Originally Published October 2013
A Personal Narrative of Life with Depression
People may criticize me for posting something that is so deeply personal in a very public forum. This is not intended to be a soapbox account of me airing my dirty laundry nor is it a cry for help as I’m teetering on the edge of a cliff. This is my personal narrative of breaking through to the other side and seeing the good that has come from a very dark period of my life.
This is not about getting the most “likes”, “tweets” or “shares”. This is not about garnering sympathy. I don’t want a barrage of calls or emails asking if I’m alright. I am. I’ve got three tremendous kids. I’m in an amazing relationship. I have a great support network of friends and family. I’m doing something I’m passionate about, making a difference with a business partner that I’m philosophically aligned with.
Up until recently, life wasn’t grand! In fact it pretty much sucked. I was forced to close a business of twenty years, my marriage failed and I was working for a terrible company. I was allowing my spirits to follow on the same path as my business and my marriage. I was depressed. One day I woke up and screamed “Enough!”
If by sharing my experience can help one person feel inspired to change his/her outlook on life then my story has served its purpose.
Excuse me but when does this ride end?
I’m not exactly sure when it started but it’s a slippery slope. Once you’re on the descent you need to do something to pull yourself out of it before you go into a complete tailspin. I was in denial. How could I be depressed? I was depressed and I needed help but mostly I needed to help myself.
Some days, even the smallest and simplest thing can set you off. You can think you’re through it but all of a sudden it bears its talons on your shoulders and you’re back in its clutches again.
Netflix is not your friend
Sometimes the things that feel the most comforting at that particular moment are the worst things that your mind and body need. Things like being in a social environment with tons of people when all you really want is to be by yourself and hug your pillow.
Starting that eight season series on Netflix is probably not what your body or your mind need at that particular moment in time although it can feel pretty comforting in the moment.
Although I certainly had my ups and downs over the course of the last number of years, there are some practices that I found helped me. These are not sure-fire solutions but in retrospect here are a number of things that positively contributed to my recovery.
Focus on a few of these every day and it will help to see the sunshine even on the cloudiest of days.
Although there are days that you wallow in self-pity, you need to feel grateful for all the good things in your life. Some days I was challenged to come up with any but I was always grateful for my friends and family, my health and the opportunities that were presented to me every day. I certainly became more aware that there are some people in this world that face far bigger challenges in life than me. Try watching “ The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith if you think your life is tough.
Be passionate about something
Passion gives purpose and without purpose it’s hard to find motivation. Find something that you love to do. For me it was coaching hockey and learning how to play guitar. This gave me something to look forward to, something beyond the immediate.
Contempt does not serve you
Contempt is probably the worst emotion you can continually hold onto. Contempt stems from an event or experience that has happened in the past. If you continually try to sort out how you can change the past, you will have a hard time changing your focus to something positive.
Move on and move past the anger. The sooner you’re able to do this, the better off you will be.
This is important. I’m not talking about going out and training for a marathon but instead get out and walk. This whiteboard video “23 ½ hours” pretty much sums it up. The medical statistics don’t lie and sometimes it’s the last thing you feel like doing but DO IT!
Quit believing the lies you’re telling yourself
We all tend to tell ourselves stories to make us feel better about our situation but with depression it can be devastating. Whether you convince yourself why you shouldn’t pick up that phone to call a prospect, watch one more episode of Sons of Anarchy or why that tub of ice cream is better in your belly rather than in the freezer, you need to change your pattern. It’s a dangerous behaviour. This usually stems from a lack of motivation and yet we are desperately trying to justify that we’re serving ourselves well in doing so.
Call bullshit on that guy in the mirror! Remember that “The secret to getting ahead is getting started”.
Help is available
Forget the stigma of what others may think. It’s not a sign of weakness but instead look at it as a sign of strength. I’ve seen “Dr G “ with varying frequency since April 2008. Sometimes its once a week and other times it’s every couple of months.
We’d go through all the “bucket” items of my life and do a temperature check with each area. For me those areas included my career, my finances, dealing with children, my physical health, my significant relationships (past and present). In some weeks, an area would barely warrant a mention and in others we would spend an entire hour on one specific bucket.
We would talk about action steps and I would be accountable to “Dr G” when we would next meet. This also helped to ensure that I was moving things forward in a positive direction. I looked at Dr G as more of a “life coach” than anything else.
If you’re not sure where to start to look for such a professional, many employer benefit plans have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to assist with life’s little speed bumps. Alternatively, your family physician may be able to direct you to an appropriate professional.
Set a goal
This one doesn’t need to be monumental achievement but it’s important to complete something every day. Some days the smallest task can seem daunting but it’s important to capture that feeling of accomplishment. Personally, I always made sure that I started by making my bed. Yes, on some days that seemed like a huge ordeal but it helped to build momentum for the rest of the day.
Another key is to ensure your goal is attainable. Start small and build to bigger and more inspiring feats of accomplishment.
Surround yourself with positive people
Misery loves company and I was not liking who I was becoming. I’ve never been a negative person but was becoming cynical and I hated it!
Hang out with your friends who are positive, energetic and are able to see the good in every situation. Chances are they are pretty successful as well. Embrace their enthusiasm and feed off their energy.
Life doesn’t suck. We make it suck!
This doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to feel sorry for yourself every now and again…..just don’t let it become your preoccupation. Talk to trained professionals, family and close friends. Don’t ignore the issues at hand.
Sometimes life doesn’t always go our way but it doesn’t need to be predestined with misery either. If you start believing that things won’t get better, they won’t. Recounting Henry Ford’s quote, “If you think you can or can’t…you’re right” is very appropriate here.
Happiness is a life-long pursuit
Life isn’t easy nor is it fair at times. Positive action will eventually send you on a corrective path. One thing is certain, inaction will seldom yield the result you’re looking for.
I once thought that I was impervious to failure and that depression was reserved for an isolated few and the emotionally condemned. Depression is real and it can be scary if it’s not acted upon immediately. No one is exempt of its clutches. No one knows this more than me.
How can I help you?
If I can be of any assistance, to share a story or a shoulder, I extend an open offer. Depression can make you feel very lonely and make you feel incredibly vulnerable. I am very fortunate to have some wonderful people in my life that helped me weather the storm. I still have my moments but am now quick to recognize it and take whatever corrective action is necessary. For now, I’m content to live with happiness one day at a time.
Originally Published in October 2013
Chris Coulter is a single Dad of two boys and an angel. On April 10th, 2015, his fourteen year old daughter took her own life. His writing is how to keep going in the wake of such tragedy, the signs to be aware of in teens, the challenges of social media, access for families dealing with mental health issues and how he tries to be mindful of his own mental well-being and coping strategies after what his family has been through, leading up to and after the death of his beautiful daughter, Madeline.
To read about more of Chris’ personal journey visit his Blog in support of The Maddie Project