I knew something was wrong with me. I was too uncomfortable with myself to even enjoy just one night alone. I worried something might happen that I couldn’t handle. So I spent a lot of time losing myself in T.V., food or dating bad men. I was afraid to be quiet with my own thoughts, and had about zero ability to comfort myself.
The healthiest thought I had was knowing that I needed help. Tired of feeling deeply alone, I found a psychologist who fired a gazillion questions at me in hour one on the first session.
He didn’t accept patients unless he knew he could help them. He was blunt and kind of a smart ass. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my day one of digging my way out of the crushing hole that is depression.
I answered a gazillion more written questions in a standardized psychological assessment about my tumultuous childhood and about me. Around session three, he described me back to me: chronic depression, fear of abandonment, angry but afraid to show it, and lack of boundaries in relationships (people pleaser).
With talk therapy one hour a week for several years, my depression became a thing of the past. My solution wasn’t a quick fix, but it has been lasting.
Call me a student of depression. I’d drive home from those sessions, type up things he said while still fresh in my mind, and place my notes in a three-ring binder. I slowly got healthier, and life got better. I hope what I learned can help you too.
Here are five lasting changes in how you think and behave that will help you heal from depression:
1. Set boundaries in relationships, even if it angers someone.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging you to be difficult or verbally spar with your significant other. I am encouraging the genuine expression of your emotions. Stop people pleasing to keep the peace. Say goodbye to letting people take advantage of you.
Set limits. Say no when you want to say no. Stand up for yourself. Think of your relationships like a ping pong match: you only have to play your side. You can’t control how other people react. Be authentic to your emotions. Depressed people bury anger. Healthy people express it in healthy ways.
2. Do something you fear.
I was scared of being alone, of not having a boyfriend. Boyfriends were mirrors to me. I didn’t value myself, so I’d look for other people to do it for me. If I didn’t have a boyfriend, I didn’t have value.
The best decision I ever made was facing my fear of being alone by living alone. I remember sitting on the floor of my new house surrounded with boxes on moving day, eating a salad and feeling this empowering sense of freedom. Alone went from scary to liberating.
Facing my fear of living alone gave me the courage to realize I determine my own value. It's not determined by my relationship status. What fear do you need to face?
3. Make sure you build in some space to listen to your own thoughts.
When you're depressed, there can be a tendency to fill up the emptiness with food, alcohol, sex, drugs, sleep, or work. You max out your time or go into avoidance mode so you don’t have to be quiet with yourself or hear your own thoughts. Your gut knows what you need to do.
Stop telling yourself it’s too hard or that you don’t know what to do. Get silent so you can listen to your inner voice. I bet you know exactly what needs to change in your life. Decide now to take the next step.
4. Make decisions and stick with them.
Inaction fuels depression. Make a plan and carry it out. When I graduated college with a degree in journalism, I found a job as an executive assistant during the day and another as a waitress at a country club at night.
Why not a job in journalism, you ask? I didn’t have enough confidence to go for what I really wanted. My inaction in my career was just one example where I fueled my own depression. My psychologist kept telling me, “You can’t be safe and happy.” Take the risk. Go for what you want, and make decisions that get you closer to what you truly want.
5. Give the power back to you.
Give your opinion value. Don’t hand over your power to anyone else. No one should be able to control your mood, your value, or your emotions.
Stop looking to other people for their approval and increase the value of your own thoughts and perceptions. Validate yourself with positive thoughts and comforting and kind words. You are worthy.
We don’t get to choose our childhoods, but we do get to choose how we live as adults. Decide your life is worth the fight to take down depression. Your amazing life awaits you on the other side.