What Comes After Recovery from Depression?

In response to a recent post, Clinically Clueless commented that, for her, recovery was a process, not a destination. She needed to keep aware of it, like those recovering from addiction, in order to catch the signs of relapse. I’ve thought of recovery in a similar way, certainly not a state you arrive at and then take for granted. These days I consider it more like a set of skills that I have to keep practicing. I need them almost every day.

But I’ve also been unwilling to think of myself as always in recovery, as I wrote in this post last year. I want the different way of living that should come next, one with the vital energy that depression drains away so completely. Sure, symptoms linger on, and that’s why the skills to deal with them are so important.

In the past year, I came to believe that I had recovered, that I was “there.” It took quite a while before I felt OK with saying this out loud or writing it down in this blog. There had been so many false “recoveries” that I couldn’t quite believe I had changed so deeply. But it gradually dawned on me that my way of living each day had a new energy about it. I knew what I wanted to do and could get it done. I laughed about mistakes that I used to take as disasters. I started reconnecting with my family and friends, instead of lurking about in shadowy absence all the time. (However – tons of work to do in restoring relationships – much more about that coming up in another post.)

Most of all, as I wrote here at a critical moment, my belief about myself had changed. I no longer assumed I was all wrong as a person, a fraud, worthless – that endlessly replayed recording. There wasn’t any recording. I didn’t start thinking how fine and OK I was. I was simply feeling, thinking, behaving differently, without that constant bleak drag of heavy chains.

It’s true I’m not done with the symptoms, but I do feel done with the beliefs of depression. Without the power of those negative beliefs behind them, the symptoms are more like old habits. After decades of doing things their way, I have to remain aware when I find myself repeating one of those patterns.

For example, I still have a habit of reminding myself of every mistake and failure I’ve ever made. I can’t pretend I won’t keep thinking that way for a while longer – it’s a hard habit to break. However, running myself down for thinking negatively and trying to avoid those thoughts doesn’t work. Instead, I observe them and remind myself, that whatever actually happened back then, it’s over and done with. I can’t undo it now. The obsessive quality of those memories is gone because I don’t take them as confirmation of what a fool or idiot I am – as I used to do. I don’t believe that anymore.

In this sense of the need to change old habits, recovery is a process that keeps on – and on. I’m very much in the midst of it. But it’s also true that I’m living in a different place from the depressive home I used to live in. I guess I could say that recovery is both a process and a destination – but not the final one. It’s another step toward getting reconnected with people, restoring a sense of purpose, letting myself be surprised.

At that point, the mindset switches from getting over depression to sustaining wellness in all its richness. That’s where insightful guides like Evan become especially helpful. After perfecting the art of ill-being for so many years, I’m working on the skills of well-being for a change. And I have a long way to go. Feeling better is great

It’s a lot more challenging than depression because depression gives you all the answers to every experience in life. Of course, all the answers are pretty much the same – whatever it is, I’m no good at it and never will be. That explains everything – so, if you accept that answer, you can just sit back and watch the life seep away. Being present for my life definitely beats being absent, but after decades of doing things the depressed way, this doesn’t happen all at once.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was working on a series of ebooks about recovery. My hope is to outline what I’ve learned – and am still learning by trial and error – by drawing out those practical skills that have helped me get through this long effort to get back into life. This step-by-step experience is the theme of the new site I’m developing: Recovery from Depression.

Perhaps that’s not quite the right name, though. It might be better to call it something that gets at reconnecting with life – the third phase that takes you beyond recovery. Any ideas? How do you think about recovery?

Image Credit: Some Rights Reserved by Mike Baird at Flickr

26 Responses to “What Comes After Recovery from Depression?”

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  1. Donna says:

    Yes. I have one of those trendy quotes hanging in my living room: “Happiness is not a Destination, it is a WAY of Life.” A friend pooh-pooh’ed the quote saying it didn’t mean anything. She said happiness is overrated and there is no way to make it a “lifestyle.” Perhaps not. But it can be a choice. I don’t mean positive visualization, either. Or even reframing. And if anyone thinks happiness is overrated, I say please give me a chance to rate it for myself! Overrated or not, it sure beats depression.

