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7 Surprising Ways Depression Builds A Better Me

7 Surprising Ways Depression Builds A Better Me

I was first diagnosed with depression in 2002. The reality is I’ve probably lived with depression my entire life.  Yet, as a child of the 70s and 80s, depression diagnoses in children was relatively unheard of. Over the last 13 years since my ‘official’ diagnosis, I’ve struggled on and off with bouts of depression of various intensities.

Sometimes the depression was minor, like a sad memory passing through, while other times it was nearly debilitating, where it took everything I had in order to get out of bed in the morning.  I’ve also been on and off anti-depressants at least 4 times in the last decade, with my most recent course finishing just last year.

Living with depression leaves people with two choices. The first choice is to let it overwhelm you and control your entire life. The second is to learn to live with depression and use it to make you a better person.

I’ve chosen the second option. I’ve learned to use my living with depression to make me a better and stronger person.

Here are 7 things I have learned to build a better me through living with depression.

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1. I’m in control of my emotions

Growing up, I was always known as the “emotional one.” Shoot, even at my brother’s wedding, in my 30’s, upon hearing a family secret, my sister said, “we didn’t tell you because we thought you’d freak out!”

Being the emotional one was a badge of shame for many, many years. I would bury my emotions deep inside, never revealing how I truly felt. This only led to feelings of greater despair and loneliness.

Once I began learning how to live with depression, how to manage my emotions, how to recognize my emotional state, I began to fully embrace my emotions. I learned that men can cry, that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I learned it’s okay to feel sad from time to time. I also learned how to embrace these emotions, feel them, and then let them go. Although I am not perfect at this, I no longer live in the depressive emotional states like I used to.

I now control my emotions. They no longer control me.

2. I take better care of myself

Self-care is something I never did prior to about 2010. Being a people-pleaser by nature, I would put myself and my feelings aside whenever someone needed my help. I learned how to “be the bigger man,” and just soldier on, despite my mental and emotional state. Then a mentor of mine taught me that I’m no good to anyone else if I don’t take care of myself first and foremost. This goes for friends, family, personal and working relationships, all are much improved if I’m taking care of me first.

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Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. If you’re not taking care of yourself, getting enough rest, enough sleep, enough ‘mental hygiene’ time, how can you effectively care for others?

3. I learned to enjoy exercise

Doctors and psychologists will say that there is a direct connection between your physical well being and your emotional well being. The challenge is that when I was feeling depressed, the level of my physical activity was non-existent. Depression saps all the motivation right out of you, leaving you wanting to do nothing but lie in bed and hide under the covers.

The same mentor who taught me about taking care of myself taught me the connection between your physical state and your mental state. In the beginning, when I would start feeling down, I would simply shift my physical state by sitting up straight or standing up or taking a quick walk around the room. I’m now a half marathon runner and I work out 3-4 times a week.

Even when I’m feeling down, I still push myself to go for a run or hit the gym. The endorphin release from exercising improves my emotional state, and focusing on my workout allows my subconscious to work through whatever challenge I’m facing. More often than not, I come up with at least the next step or two in overcoming a challenge. This allows me to keep moving forward and avoid the stagnation – depression – shame downward cycle.

4. I’m more confident

There’s a personal development saying that “your mess is your message.” I’ve realized that going through all I have gone through: divorce, being a single parent, loss, that my story isn’t all that unique. My story and my struggles have made me stronger. When I look back at everything I’ve overcome, I realize that whatever challenge I am facing isn’t as big as I initially believe it is. I know I can make it through any challenge, and I know I will come out stronger on the other side.

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This confidence has also allowed me to share my story, both through writing and pod-casting. My emotional scars tell a story, my story, and it’s a story I should be proud to tell.

5. My social circle is more awesome

I do not allow chronic negativity in my life. Negativity solves nothing, creates more drama, and saps your energy. Over the years I’ve cut the chronically negative out of my life and, in some cases, those that have been cut out have been family. It’s easy to surround yourself with people as miserable as you are simply because misery truly loves company.

Being around miserable people reinforces all those miserable things we believe about ourselves, and the one thing most people want most in life is to know they’re right.

They say you are a composite of the 5 people you spend the most time with. So why not surround yourself with positive people, people who believe in you, people who encourage and uplift you? You may not believe in yourself. . . but believe in others who believe in you and see how much your life improves.

6. I am more grateful

Having been in the lowest of the lows, wondering if life was worth it at all, I now appreciate every single day. I’m grateful for all the things in my life . . . the good, the bad, and the ugly. Each of these things lets me know that I’m alive, that I’ve woken up on the right side of the dirt, and that I have yet another day to live.

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7. I’m not alone

A few years ago, I attended a Rob Bell event and at one point during the evening, he had us all write down “I know how you feel” on an index card. He then went through a number of different life events, asking those who had experienced them to stand up and trade their card with another person who had gone through the same experience.

When we’re in our depressive modes, the loneliness is almost unbearable. We feel that we’re the only person out of over 7,000,000,000 in the entire world who knows what we’re going through. The one thing that the Bell exercise taught me is that we’re not alone. It also taught me that you could take two people that are complete opposites, yet have gone through the same challenge, and put them in the same room and they’d have a connection.

Featured photo credit: Darnok via morguefile.com

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Christian Salafia

Rocket-scientist, Nuclear Engineer, Theologian, and creator of the TransformRadio podcast

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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