As I sit here writing this, I feel great. The sun is streaming through my office window, I feel happy, I’m grateful for what I have and for life. Yeah there are things that aren’t great in life but I’m content with those and know I can overcome them.
Things weren’t always this way
It snuck up on me. It started out as me having a bit of a short fuse, feeling flat, and not bothered by things. You think this is just a normal ‘feeling a bit shit’, which we all get from time to time, so you ignore it, like a headache or mild stomachache. But then it gradually builds, and as it builds it strips away your identity, your sense of belonging, your belonging in the world. You find that you can be surrounded by friends and family who genuinely care for you, but you feel completely alone. Because you have to keep functioning in the world you put on the ‘I’m fine’ mask just enough so that other people don’t notice the emotional shitstorm going on inside you but doing this costs you more and more. After a while, you grow numb to the world, and you start to feel like you’re floating in a void of nothingness. Getting up from a chair feels like something is on top of you, pressing you down. Walking somewhere feels like wading through treacle.
Happiness, joy, satisfaction and love feel like foreign concepts or even completely false – like they don’t really exist. You pull back from other people, becoming more isolated. But in doing so you become more alone and start to think that because you feel like you’re alone, nobody else cares and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Nobody cares; I’m alone, so I don’t want to be around anyone else”.
Because nothing makes you happy or brings you joy, you stop trying. Things that you used to enjoy become pointless or even stupid. If someone suggests you try something, even if it’s something that may actually be helpful, it’s met instantly with “Why?”.
You feel like you will never experience happiness again. A little piece of you might hope that one day, it’s possible, but you can’t see any possible way of achieving that. It’s as though someone tells you that happiness is there, but only if you summit Mount Everest with no preparation, energy or equipment. An impossible destination with no idea or plan of how to get there, so what’s the point?
I suffered from severe depression between 2012 and 2017. If you’re not sure, ‘severe depression’ is actually a classification.
Mild depression – This is more than just feeling low because it is bad enough that it starts to have some impact on your daily life but not in a major way.
Moderate depression – This is the next level up. It typically involves some additional symptoms, but this is where your work and home life start to become affected.
Severe depression – This can be so severe that it can make it impossible to live a normal life. It typically lasts 6 months or longer and can often include things like suicidal thoughts or attempts.
So, I’d been given the full dosage and It crippled me.
Eventually, I hit a point that many people get to where you know something has to happen and it boils down to 2 very distinct possibilities.
1. You end your life because you feel like it will end this unimaginable pain (honestly? It won’t); it just passes it to someone else)
2. You get some help
Both of these options felt impossible, but one of them was going to happen, but which one? In 2015 I came scarily close to ending my life, and suicide had felt like a possibility for a long time, but I decided to try and hunt for this elusive happiness.
This didn’t mean therapy for me because I had already been seeing mental health professionals for years and found nothing was really happening. There wasn’t much (if any) improvement, but I was missing one vital component that had been in plain sight the whole time, but I had missed it, why?
Remember when I said that depression makes doing anything feel pointless, hopeless and stupid? This is why.
Depression doesn’t just destroy happiness, but it hides away anything that could possibly bring you happiness or even a brief respite from the suffering. And this, right here, is the cruel secret of depression.
Because whilst professional support is really important, real change is only going to come about with personal responsibility. I had spent years looking to the professionals to do it for me, but they simply couldn’t do that. It was me who needed to take steps to improve my own life but again – hopelessness, worthlessness, pointlessness, and emptiness are all there. Like bouncers on the door of a full life, stopping you from getting in.
So I made the decision to do something about it and started considering the concept of recovery 0 But what the hell is ‘recovery’? I don’t know about you, but I would think of recovery as the cure. 100% sorted, all good. But what if it’s a little more nuanced than that? What if recovery is actually an ongoing journey, not a destination? Because I had no idea what 100% recovery looked like; hell, I didn’t even know what 10% looked like, but what about 1%? That feels a bit more tangible – the smallest possible steps are still steps.
And this is what I decided to go with. I would focus on 1% recovery at a time. That means doing something that would improve my life or how I felt by 1% every day. So I sat down with a pen and paper and started to write what these 1% things would look like. Now don’t get me wrong, if you’re picturing me at this point as driven, determined and focused, then I hate to disappoint you but I was still the same person who woke up every morning feeling gutted because I had woken up. I still felt nothing, enjoyed nothing, pushed people away and hated my life. My head was still telling me that writing this stuff down or doing something was pointless and stupid. But one thing that I am is stubborn, and the minute someone tells me that something is not worth doing or stupid, then I’m more likely to dig my heels in and do it anyway just to be a dick about it.
I wanted to pick things that were, quick, low cost, simple and I could stop if I wanted to. In case you’re wondering, for me these 1% things looked like…
· Have a shower
· Put 1 load in the washing machine
· Make the bed
· Read 1 paragraph of a book
· Go for a 10-minute walk
You get the idea, simple, quick, low cost.
Now you might be reading this thinking, ‘What the hell good is having a shower going to do?’ but I can honestly say that for me, this was one of the most impactful things I did. Because having a shower is not only a form of self-care, but you step out of the shower cleaner than when you got into it, meaning it’s a noticeable improvement. All of these things were so small and easy that although I had given myself permission to stop at 1, I often found that I would do multiple items on the list. Or a 10-minute walk became a 20 or even 30-minute walk. A paragraph became a page, the 1 load of washing became 2, or I would dry the same load, maybe even put some of it away.
For me, this was the key to unlocking recovery. The more I did, the more I wanted. The motivation (which, as I established earlier, was non-existent) followed the action, not the other way around.
These tiny little actions put some fuel in my tank so when I went to therapy, rather than sitting there and going through the motions, I sat there saying, “OK, so what we doing today? Let’s do this!”
It was a slow, gradual progress, but progress was being made. I still had horrendous days but I also had some not-too-bad or (I shit you not) even good days. And because I’d had the good days, I understood that good days were a possibility which meant the bad days were temporary; whether they lasted a day or a year, they would pass.
If I had read this article during my darkest days, I would have likely said something like, ‘What does he know? Twat’ and if you’re thinking that? Honestly, it’s OK, I get it. This was my experience of recovery and absolutely will not apply to everyone. But if there is anything in here that’s been helpful? Tell me, share away. The more we share, the more we encourage others to do the same and give others ideas that might help.
And if you’re looking for mental health training or consulting for your workplace, that’s fun and engaging rather than corporate and robotic, then drop me a line to chat.