    Part of the choice, as you mention in this post, is willingness to let go of all those old self-judgments. Like the story of the baby elephant chained to a stake in the ground for years. Then when the chain is removed as an adult, the grown elephant still stands right there next to the stake not understanding he can walk away. Depression can easily condition us to stand as if still chained to a stake in the ground, even after the depression is now fleeting or gone completely. Willingness to be surprised, you said — Yes. I am surprised now by how beautiful nature is. It never fails to surprise and astound me. That is a happiness I can live with every day.

  2. Victoria says:

    Hi I have suffered with depression my whole life, being diagnosed with ptsd 4 yrs ago, the last few weeks I feel different like aomething inside has change I wake up and everything seems brighter I feel more clear, but i have something inside me fighting this telling me that I’m being stupid to tho k I’m getting better but i feel i am, i tales tablets to get me thro the day more tablets to get me thro the nights and I think im ready to try and lower the dose of my tablets but am scared that this is just trick my mind is playing on me and everything will fall apart soon, can someone pls give me advice on what is happening

  3. Rob says:

    Im looking for a comprehensive outline of depression recovery. medicated or not, what are the averages of recovery, ie getting energy back, feeling normal ( not speed up from not being depressed ), wanting to do things, establishing social connections, short and long term brain changes, etc. I can find lots of stuff on addiction recovery but none on depression

  4. Lala says:

    I’m just coming out of my depression and it’s a whole new world. I am happy that the cloud is finally lifting. However, I still get stuck in places and then the panic sets in. I’m trying very hard to let it be a process, but I feel the pressure of needing to speed things up in order to keep my job going smoothly. I wish I had time just to process this new side of me and then tackle the world. Unfortunately, there’s no way to financially do that so I’m trying my best to take the hurdles as they come.

    • Jake T. says:

      Hey, I just wanted to say that you’re not alone. I’m trying to make new habits in my life, and kick out the old and bad ones that kept me in bed to the early hours of the afternoon, it takes patience. There will never be enough time in the day, but in the week, month, year, you’ll find that by setting goals and creating new positive habits you’ll become the person you want to be. Just be hopeful for now. And add that to the list. The shitty thing about life is we aren’t all born equal, we don’t all have the money we need to find our recovery the fastest, but that’s a struggle and experience with a lot of value to it, so instead of looking at it like something that holds you back, let it be your start.

  5. The Dude 89 says:

    I don’t buy it at all! I don’t want to sound bitter but I don’t believe life beyond depression exists.
    You and all the people that view life as a very happy place sicken me.
    Life is not a place full of hope and smiles. It’s merely a plateau of constant anguish, sadness and loneliness.
    This whole hope thing is an intricate lie seeded in our heads at childhood…fostered by children’s media until you suddenly grow up and see beyond the façade shrouding the real misery of this ugly hag called life.

    • Ryan says:

      I’m deeply sorry you feel this way dude. I have made many statements throughout my life that sound very similar to yours. I could explain that this is pessimistic, but the intelligence behind your writing tells me that you don’t see yourself as a pessimist, you are a realist. You see the world as it is and can intelligently describe it as such. After many years with this mindset (even feeling angry just from seeing someone smile) I learned that the “realism” I believed in was based on an a deeper unconscious scaffolding of negativity. Sure it sounds like a bunch of hoohah, but you have someone right here that is admitting to having that same viewpoint and eventually altering it. While I do not view life as a very happy place, at least now this dude abides.

  6. London Girl says:

    Thanks for this also. I can relate to it so much <3 bless your soul

  7. Cammomile says:

    Thank you for writing this, after coming to terms with my depression, the causes, the mistakes, the endless silly situations I found myself in after desperately chasing anything and everything that made me feel loved I can now say I have begun the process of a happy and healthy recovery. Depression is an awful disease that ruins lives if those suffering and those around them. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, they have helped me make sense of my depression and come to terms with it and plan for a healthy and happy future. I wish you well in your recovery, I really do xxx

  8. Hi John,

    What my therapist said was not in jest. We both have discussed this at length. With family verification, my experiences surrounding my birth and some clinical and scientific evidence, I do believe that this is true…I can’t remember a time that I was not suicidal or just not wanting to be…I remember wanting to die by running into the busy street…I was two.

