Depression, Mental Health

How I got rid of my severe depression and anxiety by facing and solving my problems

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Are you so overwhelmed by your problems, and life in general, that all you want to do is crawl under your covers and cry all the time?

After decades of struggling with severe depression and deteriorating physical health, I was finally able to regain power over my body and mind in ways I could not have ever imagined.

I will not pretend that you can “cure” depression. This I really don’t know and from what I’ve experienced so far, it looks more like what I imagine a recovering alcoholic goes through: depending on how severe your depression was, you will probably never completely be out of the woods and will always have to be vigilant.

Disclaimer: I only share my personal experience here regarding my own mental (and physical) health journey. The information contained on this blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your doctor or other medical experts regarding your health. Thank you! 

Now, there are a lot of behaviors I had to change to get to where I’m at right now. But one of the main ways I was able to achieve such a miracle was by adopting a new attitude towards life, which is to face it.

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By the way, physical exercise gives you the confidence and strength you need to do that so I encourage you to start working out if you haven’t yet.

Look, I get it. Life is hard. Sometimes there are so many challenges coming your way, you cannot see the end of it or you just don’t think you will ever manage to handle it all. And sometimes, you are so tired, you don’t even want to. Maybe you are dealing with domestic abuse, injustice, poverty, illness, bankruptcy… And maybe, it’s everything all at once.  

This is why if you’ve been fighting for a long time and think you’ve reached the end of your rope, it is important to first take time to heal appropriately.

But it’s also important to know when to stop hiding and start facing life again.

And if you are wondering “why you should I have to face life?”. Well, to put it simply: because you must. You either face life, or you die. Not facing life is a slow painful death. You just got used to the pain, that’s all.

So are you ready to start facing your life again? Here we go!

Why you need to face your problems

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Problems are like wounds. They can start small, but if not treated promptly, they can become infected and create more problems. And if the infection spreads, you might even have to cut a limb.

The thing with depressionis that at some point, your problems became so big you stopped looking at them in the hope that they would go away. But they usually don’t just ‘go away’. It’s quite the opposite, and the only way to recover effectively is to look at them and learn from your past mistakes.  

Chances are you’ve probably been letting a few things go “out of control”, and now you are too afraid to face them. But fear and delaying action make it worse. Seriously. It makes you sick; it’s like something starts rotting inside.

I am certain that my recovery has to do with spending the past 12-24 months patiently and consistently addressing every single issue I had in my life, one by one. It was the equivalent of undoing a thousand knots.

But this is not just about facing past issues; it’s about learning to face issues as they arise. So I encourage you to adopt in all areas of your life, a general attitude of facing your problems and solving them as soon as they emerge.

In other words, face your fears ASAP. The more you wait, the bigger they appear, but sometimes, the bigger they become. So don’t avoid. Face.

Figure out which problems to solve

Figuring out what it is exactly you are avoiding can be tricky, especially in the beginning, but with some practice, it becomes easier to do. A good therapist can also help you figure this out.

But even with support, you are still the one who has to do the work. Therefore, I still encourage you to do this exercise on your own.

  • Start by listing everything that is not going well in your life; the things that you wish were different. Be realistic here, I’m not talking about growing wings and wishing you could fly.
  • Pay attention to your recurring thoughts. What are the negative ones? You know, the ones that are eating at you, that suck up your energy and have been playing in the back of your mind for 2, 5, 20 years.
  • What are you not facing/are you ashamed of/scared of? It could be anything like:
  • A painful conversation with your mother?
  • That job you absolutely hate but you never look for something else?
  • The fact that you have not spoken to your father/brother/former best-friend since that fight you had 15 years ago?
  • That bad breath issue/third nipple/wart on your nose that makes you so self-conscious you haven’t dared to go on a date in 5 years?
  • In my case, it was a lot of shame (shame was the big one), fear, resentment, regret.
  • Is it painful when you go there? Good. Then that’s where you should dig.
  • Small or big, it doesn’t matter. If it’s eating at you, then you must address it. A pebble in your shoe is only a pebble, but on a 50-mile journey, that pebble becomes a real ordeal.

Write, write, write

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Once you have your list and identified a place to start, journal about it. Let it all out. Write about every single issue or “knot” you have identified in the previous exercise. Take as much time as necessary for this part. It could take a few minutes, a few days, or a few months. If it’s still bothering you, then you should keep digging. If it’s not, then move on to something else.

