The 8 Challenges of Depression Recovery

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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.

5768958847_d54793c4bb Photo Credit: .oskar via Compfight cc

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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?

Me July 2013


About the Author
Michele Longo
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.

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15 thoughts on “The 8 Challenges of Depression Recovery

  1. Stephanie michaels
    May 14, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    The hardest thing for me was understanding that I could have inexplicable setbacks. One day is good and the next I would be overwhelmed by sadness and doom. It helped to check in with a person who was more optimistic and ask how that person sees something. I am still startled by the whole cup being half full theory–but working on it.

    Thanks again for your blog.

    1. Michele
      May 14, 2014 at 5:49 pm

      Hi Steph, I remember those good days and bad days that seemed to have no reason. It seems crazy when I think back about them but I know they were real.

  2. May 14, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    I just feel that what you are lacking in this otherwise excellent post is any idea of what actually causes depression. That is why what is said seems so vague and unformed. As you know, I understand depression as linked to exhausting over dreaming. What is your thinking on that I wonder?

    1. Michele
      May 14, 2014 at 5:47 pm

      I’ve done a lot of reading about depression and no one knows what causes depression. It’s a complex mix of genetics, biochemistry, environment, family history… It’s been surprising to me to realize how little is actually known about such a pervasive illness. I think we can usually figure out what triggers a depressive episode but even then people seem to be more or less depressed for no particular reason. I’m not sure what you mean by exhausting over dreaming. It’s not a phrase I’ve come across.

      1. June 5, 2014 at 9:39 am

        Michelle – would you be interested in me writing a guest posting which explains the Human givens ideas of what a depression is and how i make them work to help so any of my depressed clients?

        1. Michele
          June 5, 2014 at 10:26 am

          That would be great Andrew! I had read about it when we first connected but can’t say I truly grasp it.

          1. Andrew
            June 5, 2014 at 10:46 am

            Leave it with me for a few says

  3. Tracy
    May 14, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    The hardest part for me is the separation from people who haven’t experienced depression or anxiety, even well meaning people, which has led to me not really having anyone to talk to. Anyone who has experienced it knows the dreaded negative thinking and, for me, it’s hard to separate if I’m having a rational negative reaction to someone/something, or if it’s my depressed mind making things up. And then to not be able to talk it out just makes me dwell on it longer and causes a further downward spiral.

    Like you Michele, my version of ‘better’ was completely different from my docs, I too thought better meant being the old me, with my old life, which I still desperately long for some days. Also like you, peer support would have been so important early on, to be able to speak to someone who ‘got it’ as opposed to desperately trying to get understanding from friends and family, all the while not really understanding myself.

    I have been lucky enough to have been included in numerous forms of therapy but the best experience I had was a peer led recovery program. To hear the group facilitator openly talk about the experiences she’d had, without sugar coating it or using medical terms, and just see and feel the recognition and relief in the participants was more hopeful to me than anything a doctor or therapist had, or has, ever been.

    I admire that group facilitator immensely, as I do you, for being able to not only recover sufficiently to become an advocate for Mental Health, but to also be so open about your experiences in an effort to help people like me. Thank you.

    1. Michele
      May 14, 2014 at 6:16 pm

      Thanks Tracy for taking the time to write me. I found your comments really validating. Sometimes I wonder if what I’m writing is unique to only me. And today was one of those days when I felt vulnerable writing what I was writing and thought about how it might be nicer if I just went outside and enjoyed myself. All that love you’re sending me feels even warmer than the sun so thank you!

      I also loved hearing that you found so much value in peer support. If that program was here in Calgary, I think I know who you’re talking about. I have a lot of faith in peer support even though I was never on the receiving end of formal peer support. I think it’s the missing piece to recovery.

      1. Tracy
        May 14, 2014 at 9:38 pm

        That was one of the most interesting things about being part of a group therapy, thinking I was a crazy freak only to have someone else say they did/felt/thought the same as me. It is so far the only thing that’s made me feel somewhat ‘normal’ (I hate the word normal now) while dealing with all of this.

        I hope the ‘powers that be’ realise how crucial Peer Support could be when dealing with MH issues. I was involved in a discussion a while back (can’t remember where or with who) and someone suggested that maybe an AA type setting with a sponsor would be beneficial and I was shocked that no one had thought of that before. My hope is, with all the awareness and push for an end to the stigma, that ideas like these become reality.

        And yes, it was here in Calgary, and you probably do know her, she provided the link to your site. Another thing I’ll be forever greatful to her for :0)

        1. Michele
          May 15, 2014 at 8:44 am

          Yep I know Sue. I also hear from my groups that the real value is just being connected to other like-minded people. I have heard talk of AA like peer support. I think we’ll start to see a lot more peer support in the next few years. It seems to be building to a tipping point.

  4. Celia
    May 15, 2014 at 9:06 am

    The hardest part was to hide it, when all I wanted was to talk about it, to take it off my chest and describe whatever ‘symptoms’ I had, just to assess together if really I’m gone, or what? Little did I know that there were people around me so dear that were doing the exact same thing… We were all busy trying to act as nothing bothered us (I will never consider it an illness, though. It is chemical-based, and so is happiness. Are excessively happy, laughing people sick?? But how else can other people charge for listening to you or trying to balance the chemicals in you?) to avoid stigma.
    Thank you, Michele, for your beautiful initiative and heart.

    1. Michele
      May 15, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      Thank you Celia for your kind words. I know just what you mean about hiding but not wanting to. But if there’s no one to listen who would actually get it, why bother talking. I too struggle with calling it an illness. My opinion on what to call it changes almost daily.

  5. Elisabeth
    May 15, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks to you, Michele, for this article, and to everyone who shared.
    It is an enormous relief to have peers, even if we aren’t able to meet in person.

    I think the most difficult parts of recovery for me have been:
    accepting how depression has changed my life and my view of myself;
    trusting that when I have low spells that I am not slipping backward into deep depression; dealing with disappointment in friends and some family, and feeling unsupported, avoided or judged by people in my life. That has been very painful.

    I feel that in order to be well I have to be very vigilant in my self care, and worry that it may seem unreasonable to others, and yet….what choice do I have?

    a big virtual hug to everyone here for sharing and supporting!

    1. Michele
      May 16, 2014 at 7:52 am

      Hi Elisabeth
      Your comments were bang on. Everything you said resonated with me. I’m super vigilant now but it’s really the only option so I also don’t care what others might think. Thank you so much for commenting!

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