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How I Healed from Depression: 5 Steps to Get Past the Pain

Yoga

“Abandon the idea that you will forever be the victim of the things that have happened to you. Choose to be the victor.” ~Seth Adam Smith

I come from a history of abuse and mental illness on both sides of my family. I felt the effects of both growing up. By my twenties, I was a mess.

I suffered from wild mood swings and severe depression, either lashing out or completely numb and disinterested. I was using alcohol to numb myself from reality, and it was only a matter of time before I’d end up in jail or dead.

I saw doctors, counselors, and therapists. I was diagnosed with two mental illnesses and tried medicine after medicine. Eventually, I was taking over ten pills a day, nothing was helping, and my doctor said he couldn’t do anything more for me.

That was when I hit rock bottom. I was shocked. My genes and terrible experiences had wrecked my entire life before I ever had the chance to really live it. It seemed that misery was all I would ever have.

Deep in a downward spiral of hopelessness, something in me cried out that this couldn’t be it. There had to be something more. I had to be able to change this.

I clung to that hope, and for ten years I searched for answers. I read everything I could get my hands on and took courses on anything that might help me. I tried things. I made mistakes. I worked hard to cope and to heal.

Today, my life isn’t perfect, but I’m stable and happy. I’m in a healthy relationship. I have purpose and direction in my life. I’m finally healthy. Here’s what helped me move forward on my healing journey.

1. Give up the victim mentality.

I realized that you can’t make changes when you’re stuck in blame or self-pity. And letting others give you answers will only limit you to their perspective and understanding.

Instead of looking for external guidance, I began listening to my own. I acknowledged my pains rather than avoiding them. I listened to what they were trying to tell me with the clear purpose of understanding myself better and learning what I needed to address and change.

I had to choose not to let others or my circumstances dictate my life, but to take control and choose for myself. I had to let go of denial and accept responsibility for my actions, thoughts, and beliefs. I could blame the doctor for not being able to “fix” me, or I could take control of my healing.

I had to learn that the only way to move forward is to recognize that I have the power to do it and then focus on the steps I need to take.

2. Accept that change is possible.

In my studies, I learned that neuroscience has proved something called brain plasticity—the brain’s ability to create new neuropaths, or ways of processing and responding to our experiences. We can literally alter our brain to form good habits and responses rather than be stuck with behaviors that are destructive.

I accepted that I can change and overcome whatever is holding me back, and I started trying to do it.

I created good memories and started new activities that nurtured my mind and soul. Then, I practiced holding onto those good feelings and memories, even when things were difficult and I was hurting.

I learned to be patient with myself as I made changes and sometimes failed to react or do as I should, because it takes time to build healthy patterns and behaviors and replace old, negative ones.

I explored my beliefs and my behaviors to determine what my issues were and what untrue ideals I was holding.

I explored my family history and stories to understand that the dysfunction was a cycle passed from one family to the next, and I determined to end it.

While my family chose to avoid talking about the past and ignore the damage done, I chose not to be afraid. I talked about and explored those things, not to rehash old pain but to validate those experiences, learn from them, and then let them go so I did not repeat them.

3. Practice self-care.

Healing starts with taking good care of ourselves.

I had to give up alcohol, coffee, late nights, places, people—anything I found that exacerbated my issues or was not helpful to maintaining the healthy habits I needed.

I got off of the meds gradually and started living healthy.*

I set healthy boundaries in my relationships.

I started using positive self-talk rather than allowing harsh, critical thoughts to dominate my mind. I started talking to myself like a best friend, giving encouragement and praise.

I listened to my emotions and I honored them. I practiced acceptance and self-validation.

I was starting a new life with new choices, and I had to commit myself.

I couldn’t only love myself when I was happy; I had to love myself when I made a mistake or felt pain. I couldn’t stop nurturing my body with healthy foods. I couldn’t stop cultivating personal development and practicing what I learned. I realized that stopping those things would bring back the depression and instability I was fighting to overcome.

