This question is something I have been thinking about for a while.
It has been 22 months since I went to the hospital and was diagnosed with MDD, major depressive disorder. And my journey towards recovery and a balanced life has not been a straight line upward. I have experienced setbacks and hiccups along the way.
Yet, here I am today, a much stronger version of myself.
Reading some of my first journal entries after my release, I can feel the sense of loss I was experiencing. There was no path forward I could see, just a wall. And I was smashed tight against the wall. There was no hope, no plan, nothing to see.
And I kept moving forward.
First, I understood that others had stood where I was. And they found recovery. They found a way to lead a balanced life with depression. This was the only hope I had at the time. I certainly did not see myself as someone who would achieve balance. But then again, I did not see myself as anything.
My existence was all I had.
No foreseeable future, no way forward. Strangely, this did not stop me from moving. It was clear even before I left the hospital, that my success or failure was up to me. Defining my situation turned out to be my key to rekindling hope and a sense of purpose.
Knowing the changes, I have made since my release, I am humbled.
April 27th, 2019 was 663 days ago.
That equates to:
- 15,905 hours
- 954,308 minutes
- 57,258,510 seconds
And each day, I have put one foot in front of the other.
OK, so somedays I was lucky just to find my feet. And for the longest time, I moved forward only because I had tried all the other directions. I had been too afraid of death to consider suicide, and I finally decided, after 43+ years, that doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different result, was not cutting it.
In fact, I saw that as a crazy thing to think.
So that only left seeking professional help. And as I sought that out, tools began to emerge. Tools that I could use to understand my relationship with depression. I have written extensively about the tools I use and their costs versus benefits. As I look back on my life, I can see times where depression was all consuming, and times where I scarcely knew it existed.
What I have learned is that in the times where things are going well, depression is hard at work preparing my next scheme. It begins dropping hints. And then I start to ponder the idea. Depression wants me to own the idea, to think I came up with it. It is very jealous when things are going well. And it redoubles its efforts to get my attention.
Once I have made the idea mine, depression begins to make it clear that others cannot be trusted.
Secrets are the order of the day. Sharing depression sponsored ideas is not to happen. Depression makes sure I begin to see everyone as the enemy. Only depression knows what is good for me. The more I fight this, the more depression asserts itself.
Every time this set-up has occurred; I have ended up circling the drain.
And each time, the abyss gets deeper and darker. Digging my way out happens, but at a cost. For when the stuff hits the fan, depression is no where to be seen. Depression is not going to pay the bill; it expects me to do that. Depression is on a beach somewhere, soaking up the rays.
And depression is also beginning to concoct my next stumble.
Now I have a WRAP PLAN, something that only took 43+years to devise. Going to weekly Wellness Recovery Action Plan meetings at On Our Own, I have written out a plan that shows me:
- What I am like when I am well
- Things I might need to do every day to stay well.
- Triggers action plan
- Early warning signs action plan
- When things are breaking down action plan
- Crisis plan
In 663 days, I have dipped into the early warning signs action plan a few times.
Having this tool gives me hope. It gives me a sense of control. I have defined what I look like when I am well. In the past, I just accepted my lot, and never looked at where I was. I did not know there were tools I could use when depression began its next adventure and invites me along.
So, to answer how I have changed, I am now able to see a future for myself.
I can define my relationship with depression and see where I am on the WRAP Scale. Even more important than where I am, now I have tools to use when things begin to slip. I have a better sense of what triggers episodes and how I can avoid or minimize these. And I have action plans written out which give me step-by-step instructions for staying away from the abyss.
Other successes include understand unhelpful thinking styles.
I found tools that help me see where I can challenge unhelpful thinking by asking better questions. I am catching myself using these, sometimes now before the words get out of my mouth. This has been huge. Especially since unhelpful thinking is not always about big issues. I can blow the smallest thing into an “all or nothing” unhelpful thinking event, and never see that by asking a question about my thought, I can see a positive way to approach the issue.
And don’t get me started on SMART Recovery.
I have taken and passed several of their courses and even attended their international conference in the fall of 2019. I have written at length about their influence on my recovery. And I credit SMART RECOVERY with the phrase “leading a balanced life.”
My journey is far from complete.
I know I will have MDD until the end. But this is not a sad thing for me. I finally have the tools to understand my relationship with depression. This has changed my life for the better.
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