A strange thing happened recently in the midst of confusion over multiple recovery strategies. I suddenly realized that something had changed deep down – at the level of basic belief about myself. But before I can explain, I need to back up for a moment.
I’ve been searching for some time to find the right combination of therapies, medication, spiritual practice, physical activity – anything and everything I could work with. My goal has been to develop a new adaptation to depression – adaptation, not cure, because after decades of living with the illness I have come to assume there would be no permanent getaway, no final flag-waving victory.
What I hoped for was that I could believe, once and for all, that depression and I were not the same, that it was simply an illness that would strike from time to time but then pull back. I would no longer feel its presence everywhere poisoning my life. I would come to change the deep belief, that has never fully gone away, that the voice of depression is right, that I’m not worth much at all.
But I’ve been having trouble finding the right combination of actions to stabilize progress toward that kind of recovery. As I say, I’ve been trying many things – writing this blog, meditating, nutrition, therapy, and on and on. True to one of the worst aspects of depression, however, my mind often drifts and loses focus, motivation lags, and I lose track of what I’m doing, fail to sustain any strategy for long. I had begun to believe that I would never experience recovery in a meaningful way. – And then this strange thing happened.
I started to feel better – much, much better. Now this is a relative state for me – it’s not like springing out of bed for my morning Superman flight around the neighborhood nor even like Might Mouse flashing to the rescue in song. No, it’s a lot simpler than heroic leaps to a powerhouse life. It’s about taking steps in recovery. Usually, these are halting, stumbling, and I’ve had little faith that they would lead to permanent change – but there is something different about this. It’s not like the reprieves I’ve had in the past – even those that lasted a very long time.
This feels like the real thing. It’s not so spectacular that I can raise a shout of triumph. In fact, it’s hard to put a name to the feeling. In one sense, it’s as clear as can be. I feel like myself, I am full of purpose and have the energy and humor to do what I want to do. I also have the awareness and the presence to be a part of my family again, instead of the hidden husband and dad who might as well be away on a trip, for all the closeness I can have with those nearest to me. But the deeper part of this goes beyond even those most precious gifts. I’ve had that sense of myself restored before, I’ve returned to family life, I’ve excelled in what I wanted to do – only to lose it all over again to depression – and again and again.
I’m reminded of the stories of friends who are recovering alcoholics. They’ve told me of returning to rehab for 30 or 40 or 70 times until that 71st or 53rd or whatever visit (there is almost always a precise number) when they realized that something had changed, something was different, something had shifted. It might take them a while to confirm, or it might suddenly be clear as bright light that this was the turning point. After that, recovery took the lead, though they never lost the knowledge of the danger they were in, or the need to keep working at recovery every single day.
Similarly, I feel that shift going on in a deep place, and I know that I can build on that with new confidence. I don’t know why it’s happening – and I’m the sort who keeps trying to understand the why’s of everything that comes my way. Thinking hard about the why’s in this case seems meaningless. After all, there has not been a why for depression for decades. Sure, I can point to traumas of youth as the likely precipitating causes, but after many years the condition stopped being a reaction to any event – to anything at all. It was a background condition I lived with. At times it would take me over. At times it would recede. No cause, no provocation – it was just there.
So does there have to be an explanation when something much brighter and happier is taking the place of depression? No, not at all. I’ve learned through writing this blog that this inner shift had to happen before any permanent change could happen.
I had to believe – madly, truly, deeply – that I simply had the right to be alive – the right to take up space in the world, to love, to find happiness, to succeed. That belief may not have anything to do with the biochemistry of depression or genetic inheritance or family history or trauma or anything else. I didn’t have it before; I have it now. How it arrived is a mystery. Perhaps it results from the totality of efforts to date – but I have done all those things for years, so why now?
Perhaps it is simply a gift that can’t be questioned – a gift that may have been there all along. Now it’s part of me.
Can you share a story about a change of inner belief that started you in a new direction?
Image: Some Rights Reserved by Tony the Misfit at Flickr
I think it is serendipitous that I am reading this post today. Apparently I read and commented on it in 2011 and that comment sounds pretty upbeat and positive. (Perhaps even wiser than I remember myself being…ever…which is hopeful.)
But it is extra special reading it today because lately it is not so much the long view into my childhood, as you yourself say. Not all those ways of ensuring personal safety still keeping me hidden and quiet, not the triggering words that still echo in my head, even though they do. The key to my “rising up” out of depression RIGHT NOW in my daily life is no longer analysis and evaluation and R&D. It is a bigger view of my place in the world.
