After dealing with depression himself, Danny Baker shares how his attitude and adjustments got him through his battle.
If you suffer from depression, then this may well be the most important post you ever read. You might think I’m just blowing smoke, but hear me out. Give me a chance to show you how a tweak in the way you view your depression can steer you off a path that leads to a lifetime of relapses and onto a path that can lead to recovery.
Have you accepted that depression will always be a part of you?
In the last six years, I’ve met hundreds of people who suffer from depression, whether that be in group therapy, online forums, psych wards, through social media, and ever since I launched the Depression Is Not Destiny Campaign, often in the course of day to day life. Over this time, I carefully observed people’s mentality towards their depression, and one of the most common views I found people to have was that it was just a part of them. That while their life would not be without periods of happiness, that it would also be choked with periods of misery, and that no matter what they did, they’d never be far out of depression’s reach. Put another way, they’d accepted that they’d have to battle their illness for the rest of their life.
Now I can understand this mentality. When you’ve had several episodes of depression over a period of months or even years, it’s easy to think that it’s settled in for the long haul. That it’s just the way you are. That you’ll never be able to beat your demons, so the best you can do is learn to live with them. But even though I can understand it, whenever I meet someone who thinks this way, it breaks my heart.
Because as soon as you accept that depression will be a permanent feature of your life, then it always will be.
The self-fulfilling prophecy
The great American philosopher William James once said, “It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which more than anything will affect a successful outcome”. And the reason that the “accept that I’ll have to battle it for the rest of my life” mentality fulfills its own prophecy is because it tends to set you on a path that doesn’t lead you to do the things that you need to do in order to overcome it for good.
“What do you do when you’re going through a rough patch?” I often ask people with such a philosophy.
“I just try to keep my head above water,” they usually respond. “I try to remind myself that episodes like this are going to happen, because depression is just a part of who I am. I try to remind myself that this episode will pass, and that eventually, I’ll feel better again.”
Once again, I can understand this approach. When you’re in the throes of depression, it’s hard enough just to keep your head above water. It’s a struggle to do anything more than the bare minimum just to get by.
But here’s the heartbreaking part: having this mentality doesn’t set you on a path towards empowering yourself with the tools you need to prevent such an episode from occurring again. History, as a result, is destined to repeat itself – time after time after time.
An alternative approach—set your goals higher
If you’ve read my memoir, you’ll know that my own plight with depression lasted approximately four years, and was fraught with alcoholism, drug abuse, medicine-induced psychosis, near-suicide attempts and multiple hospitalizations. However, by early 2012 I was able to recover, and these days I’m as happy as I’ve ever been. I’m 24 years old and I’ve got the rest of my life ahead of me. I feel great.
Now my recovery was not, to say the least, smooth sailing. I made a lot of mistakes, and I did things I’m not proud of. But one thing I did right was have, in my opinion, the right approach to recovery.
“I refuse to let depression be a permanent feature of my life,” I always thought. “I’m going to beat it. I’m going to make a full recovery. And after I do, I’m going to go on to live a happy, healthy, fulfilling life.”
The reason I believe this mentality is the best approach to have is because it too can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. By aiming to make a full recovery, you can go on to make a full recovery.
So, whenever I was going through a depressive episode, I’d think to myself:
“I need to work out exactly what triggered this, understand that trigger inside out, and make sure I learn from this episode so that it doesn’t repeat itself’.
In this way, having the goal of making a full recovery pushed me to be proactive. It pushed me to want to learn. It pushed me to hit back instead of just try to defend myself. It led me to get sober, to diligently take medication, to commit myself to therapy, to read self-help books, to make challenging situational changes in my life, and learn about the importance of eating well, sleeping well and exercising frequently. And over time, I was able to empower myself with an acute level of self-awareness and an extensive, refined psychological skill set, and combined with the lifestyle changes I’d made, I grew to understand my triggers so well that they failed to be triggers anymore—or if they were still triggers, then I’d learned to structure my life in such a way as to avoid them triggering me. In other words, I was able to make a full recovery.
“Maybe that worked for you, but it doesn’t work for me”
Again, if you’ve suffered from multiple bouts of depression over an extended period of time, I can understand how you can give up on the idea of recovery, and think that it’s something that only happens to “other people.” But let me offer you an alternative perspective:
The reason you’re still struggling with depression is because at the moment, you don’t quite have the requisite self-awareness, psychological skill set or lifestyle in place to overcome it.
Please don’t get defensive—just have a think about it. Read it a couple of times. Mull it over. And then ask yourself the following questions.
Have I seen every psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist or GP in my city to get help for my illness?
Have I worked with every therapist who offers their services online?
If I can’t afford any such professional help, have I worked through all of the online therapy modules that are run by some of the most highly ranked universities in the world?
Have I read all of the depression self-help books that are written by some of the most well-respected doctors on the planet?
Have I tried all of the antidepressant medications available for an extended period of time?
Have I successfully changed the situational factors in my life that may be triggering my depression?
Have I cut all alcohol and illicit substances out of my life?
Do I get good, regular sleep? At least seven hours every night?
Do I eat healthily? Do I treat my body like a temple?
Do I exercise frequently? At least three times a week?
Now, read that italicized quote again: “the reason you’re still struggling with depression is because at the moment, you don’t quite have the requisite self-awareness, psychological skill set or lifestyle in place to overcome it.
Given that you weren’t able to answer “yes” to all of the above questions (it’s not possible to—there are too many resources out there, even if you’re on a budget), then how do you know that the next thing you try, or the next combination of things you try—whether that be, for example, changing medications, seeing a (new?) therapist, burying yourself in self-help books or making some positive lifestyle changes—won’t be what makes all the difference in the world? How do you know that it won’t lead you to recover in the same way that I did?
And the answer is: you don’t.
That’s why I believe concluding that depression is something you’ll have to battle for the rest of your life is extremely premature. Given the plethora of things you can do to try and beat it, you have every reason to aim for—and believe you can make—a full recovery.
Challenge yourself—change the course of your destiny!
So if you’re suffering from depression, I want to challenge you to not accept that you’ll have to struggle with it for the rest of your life. Instead, I want to challenge you to set the bar higher. I want to challenge you to think of depression as an intruder in your life instead of a permanent resident. I want you to aim to make a full recovery, and take the necessary steps to kick it out of your life for good.
As I’ve argued, aiming for a full recovery leads you to be proactive. It leads you to empower yourself with knowledge and change your lifestyle for the better. And by doing so, it can fulfill its own prophecy and lead you to happiness. But accepting a life that will be riddled with depression inherently leads you to be much more passive. It too fulfills its own prophecy, but a very, very different one.
So … what are you going to do? Are you going to take the challenge and change your fate? Why or why not?
If you enjoyed reading my post, I encourage you to visit my website and download a FREE copy of The Danny Baker Story – How I came to write “I will not kill myself, Olivia” and found the Depression Is Not Destiny Campaign – which is my memoir recounting my struggle and eventual triumph over depression. I wrote it so that sufferers of the illness could realise they are not alone – that there are other people out there who have gone through the same excruciating misery, and who have made it through to the other side. I also wrote it so that I could impart the lessons I learned on the long, rocky, winding road that eventually led to recovery – so that people could learn from my mistakes as well as my victories – particularly with regards to relationships; substance abuse; choosing a fulfilling career path; seeking professional help; and perhaps most importantly, having a healthy and positive attitude towards depression that enables recovery. Multiple-bestselling author Nick Bleszynski has described it as “beautifully written, powerful, heartfelt, insightful and inspiring … a testament to hope.”