4. Live with intention.

I realized that I couldn’t allow myself to go through life simply reacting to everything that happened to me. I needed to think and plan ahead, and learn coping skills so that when something went wrong, I could work through it rather than be debilitated by it.

I researched and learned cognitive therapies, one of them Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, to help me remain calm in difficult situations and react responsibly, every success strengthening my resilience.

I became organized, scheduling and planning my priorities so that my needs weren’t an afterthought. I set healthy, realistic goals for work and personal development and strove for them knowing that consistency is the key.

When we react to life, we’re victims of circumstance. When we set intentions and then strive to meet them, we’re consciously choosing how we want to experience the world.

I now ask myself questions like, “Who do I want to be? What do I want to achieve? What is working? What do I need?” My healing began with an intention to change the broken cycle of my life, and I live every day determined to fulfill that.

 5. Let go of labels.

Depressed, a criminal, a rape victim, broken, suicidal, loose, an alcoholic, mentally ill—whatever the label, that is not who you or I am. I realized that I am not defined by my issues, my mistakes, or anything else someone wants to call me or use to describe me. I am more than those things, and they do not define who I am and who I will be.

If I let them dominate my thoughts, then I will make my decisions based on those things, and it will become my reality.

When I look in the mirror, I choose to see someone worthy of love and happiness. I accept that she may have been denied that in the past, and I make it my mission to make sure she gets it.

The more I practiced these things, the more stable I became. I was able to accept and let go of the bad experiences I’d had and the mistakes I had made. I made myself a new person— someone I like, someone who is happy.

Ten years have passed since I started my healing journey, and I sometimes think that if I had waited longer, I wouldn’t have the new life I have now. I wouldn’t have healing. I wouldn’t be learning new things. I could be in a bad place or a bad relationship, or maybe I would have given up on myself entirely.

Maybe you are struggling with illness like I was. Maybe you’ve experienced trauma or heartache and feel damaged, that your life will never be normal or happy the way it should be.

I wanted to overcome a long cycle of illness and tragedy in my family. I chose life and healing, and I have that future for myself and my own someday family. You can too. Start today to change the story of your life.

*Editor’s note: If you are currently on medication, it may or may not be wise for you to consider going off them. Everyone is different. Please consult your doctor before making any decisions about your treatment plan.

About Dania Vanessa

Dania Vanessa shares everything that helped her reach emotional balance and teaches Dialectical Behavior Therapy, EFT, Mindfulness, and more at bossofmyfeelings.com. Grab a sample chapter of her book, Boss of My Feelings, and check out her program, Emotional Resilience Road Map, which teaches life skills for those suffering depression, bi-polar, and borderline disorders.

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  • pranjali

    Hi Dania 🙂 I m really inspired by your article…Keep writing <3

  • Thank you! That means a lot. I am actually publishing an ebook soon <3

  • karen bedard

    I am going through a lot right now and i believe i saw this article for a reason. You are very inspiring and i will try follow your approach. Thanks for sharing:)

  • made my day 🙂 thank you for your comment, hope things get better soon <3 sending you love and light

  • Reyven

    Good afternoon I’m Reyven,and i like the story of that girl that overcomes all odds,and i overcome that too,and i learn that keeping away from the odds that bully people will help me be a changing man!

  • Reyven

    Hello Dania I’m Reyven a new chat mate here,and I like your story,and what is your full story?

  • DangThat Bee

    The same with me too:) This article bought tears to my eyes.

  • DangThat Bee

    Thank you so much for the words of Wisdom. This has lifted up my Spirit and has caused my mind to think and see clearly. #3 and #4 hit me. I never thought about myself as a friend. I just realize today that I always help, encourage, give words of wisdom to other people but not myself. I care and give emotional support to others but not myself. I’m having problems with my emotions. My spirit isn’t the issue because I have God. Its my emotions/feelings that bring me down. Maybe if I give myself love and emotional support and words of encouragement like I do with others I would feel better:)

    Also: The “When I look in the mirror….” paragraph struck me. It makes me, my Spirt want to tell my emotional side “Don’t you worry. We will get through this together. *Pats my hand*” THANK YOU SO MUCH for your story and your words.