Don’t rush the process; it’s a process.

Questions you could reflect on include:

  • Why is this bothering me?
  • How long has this been bothering me?
  • How does it make me feel? (Identify the feelings: shame? Sadness? Anger? Fear?); Is this weighing me down?
  • What consequences does this issue have on my life?
  • What are the consequences of me not addressing this issue in the long run? Is there something I can do about it?
  • If I no longer had this issue in my life, how would that make me feel?

This part of the process can be challenging because you will have to learn the difference between situations you can solve, and the ones you need to learn to accept. And that’s where journaling helps. It takes some practice but you will get better at it.

Related post: How to start journaling and why you should

Ask for help

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Once you have identified the areas of your life that need to be fixed, ask help from someone who knows more about it than you do. The thing with depression is that we tend to hide from the world and ourselves. But if you are in too deep, don’t try to figure it out on all your own, it will be overwhelming and you risk giving up.

Do you need a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant? Do some research, ask for referrals from friends, read online reviews… Don’t be ashamed, there is a reason why these people do what they do: to help those who can’t.

If for whatever reason you can’t find help, it doesn’t mean you should give up. You are a capable individual. You can turn to books, online classes, documentaries… We are blessed to have a well of (free) resources available through the internet, use it!

In my case, I didn’t have any guidance, unfortunately, but I persisted for some reason. I spent over a year, reading, listening to audiobooks, watching videos on a vast array of topics. After a few months of doing this, I came across Dr. Terry Wahls and Dr. Gabor Mate’s work. Boy was I glad! And it convinced me even more that I was on the right path, so I continued.

Delaying makes it worse

Not only do we have a powerful imagination, but we also have a wonderful brain that’s perpetually trying to keep us safe. And ‘safe’ is not necessarily truly ‘safer’; it simply refers to what our brain knows. Our brain likes what it knows even if what it knows is slowly killing us. But you, my friend, are smarter than your brain. You are the boss of it.

When it comes to taking action, the strategy that works best for me is to do that scary thing I have been avoiding first thing in the morning. The more I wait to do it, the more hours I spend worrying, anticipating, and imagining disastrous outcomes, while my willpower diminishes with time. So, by the time I finally face that scary thing at, let’s say, 5 pm, I am an emotional mess and I will most likely not face it and go ‘hide’ instead (i.e., social media, Netflix, weed, etc.).

So if you are trying to do something that seems hard, do it as soon as you get up if possible, that way you can get it out of your mind for the rest of the day. Even better, you will feel like you’ve accomplished something, which in turn makes you much likely to do other hard things throughout the day.

And here’s something else I’ve noticed: when a “problem” emerges, the more you wait to face it, the more it messes up other aspects of your life. So don’t wait. That ‘safety’ you get from waiting, is an illusion. It actually hurts you more.

Related post: How to be ok with your decision? 8 Tips to help you make that impossible choice and take action

Sometimes the answer is not where you think

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You know how sometimes when you are trying to solve an issue and the answer is somewhere completely different? Like if you are reflecting on, let’s say, poverty, you might have to study how the rich behave; or if you are trying to solve a body-odor problem, you may have better results by bringing your focus to what you eat instead of deodorant; or if you are having a recurring issue with your spouse, maybe the problem is not your spouse but rather a need within you that you are not addressing?

Well, keep that in mind when tackling a problem. Don’t just “hit” always in the same place. Look at the issue from different angles, review your progress or the blockages that emerge, ask around, read, adjust your strategy…

Always keep your eyes on the main issue, but be flexible on how you address it.

Sometimes there is nothing to solve; sometimes you just need to “spend” or evacuate energy properly

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I have noticed something interesting. Sometimes I think something is bothering me when in fact, what is happening is that I have too much unspent ‘energy’ inside me. This energy, if not evacuated properly, finds other ways to express itself in other (negative) ways like obsessive thinking, anxiety, negative self-talk, sadness, worry, etc.

You will not believe the number of times I was convinced that something or someone was bothering me, only to forget about it completely after doing a few push-ups, going for a jog, or a very long walk. Crazy, I know! But true.

So now, when something is bugging me, I try to exercise first; preferably something more intense than just a walk. If it’s still bothering me after that, then I try to solve it.

Regular physical exercise is so important I have dedicated entire posts to it. Make sure to check them out when you are done reading this one!

