Focusing on the negative elements of depression is easy. They include inertia, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and despair; the fun being sucked out of life. And worse, when it just feels too painful to go on living.
Often — and understandably, especially in our darkest moments — depression in whatever form feels like something from which we can’t learn anything or harness the experience of for the benefit of ourselves or others.
We may become depressed because we are depressed and the world and our prospects seem bleak from where we see things. That thought process and perspective alone doesn’t help!
But if we understand depression and its effects on us, our relationship with the illness can change — not just in terms of dealing with the symptoms, treatment and management generally, but also seeing how we can use our memory and experiences of even our darkest moments for the better.
In Back From The Brink, I interviewed Jennifer Hentz Moyer and Greg Montgomery. They’re great examples of people who turned depression around and channelled their experiences into a more fulfilling and service-filled life.
Jennifer Hentz Moyer
Jennifer was initially diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. But bipolar disorder was lurking behind the scenes and escaped diagnosis. After numerous hospitalizations — including one against her will — and a variety of treatments – including electroconvulsive therapy — Jennifer finally found the medical help she needed and, thanks to a balanced lifestyle and strong faith, has had no further problems.
Despite her own battles, Jennifer become involved in Postpartum Support International and channelled her experiences to help others, including a high-profile case in the U.S. in the early 2000s. While she’s no longer involved with PSI, she continues to help people with depression.
In Jennifer’s own words: “the ability to help other people flows out of suffering. I’m a stronger person because of everything I’ve been through, and I think I’m a more complete person. I’m more understanding, and I’ve been able to help other people, which in turn has helped heal me.”
Greg Montgomery’s career in the National Football League sputtered to a halt after injury. He also was trying different medications for bipolar disorder. For a time, things were, in Greg’s words “chaos – a year from hell.”
As part of – and indeed due to – dealing with bipolar disorder, Greg has reassessed his direction in life. A far cry from his hedonistic yet tumultuous life of drug-fueled parties and expensive shopping sprees, Greg’s life now involves mindfulness meditation, a commitment to fulfilling work that helps others and the quality of gratitude taking center stage.
Greg is more balanced and content with his life, and has learned the importance of “…look[ing] within in order to find a peace of mind and happiness. It’s always there for us if we stay present.”
It may be hard to imagine, especially if you’re in the middle of an episode, but it’s true: Depression can have a positive impact on us.
- Often the introspection that comes through a depressive or bipolar episode allows us to work out what is really important in our life and change our priorities accordingly.
- You will have a new understanding into the way your mind, thought process and emotions work. This will help you in many situations, not just related to depression itself.
- You are able to reach out to and connect with others with the illness.
This doesn’t mean wishing depression on anybody or expectantly embracing the seemingly bottomless pit of despair that seems to physically weigh on us and anchor us to our beds in some cases. Instead, this means using depression – and our own education and understanding of the illness and how it affects us – as the mold from which we sculpt a stronger character. We can enact beneficial changes in every aspect of our life so that we thrive and help others.
In many cases, this may happen after our worst moments have passed (and believe me, they will pass). But sometimes, pushing yourself for the sake of helping another, knowing that you can be of service to and benefit them, can be more effective — even if only temporarily — in combating the lethargy and apathy that may set in when it comes to taking action against depression for yourself.
Fulfilling work – particularly that which helps others — is a key element of the C.A.R.E holistic treatment plan I advocate in Back From The Brink.
BFTB helps you understand the illness, its causes, a holistic approach to recovery and practical steps, all of which make you informed, prepared and able to take action.
The steps to recovery involve both small and large changes to your life, all of which are positive. You also will have heightened empathy with others who have or are susceptible to depression. You will be able to see the ‘warning signs’ of depression in a ‘trigger event’ (regardless of whether you have control over that event).
Cowan survived the worst depression his psychiatrist had ever treated.