The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart. ~Robert G. Ingersoll
As much advice as there is on physical fitness, diet, stress, and other health knowledge on the internet, there isn’t much about depression.
I’ve seen acute disc injuries take months (up to 9 months to be exact) to heal in a man in his 20s. Treating this patient over and over without results left me as the doctor, quite frustrated. When taking into account his daily sadness, there’s no question that negative beliefs, depression, or poor mental health creates a very inefficient environment for healing.
After all, burying emotional baggage can only go on for so long before it manifests itself in some other way, often as physical pain.
The Valley of Depression
We’ve all been through hardship. After all, the tough times make the good times that much sweeter.
While some of us have had it hard, not all of us have been severely depressed.
If you haven’t, you really don’t know what it’s like to be at rock bottom. I wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone.
For those who haven’t felt this place, a common supposedly helpful comment to a depressed individual is to “snap out of it!” or “why can’t you just be happy?”
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
A life with abandoned hope is terribly painful. ~Eddie Vedder
Rock bottom…At its worst, you’ve lost hope. You don’t see any sign that you can be any happier. You see limitless spiritual suffering in your future.
With no hope of happiness, action is impossibly hard to take. You have trouble getting out of bed in the mornings. You do whatever you can to wash away the spiritual pain that you feel. Whether it’s alcohol, listening to depressing music that allows you to connect with someone else who has felt your pain, or inflicting some type of physical pain on yourself.
With only emptiness inside, there is nothing that you or anyone can do to help.
Climbing out…The main difference between these two stages is hope. At rock bottom, you have none. Climbing out of depression, you see light at the end of the tunnel.
You may still feel as if you’ve been run over by a truck. But you’ve had glimpses of happiness. Maybe you had a good day. You enjoyed being outside on a beautiful fall afternoon, the sun shining bright on your face and the clouds passing by as animated as they are on “The Simpsons.” Or perhaps you connected with a loved one on a spiritual level. You look into his or her eyes and feel linked from heart to heart, sharing deep conversation that you haven’t had in years.
Back on top…You feel good again! You are grateful for your past. Through your experiences, you’ve figured out what caused you to fall in the first place. And you know what you did to climb back out. As you continue to choose those actions that produce happiness in your life, you may forget what it feels like to be at rock bottom. Don’t identify with your depressed self, but don’t forget either.
A Little About My Journey
I recently gave my first Toastmasters speech called “25 Years of Pain.” The purpose of the first speech, or “the icebreaker,” was to introduce myself to the group and discuss how prominent pain has been in my life. After speaking and reading some of the comments I received from the members, I realized that many people don’t have interventions to help them through tough times and that it could be refreshing to hear someone’s journey who’s been through it.
I’m scared as I think about sharing this information. But I know that anytime I have fear, that is the world’s way of telling me to DO IT!
Well, here goes nothing…
You pick me up, and I’ll tear myself right back down again. ~ George Costanza
My parents got divorced when I was about 10. I did not take it well.
After having minimal cavities in my lifetime, I went to the dentist that year, and had 25 cavities. If you don’t believe that stress kills, let that be an example. The same goes for the common cold, cold sores, insomnia, and plenty of other maladies.
My mom took me to a psychologist when I was in 7th grade. On my last visit with her, she asked me “What is really wrong?” I said, “I f***ing hate it here.” I never saw the psychologist again.
In high school, I wore a baseball cap and kept the rim right over my eyes so I couldn’t see anyone. Insecure and alone, I’d count the tiles to my classes. Sometimes, an apparent “friend” would bump me into the lockers in the hallway, and I would look up and have no idea who it was in the crowded hallways.
It was this time that I began writing negative affirmations to myself. I had journals where I drew pictures of a bloody me from various weapons and would write lines such as “you deserve to die,” “you don’t deserve happiness,” or simply, “you suck.”
I also listened to horribly depressing music. Bands such as Pantera, Slipknot, Deftones, and most prominently, Nine Inch Nails. I had a bootleg cd called “Rusty Nails” that was one 70 minute track. It began with a woman crying and screaming at her husband. Still gives me the chills.
I began playing football in high school and into college. I’m thankful everyday for football because it gave me a somewhat healthy way to vent.
As an undersized and slower player, I didn’t have much natural talent. However, I figured out that when I used my helmet as a weapon to spear other players, I could deliver an effective hit that made me a better player. I knew full well the risk of leading with my helmet; paralysis. At the time, I didn’t care.
In college, I started cutting myself with plastic knives before games. I’d saw away at my forearms, barely puncturing the skin to create little red lines in close succession next to each other, swelling into a little raised hill. When people asked what happened, I’d say that a cat scratched me.
Then on game days, there was a small group of us that hit each other with bamboo sticks I kept in my bedroom. It stung alot.
At game time, I merely had to look at my forearms to remember how much pain I experienced, and the desire to share my pain came easily.
Another friend told me how his high school friends used to burn themselves with a coat hanger warmed over the stovetop. I thought, “What an awesome idea!” I have scars throughout my body from various nights over the course of a couple of years.
I had a wallet that I stuffed with fake dollar bills with middle fingers and notes that I wanted to share with my potential gangster. I then dressed in my preppiest clothes, but my Ipod on, and walked into the dangerous part of Lancaster, PA, where I knew it was not the safest.
I never got jumped. But one time, I passed out drunk in an alley. The police found me and brought me back home. I cried in the car. They told me I should see a psychologist. Not the first or last time I was told that.