    Evidence is beginning to show that the chemicals and reactions in the brain transfer inutero.

    • john says:

      Hi, CC –

      My apologies – I didn’t mean to make light of the idea, but it’s really a new one for me. I don’t suppose it should be, though. Babies are born with addictions acquired in utero, and other diseases are transmitted in the same way. My understanding of depression has focused on the genetic inheritance – which I definitely picked up through one side of the family. With those congenital traits, depression might or might not develop, depending on the effects of family and other aspects of the environment of childhood. This is the explanation I’ve read most often, but I’ll look for more about intrauterine transfeer. It’s a terrible legacy to receive.

      All my best to you.


  9. Les says:

    Hi John,
    I enjoy your writing and I find your thinking and reflections useful in stimulating my thinking about my own experiences and the impact on my life.-thankyou.
    I have been diagnosed with a number of diagnosis including Paranoid Schizophrenia but having embarked on a journey of self discovery I am truly a very differemt person and live a very different life. I like to think in terms of thriving as it feels more about life and a stage beyond recovery.
    Life is good. May be challenging but so good to feel alive and worthwhile.

    • john says:

      Hi, Les –

      What an amazing journey of self discovery yours must be. One of the obstacles along the way, I’ve found, is the assumption by the psychiatric profession that many of these conditions – esp schizophrenia and personality disorders – never go away. I’ve been inspired by the stories of people like you who’ve found their own path. Do you know Elyn Saks book, The Center Cannot Hold? It tells of her experience of living with psychosis and yet emerging with a full, rich life.

      Thank you for your comment.


  10. Marie says:

    I really appreciate the hope this post provides . . . that the healing journey is not just about removing the pain but it is ultimately about embracing the joy and passion that is available to us once we can clear the space to accept it.

    Thank you for this holistic viewpoint!

    – Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)

    • john says:

      Thanks, Marie –

      The realization that something more positive was possible than simply not being depressed was very powerful. I suppose it’s a measure of how deeply depression reaches that my thinking stopped at the idea of relieving pain. I couldn’t really be done with depression if I kept looking over my shoulder for its threat of return.

      I’d also like to thank you for providing tremendous hope as well through your own blog.


  11. Will C. says:

    I’ve come to realize my depression is somewhat different from the experience of most depressives. My sense of worthlessness came from the drastic misperceptions of me by my parents, not from the reality of who or what I am. Separating those misperceptions from the reality taught me many dark truths about the nature of people and society, far too early for my developmental health. So I grew isolated; I developed isolated; I understand isolated, all too well. And so, my triggers are on the outside, because of a differing awareness from others.
    Although I let go of that isolation readily enough, embrace the society of others and seek out companionship where I can, not all interactions are supportive, especially where awareness differs–some exchanges can even be isolating. Those isolating interactions open a bottomless pit of negative feelings which are unfortunately grounded in reason and stem from fundamental truths. This is where my depression reasserts itself, and I can go from happily adjusted to suicidal within hours. Yet while one mustn’t deny truths, not all truths are necessary either, despite any prudence the “facts” may seem to demand. I’ve learned to believe that my hopelessness is a transient phase; I can talk myself through it and walk out relatively unscathed.
    Yet walking myself through it always drains me and I need to build my self-confidence up again afterward, to not let any overly self-conscious shyness take root or the hopelessness will return. My recovery comes in the length of time those episodes last, a shortening of the period of my depression, not a complete absence. The “after recovery” happens each time I let go of the dark nature of society, re-embrace a hope in humanity and engage with others. The two perspectives are strikingly distinct, and while I MUCH prefer hope, I may always be desperately vulnerable to bad faith and betrayal since defending against those behaviors lies at the root of my depression.
    Because hope crowds out distrust, mistrust remains a part of life, therefore betrayals happen–I’ve simply learned not to blame myself, at least not for too long.

