NOTE: This post is written about my personal experience with depression during what now seems like another lifetime. While I was depressed and experiencing anxiety during this period of my life, I was blessed with balance–never in such a deep state of depression that I wasn't fully functioning. If you find yourself in a deeply, perhaps clinically depressed state, please seek professional help.
As a business coach, I see people push their emotions down and bury themselves in their business–believing that how they feel on the inside has nothing to do with how well the business functions. And yet, when these very same people become clients and work on themselves, their businesses experience stronger and steadier growth. Often, they take off like rocket ships!
My story of depression.
When I was in my twenties, I became painfully aware of my issue with depression and subsequently, anxiety, and panic attacks. I’d felt down for most of my life, but the sudden onset of panic attacks took me by surprise. At that young age (and because it was before depression was discussed openly) I had no idea that my down moods weren’t normative. I coped rather than thrived, and eventually, my body, mind, & spirit had enough. Fortunately, this difficult awakening put me on my path to happiness, albeit a slow and long journey. I came to realize that my greatest fear was that I would become just like my father, who suffered with debilitating depression and anxiety all his life. This fear alone kept me in the panic/depression loop for many years.
As the self-help era emerged (yes, there was a time before self-help was even considered a genre!) I immersed myself in books, recordings, journaling, and meditation. I found some of the tools I still use in my coaching practice today and worked them hard. I experienced profound growth, but as the pain of chronic depression lessened I forgot how awful I felt back when I was in the throes of depression. I failed to recognize the significance of my growth patterns and the depth of my achievements. Therefore, if I didn’t feel great on any given day, I would consider myself “back in my depression”. This endless cycle held me back for much too long and true happiness continued to elude me.
Finally, a light bulb moment happened. I needed to measure my growth, much like we measure ROI (return on investment) in business—with a chart! I assessed that the data I needed to collect for my “dashboard” included the depth of a depressed state, and how long I remained in that state. The opposite was also true: the height of my happiness, and how long I would maintain the higher state. The most important thing I learned from this was that my depressed states were not only further apart, but they didn't dip too low very often. And, when they would, I would come back out of it within a day or two–sometimes only an hour or two. Conversely, my more elevated moods came more often and generated deeper and deeper levels of contentment and even happiness.
The development of this very simple process is one of the exercises that I believe led to permanent healing and the shedding of depression. It became tangible proof of my growth. Once I saw that I was making headway there was no turning back. You can do it too. Here’s how.
Keep track of your emotional state.
In a notebook, journal, smartphone—whatever tool you’d like to use—rate your daily mood on a scale of 1-10, with a score of 1 being extremely down–depressed, and/or anxious and 10 being up–joyful and positive. Keep it simple, otherwise, you may not stick to it. After you’ve gathered enough data you will be able to use it to recognize your current patterns, as well as the change in those patterns.
Use your daily ratings numbers to see how often, and for how long, you remain above, below, or right on target at a five, which is representative of what you would consider a pretty good day. Not exemplary perhaps, but good. I kept a chart because a visual representation of my emotional health delivered the impact I needed. I strongly recommend that you create a graph or chart of some kind, as it delivers the real AhHa awarenesses, whereas simply flipping pages to glance at numbers won’t. Just like we need profit and loss statements in business to tell us about our growth.
Work it baby!
It's critical to have an arsenal of tools and a great support system to see improvement. You must train your brain to think differently! As you do your self-help work you will notice that your days below a five are fewer and spaced further apart. You’ll also notice that you reach the higher numbers more often, meaning the days you once spent feeling depressed or anxious are being replaced by days of contentment—even happiness. I highly recommend working with a great mindset coach (raising my hand) or a therapist; believe me, it makes a difference!
Eventually, you’ll experience soaring to a ten from time-to-time where your ideal of joy and happiness exists. And, someday you will join me in living most often in the 5-10 range, rather than the 1-5 range. Now my numbers are flipped and I enjoy most days to their fullest. When I finally turned the corner and most of my days were at or above a 5 I realized that having a bad day, or two, or three, didn’t mean I was depressed again. I may have had depressing thoughts and feelings, but it did not mean I was depressed. It meant I was perfectly normal!
According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, more than 350-million people suffer from depression–you are not alone! Please don't be ashamed of your experience. Instead, change it! Celebrate your growth with each step. You are strong. You are amazing!