Suffering from major depression is an extremely painful experience and not something I’d wish on anyone. But there are lots of things I learned from overcoming it, and in many ways I’m grateful for all these insights. Looking back, I can now see how I’ve become a much kinder and wiser person and good mental health is no longer something that I just take for granted.
So here are my top 5 things I learned from overcoming depression:
1. You are not alone
Unfortunately I didn’t tell too many people about depression right when I was suffering from it. The mental health stigma just had too much of an effect on me. I was feeling too ashamed and worried that people would see me as fundamentally broken and weak. As a result, I felt so alone with it.
If only I would have shared it with others. Now that I’m very open about having suffered from depression once, I have heard so many similar stories. I’ve also had the most beautiful conversations with people once we connected via this shared painful experience.We’re all human beings and we all go through ups and downs. Good times and challenging times.
You can’t always see that someone’s battling with depression. People are very good at hiding it, as was I. But you are not alone.
2. Good mental health doesn't just come on its own
This one seems like a no-brainer to me now, but it wasn’t always this way. Growing up, I never thought much about my mental health. I never needed to spend much energy on it, I felt naturally pretty happy and content.
So when I found myself in the midst of major depression in my early twenties, it felt as if I was hit hard on the head. What hit me was a big red brick with black writing saying “Don’t take me for granted.”
Now I’m super aware that good mental health requires effort. Sometimes this effort feels easy, other times it’s more intentional and requires commitment and energy.
Particularly when faced with a difficulty or challenge, it’s so important to make mental healthcare a priority.
For example, regular running outdoors coupled with healthy eating has proven to be a strong recipe for good mental health for me. I can rely on it when things get tough in life and my coping skills are being tested.
What are your tools and techniques to look after your mental wellbeing?
3. There might be physical root causes to depression
This lesson was such a powerful one. In many ways, it’s this one that inspired me to study nutritional therapy for three years.
I had previously always thought that your happiness is down to what you do and how you think. And of course that’s true. But it’s also intricately tied to your physical health and to what’s happening inside your body.
So many people are now talking about the body-mind connection and I just love that concept. Your body affects your mind and vice versa.
There are the perhaps more obvious physical happiness influencers such as diet, exercise and sleep. But there can also be much less visible factors, rooted in physical symptoms inside your body. Gut infections, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, chronic inflammation, food sensitivities, digestive difficulties… your mental health can be related to one or some of those as well!
Particularly if you feel that you cannot quite understand why you are feeling so low and depressed, then this avenue might be really worth exploring for you.
4. You can't think your way out of it
Depression can keep you stuck inside your head. You desperately want to stop feeling this way. So you spent hours and hours trying to analyse the root causes of your depression and how to overcome it.
But when you’re feeling depressed, I would argue that you’re unlikely to come up with good solutions. Depression shrinks your awareness and your creativity. Plus, your thoughts tend to be very negative.
So I would say don’t try and make fundamental life changes right when you’re feeling really low. Save those for when you’re feeling better. And remember that unless you’re facing a real fundamental need for drastic change in your life, such as homelessness or violence to give examples, changing your life circumstances is unlikely to increase your happiness by more than about 10%.
I myself would have never overcome my own depression if I kept trying to think my way out of it. Instead, you need to try and get out of thinking-mode into doing-mode.
Remember that your mental health is tied to your physical health. So try to get up and go for a walk. Take a shower. Go and call a friend. Get out of your head and into your body. And if there’s something you’ve been meaning to do for a while, go and do it. Get support if needed.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” -Albert Einstein
5. It offers an opportunity for growth
Never have I learned so much about myself and grown so much as a person as when I was overcoming depression. That obviously does not mean that I’m keen to repeat it. I don’t wish it on anyone.
But looking back, I can see so much learning and growth from all this pain. I’ve learned a lot more about how to look after myself. I’ve learned about forgiveness and gratitude. I’ve learned about the power of strong connections to others and to your environment. The importance of doing something that’s of meaning to you. The power of self-development, of challenging and stretching yourself. Learning new things. Doing things.
And for me personally, my experience of overcoming depression has turned into my career and my mission: helping others overcome it naturally too.
There are a lot of things I learned from overcoming depression. And really, I think that some important lessons in life are the ones we gain through difficult and challenging times. In the end, those insights can then become the silver lining to the darkness.