Depression is a clinical term used to label a group of behaviors and internal experiences associated with a depressed mood. It is also a clinical diagnosis. Depression is different than being sad. Sadness is a normal part of life and, as long as you are not feeling it all the time, it is actually a healthy thing for you to feel. It is important to realize that learning how to be happy again after depression looks slightly different for everyone.
Sometimes, we battle our way through a bad bout of depression and come out on the other side, only to find ourselves still feeling sad. While this can be a frustrating and disappointing reality about life “after” depression, it is important to acknowledge that feeling sadness can be an indicator of positive progress. Depression often leaves us unable to feel anything at all, let alone sad. It may not be your first pick for your team, but sadness truly has its hidden virtues.
The truth is that “after depression” just isn’t a reality for many people. Depression is actually a lifelong challenge that we learn to live and work with, more and more effectively. So, it’s understandable that knowing how to be happy again after depression may seem far-fetched or unattainable to many. And if you’re depressed, you should not be ashamed about that experience or of asking for help. If you are in that “after-depression” space, it can take a bit to get back to regular habits.
Here are some tips to help you get back on track.
1. Give yourself time to be sad: If you are still feeling sad the most important thing you can do is give yourself space to feel that way. Be deliberate. Sit on the couch for an hour and let yourself be sad. Then, get up and get moving.
2. Start slow: Often times depression leads to inactivity which can push us out of the healthy habits that we might have at other points in our life. Don’t expect to jump straight back into all your activities. Give yourself lots of time to slowly bring things back. It is good to push yourself, but don’t push too hard.
3. Make it easy: Sometimes what was a small step for us when feeling better is a huge step after being depressed for awhile. The smaller and easier you can make your new activities, the more likely you are to succeed. Give yourself that chance.
4. Acknowledge your progress: It can be easy to be critical of your abilities and your progress, especially if you have an anxiety disorder that exacerbates this behavior. It is vital that you acknowledge each new and beneficial thing you add to your life. You just ran an emotional marathon and now you are showing up at the gym. This is no small thing.
5. Choose the lesser of two evils: Our perspective gets skewed when we are depressed. We lose sight of what is good for us. When you are recovering from depression, you might feel as though you are choosing between something that is not so good and something that is worse. Try and choose the easier or slightly better option.
6. Take a day off: Yes you want to get back on track, but if you give yourself a moment to breathe, it may help you get where you want to go faster in the end.
7. Stick with it: You did not get to where you are in one day. You won’t get to where you want to be in one day either. Keep making efforts and you will see results, even if it takes time. You’ve got this.
Mental illness isn’t something you can just will to go away, but there are treatments that can help you deal with your depression.
If you’re still feeling sad after your depression, I hope these actionable tips help you. Life is a continuous journey and it usually isn’t a smooth one, especially if you’re learning how to be happy again after depression. Whether you suffer from depression or not, the best thing you can do for yourself is build up these life skills and techniques so that you can put them into place when you’re able. My LifeWork Community program is a great way to help you build practices that will support your wellbeing. Click here to learn more.
Very recently, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, poet and Jungian psychoanalyst, said of the late Robin Williams, “He learned for 63 years of his life how to be ‘the fire handler.’ That is where I would praise him, for what he has managed to do for six+ decades; handle fire, while being made of parchment” (Estés, 2014).
I gasped after reading her words, letting them kindle again for a moment the brittle parchment of my own soul, which has itself apparently survived many conflagrations ignited by failures, losses, and challenges—as well as many other unexpected moments of ecstatic wonder, inspiration, and triumph. Indeed, Estés’s words and Williams’ career—during which we encountered him as Fool, Trickster, Sage, Poet, Hermit, Sacred King, and many more archetypal embodiments—have me reflecting on the true power of the Sacred Wound.
That which might be termed “soul loss” in indigenous and shamanic healing contexts, suffered as a consequence of life’s vicissitudes, is certainly painful and responsible for so much despair and disconnection from meaning, purpose, will, power, beauty, and love. Yet, the hunger to be whole, while leading to a seemingly endless array of mistakes and false starts, can also serendipitously bring wisdom and sow the seeds of transformation. The effort to heal those perpetual wounds engenders—or perhaps illuminates—the unique gifts that only we possess, and more to the point, that only we can deliver to the world in our utterly unique way. After all, no one else can be us better than we can. We have but to make the seemingly foolish choice to turn and face our pain, to lean into that which wounds us, to face with courage what has victimized us, addicted us, or had us on the run for most of our lives.
