing this.
- What does ongoing self-care look like?
Depression isn’t the same every day and has a way of returning when you don’t expect it. Figuring out your self care plan (sleeping, eating, exercise, supplements, sunlight, relaxation…) is key to staying strong.
What’s been the hardest challenge in your recovery?
About the Author
I promote peer support and encourage people on their recovery journeys. My plan with this blog is to build a community of like-minded individuals offering ideas and encouragement from their own experiences. My master plan is to help create psychologically safe and supportive workplaces. I live in Calgary, Canada.