On another occasion, one of my friends and I were walking on the streets at night. Four teenagers asked me what time it was. I said “10:30.” He said, “Can I see?” I gave him my phone, he put it in his pocket, and began to walk away. I chased after him and he threw my phone back to me. My friend starts to yell at them. One of the them hits my friend in the head with a bottle. Another says that he has a gun. I lift up my shirt and say, “Watch out for my kidneys!”
In the worst times, I would get a gallon of wine or a cheap bottle of Vladamir vodka and start drinking in the afternoon, only to pass out a couple of hours later. I would also lie one of my music speakers on its side, and lie with my head on it for hours at a time, as if it was a pillow made of harsh-sounding razorblades instead of fluffy feathers.
In one of my last lingering moments of unhappiness, I did a firewalk. The instruction was to walk around the burning coals, clapping, get your energy up, and walk across the coals when ready at a quick pace. Perhaps still enjoying physical pain, I was the first person to walk across … immediately after setting my feet on the grass, I couldn’t stand up straight. “You walked really slowly” I was told. I was the only individual to burn my feet. That night was the worst physical pain of my life. The burns took a month or so to heal.
I remember the day well. In the spring of my junior year in college, I made a conscious decision to stop the bullshit. I ripped down all of the negativity from my walls. I decided right then and there that I would stop telling myself all of the negative words that reinforced my downward spiral for approximately 10 years. I chose to be happy.
No more “you suck” or “you deserve to die” or “you’re worthless” or “you don’t deserve anything in life.”
In the next page of my journals, I wrote down “I love you Chris.” That was the moment when the tides shifted and I began to work on my mind, as a happy mind and not a depressed one.
It wasn’t as easy as snapping out of it. I needed to build up the “pain” to finally say, “Enough!! It’s time for a change.” So I did. For some who are depressed, they’re not ready for change. Just like I wasn’t ready to let go of the pain which I enjoyed in a sick, masochistic way. Until finally, I couldn’t stand the day to day nothingness for one more day.
Now, I put words up on my walls to build myself up instead of tearing myself down. I write things like this…
Most of the people I come in touch with on a daily basis would confirm that I’m a happy, positive person. I wasn’t always this way. I work on it. I know what it’s like to be on opposite ends of the happiness spectrum.
Thoughts for You
I recently wrote a letter to someone I care about very much who is going through the valley. I wanted to give him some perspective and let him know that I loved him.
Here are a few points that I wanted to share with him and I’d also like to share with you. My hope is that gives you hope for a brighter future.
1. Be Patient – Take the quote below and write it down somewhere next to your bed, on your bathroom mirror, or somewhere else where you can read it throughout the day. Just as when a family member dies, time heals.
Everything’s going to be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end. ~Wah
2. Act – Fight any resistance there is towards staying in bed in the morning and get yourself up. In the face of any fear or hopelessness you encounter, muster up the courage to take action. Do it. Do it. Do it. As you start to get a footing out of the valley, you will gain momentum. Don’t let inactivity snowball in the opposite direction, pushing you down into the valley.
3. Choose self-building actions, not self-demolishing actions to make yourself feel better – Self-demolishing actions may make you feel better temporarily, but they won’t last. Self-building actions bring you closer to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Self-demolishing actions: alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, other recreational drugs, inflicting pain on yourself such as cutting, random sexual encounters, eating poorly, negative affirmations
Self-building actions: exercise, spending time with people in healthy, reflective relationships, reading books, eating well, positive affirmations, sleeping according to our Circadian rhythms
4. Read a book – No matter what you are feeling, there are people who have gone through what you are currently experiencing. Pick up a book and read it. Connect with the author. Identifying with someone else who has been in the valley and come out of it will turn your loneliness into comfort. Some of the books that have helped me greatly are in the resources section.
5. Ask the world or your God for help – I remember when I stopped praying. I was in high school. Being raised Catholic, I didn’t understand the God that I was praying to and didn’t get anything out of it. After reading several books on Buddhism, I now pray to a different God that is real to me.
Whatever your religion is, pray to God before you go to sleep. If you’re uncomfortable praying to God, talk to a loved one who is passed away. Reflect on the world, express gratitude for all that you have, and ask for help in your prayers. Something that’s helped me recently is pretending that God is an imaginary friend. I imagine him as a forty-year old, chiseled, handsome man in overalls, a beard, and sometimes he wears a fake mustache. He likes to make me laugh and smile when I’m down. It makes it easier for me to talk to him when I realize that he doesn’t leave me.
6. Ask a loved one for help – I know you feel alone. But you’re not. People love you. When they love you, they’ll do anything they can to help you. Don’t keep to yourself. Spend time with someone who truly loves you without agenda. This person does not judge or criticize your thoughts, words, or actions. He or she merely listens, allows you to vent and reflect, and hugs you. Know who these people are keep their phone number on speed dial.
If you need help…
My Toastmaster’s speech was called “25 Years of Pain” because in my earliest memories, I wasn’t happy. When I started to come out of the valley of depression in college, that’s the time that I decided I wanted to be a chiropractor. So I went from experiencing mental and spiritual pain myself to wanting to help others in mental, spiritual, and of course, physical pain in their lives.
Playing football, I lived to inflict pain on others. Now, I live to fix pain in others.
With thought #6 from above, if you don’t have someone close to you to talk to and reflect, let me be that person. My email is cstepiendc[at]gmail[dot]com. Don’t go through depression alone. People care about you. Living in this world without direction, guidance, and wisdom isn’t easy. But there are lifestyle choices that can make it easy. Wherever you are in life, I’m proud of you. One day, you’re going to look back and remember the hard times that made you who are today.
P.S. If you know of anyone is going through tough times and you think that this post can help, please pass it on to him or her.
** To learn more about the conventional treatments and symptoms of depression, go here: Treatment for Depression