How Not To Recover from Depression

How Not To Recover from Depression

Finally getting better after a battle with Depression. I figure that hopefully if I write about my mistakes on the way down and on the way back up, it will help someone else avoid them 🙂


Mistake #1: Making Major Life Decisions Without Taking Enough Time to Process my Emotions

Not having much experience feeling strong emotions, I wasn’t aware of the power they can have on your thoughts and behavior, or the time that they can take to process. I took action after thinking about the issues at hand, without giving myself time to process and understand my emotions. 

In a moment of immense pressure and various stresses, I quickly chose to follow my logical brain, rather than my emotional brain. 

I understand now that emotions are our guides. They are subconscious and very difficult to change. When I began to feel very emotional, I went with my time tested strategy of disconnecting and making a rational decision.

This isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But if my rational decision was the correct path for me, my emotional state would have improved. The fact that it got worse should have been an indication to backtrack and rethink my choice.

It’s a fact that understanding our emotional responses is sometimes confusing because our conscious brain is only trying to guess at why the emotions are there, it really doesn’t always know.

They say time heals all wounds. But, it’s actually not true. Sometimes you need to treat the wound before you give it time. Otherwise even if the pain seems to go away, it really is just hidden and then it gets infected, festers, and comes back worse.

Mistake #2: Trying to “Be Strong”

Indeed, this is a common cause for  depression. The emotional control center of our brains (aka the limbic system) has limits and if you attempt to “be strong” and continue take on too much emotional pain and/or stress, it will simply break. Literally, physically. It will actually become physically damaged and stop working properly. There’s a book about that you can read here.

Mistake #3: Focusing on the symptoms

I knew I felt isolated, miserable, couldn’t sleep, was getting skinnier, had a severely limited memory, was apathetic and couldn’t concentrate. (see here for the full list of symptoms of major depression)

So, I focused on treating the symptoms by  trying to sleep, thinking positively, trying to eat, trying to increase my mood and concentration through yoga and meditation. I also tried to take action by making new friends, reconnecting with old ones, and generally tried to distract from my emotional pain by staying busy.

These are all really great things to do. But, while they helped make me feel better, they were not addressing the root cause of my emotional pain. So, like taking morphine to treat the pain of a broken leg, but not actually setting the bones back, the improvements went away as soon as I was no longer distracted.

Mistake #4 Avoiding going to the Doctor

I tried to get through it on my own by asking friends for advice, reading books, and researching via Google. This simply isn’t enough. Friends will usually either not know how to help you, not really care, or just tell you what they think you want to hear. A professional will have the training and experience to actually help. It also helps that they are a neutral third party who is able to listen without judgement and give you straightforward and useful advice.

Medication is a part of this too. Had I realized earlier that every day that I was going on as I was had the likely unfortunate effect of  further damaging my hippocampus, I would have been more open to medication earlier. As it was, I was of the mindset that I could handle this without medication and was worried about somehow being a failure for taking it and was concerned about becoming dependent on it.

Now that I understand that depression that gets to the point of being clinical is likely causing physical damage to my brain, I wonder why I’d been hesitant to start medication – I would take it to protect or heal any other part of my body. 

Mistake #5 Trying to take the easy way out.

In order to really face some of my bigger issues, I needed to have some conversations and make some hard decisions in my life before I could really begin to get better. Even after I accepted my depression and sought treatment, it took me 3 months to muster up the courage and strength to take the actions that I had known for months I needed to take.

I’d tried to avoid directly doing what I really wanted to do out of fear of the possible pain it could cause both to myself and to others involved. Indeed, when I did take action it was the most painful experience in my life. And yet, had I faced it sooner, it would not have been as bad for anyone involved.

Mistake #6 Expecting to come out of this either  better than I was going in, or at least be as well as I was previously

While it isn’t impossible to fully recover from depression and go on to be happy the rest of your life, it’s statistically unlikely (see this and this and this). Depression is both caused by and causes serious and often permanent damage to the brain (see this and this). Bit of a viscous cycle there. Part of improving is accepting that I am who I am now, and I can only focus on improving week to week. Having an expectation of being as as happy or stable as I was previously simply causes anxiety and pressure that at best slows progress, and at worst sets me back.

The past is the past, and it isn’t coming back. I was super happy, I’m not now – but that’s OK. I can hope to be that happy again, but I can only focus on and work on being a little bit happier this week than last week. This is called acceptance

It’s like I’ve fallen down a cliff. No matter how much I want to be back on the top, all I can do is my best to take the step in front of me. Wishing I was back at the top, or looking for shortcuts is a waste of time and energy. Maybe I’ll get back to where I was once day, maybe I won’t.

The important thing is to focus and work on just climbing the next step.