It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week. I only just realised that today – two days before it’s over!
Interestingly, I remember being in the shower last night and wondering when it was. Then I was scrolling on Instagram this morning and saw a post advertising it. It’s funny, how life throws you little coincides like that, isn’t it?
Anyways, I realised today that I’ve never actually posted an article on mental health before. Despite mental health being of huge importance to me, on a very personal level.
So, I thought I better change that today.
Since I believe, advise is always more powerful coming from personal experience, I decided to tell you a very personal story today. It’s the story of my own experiences with depression – and what I’ve learnt about combatting it over time.
It’s definitely a journey that I know has taught me a lot each step of the way. So, here’s hoping it may help one or two of you make a positive change along your path too if you need to.
My mental reality since 2000 and X
To put my perspective into context for you, I will openly say that I’ve battled with periods of depression since I was 16. My first and longest episode of depression lasted almost 6 months.
My shortest episode of depression so far lasted about 1.5 days – a miracle at the time. It was about 4 years ago and also one of the first times I realised that depression is actually something I can often actively control.
If I put my mind to it, and only after learning how.
I know there may be some people who question the subject of control. I’ve met a number of people who say depression is simply a hormonal imbalance you just cannot control yourself.
I find those people tend to be of the mindset that when a depression comes, it just comes. They feel there’s nothing you can do to change that.
At those times, they advise to quickly make your way to the doctor, take some pills and be back on your merry way in no time. Personally, I don’t agree with that. Or at least not in my case.
To this day, I have never taken a single pill against depression in my life. Nor do I ever plan to.
I do not in any way look down at people who do take medication. However, I don’t want to be reliant on manufactured stimulants to feed my day to day well-being. Especially, if there’s a way to do it naturally.
Over the years, people have at times questioned me on whether or not I actually have had real episodes of depression. They see how I act normally, and can’t seem to connect me with the condition.
I can actually understand that. After all, there are very few people who have actually seen me in a depression. And there are a lot of people who use the word “depressed” very loosely these days.
At times, when it’s happened, I have responded with something along the lines of:
Imagine waking up one day and feeling a heavy mass of clouds in your head. You know you need to get up, but unlike other days, today the task seems near impossible.
You haven’t been drinking. There is no fever, aches or pains in sight. Yet your body and mind are heavy. Oh so heavy. You try to get up, but can’t. You try again, but can’t.
Repeatedly you keep trying until eventually you get one foot off the bed and then another. Finally you stand up. You feel tired already. Oh so tired. Can’t this day just be over already?
Yet there’s more. You need to get moving. You need to get dressed, make food, brush your teeth etc. However, you feel oh so tired. It all feels like so much effort. Your limbs feel like lead.
Perhaps if you sat down for a moment, you’d feel better?
If you’re having a good day, you might be able to force yourself to get moving. All through the day you force yourself to function.
However, all through it you feel numb. Unable to think, feel and process clearly. Nothing really matters. Why are you even here?
On a bad day you might sit down again on the edge of the bed. Then you decide to lie down because that feels better.
Sleep, that’s all you need. Just sleep. So sleep is what you do – and in bed is where you’ll stay. For days and days on end.
Everyday routine forgotten. No eating, no cleaning, no moving. Just you and your blank, and heavy, mind together in bed.
Once in a while you find the power to muster up a coherent thought. You either berate yourself for being so useless, or think… “Hello depression my old friend – how much I haven’t missed you”.
I find that providing a snapshot of your own experience for people often makes them understand your experience is real. Though, I do sometimes find it a little hysterical that people feel the need to question it.
I don’t see why I would lie about having depression. I’m not exactly sure what that would get me. Pity? Sorrowful looks? Attention?
Depression, for me, is a condition that I know I’m prone to. However, I don’t ever want to feel like it controls my life or that I’m a victim because of it.
To me, it is simply one of life’s experiences. One we can learn to manage or not – just like all the other experiences that get thrown at us!
Building an image of what is and isn’t possible
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t. You’re right.” That’s a famous quote Henry Ford supposedly said. In the case of building a positive mindset, I think it’s very true.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve naturally had a relatively upbeat disposition. However, in times of depression, that optimism can seem very far out of reach.
Nevertheless, in recent years, one thing I have consistently heard about myself is how “positive”, “optimistic” and “idealistic” I am. This isn’t something I remember hearing often prior to that, which makes me think those traits weren’t quite as dominant back then.
It makes sense to me to hear those comments too. Especially, as I’ve put a lot of work into my mind in recent years. Specifically, to strengthen my mental health and create the best conditions for myself to not ever need to face a depression again.