For instance, I was so down this morning — I have gained weight during the pandemic, I just had another 60-something birthday, and keeping firm boundaries is very difficult with family members. So I dragged a chair into my darkest closet and sat for 20 minutes just taking long slow breaths. Then I went for a walk outside — I live on the edge of Fort Worth. Believe it or not I see deer often, hear the coyotes at night, watch cottontail rabbits dash across the parking lot. Great place. I examined my place in all of this as another living being — no more or less than a sunflower, a hawk, wasps, the tiny spider living under a purple thistle, children walking to the community swimming pool, etc. As well as rocks, clouds, the ghost of a moon. I have a place here. I deserve to be here. I am supposed to be here just like everything else. It is all imperfect, evolving, coming into being, returning to the dust…and then I felt calm.
If I didn’t have depression, I might have gone through life with less heartaches — maybe so, maybe not. But I truly believe I might not have taken the time to examine my place in the natural world around me. I might have worried more about goals and striving to achieve this or that. I might have used all my energy trying to make relationships work or poured my resources into some grand “purpose.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. For me, though, I can feel the rightness of simply being where I am and what I am. Like that tiny little spider under the thistle.
This is beautiful thank you for sharing I hope all continues to go well with you & if not I trust that you will have the strength to overcome again.
Hi, John! Thank you for your informative blog. My major depression started in 1979 while I was in my senior year of seminary. I became very fatigued with a poor memory. Into my first six years as pastor in two churches, I spiraled downward as into a swirling whirlpool of depression.
I thought it was a physical condition that slowed down my 37 year old body. I discovered that it was nothing physical at the doctor, who advised me to get more exercise, which was good for me but didn’t help the fatigue. Finally, after sinus surgery caused me to experience deeper emotional disconnect from people and emotional outbursts, I had two anxiety attacks that mimicked heart attacks.
After the emergency room doctor found nothing wrong with me, he recommended that I get psychological help. The first psychiatrist just listened to me but didn’t help me for six months. The second one misdiagnosed me with bipolar disease. I finally became a patient at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the team approach broke through to me.
They taught me for 22 hours a week about depression, anger, and anxiety. Their group therapy, psychodrama, and other work with me were God’s tools for me to begin my recovery. Also, the chaplain gave me a book about anger. The twelfth chapter was entitled “Anger at God.” I couldn’t finish that chapter before I began to tell him that I was angry at him for allowing, not causing, my many losses, including the deaths of a brother and a son, bullying on the playground, and a dysfunctional family when I was growing up.
At Pine Rest, I learned to cry basically for the first time in my 43 years as a “macho male.” Then, I learned a prayer pattern that is in the Bible but not in our culture, lamenting, that is, honestly sharing my anger and anxiety openly with God. After I did it in private 3 or 4 times a week for 7 1/2 months, my depression left me for more than 3 decades now. After another month of lamenting, God’s peace came over me, also for more than 30 years now.
Every time I start feeling tired again, I lament persistently until God’s peace returns about those issues, including three kinds of chronic pain and daily migraines. The migraines are gone for more than 10 years, but the chronic pain remains; God has given his peace about my pain to enable me to accept it as part of my life that I need to control. This kind of prayer is God’s tool for me to let him know my feelings honestly and to overcome my major depression.
Mary Jane says
I deeply feel what you are talking about and I want to share my own story of this belief with you. I am 24 and I have been dealing with depression from my high school years. I have going through psychoanalysis type of therapy for 3 years. It improved my symptoms for short periods and then my depression and other mental issues were all back. Recently, I have been reading about it a lot and I think my symptoms perfectly fit with dysthymia, with episodes of major depression in between.
Right now I am doing my master’s degree as an international student in the US, and I feel so lonely and have no family and friends around. Sometimes I don’t go out and see anybody for like 6 days and I feel so isolated. I’m also in a very challenging and unhealthy relationship with a guy who is dealing with narcissism disorder; he does not accept it and his unfaithfulness and bad behaviors made me lose all that little self-confidence that I had. Because of all of these issues, I have recently being through another episode of major depression and I feel so lonely and helpless.
In spite of all these difficulties, a couple of months earlier, I finally came to this belief that I don’t want to die and I really want to live a nice life. I have been thinking: So what? I’m a hundred percent sure that I don’t want to die and and I cannot blame my childhood and other external factors for the rest of my life, for the things I have been going through. I felt that there is no point to blame my genetics, family history, and biology for that: are they going to all apologize me? Of course not! It was a very deep experience and I cannot put it in words by simply saying “well, one day I finally came to this conclusion that I don’t want to die!” But it occurred to me. Although since then, I have been dealing with a major episode of depression, anxiety, and tones of relationship issues that worsen all of my mental issues, I still deeply hold this belief. I talked to my therapist and decided to finally put aside my fear of medication and give it a shot. I think it is going to increase my power and emotional capacity to keep going with my therapy and follow the mindfulness practices and other self-help exercises to make a progress. I’m sure that I am still going to have these sad days that I cannot come out of my bed and do nothing than crying. But deep inside, I need to remind myself that belief, that it is not the life that I deserve and I want to accept the responsibility of making my best out of it.
