Depression Recovery: Allow the Mind to Aid Recovery

John Folk-Williams Health Guide
  • I’ve written a number of posts here about methods that have helped me recover from depression, but those methods didn’t stand on their own. They have to be seen against a background of emotion and belief that made them work. I call it a recovery mindset, but the way I use “mind” goes far beyond thinking.

    The mind is the setting for everything we experience, all that the senses take in, the emotional responses, thoughts and interpretations of what’s around us and who we are.

    Depression is a dark filter over all that and imposes a mindset that helps it thrive. It dims what we see and muffles what we hear, then comes up with the worst meanings available to guide our responses toward bleak feeling and despairing thought - or it shuts them down completely.

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    Fortunately, the mind is rich enough to let life flow through many different filters. I found that I could strengthen the beliefs and habits of mind that guided me toward hope and vitality. Gradually, that mindset of recovery became the primary one for interpreting who I was, and depression fell away.

    That’s the setting for using the specific methods. Each one helped strengthen different parts of that mindset as well as the habits for daily living that supported it. But none of this happened in a smooth or step-by-step way. Looking back, I can pull together a hundred scattered moments when I made small breakthroughs. It’s only now that I can find patterns in what was happening.

    The fact is I worked at recovery for decades and tried just about everything I could find. The end result has been wonderful. I’ve reached a point where I not only feel good but also don’t fear a relapse. That’s not because various symptoms don’t come back. They do, and I have to deal with some of them almost every day.

    What has changed most deeply is belief about myself. Gone is the conviction that depression accurately defines who I am - that is, a pretty poor sample of humanity, at times even less than human. I got back a sense of self-worth and self-esteem that I’d lost as a kid, long before I knew there was such a thing as depression.

    The second change consists of the habits I formed to push aside the symptoms of depression, especially the voice of constant negativity. That voice keeps trying to intrude, but now I recognize what’s happening right away. It’s a leftover squawk of the illness, a nuisance - more of the same old - same old. I don’t believe it anymore.

    Lots of other symptoms come back, but they just don’t add up to depression. I think the basic force in me that empowered depression to take over was the devastating belief that I was no good. Depression seemed to get it right - that’s what I was, what I deserved. Even when fighting hard against it, that poisonous inner belief kept working against whatever therapy I tried.

    For me, there has never been any single “secret” of recovery. As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t one, just a lot of hard work and persistence. And that didn’t come from any Puritan ethic. It came from knowing deep down that my life was at stake. I could either go down completely or I could fight to stay alive. Despite the frequent despair and paralysis that was so overwhelming, I kept telling myself: I have no choice here - I’m not letting this kill me.

  • The daily experience with the different therapies and personal strategies was often completely discouraging. It was all trial and error, failure after failure, fear that nothing would work, times of making progress and times of falling all the way back to square one.

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    Perhaps the most important part of a recovery mindset was the ability to forgive myself for failing. I needed to accept the reality that the years of trying to recover were riddled with flops: medications that did nothing or even caused new problems, frequently getting nowhere with mindfulness, frustration with therapy, slipping back into depression after thinking I’d finally beaten it.

    But somehow the inner shift finally happened, and I had the skills and habits by then to make it real in everyday life. I can only compare it to the turnaround that recovering alcoholics often report - dozens of visits to rehab over many years, none with lasting effect - then finally an awareness that this is it, this is life coming back. But that realization has to be supported and the habits cultivated to prevent relapse.

    I have a lot more that I first wrote as part of this post, but to keep each of them from getting too long I’m publishing the second half tomorrow. It describes the major breakthroughs I needed to make before I could really get going on recovery.

    Everyone’s experience in trying to recover is different, and it would be especially helpful for the community to learn what it’s been like for you. What are you expecting right now? Does recovery seem possible or is depression too overwhelming at the moment to imagine it could ever disappear completely?

Published On: September 15, 2010