11 Oct The D Word
What the F is depression and can you really get over it?
I’m in the middle of launching Make Your Move and something very unexpected has happened. It’s to do with the feedback, comments and messages I’ve received from people who’ve seen my VLOGs, MINIs and free video series in the last four weeks.
Let me explain.
In July 2015 I embarked on a journey. Following a 6 year stint with depression I was taken to the doctors by someone close to me. It had gotten to the point where I could barely get out of bed, I was crying all the time and I was pretty much vacant day to day. I wasn’t present; I’d ‘checked out’. I was depressed. Although, surprisingly, I was still functioning very well at work which caused me to buy books with titles like ‘the high functioning sociopath’. Maybe that could explain this split personality I had going on. Anyone? Just me?!
That morning, sat in the typical black-bottomed, silver armed chair you see in doctor’s surgeries (you’re lucky if there are two), I explained how I was feeling and what had been happening.
Following a 10 minute conversation he said to me: “Yes, sounds to me like you have depression and you might even be bi-polar”.
‘What the hell’, I thought, buckling forward to catch my head in my hands. It didn’t make sense. ‘I’m the happy one, the bubbly one’, I thought to myself. I shook my head: the diagnosis just didn’t fit with my internal model of who I knew I was inside; of how I thought about myself. Yes, I can see why he’d say I had depression but I couldn’t help but wonder how this had happened. Why me? And then very quickly: how do I get over it?!
I sat back up, dried my eyes and said ‘So what now?’. Only it didn’t come out that clearly. I was a mess. Tears flowing down my face, my voice breaking, eyes red and puffy. It was more of a whimper ‘sob sob so w ha t sob n o w sob sob?’
That was the day it all started for me. Not much longer after that fateful day, I launched my blog DARETOGROW and I set out on a mission to not only find perpetual happiness (yes, I’m ambitious!) but to document my journey so others could do the same.
(Yes, okay…the lead up was a little more dramatic than that! You can listen to my story and what happened here. But that’s for another day. Today I’m asking ‘What the F is depression and can you really go over it?’.)
Ironically, I’ve never really spoken much about my depression until now. I had kind of skirted over it like ‘oh yer, I had depression and got over it…here’s how to change your life yey’ and I shared a couple of blogs but nothing much. I was scared to talk about it directly. It has been a rather taboo topic in the past for lots of reasons.
I think for me there was a lot of denial and shame around having depression and even my doctor said to me at the time that a note of ‘depression’ in my medical record could hinder my business in the future. He meant well but it’s just another example of us all ‘muddling on’, pretending we don’t have a serious mental illness that needs treatment because ‘it won’t look good on your file’.
‘F the file’, I thought, ‘I’m dying here!!’.
Shame stopped me from talking about it shame wasn’t the reason I turned down the anti-depressants that day.
Oddly, I was always quite defensive about my depression…’MY DEPRESSION’. I remember one day before all the changes began, watching a video by Tony Fricken Robbins (said with emphasis – he’s THE MAN!). He said that ‘depression was a state’ and you could ‘change your state’. I remember being pretty upset with him at the time. ‘A state?!’, I roared, ‘it’s more than a state, it’s chemical, it’s physical, it’s an illness, it can’t be helped!’. But then, once I’d calmed down a bit, I started to ask, ‘what if this is true?’. What if depression is a state, like happiness, like excitement, like fear. If this is true, then maybe I could find a way to change my state?
I doubted it but I was curious and whilst I didn’t make any changes that day (please – I had to crash out and hit ‘rock bottom’ before I acted!) Tony Fricken Robbins did something for me that day. He loosened the belief I had that MY DEPRESSION was permanent; that it was something I couldn’t control. I could control it and I could overcome it, as I would later discover.
A few months after listening to that Tony Fricken Robbins video, still no changes at this point, came my rock bottom moment. As it turns out, the Universe is sending us messages all the time and if we ignore them, it will send a bigger message. And then a bigger one. The messages aren’t just white feathers and the numbers 11:11. The messages come in the form of feelings, of intuition, of guidance we hear but tend to ignore (you should leave this relationship, you should quit your job, you shouldn’t take that road today).
I ignored all my messages and so I ended up sobbing into rough and scratchy tissues in the doctor’s surgery. I’d cancelled a few meetings at work. I’d stay in bed until midday. I just couldn’t be bothered to do anything; to get dressed, to eat. I couldn’t even be bothered to watch movies anymore. I was so…gone.
This wasn’t the first time I’d tried to get over depression. When I was 23, I worked in London. I’d risen through the ranks of a graduate scheme quickly and within two years I was earning more than twice my age and working more than twice the hours in the day. (Okay not really on that second point but it felt like it!)
One day, catching the Tube from Clapham North into the City I stepped up to the yellow line, teased my toes over the edge and asked the question ‘What if I jumpe..’. I didn’t finish the thought. I terrified myself and fell back. I left the station and ran homewards, finding myself in a bookshop on Clapham High Street (I don’t know if it’s still there).
I was guided to two books which changed my life: Gretchen Rubin’s ‘The Happiness Project’ and Sally Brompton’s ‘Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression’. I read them both cover to cover in days that followed and I often reflect and say that Shoot the Damn Dog saved my life that year.
This time was different though. My depression wasn’t a new thing. I’d had it for 6 years at this point. It was getting worse and worse and I was tired out and fed up. I needed help. I needed to change.
‘So what now?’, I had asked the doctor.