However, in order to get to this level of consistent optimism, I quite literally had to re-wire my brain. And that’s been quite the journey, I tell you.
How it started
My mother was never a fan of taking medication. As such, I grew up being rather against medication myself. That being the case, I’m a big fan of trying to heal any ailments I may have in a natural way. Whenever that is possible, of course.
Luckily, in the case of depression, I found out early on that natural remedies are available. In fact, my first experience with this was during my first bout of depression at 16.
At the time, after several months of depression, I almost dropped out of high school. I remember, my mom and I had gone to a spa for the weekend. It was one of those cheap, last minute get-aways you sometimes see on offer.
As mom and I were relaxing in the pool, I found myself floating on my back. I told mom that I was likely going to drop out of school. I had been thinking about it for a few days. At the time, I really thought she would be mad.
Surprisingly, she responded with “If you think that’s the right thing to do, then ok. I’ll support you. But, if you’re not going to finish school, you’re still going to have to do something. Let’s find you something to do”.
We talked back and forth, I started crying lowly at one point. I felt so listless, so heavy, so completely unable to do much of anything.
Then I turned around to mom at one point and said “Mom, I think I might be depressed”. It was the first time I had ever said it out loud. To anyone. Even myself.
The questions came, the worry started and the next thing you know we were at the Chinese herbalist. Mom’s go to specialist when anything physical went wrong.
I got a consultation with the herbalist, and was prescribed a tea that was meant to help with depression. After a couple of weeks of taking the tea, I was back on my feet and feeling better again.
I felt like my old self again. I applied for university and graduated from school a few months later too. My mom told me a while after that that was a total relief for her.
She hadn’t really known what to do or say when I told her about leaving school. She had felt heartbroken for me and scared for my future.
I think about that moment as one of mom’s strongest parenting moments though. At my lowest, she said exactly the right thing. She supported me in doing what I felt was best for me. Yet encouraged me to go after something productive.
As I grew better mentally, that flexibility was what got me back on track with school again. I will never forget that – thank you mom.
Finding a more lasting solution
For many years, I solely relied on my trusty Herbal Inn Instant Herbal Tea #1 to handle my depression.
(Note: I have linked in case someone may find it useful, but please get a consultation before buying).
Every time I felt a downward spiral coming, I would drink my tea and the episodes wouldn’t be quite so severe. They would clear up within 2-3 weeks too, which I felt was a drastic improvement on 6 months.
However, somehow, it just didn’t seem like enough. Surely, there had to be some way I could avoid the episodes altogether – or?
Then, about 5 years ago, I picked up a book by Tony Robbins called Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Life (affiliate link). It forever changed my perspective on what is and isn’t possible with my mind.
I’ll be honest, it initially took me over a year to finish the book. It’s not the easiest read (Nor the shortest at over 600 pages!).
However, I would pick it up and put it down again and again. Around about my 5th attempt, I finally made it all the way through.
Once I did, I realised the techniques outlined in there, principally guided by Neuro-linguistic Programming (aka NLP), were immensely practical.
When I first finished the book, I felt inspired. Not much actually changed in my life though. However, in the months and years to follow my brain kept going back to one activity specifically, in the book, that had caught my attention.
It was an activity that required you to substitute the everyday words you used in conversations. That was the beginning of my brain programming journey.
Switching words, gaining power
The exercise in Tony Robbins’ book was really simple. It asked you to substitute bland, everyday words with expressions of power, colour and simply more life.
The simplest example of this is when someone asks you how you’re doing. What your default response? If you’re like most people on the planet, the answer will be something along the lines of “good”, “fine”, “ok” or “so so”.
The challenge Tony Robbins set was to be specific with your feelings and go for a positive boost. For example using something like “fantastic”, “brilliant”, “amazing”, or “awesome”.
When I first started doing this substitution, I admit it felt weird. Almost like I was faking my way through the day. However, as I started substituting more and more words, I also started finding stories to back up my feelings.
Now, I think nothing of saying these words. In fact, I almost feel bad using just “ok”. It’s like I’m robbing myself of the opportunity for being and feeling way more than that.
I also feel like my day-to-day experiences seem amplified now too. Even on the worst of days, I can find something positive – and express that positivity very easily too.
For example – you won’t believe what happened in my living room today.
I was mildly bored and started playing with my foot. My cat happened to be around and so I started entertaining her a little with my foot too. She got a tiny bit irritated and thus pawed at me. However, I felt delighted at my little moment of mischief.
See how the words minimise the negatives and highlight the positives? See how a really mundane situation somehow seems a lot more interesting that way?