I’ve just stumbled across your blog and wanted to say Thank you.
I was looking for some confirmation that how I choose to view depression and fostering a belief that I could manage it, heal, recover, learn from it, listen to it with kindness, etc (and I still don’t have the vocabulary to define where i’m heading) was as important as anything else.
During the last two years I having been battling with what it means to have this temperament and this style of coping and inner dialogue we call depression. Throughout I have had this strange dichotomy of believing that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, but also (often buried so deep I couldn’t always access it) this intuition that there was more to me and a refusal to describe myself as a depressed person. Interestingly my refusal to describe myself as a depressive got peoples backs up when I tried to ask for help. People who were supposed to have my best interests at heart were also slaves to the self-fufilling prophecy that depression is chronic and untreatable and they insinuated that my hope was more like burying my head in the sand!
This post spoke to me as recently I also have felt an indescribable shift. I do believe it is a culmination of the last two years of trying to grow and nurture some compassion for myself. It feels strange because I don’t feel out of the woods yet, and I still worry about my path but I think the shift came when I no longer believed there was something wrong with me. Even if I have days, or even weeks or months (though the months no longer happen) of depression I’m not flawed or a failure, just a human having a human response that needs my kindness and compassion, not my wrath and panic.
Thank you for being an island of hope.
I believe there is a certain ebb and flow to life that is inexhaustable and unexplainable. Everyone feels it. The tide of health and wellbeing comes in…and it goes out again…over and over. I have seen it in the lives of my friends and family members as well as in my own. Some are blessed with more “incoming” tides and fewer “outgoing.” My tide was out for so long I wondered if gravity had ceased to exist or the moon had stopped revolving around the earth. It seemed like a cataclysmic event.
But, as you said, that moment came when the tide turned perceptably. I could feel the inrush of peace and calm and self-acceptance. I could feel the distance between myself and God receding and knew something had happened. I wasn’t sure what.
Part of it was committing myself to whatever it took to recover. I tried many of those hundred paths before finding my way again. And now, when I grow less committed to sustaining recovery, it wanes again and I spent hours or days lying in the dark trying to figure out what happened, what I did wrong. But I don’t think it is always a matter of doing something wrong, or wrong thinking, or even being less committed. Sometimes it is just that shift in offshore currents that is simply part of life. And we have no choice but to move with it.
But it seems to me that each time the cycle starts again I am a little more prepared, a little more functional, a little less hopeless. Because I know the feeling of wellness and that it will again be achieveable through both effort and waiting.
Hi, Donna –
What a powerful statement of this experience. There aren’t that many descriptions of such moments, especially as searching and beautiful as yours.
Your comments are such a gift.
Hi John and others,
Being an infojunkie, googling for advice on how to create a good blog, I stumbled upon your site. My compliments for the way you put your thoughts into words!
In regard to the topic ‘the gift of belief’, I want to share a poem I’ve written some years ago. Suffering from both fysical and psycholgical disorders, amongst which dysthymia, I’ve had to develop copingstrategies that would fit both categories. Creativity has turned out to be the keyword in that regard.
It takes creativity to engage myself with others (for example by cooking on birthdayparties so I don’t have to socialise the whole time without feeling guilty or worrying about being considered antisocial), to encourage myself to participate in society and to act constructive in stead of selfdestructive when life throws another curveball at me (for example by inviting people over for dinner when I’m lacking appetite due to illness).
These copingstrategies help me to stay in touch with others and be more energyefficient while doing so, which is better both in the short and long run.
However, I’ve discovered that releasing my true creativity, through writing, cooking, dansing, painting and theatre, leaves me with more energy than it has costed me to do. When I’m in a bad condition, creativity still offers a good emtional outlet. This experience helps me to encourage myself to do it, even when I don’t feel like it.
As a token of appreciation for your site, here’s some of my poetic thoughts on the gift of belief.
The game of life
With as many marks
on body as well as soul,
made by selfinflicted pain,
too strict in wanting to fullfill a role,
life proves not an easy game.
So why not change
the setting of this game
and the rules that we use?