However, I am becoming increasingly frustrated with ever growing assurances from well-meaning memes and media that the act of turning, confronting, and fighting our demons will itself magically vanquish them and automatically transform everything in positive and helpful ways—as if the act of doing an about-face in our flight guarantees the desired outcome. Irrational thoughts don’t go away just because we dispute them effectively. Beliefs and attitudes built over a lifetime don’t give way to different ones in an instant. Addictions don’t die just because we admit we have a problem with them. Leaning into the storm does not banish its tempests, and one day those storms might indeed have their way with us. Powerful emotions can arise from very deep, abysmal, murky wells. As these fragile bodies lose strength and vitality over the course of a lifetime, we may have the will but not the strength to keep confronting the monsters, and eventually even our will could erode.
Yet, bones that break do often become stronger when healing around the break. Our bodies and spirits can develop an ethereal, silvered grace through the adventures and misadventures of our lives—just as storms and floods etch beautiful lines and curves into rocks, trees, and riverbeds.
Authentic heroism and greatness do not expect, demand, or depend on success. In the best stories, the goal or objective of the quest actually plays a minimal part in comparison to the courage, passion, and integrity of the hero or heroine. These qualities arise out of the decision to remain true to oneself even in the face of doom and failure. Happiness, is not after all, everything.
Moreover, what we understand to be “mental health” might be a chimera against a reality that is itself meaningless, arbitrary, and “insane.” Our artists, poets, actors, mystics, and crazy people—and perhaps some teachers as well—live on or close to that edge of realization, where there is much terrible beauty and beautiful terror.
By no means is a deliberate exposure to being abused repeatedly by those who have shown themselves to be chronically malicious and untrustworthy a good or noble thing to do. Yet sometimes, when heart and body together experience a moment of rightness in a relationship or context, an unprecedented opportunity or growth may present itself. In such a moment, being deliberately, honestly vulnerable—particularly after all that has demolished us and that perhaps continues to wound us—is possibly one of the greatest acts of courage, insanity, and strength that we could ever imagine or embody. To show our tenderness and risk being torn apart again can be an act of power.
Talking about our vulnerability with someone that we hope is trustworthy is admirable, deserving of validation and support, even as it may risk scorn and judgment from others. Actually embodying it, though, in particular moments is wonderful and takes breathtaking courage. It empowers us to be windows on Beauty for those who have eyes to see it, appreciate it, and be inspired by it. Actually living it in an ongoing way reminds me again of Estés’ metaphor of the parchment that holds fire—a life lived fiercely and fully, most likely for a span that passes all too quickly, albeit unapologetically.
That parchment will not be of long duration, and how tragic for those who might never witness directly the beautiful flame it holds. But what wonder is there for those who do, and what secret language written upon it might be momentarily revealed in the heat of the flames?
Read more articles by Drake Spaeth here
Here is the last of my “Dirty Little Success Secrets”! Thanks to the many who wrote me personally to say that you enjoyed these posts. I always love hearing your feedback!
Dirty Little Success Secret #6 – No Such Thing As A Happy Pill
I don’t like to talk about the fact that I have struggled with depression because there is so much stigma around it. People on one level still believe that you can just pull yourself out of a depression. I have definitely felt that way in the past, given myself a hard time for not being able to just shrug off its effects. But the fact is that depression is an illness and just like many other illnesses some of us are born with it built into our genes.
I teach about fulfillment. Is it could be easy to judge me for being on an antidepressant. Maybe I am just as positive as I am because I am drugged? I am sure someone reading this believes that. This is a majorly misinformed opinion but one I face regularly.
How has depression helped me be more successful? Depression is not who I am. It is a part of my experience. When I talk about healing yourself, I am not talking from a textbook. I am talking from experience. Each person needs something different to heal. No pill will fix you. It is much more complex than that. But the best guide knows the land. Depression like the other challenges I have faced in my life helps me be able to help others in a profound way.
Your difficulties become your greatest assets. Whatever you are struggling with – today, in this very moment – has the potential to be what brings your life the most depth, strength and character. What is vital is getting the outside support that helps manifest your transformation.