It has been quite some time since I have posted on my site, and nearly 2 years since I last wrote on the topic of mental health, depression, anxiety.
I have waited so long to readdress this topic in long-form because the perfectionist in me has been looking for the right title, focus, and words to begin writing again.
However, I realize that, as I wait for the “right” way to post an article that might help others, there are plenty of “others” out there that are suffering in silence while I sit on my hands.
Although I can only ever speak for my own experiences with depression and anxiety, I do hope that I can prove to be a voice for those who fight their battles quietly.
“Happiness… it’s work. It takes emotional effort, physical restraint, and mental resilience just to have a chance at feeling some semblance of ‘joy’. And, after just a handful of days, I am already exhausted and weak…
But, push on… tired, weary, frustrated. It is either to push on, or give up entirely.
So, of course, I will keep on pushing.“ — from my own personal journal, dated 1/18/18
One of the best days of my life thus far was the day I decided to finally take a stand for myself by beginning to actively fight my depression.
However, this day also marked the beginning of one of greatest challenges of my life: truly committing to the fight against depression is no different than embarking on a journey to improve any other aspect of yourself — your physique, education, relationships, etc — you only get out what you put in. And, I desperately needed to get a lot out of this.
To achieve substantial improvements in my outlook on myself and my life, I couldn’t just say that I wanted to get better, I had to commit to putting in the work. First, that entailed accepting that I had a problem, and then acknowledging that I needed help.
But, getting professional help was just the start. Holding myself accountable to make the behavioral changes necessary to actually see progress was where the real work began. This included:
- Refraining from the things that I learned brought me down or triggered my worst episodes
- Establishing positive and healthy coping mechanisms
- Surrounding myself with a strong support system
- Learning to recognize biased and distorted thoughts about myself, others, and circumstances
The most challenging of all, however, was the seemingly simply process of fighting negative thoughts. I made it a mission to combat every single negative thought (or really, every irrational thought).
At first this was an every-few-hours type of process — or, so I thought. I soon realized, however, that these thoughts came by the minute, sometimes even by the second.
To take on these irrational thoughts and to change my behaviors and to fight temptations… well, it was all very exhausting, frustrating, and painful.
There have been times that I have wanted to just give up. However, patience and perseverance always lend themselves to progress, and slowly the journey to improved mental health has begun to seem like less work.
What I have realized over time, through both struggles and triumphs, is that the difficulty of this process should not be a deterrent. In fact, on the contrary, it should be an encouraging sign. For, the challenge of improving your mental health is not all that different from any other health or lifestyle change:
Fighting depression and anxiety may be tough, draining, frustrating, etc. But, so too is losing weight and gaining muscle, getting educated and saving money, starting a job or learning a skill brand new.
All of these endeavors — tackling depression and anxiety included — are uncomfortable in some way (each gym session exhausting, every exam stressful, each desert skipped frustrating). And, what they also have in common is their non-linearity. Gratification will mostly like not be instant, progress may come in fits and spurts, and their will be plenty of regressions along the way.
Also worth noting is that nobody expects us to conquer any of these life-altering challenges on our own either. For best results, we typically get experts and support systems involved:
- Trainers for workout routines
- Dietitians for nutrition plans and guidance
- Teachers, professors, tutors for our classes
- Financial advisors for our expenses, savings, investments
- Doctors for our physical well-being
- Counselors, therapists, psychologists for our mental health
Optimal results for any lifestyle change come with adherence, which means that reaching out to friends and family for support in all of these processes — for comfort, accountability, encouragement — isn’t just acceptable, it is a best practice. Again, this isn’t just in changing your physique or physical well-being, but also your mental health.
Nobody said tackling mental health would be easy. But, I will be the first to tell you that it is more than possible — there is a road map for progress in the fight against depression and anxiety, and it is found within all other meaningful and committed endeavors of self improvement.
Like all of the other examples, however, strength to make meaningful, sustainable progress in your mental health comes from within: you have to want to make the change, you have to acknowledge how challenging it is going to be, and then you ultimately must take the first step of committing to that challenge.