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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 January 15, 2019

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

When I wrote my book Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide, I was surprised at the various layers of review and editing necessary to get the book to publication. Before I ever submitted the manuscript, I enlisted a former colleague to read and copy edit my work. Then, I submitted my work to an editor at the publisher’s house, and once she approved it, she sent it to her colleagues and then her company’s editorial board.

Upon editorial board approval of my book, my editor sent my work to reviewers in my field, then a developmental editor, then a designer and layout team and, finally, another copy editor. There were a host of personalities with whom I needed to interact along the way.

It turns out that getting a publishing contract was just the beginning – a lot happens between developing a concept, writing the book, finding an agent and publisher, and getting the book on bookshelves or on Audible or Kindle. Through every milestone of the publishing process, my ability to interact with others was crucial. This underscored for me that no matter what or how much a person accomplishes, you never do it alone – everyone needs assistance from others.

While I conceived of the book and wrote the manuscript, there is no way my book could have hit booksellers’ shelves without the dozens of people who were involved in the publishing process. Further, interpersonal skills can propel or stonewall success.

Even as someone who has written hundreds of essays, press releases, pitch notes and other correspondence, writing itself is not a solitary endeavor. Sure, I may write in solitude, but the moment I am finished writing, there are always clients, colleagues, partners, peers and others who review my content.

What is more, even as a published author and contributor for this platform, I try to never submit final copy (content) that has not been copy edited. I send everything to my copy editor, whom I pay out of my own pocket, for her review, edits and approval. Once she has reviewed my work, caught unbeknownst-to-me errors, I am much more confident putting my work out in the world.

How Interpersonal Skills Affect Relationships

It is clearer to me now more than ever before that interpersonal skills are needed in every profession and every trade.

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People don’t elect leaders because the leaders are smart. Individuals are motivated to vote when they have a hero and when they feel they have something to lose. If they seriously dislike the other candidate, they are much more likely vote according to a 2000 Ohio State University study:

“A disliked candidate is seen as a threat, and that will be motivation to go to the polls. But a threat alone isn’t enough – people need to have a hero to vote for, too, in order to inspire them to turn out on Election Day.”

In a work setting, interpersonal skills impact every facet of your development and success. Trainers must collaborate with a design team or the company hiring them to facilitate the training. During the training itself, the facilitators must connect with the audience and establish a rapport that supports vulnerability and openness. If the trainers interact poorly with the trainees, they are unlikely to be invited back. If they are invited back, they may be unlikely to inspire cooperation or growth in their trainees.

Solopreneurs interactions with clients and subcontractors, and those interactions will, in part, support or adversely impact their business. If you enjoy a career as an acclaimed surgeon or respected lawyer, your interactions with patients, clients, health insurance agencies and a team of other practitioners – many of whom are shielded from public view – will improve or decimate your practice.

As a hiring manager, one of the things I consider when interviewing candidates is their interpersonal skills. I assess the interpersonal skills they display in their content and face-to-face presentation. I ask probing questions to learn how they interact with others, manage conflict and contribute to a team atmosphere.

When candidates say things like, “I prefer to work alone” or “I can hit the ground running without assistance,” I bristle. When candidates appear to know everything and everyone, I wonder if they will be receptive to learning or open to feedback. Could these statements be indications that these individuals lack interpersonal skills?

It stands to reason, then, that interpersonal skills are among the most valuable and the bedrock of all talents and skills.

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What are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills range from emotional intelligence, empathy, oral and written communication to leadership to collaboration and teamwork.

In sum, interpersonal skills are skills that enable you to interact well with others. They include teachability and receptiveness to feedback, active or mindful listening, self-confidence and conflict resolution.

From a communications standpoint, interpersonal skills are about understanding how colleagues prefer to communicate and then using the appropriate mediums to meet respective needs. It is about understanding how to communicate in a way to get the most out of different people.

For instance, in my career as a public relations practitioner, part of what I am constantly evaluating is which colleagues, clients and members of the media prefer email, text or phone calls. I am assessing how much frill to use with each person depending on what has worked in the past and depending on what I know about the person with whom I am interacting.

Making these decisions and being disciplined enough to follow each person’s known preferences helps me better connect with the various individuals in my orbit. Is this tiring at times? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

How to Improve Interpersonal Skills

There are tons of resources to teach interpersonal skills. I love books such as Leadership Presence by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, and The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

There are also a host of books and articles on emotional intelligence, which is the ability to manage one’s emotions and perceive and adapt to others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence is likewise a critical component of positive interpersonal relations. You can learn more about it in this article: What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why It Is Important

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Active and mindful listening also support improved interpersonal skills. I recommend you take a look at this piece: Active Listening – A Skill That Everyone Should Master

I have further found that humility helps a ton with interpersonal skills. It takes humility to admit you have more to learn and that you can learn from the people around you. In fact, everyone with whom you interact has a lesson to teach you. And employers are increasingly looking for team members who are lifelong learners, meaning they believe there is always room for growth and professional and personal development.

Forbes contributor Kevin H. Johnson noted in a July 2018 article,

“That’s why, when anyone asks what the next ‘hot’ skill will be, I say it’s the same skill that will serve people today, tomorrow, and far into the future—the ability to learn.”

Don’t overlook introspection.

While interpersonal skills may seem simple enough, introspection is critical to learning where and in what ways you need to grow.

Through introspection and observation, I have learned that my interpersonal skills suffer when I am sleep deprived, because then I am short-tempered and irritable. I’ve observed this connection over a significant period in my life. Unsurprisingly, it is also true of others. Fellow LifeHack contributor, health coach and personal trainer Jamie Logie noted:

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When you are chronically sleep deprived, it really does a number on you. A lack of sleep can keep your body in a constant state of stress and over time this can get pretty ugly. Elevated stress hormones can be involved in creating a bunch of pretty nasty conditions including anxiety, headaches and dizziness, weight gain, depression, stroke, hypertension, digestive disorders, immune system dysfunction, irritability.

Additionally, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported,

“Sleep deprivation can noticeably affect people’s performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly, and form memories. Sleep deprivation also affects mood, leading to irritability; problems with relationships, especially for children and teenagers; and depression. Sleep deprivation can also increase anxiety.”

The point is, even as you are identifying ways to improve interpersonal skills, think about what is getting in the way. While sleep deprivation is a trigger for me, your stumbling block may be different.

The Bottom Line

You cannot fix what you do not know is broken. Even as you work to understand and apply interpersonal skills, spend some time in mindful meditation to get clear on what is holding you back from developing solid relationships.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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