I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I'd never suffer a major bout of depression again. And then last summer, I started slipping. The lights flickered. I thought I was burned out after a high intensity year in my personal life and career.
And then the lights went out. All day, my stomach churned and my chest was so heavy I thought I'd cave in. In the middle of the night, my heart squeezed and my body contracted in the agony of despair. It was more painful than childbirth.
I had "death by accident" fantasies, which were suicidal thoughts dressed up in the guilt of a mother of three. If I was hit by a bus/lightning/terrorist attack -- that's okay, I was ready to go.
I knew I was trapped inside my head. The conversation that I was having with myself was a negative loop that never solved anything. It was insane. I had to get the hell out of there.
I wasn't going to take anti-depressants, as in my experience, they are a short-term solution. I want a life-time transformation.
It took me 6 months to climb back to the point where I'm in control of my mind at all times. I used various self-help gurus' books, podcasts, self-awareness training classes, diet and exercise. I'm happy to share my content list and approach.
Eight years ago I decided to stop taking anti-depressants and transform my thinking, and I became aware of the wealth of self realization authors and content. I've always been a very high functioning depressed person. The beliefs and thought patterns that started the depression began in childhood and wreaked havoc in my teenage years. I started psychological therapy at 16-years-old, and started anti-depressants at 20-years-old. I took meds on and off for 15 years, always in combination with therapy.
But it felt like I was on a never ending cycle of trigger event, depression, drugs/ psychotherapy, recovery -- repeat.
And then, eight years ago I had the first of five major realizations that would transform my life.
1. I am the only person responsible for my happiness. I create happiness by choosing what I think about anything and everything. No one and nothing can make me happy.
My husband, my children, my psychologist, my best friends, my parents, my boss -- none of them can make me happy. I make myself happy.
Once I made that realization, the second one came fast.
2. I am the only person responsible for my unhappiness. I create unhappiness by choosing what I think about anything and everything. No one and nothing can make me unhappy.
This was a bit hard to swallow at first. It was easier to blame others for my unhappiness than work through what I was thinking that made me unhappy. But if I choose what I think, why the heck is there a constant stream of chatter inside my head? Who is choosing that? And then I realized that I am not the voice inside my head. I am observing the voice inside my head. My brain or my mind, is a tool for me to use.
The key is in continuously, actively and habitually choosing thoughts that serve me well, that make me feel good, and that are aligned with what I want in life.
3. When I'm not choosing what to think, I'm running on default chatter that was created in my childhood. If the chatter makes me feel depressed, I need to choose thoughts that feel better. Or choose to think nothing at all.
Okay, I got the first three concepts quite easily, and actively use them in my life. But it has taken this last depressive episode to really understand the 4th realization.
4. A breakdown is an opportunity to break through.
When I'm frustrated, upset, sad, disappointed, etc., it's because something happened, and it wasn't what I expected or wanted. When things happen to me, I give them meaning. These are two separate events. First, something happens. Second, I give it meaning. These two events can happen fast and feel like they are the same, or collapse together. But nothing has meaning on its own. So if I'm upset about something that happened, I ask myself, "What happened?" and then "What did I make it mean?"
I will often get to the core of a self-limiting belief by asking myself, "What happened to make me think this way?" In other words, why do I have this belief, and what's it doing for me?
5. Beliefs are just thoughts you keep thinking.
Beliefs are just old thoughts that you keep thinking! And I keep trying to apply these old thoughts to new situations. Nine months ago I triggered depression by my desire to rapidly grow my business. I came up against a brick wall of negative beliefs about my ability to grow the business. The breakdown occurred because I wanted to succeed and the voice inside my head kept repeating old thoughts about why I couldn't or shouldn't fail.
I wish I'd learned these concepts earlier in life. They haven't inoculated me against depression yet, but they have given me a framework for less suffering. I hope to avoid another episode, or at least make it much shorter next time.
Some people warn me that as a business leader it's risky to share the path I've taken with depression. I have franchises to sell, clients to serve, people to role model for. Isn't this admitting weakness when a show of strength is required?
Well, I'm in excellent company. At any given time, about a third of my family and friends are depressed. I think it's important to share what is working to break through depression in our lives. While each of us needs to take responsibility for taming the voice in our head, we can share the techniques in doing so.
Sidebar -- I have a theory about anti-depressants, and I'm curious if anyone else thinks this way. Thoughts are more powerful than anti-depressants. My thoughts create the brain chemicals that cause depression in the first place. While I'm on the drugs, if I keep having the same thoughts that caused the depression, my thoughts will eventually override the drugs and create the same chemical condition that was there before. My thoughts have to change, or the drugs won't work. And when I change my thoughts, I don't need the drugs anyway.
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