03/28/2014 06:20 EDT | Updated 05/28/2014 05:59 EDT

How To Love Life Even If You Have Depression

Depression is a mental illness that won't go away by 'cheering up.' Medical treatment is the first step. The next step is rediscovering self-love because without it, you cannot love life.

Recently, I was having coffee with Tom Shand, Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Alberta to discuss my Action on Depression fundraiser. I created the event to encourage discussion and education about depression. People still think depression is about emotional weakness. If you exercise, take vitamins, go on a vacation or get 'cheered up', the depression will go away and you'll once again enjoy life. Depression doesn't work that way.

Depression is an illness. It needs to be understood and treated that way. Depression changes brain patterns. It affects you physically, creating secondary health problems. Hiding depression or thinking you can get better on your own or doing 'happy things' won't make depression go away. In Canada, 15% of people with severe depression commit suicide. Severe depression will take you to the point where nothing exists beyond your own existence. You are all that remains of life and everything you feel is directed at that life. So how do you love life when you hate yourself?

Medication is a must. No matter how much you hate or resist the idea, medication is necessary to start loving life again. Depression affects your brain chemistry and energy. Brain patterns start to change because new neural networks are being formed. You literally start to think differently about the world. So you need more than desire and determination to get better. You can't enjoy or love life if your brain doesn't have the proper hormone supply to get you up to the task. This means going to a health professional. It means telling someone you need help. Embarrassment is nothing to be afraid of once you're lost in your pit of hell.

Love yourself. This means the good, healthy self-love. Sure, you can do all sorts of things to make you feel good about yourself. But if you don't genuinely love yourself, the effects will be short term. There is nothing more fundamental to loving life than loving yourself. We all need to be loved and to have hope. Depression is a darkness that makes you hopeless. You tell yourself lies which make you despise your life and your soul. If I hate myself, how can I look at anything in my world and not hate it too? You have to rediscover the love you once had for yourself. You love life by loving yourself.

I never imagined attempting suicide until I slipped deeper and deeper into desperation and depression. I grew up with an emotionally abusive alcoholic father, and a mother dying from cancer. I became a caregiver and homemaker at an early age. When my mother died, I went from grief to depression and attempted suicides. My attempted suicides were a slow wake-up call that I needed to love myself. My example shows that overcoming depression, while challenging, is not impossible.

I was strong enough to survive my dark nights of the soul. I turned my life around by looking for the light within my experiences and through loving myself. I've had an eclipse of the soul. I am still depressed, on medication and loving life. I live in a less joyful world than those around me, but the joy and love that I have now is a profound, true reflection of me.


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