‘Well’, he said, ‘I can prescribe you anti-depressants. They’ll make you feel better…’
I cut him off.
‘NO’, I thought to myself silently as he talked. ‘I want to fix it’, I said, ‘I want to change’. I couldn’t speak.
I had it my mind that anti-depressants didn’t allow you to heal, they just give your brain a fake burst of happy chemicals that make it possible for you to get through the day but when you get home, nothing’s changed and you’re still depressed.
No. The action had to be more radical. I had to go to the source and cure it there. I knew, right there in that moment that the only way to get over depression was to change my life. To take the decision I’d been avoiding. To build the life I’d always wanted. To follow my crazy ass dreams.
When I could speak again I begged the doctor: “Anything but the pills, please, I don’t want them: what else can I do?”
“Go running every day for the next 2 weeks”, he replied, “and see how you feel”.
Another 3 minutes later I was on my way out of the surgery armed with my new, holistic anti-depressant: running!
I wanted to change and I didn’t want to go back to the doctor’s and so the next day, I laced up my 3-year old trainers, dragged my butt out of bed (and yes it took 3 hours to achieve that aim but you know) and took myself on a run, just once around the block but it was a ‘run’ all the same.
I was listening to Les Brown on YouTube as I ran and that was the day my entire life changed.
It was something Les Brown had asked in the video that caused the switch to change and for me to finally take action.
He’d asked ‘what would you do if you found out you only had 3 months left to live?’ Even though I was depressed, I knew exactly what I would do. I would get out of my companies, move to Manchester, write a book, launch my dream business (DARETOGROW), lose weight (ironic considering I only have 3 months left…hypothetically of course!) and change my life!
I just knew that’s what I would do.
Then Les Brown asked: ‘and how do you know you didn’t have 3 months left to live?’.
Boom. It hit me. I’m wasting my life. It’s time.
I turned on my heels, ran home and wrote down my list. Since that day in July 2017 I’ve done everything on that list. Yes, okay the book is still work in progress but hey, I’m up to chapter 6 now.
As it turns out, the key to me getting over depression was there all along: get honest about what you want, align who you are with what you do most often and take action on your dreams.
Of course, there’s more to it than that – I’ll explain in a second – but for me, that’s the essence of it.
I saw a clip by Esther Hicks (the medium and spiritual leader) a while back and she said depression is what happens when we ‘depress’ our personalities. I got it! I’d hidden away from the world and it hadn’t happened overnight. I didn’t wake up one day with depression. It took years to build. Years of letting other people decide for me. Years of doing what I thought other people expected of me. Years of letting my dreams slip away.
When I decided I wanted out of depression, I had one hell of a journey ahead of me. By this point, I had programmed my brain to think negatively, to dwell in problems and to focus on what was going wrong. For example, I would set my alarm for 5am every day to get up and ‘attack the day’ but I never did. Instead, I would lie there tossing and turning and thinking about all the things that could go wrong that day, all the bills I had to pay etc. No wonder I couldn’t get up! I didn’t want to get up to that life and I was expecting the worse.
To change, I took radical action. I quit coffee, then sugar.
I stopped watching the news after reading Tim Ferris’s The Four Hour Work Week – what you watch, you feel.
I ran nearly every day after studying the effect of hormones and chemicals on the brain (thank you dopamine!).
I honoured my preferences and went veggie, then vegan, much to the shock and horror of my family.
I cut my hair then shaved it, again much to the shock and horror of my family!
I sold one business and downsized the other.
I started a gratitude diary and a daily affirmation, crying in the mirror as I recited it over and over because I just didn’t believe it then.
I went on courses. I read books. I meditated.
I tried yoga. I chanted.
I even (eventually) went to see Tony Fricken Robbins live in LA! That was amazing.
Looking back with hindsight, I know what I did. I changed my state. I changed what I focused on. I rewired my brain. And I built a life around my passions and eventually my purpose.
Having a bold intention helped immensely: I wanted to be perpetually happy and I wanted to rebuild my life; creating a life I love. I wanted to ‘give up work’ and do what I enjoyed: sitting in coffee shops reading and writing with nothing to worry about. I wanted financial freedom. I wanted to teach.
Just 2 and a half years ago and here I am. Depression free, making a living doing what I love. Has it been easy? Oh hell no!! Haha. Has it been worth it? Oh hell yes!!
Now, I get to teach other people what I’ve learnt, inspiring them to take bold new actions with my story of change.
I know now that it was never ‘MY DEPRESSION’. Depression is a state and you can change your stage – I know that’s controversial and people argue it’s chemical…I argued that. But isn’t happiness and joy and anger chemical too? We can generate the right chemicals in holistic or ‘non-medical’ ways too and in truth, isn’t this is a much more sustainable way to overcome depression – to change your life? Hugging releases serotonin, so does doing a good deed and petting a dog (I’m dog obsessed). Running, dancing and hitting goals releases dopamine.
You can change your state by changing what you do and what you focus on. It’s hard, I know, in the depths of despair but if like me you know there is more to life and you just don’t know how to prove it right now, then the first step is stop asking ‘why me’ and ‘how did this happen’ and start asking: “What the F is depression anyway, and can I really get over it?”. Then follow the answers. One by one, day by day. Your brain is a powerful tool and it will serve up answers to the questions you ask. As Tony Fricken Robbins says: ‘questions direct your focus’. So if you can’t start with the answer; start with the right question.
I’m wishing you all the love and success on your journey out of depression. If you have any questions at all, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org and I will come back to you.
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