    • john says:

      Hello, Will –

      The influence of parents is powerful in the early years and certainly induced in me a distorted and limited view of who I was. So right from that early time, I’ve experienced supportive relationships that could turn destructive in a flash. Mistrust in later relationships seems to me a result from what happens in those formative times. But as you say, there’s plenty of deliberate manipulation and betrayal to deal with.

      I’m glad you’ve found a way to shorten the periods of depression. That was a key step for me in getting past it altogether. It’s wonderful to hear that hope is such an active force for you – also that you aren’t blaming yourself for the betrayal you experience. I know it’s easy to lose hope in humanity, but hopefulness isn’t lost to you, nor, I think, to most human beings. I wish that belief of mine could be matched by faith in “humanity” at the level of crowds, nations, institutions, etc.

      Thanks again for discussing your insights here.


    • SamGas says:

      Will C: your experience sounds incredibly similar to mine, from the extremely isolated childhood to the current emotional swings dependent on interactions with the external world and its inhabitants. I’d be curious to know how you are doing, over three years later!


      • lightawake says:

        I also have had this tremendous lack of confidence in myself, as well as depending on others to direct or make decisions for me. I also notice that my state of mind (whether at peace or anxious) is inextricably linked to the interactions I have with others and their responses – or how I imagine they judge me.

        The thoughts I have currently reached about this for me, are that during my formative years:
        1. my parents entrained me to be very obedient, and therefore be dependent, controlled, and have a dependent, helpless and victim mentality.
        2. I was not given the support to make decisions for myself, or develop confidence to direct my own life.
        3. that these are some elements that contributed to me getting depression.

        I have recently noticed that as I have identified my own strengths, values and found opportunities to voice my opinions and needs in the presence of others, I have become more centred in myself, and as a result, the focus on others has decreased quite markedly. This was only possible after dealing with the more severe symptoms – I wasn’t even able to look at social interactions until I had dealt with how depression was affecting me internally – physically, physiologically, mentally, emotionally, energetically and spiritually – first. (Not to mention it was slow going because of the looping thoughts, sheer exhaustion, hopelessness and suicidal and obsessive thoughts that plagued me at first).

        I’m really glad that I stumbled across this blog, and want to thank the author for showing me that I’m not alone in believing in full recovery – and that it’s worth it.

        Also want to extend my love and strength to all those suffering from depression or other mental illness – something that one of my healers told me early on which helped me was: ‘if you delve into every wound, explore it and look at it, you will always, always come away with a treasure buried within it.’

  12. John, Thank you so much for the link and post. Currently during my process, I also have great moments regarding the things that you struggles with. They are similar to mine. I know that during significant stressful times that it easy for me to become more depressed. My view may also be skewed as my therapist has told me that if one could be depressed in the womb that I would have been.

    take care,

    • john says:

      Hi, CC –

      Therapists say the strangest things. I hope the comment you mention wasn’t altogether serious – it would certainly bother me to hear that. I just hope your great moments become more and more frequent.


  13. Evan says:

    Thanks for the mention John.

    Titles are tricky things. None spring to my mind I’m afraid.

    Looking forward to the ebooks and new site.

    • john says:

      Hi, Evan –

      Titles are hard, but I have a lead close by in the subtitle of this blog – life is the key word to add.

      Good luck with the combined blogs – that’s similar to what I’m trying to do. I’ll ask you a couple of questions soon by email.


  14. louise says:

    I don’t believe in coincidences; I do believe in synchronicity. This quote came to me earlier today by email and then I read your blog post John. Believe it fits this discussion, thus, I’m sharing.

    Interviewer: “Vernon, the nature of your work involves change and I wonder what you feel is the most important change that’s necessary for us today.

    Vernon: First of all we have to see what spiritual change is not. Spiritual or inner change is not getting a new excitement about a new philosophy or reading a new book or moving to another place to join some society or philosophical organization. Self change means just that – a very drastic whole change in the way you think, in
    the way you look at the world, and the way you look at yourself.”


  1. […] John Folk-Williams. “What Comes after Recovery from Depression?” Accessed April 26, 2014. The process of recovery. Jon G. Allen. “Recovering from Depression can be a Catch-22.” April 26, 2014. Why the nature […]

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