Cause there’s everything to gain
when there’s nothing left to loose
There’s nothing left to loose…
Thank you, Sandra –
The creative outlet of writing, especially here, has not only energized me but also been a mainstay for recovering from depression. It’s wonderful to hear that you have so many dimensions to your creative activity. Expression through body and voice as well as writing and painting are so balancing. For my wife, it’s cooking, painting, garden creation and all things plant-life and growth, among others.
Thank you for this poem – it does go to the heart of inner change.
What you write in this article is exactly where I find myself. I have suffered with depression throughout my life. I never took the time to face it until it took on epic proportions, resulting in a nervous breakdown.
It was after that event that I started to seriously focus on facing my depression and recovery. At first my attempts at recovery where definitely haphazard. I tried different things – seeing what worked and what did not. In between these attempts I would slip into bouts of depression.
Eventually though I found my balance. But as you said it was a gradual and it was not that “flag waving” moment of victory. It is a shift in the inner being and something that is hard to explain.
Thanks, Joe, for these thoughts. It’s wonderful to hear that you have found – or regained balanced. And writing about it on your blog helps the rest of us too.
Oh my word. I have only found this web stie today and already I am reading truly meaninful words. Words that give me a visual picture or a meaningful concept. I too need to see the gift that life is
Hi, Chris –
Thank you, Chris – it’s great to hear that the posts mean something to you. I hope you see that gift soon – it’s already in you, buried under a lot of junk.
My best –
Wendy Love says
Such great thoughts, both on the post and on the comments! I can’t believe it took me this long to find this site! To answer the question about ‘belief’. When I feel better I just want to do stuff that I haven’t been able to do and enjoy it while it lasts. I have rapid cycling bipolar, so it never lasts. I don’t want to take any time to analyze why I feel better because I could waste all of the ‘good’ time and then when I feel worse I would have to analyze that too, and on it goes. I have experienced some recovery though. I seldom feel sad and hopeless and desperate now and for that I am thankful. It takes a lot of ‘strategy’ to keep me that way though. So as good as it is, this illness still takes up much of my time. Writing has been the thing that I can do and enjoy no matter what I am feeling!
Hi, Wendy –
That’s the important part – doing stuff when you’re feeling good, rather than analyzing. Getting immersed in living is a lot better for recovery than thinking about living. I’m glad to hear that writing is something you can always do. I’m not so fortunate that way – depression used to undermine my writing imagination completely. But since getting better, I do it every day. Few things are so rewarding and helpful.
Dan Lukasik says
Wow – what a beautiful site you have created! I found it by chance and find your writings very powerful. I see myself in many of them.
I am a 47 year old lawyer from Buffalo, New York. I have suffered from depression for a long time and still do. I wanted to find a way to help other depressed lawyers. So I created a website – the first of its kind in the country – for such lawyers. Check it out at http://www.lawyerswithdepression.com. I so enjoyed your site that I am going to put it in the recommended links section of my site. And – of course – I am going to keep reading it! Warmly, Dan
Thank you, Dan –
I read a post of yours on Mediate.com recently and will visit your site very soon. It was courageous of you to break the ice on this issue and wonderful that you’ve set up a resource for other professionals. Good for you!
My best to you — John
John D says
Thanks so much! I feel like saluting everyone who has commented here – I’ve learned so much from you all. I know that’s been working its invisible change at the level of “essence” as I learn new attitudes, beliefs, ideas. If you’re thinking in the same way, I hope you too have been experiencing a turnaround.
All my best to you – John
John … WOW. So much revelation and *life* in your latest post! My own thinking has parallelled yours over the last few days. Adaptation — yes. Long-term / lifelong illness — yes. Presence — yes. That’s an irrefutable sign that we are indeed here, now. Sweet relief, isn’t it!
Those small steps that you’ve been taking … I believe that relatively speaking (Sure enough, we all can’t be “supermen” … and I for one don’t want to be!), those small steps *are* heroic leaps. Some of the (seemingly) smallest movements signal and tweak great change at the level of essence. Sounds like this is happening in you …
And if something changes at the level of essence, the ripple effects are profound and lasting.
I salute you! 🙂
John D says
I know just what you mean about avoidance as a key problem. There have been so many times when I just couldn’t face walking into a meeting or other gathering – or I’d be compelled to leave part way through – or I’d hide myself in plain view – disappearing as a presence among the people there. You sound like you’re on the path, though, and I’m sure you’ll keep making progress.
Thanks so much for responding to my question.
John D says
Thank you – I look forward to connecting with you sometime soon. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feeling not afraid is a remarkable accomplishment – however long it took. I haven’t quite gotten to that point but do feel a level of confidence I can’t remember having had for a couple of decades.
Hope we can speak soon.
