It’s not about the struggle, but what comes after
Depression sucks, I don’t think anyone can dispute that. Thankfully, mental health and wellness have had a bit of a makeover in recent years.
Struggling with mental health is no longer the considerable stigma it used to be.
People are talking about it a lot more now, famous folks are more open about how their fame affects them, and the everyday person can often open up too without fear of judgement.
There’s still a long way to go, but the more we talk about it, the better it gets.
Since I have suffered from depression for most of my life, there are plenty of lessons I’ve learned and advice I can offer. I wrote an article elsewhere on the internet talking about how to manage common symptoms, but here I want to talk about the one thing no-one else seems to.
Learning how to experience happiness in recovery
Here’s the thing, when you’ve had depression once already it becomes quite likely that it will reoccur.
That’s not very optimistic, I know. I can attest to the allure of darkness when it becomes the only thing you know or remember. Despite its terrible nature, after some years it turns into a place of comfort.
In that sense, recovering from depression can be a strange and nervous change. Since humans tend to avoid change as much as we can, this lays a prime breeding ground for reoccurring depression.
I think learning how to experience happiness is a potential key to preventing future struggles.
The problem I faced
People don’t realise that even in recovery, there is a sort of anxiety around the feeling of happiness.
Sometimes a little voice would tell me I didn’t deserve to be happy (which can quickly spiral into a relapse). Other times it’s just that I was scared of the happiness being taken away too soon.
The negativity was compounded when I realised my worry is what was robbing me of the moment, not any outside force like I feared.
Recognising happiness, feeling it and letting it flow along its merry way is something I had to consciously learn to do.
It seems like quite a treacherous terrain to navigate. However, there are some habits I took up, which helped me on my journey to where I am today.
Eliminate the demon of doubt
Of the habits I’ll be talking about, eliminating the demon of doubt is by far the hardest. It’s one of those things easier said than done.
What is the ‘demon of doubt’? I hear you ask. It’s that little voice I mentioned earlier. The one that tells you you’re not good enough, you can’t do something, or this person doesn’t like you for whatever stupid reason you think of.
When I started feeling happy, it would drill into me the fickleness of joy.
This demon is what makes depression and anxiety so life-altering, and even in recovery, it doesn’t go away for a long time. You just tell it to mind its own business.
The crucial weapon against it is calling it out, recognising it and moving past it.
There’s a scene in my favourite movie ‘Mean Girls’ when the main character Cady has her moment of redemption — when she realises she’s become the mean girl she was fighting so hard against.
For Cady to eliminate the mean girl that grew inside her, she had to call that part of her out and deal with it to move on and have a drama-free time at school.
The demon of doubt is a lot like that mean girl — hit it with a bus and move on. (Movie reference, please don’t actually involve a bus).
Practice mindfulness or meditation
I know, mindfulness is everywhere these days. But for a good reason, it does help (for me anyway).
After crawling out of the depths of despair, the light of happiness can sometimes be a little blinding, you end up flailing around. Using mindfulness is like putting on a pair of sunglasses to help you see in the brightness a bit better.
In this context, practising mindfulness is an extension of eliminating the demon of doubt. It’s about taking stock of your body and feelings — experiencing the present for what it is, not what it could become.
These days I practice 'Mantra Meditation' because I did struggle with “letting my thoughts flow” when the narrator stopped speaking in the app.
I’ll admit, it is harder than it sounds, and you’ve also got to have a brutal honesty to be able to truthfully analyse yourself. But it is totally worth it.
Keep a journal
The last habit I want to talk about is keeping a journal. I’ve talked about journaling before, particularly bullet journaling. But any kind of method you feel most comfortable with to jot down your thoughts and feelings will be good enough.
Keeping a journal in this context is like the end product of the sales funnel of the mind here. You can use it to put your experiences into words and really explore them.
The purpose of longhand journaling for me is to curate moments of my life that are happy, sad, exciting and even dull.
For some reason, it’s easier to write about stuff which bothers me or is making me sad — it’s cathartic like that. But don’t underestimate the power of writing down your moments of joy or inspiration too.
Having a journal to review your thoughts and feelings teaches you even better to recognise patterns of behaviour which can cause certain emotions to rise or fall.
The journal becomes your textbook guide on what makes you happy.
Happiness is pretty subjective, though. For me, I have realised over time that what gives me the most joy and motivation in life is the feeling of discovery.
I might not have come to that conclusion if I didn’t journal about what makes me happy and the moments of my life, I felt a promise. So now, I’ve learned the best way for me to experience happiness is to give myself opportunities to discover something new.
While it’s great to talk to other people while we are struggling, this element of dealing with the aftermath of depression doesn’t get the spotlight it deserves.
Depression is something that can come and go in life. Which is especially true if we don’t talk often enough about preventing relapses and learning how to experience different emotions.
I hope by acknowledging this little-known (or little talked about) after-effect of depression, and the tools I used to overcome it helps you or someone you know in some way.