It’s quite intriguing, isn’t it?
Controlling the dialogue in your head
Have you ever noticed a little voice in your head chattering at you? The little voice that can be oh so encouraging when it wants to be.
Yet, is also the first to tell you that you’re stupid, ugly, incompetent or unworthy in some way too? (Often without any foundation at all, I might add…).
Well, that little voice actually lives off the words it is being fed every day. By yourself, the people, books and shows you surround yourself with. Whether you realise it or not.
In my case, my mental health started becoming drastically more positive when I changed the dialogue I would accept it to feed me.
For example – the day before yesterday I applied for a job.
It was with a company that I had almost received an offer with back in January. However, I withdrew myself from the process when I saw how little they were paying, and realised the negative impact it could have on my career.
I didn’t apply for this new job when I first saw it. Why?
Because the little voice in my head said: “Claudia, these guys might not even give you an interview. After all, you turned them down point blank last time. They won’t have liked that.”
In the past, I would have left it at that.
This time, however, I applied for the job a few days later. Predominantly because I changed the dialogue in my head.
I talked back to the voice. Stood up to it and crushed it.
How you might ask?
By asking it questions – and answering back.
The dialogue went something like this:
“How do you know what they actually thought?” – I don’t.
“If you’re a good candidate, why wouldn’t they interview you?” – Good question.
“Do you really want to miss out on a job you might enjoy because you’re scared of what ‘might’ be?” – Umm…no.
“So what are you waiting for?” – Ok, ok, let me go apply.
I sent off my application at midnight. By 9:30 am I had received an email asking for a preliminary interview. Guess that first voice wasn’t so right after all. Take that miss party pooper voice!
Dealing with a global confinement – aka the COVID-19 situation
When I first started hearing about COVID-19, I thought it was a joke. Why were people making so much fuss over something that was little more than a bad flu?
Then thousands of people started dying, the media went crazy and the lockdown in Barcelona went into full force on 14 March, 2020.
My last round of depression started after a 7+ day isolation period in my flat in Prague. I had been suffering from a throat infection, stress, my first ever encounter with anxiety, and an overactive voice in my head telling me I was pretty much the most pathetically trapped being on the planet at the time.
That being the case, I was understandably a little concerned about the fact that we were going into a 2 week lockdown. A 2-week lockdown with the potential to extend to 4, or 6, or 8+.
Well, it is now week 10 of lockdown and I am happy to report that I am fit as a fiddle. Not an episode of depression in sight. And actually quite happy for the peace that the lockdown period has brought with it.
How is that possible you might ask?
Because I prepared for it.
Setting up an anti-depression routine
Using all of the things I have learnt over the past years about depression and happiness, I went to war against the mental havoc Corona had the potential to cause.
I was determined to come out of this period unscathed. Potentially, even better than I went into it.
The 3 things I have found most effective against depression are 1) my herbal tea 2) exercise and 3) positive inputs into the dialogue in my head.
That being the case, I made sure I had a stock of tea ready, an exercise regimen in place, and a host of activities to keep me feeling joyful and productive.
Looking back at what I’ve achieved so far, I’m pretty proud of what I see.
Among other things, Corona helped me set up a routine that led me to –
- Complete the Lifebook journey
- Create a new product to start my own business
- Follow a healthier diet, exercise and reading schedule
- Connect with important friends and family more consistently
Coming out of Corona, I feel like it may take me some time to adjust to being around lots of people again. I’ve become quite cozy in isolation with my roomie.
However, mentally, I realise I am likely stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. Reflecting on why that is, I realise that a lot of work went into creating that blessing.
- Read countless books on how the brain works in different situations
- Consistently tried new mental techniques to see what does/doesn’t work for me
- Eliminated almost all negative self-talk (and developed strategies for when it does hit)
- Made sure strong mental health is a consistent priority in my life to avoid a relapse
So, dear readers – long story short. You’ll see success in the areas you put focus and energy towards. Therefore, if you want to build a more positive attitude during times of depression – you’ve got to make joy the priority.
On my worst days now I set myself simple goals. Perhaps to make a cup of tea. Or to brush my teeth. Those things sound so simple, and on normal days they would be. However, during times of depression even the simplest things become difficult.
So, I set myself simple goals, and then praising myself when I achieve them. Little by little, this helps change the dialogue in my head.
After all, drinking a cup of tea and not feeling fuzz on my teeth in the morning. Well, believe it or not they spark a little bit of joy in me each time.
So my dear readers – take note of the little things. They may just save your life – or at the very least your mental health one day.
Happy Mental Health Week 2020! 😀