Other people’s problems are not your own

When I say ‘solve your problems’, I mean your problems. Not your parents’ or sibling’s problems; not your boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s problems. Yours.

If for example your boyfriend or girlfriend is not facing their own sh*t and it’s creating tension in your relationship, then your problem is not their sh*t. Your problem is your significant other.

I am not saying that you should not be supportive or patient. I am saying that you cannot solve someone else’s problems for them, and you shouldn’t. If a situation has been affecting your well-being for a while, and it is not motivation enough for your spouse (or whoever) to do something about it (if they can do something about it), then perhaps it is time to re-evaluate your attitude or your relationship with them, not try to solve the problem for them.

It’s not about changing others; it’s about changing yourself

Don’t look for the faults in others; look for what you are doing wrong.

I used to obsess over things like: ‘why is this or that person behaving like this? Don’t they realize they are being rude/mean/unfriendly/aggressive/disrespectful, etc.’?

I had an ‘I have to let them know/show them/educate them’ type of attitude and this was serving no one because:

A) It focused on the shortcomings of others and I have no power over that;

B) because people don’t react well to criticism and it usually rubs them the wrong way, so you just end-up antagonizing them; and

C) I was just wasting my energy trying to understand something that is beyond my reach: their mind.

The real question is not “why are they like this?”, although it always helps if you can understandsomeone else’s motives or point of view; but rather “why is this bothering me?”.

Switch your focus to questions such as:

  • What exactly in this situation bothers me?
  • How is them behaving like that making me feel?
  • Does it make me feel unloved? Insecure? Self-conscious? Ashamed? Ugly, etc.
  • Is this true? (that I am ugly/unloved/lousy/useless etc.);
  • Why do I feel that way?
  • What beliefs about myself would I have to change to stop feeling like this?

Self-assess regularly and keep records

Keep records of every step you take in the right direction, and the wrong one. Notebooks are my personal favorites but there are apps for everything these days.

You want to move more? Start counting your daily steps or the number of miles or kilometers walked every day. Want to spend more time with your grandparents? Every time you go and visit them, write down the date, time, and duration of your visits.

Keeping track is key to effective progress. Not only does it allow you to revisit that information regularly, assess and reward progress, set new achievable goals; but it also works as a visual reinforcement. Seeing your progress is very rewarding in itself.

And remember that even when you have ‘setbacks’, there is always something to learn about yourself and it’s an opportunity to come back with a better strategy.

It doesn’t matter if things go “well” or not

The outcome in itself doesn’t matter. What matters is that you faced the situation, addressed it to the best of your ability, and moved on.

Let me tell you, once you have had that dreaded conversation, you will find relief which is a million times better than dwelling on something for years. No more ‘what ifs’. You did your best; it’s no longer up to you. Your mind is now free.

Don’t get discouraged, it’s a waste of energy

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Your problems are looking so big right now and there are so many of them, you get discouraged just thinking about it.

But here’s a trick: don’t look at it as a whole. Just think about the next bite, or more specifically, only think about the next best step you can take right now, and take that step. That’s it.

Related post: Aways feeling bad about yourself? 8 Tips to help you stop

And now, listen to your feelings

Here’s the thing: your body is talking to you and the language it uses is your feelings. Now I pay a lot more attention to my body, my heart, and my gut, and I listen to what they tell me. They know much more about what is happening inside (and outside) of me than my brain does. Respect your feelings and intuition.

Now, as soon as I start experiencing any type of emotional discomfort, I stop and pay attention. If I wait too long to do that, it just gets louder and louder and inevitably transforms into something more and more negative like anxiety, sadness, anger, insomnia, etc. 

Final thoughts

I think my depression was partly due to being overwhelmed by life and the challenges I had to face. (It’s more than that but this is another story for another post). Over time, it accumulated to a point where it became unbearable.

Sure, I could have taken medication; that’s what my doctor wanted. But somehow, I knew there was something in my behavior that was making me miserable. And I’m a problem solver; this had been going on for my entire life and I desperately needed to heal for good.

That was a whole journey that I cannot sum up in just one post, but one thing for sure: to recover I had to surmount the things I was allowing to crush me. I had to face my fears, and I had many.

Have you experienced something similar in your journey towards healing? How did you go about it? Leave me a comment sharing your struggles or tips for recovery.

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About Steph

I am a personal growth/self-management enthusiast. I was able to completely transform my life using everything I share here. I hope this blog helps you transform yours as well.
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