Thanks for your kind comment John. Well, I’m the last person to be giving tips. I had and still have a long way to go with my social skills, believe me. Not avoiding is a big step for me, and I still don’t win the battle of avoidance half the time. Sorry about the anxiety you speak of – depression and anxiety do seem linked together. I find that too – I start to feel more cheerful but then my anxiety goes up.
First time I have read your blog.
You write well, and tell it true.
This is an inspiring post and I will try to follow with you and connect.
If it’s any help I have been free from illness for many years.
But….it took over 20 years to be set free. Most say one is never cured, but I feel free and not afraid.
Will read and speak again…..
I think you are on to something..
John D says
Eileen – Things do get dark in trying to describe what this condition is like – but I’ve been working at getting a little light in here. And that seems to be happening. What you describe, though, sounds incredible. As depression becomes more manageable, I feel all the more acutely an almost constant anxiety and stress. Congratulations on turning that around! That’s a huge shift – perhaps you can figure out a little about what was happening as that change occurred, and give the rest of us a few tips!
My very best to you – John
John D says
Hi Stephany – (This is a response to your first comment) That’s so true – it’s hard to feel at times that you should feel happiness. Real self-respect gets lost at so early an age for many that it becomes almost impossible to let it return, or help it be born again. It sounds like you still have to work at it – I know I do. Good luck to you in that – you’ve achieved so much, you must be pretty close by now!
(Now to the second!) That’s amazing – grief as a gift. I guess it was just that in the story I told about my dog. That was the first time I could feel the real emotion of grief and realize how different it was from the endless grieving for I don’t know what that goes with depression. I’m so happy to hear that you’ve found strength in all the adversity you’ve had. It occurs to me that’s an ongoing theme of your blog.
All love – John
John, life is funny sometimes…I read your title when I left my comment, thinking it said “The Gift of Grief“. I’ve been so immersed in it, my eyes read what I guess I needed to address: that grief was a gift—a stepping stone to better places in my mind for me as a person. I needed to embrace the grief and let it go to actually heal. So thanks, in a round-about-way you helped me realize that grief was a gift to me this last year.
Wow, that is so excellent to hear. I’ve been following this blog for a while, and while inspiring it’s also pretty dark. Thanks for sharing some hope today.
I haven’t had a huge shift like you describe myself, though here’s hoping for the future. But one thing has really changed for me. I have social anxiety, and so avoided social occasions in the past. But in the past year, I have gone out to many groups and events, and have met a few new friends, after years of no new friends. I can look at my social abilities now compared to the past and they are 100% improved. Which for me leads to feeling better about myself.
A gift that can’t be questioned. That is it! I’ve learned via grief that life is a gift that can’t be questioned. Isn’t it interesting that we all want happiness and peace of mind so much, but when we find it, we often feel un-deserving? Letting go and accepting the gift is not easy, which is probably rooted in lack of self-respect. Believing in myself was my answer.
John D says
Dear Chunks –
Thank you! Your support always means a lot to me. I think I’ll get to the shouting for joy part when I’m a little farther along – and this all hits me in full force.
How do beliefs change? That’s something I’ll keep writing about for a while until I get a better understanding. I’m sorry that you haven’t had this kind of change just yet, but I’m sure it will happen! You are such a generous, warm soul – it’s only a matter of time before you start responding to yourself the way you do to others. You project a lot of love into the world, and all the good you do comes from a great person – here’s hoping you can appreciate her as much as the rest of us do.
My best — John
John D says
Thank you, Dano –
I think I have been laying a good foundation over the last couple of years, especially the last six months when I’ve made some major changes. But it would be a good time to read the Big Book again – that is always so helpful, especially the stories of recovery. I am not a 12 stepper, but the book is still one of the most valuable I know.
My very best to you, Dano – John
Chunks of Reality says
First of all, I am so very happy for you. I loved reading your post (as always) and you have no idea how I wanted to stand up and shout in joy that this shift occurred for you.
Secondly, in answer to your question, after a lot of thought, I can’t think of any time that an inner belief changed that started me in a new direction. I wish I had one.
How do inner beliefs change? I realize you said that you don’t know why or how it happened, but it is something that I am now going to ask myself because I would really like for some of my inner beliefs to change. I certainly sabotage myself over them enough.
Very happy for you, my dear!
Dano MacNamarrah says
How wonderful for you! I know that the 12-Step recovery can indeed create the kind of shift that you refer to.
The Big Book speaks of a spiritual awakening, which may occur suddenly, but most often takes place over time. This is after prayer, meditation, service to others and following the 12 Steps.
I believe you have done all, or even more of these steps. You have created a solid foundation, which will support you as you move forward on your path.
Recovery is possible for anyone. You are a shining example.