There’s something only about two people in the world know about me:
There have been multiple occasions over the years (too many to count) where I’ve spent a day, two, even three days either in bed or sat on the sofa doing absolutely nothing.
For so long I’d watch my wife get up and go to work at 6:30 am. I’d spend the rest of the day debating whether or not to get up and face the day. Often I’d get out of bed 20 minutes before my wife arrived home (around 4:30 pm) so that she wouldn’t know and I wouldn’t have to explain.
I used to ask myself questions like “am I lazy?” and “what’s wrong with me?” It never occurred to me that I was dealing with depression. The symptoms are so broad and vague it’s hard to know: you’re tired a lot, you don’t see the value in anything, everything feels like effort, etc.
On the flip side, there have been many days (also too many to count) where I’ve been so anxious I can hardly sit still. Sweating even though it’s snowing outside. Feeling restless. Unable to sleep. Even waking up in the middle of a panic attack at 3 am.
It took me many years to realize what was happening and for the longest time, I thought I was broken.
It wasn’t until I read Scott M Peck’s book The Road Less Travelled (highly recommended by the way) that I gained clarity on it all and realized that depression and anxiety are, at a fundamental level, merely signs that something needs to change. They are just signals that the way you’re living, the way you are thinking and relating to the world and the people around you isn’t working.
How can I say that? Well because if it were working, you wouldn’t experience depression or anxiety.
So what needs to change? You might ask. That’d be a great question. Notice how even considering things in this way gets you to a more positive place fast. It gets you asking questions like “what needs to change then?” as opposed to questions like “why am I broken?” or “why does everything feel hard?” And when you start asking yourself constructive questions the weirdest thing happens: your brain looks for answers.
If you knew nothing else other than this, you already know enough to get yourself on track to overcoming or at least learning to manage any depression/anxiety you might experience because these conditions are often (but not always) a symptom of the way we’re living.
Let’s say you live the typical Western lifestyle. You stay up late, you spend most of your day looking at screens, and you don’t get good quality sleep. So, you drink ever-increasing amounts of caffeine to cover up the tiredness, and you make poor food choices because you’re tired. You spend most of your days rushing around trying to cram in more and more work, all the while you drive most places and therefore barely walk.
If this was your lifestyle and you were experiencing depression and/or anxiety and the only thought you let yourself think was “Ok, this is a sign that something needs to change. What can I change?” You naturally then start experimenting with doing the opposite. You naturally start wondering “Well what if I drank less caffeine?” “What if I went to bed earlier?” or “What if I got some exercise?” Or if you’re trendy “What if I did some meditation?”
These are just the opposite actions to the examples above. The weird bit? Everyone one of them has research backing their effectiveness in helping to combat depression and anxiety.
Thinking of what you’re dealing with in this way may seem oversimplified, but it gives you a starting point. It gives you a hint as to what you can do as opposed to feeling like a victim.
I’ve seen this help, countless people. Someone that comes to mind is my friend Alex. He deals with depression every day. He’d built a big business with lots of employees and customers. The only problem was he was struggling mentally.
I sent Alex the paragraph of the book that describes depression and anxiety as a sign that something needs to change and he took it literally. He downscaled his business and engineered the situation to better suit his needs.
The result? He’s in a far better place than he’s been in a while and I don’t think he’d disagree with me when I say the catalyst was thinking of his depression in this way and then implementing some changes.
The changes Alex made may have been extreme, but yours don’t need to be.
What I can promise you is that if you let yourself reframe your mental health struggles as merely a sign that something needs to change, then it suddenly makes things far more bearable and almost gives you a sense of control. Try it and let me know.
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