    God Bless:)

  • Thank you for sharing. The tips are practical and useful. 🙂

  • Monica

    This is a sad but beautiful article. I’m glad you were able to deal with it and found a way to live happily. I’m already doing some of the things mentioned but every once in a while I guess we all need a little push. Thanks for writing this!

  • I agree we can recreate ourselves

  • Thank you for sharing. The practice of you being there for yourself with compassion will change your life. Don’t forget to say “I love you unconditionally” 😉

  • 😉 I have to revisit them myself

  • Yes! We need to consistently water the garden of our soul.

  • I will be sharing more of my story in my ebook that I’m publishing soon

  • Erin

    I loved this article. It is much needed as I’m coping with a lot of issues. Thank you for sharing your story, it really hit home.

  • Antoniya Koleva Zorluer

    Very good tips, Dania! It’s not the vague advice you usually find online, it shows that you’ve lived and embraced this.

    Thank you for doing this for us – your experiences and insights might be just what someone need to keep moving forward.

  • One of the biggest challenges was to talk to people about this who don’t relate. I became tired of the ‘vague advice’ I became determined to find answers. Thank you for your comment, warms my heart <3

  • You’ve got this Erin. Sending you love and light

  • Jane

    It’s important to remember that being bi-polar or depressed is a MEDICAL issue. It’s a disease. Medication is necessary for someone who’s bipolar live a healthy and safe life. I totally agree that positive thought and mindset is helpful when dealing with mental health issues. However, when someone is suicidal or manic, thinking happy or positive thoughts is NOT going to work. This is the second article on Tiny Buddha that’s suggests positive thinking is a solution for mental health issues. Guess what- if positive thought works for you, then you are not clinically depressed or bipolar.
    I will not seek help or advice from this site. If I need positive quotes it’s a good spot. But I don’t need to be told I can “fix” serious mental health issues without medication. It doesn’t work. Look at the research.

  • Hi Jane,

    My name is Lori, and I’m the founder of Tiny Buddha. It’s a pleasure to e-meet you! Though I didn’t write this post, I saw your comment and felt compelled to respond.

    I have seen a lot of people get very upset over the implication that one can experience depression and NOT have a medical issue that requires medication. But in my case, that was true. I was suicidally depressed. And I self-destructed for years (through bulimia, binge drinking, and occasional cutting) as a result. I was actually diagnosed as bipolar and later learned that I was misdiagnosed. In fact, it seems pretty clear to me I don’t have a medical issue or a mental illness, and never did. In my specific case, depression resulted from repressed trauma and learned helplessness. I felt stuck in life, and my thinking/responses to life kept me stuck in a depressed mental state.

    Medication actually made things far worse for me. I was put on eight different meds, all with their own side effects, and I lived in a zombie-like state for a while. I actually got in multiple dangerous car accidents because I was overmedicated and frequently got drowsy.

    I believe I healed not because of the medication, but in spite of it. Somehow, despite being pharmaceutically numbed, I was able to make progress (over years) in therapy. I worked through my repressed trauma. I learned healthy coping skills to deal with my challenges and emotions. I learned that I am not powerless over my life. And I learned to let go of what I couldn’t control and do something about the things I could.

    I am not sharing this to imply that my truth is true for all. I realize mental illness is a real thing, not everyone is misdiagnosed, and some people need meds, in the short term or for longer. But I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there about depression. I think quite possible we’ve been misled by the pharmaceutical industry to consider depression a disease because a disease requires long-term pharmaceutical treatment.

    Psychologists actually classify depression as a disorder, and they admit that it’s not yet clear whether abnormalities shown on brain scans show the cause or the result of depression. (A brief article on this topic: http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-depression-if-not-a-mental-illness/) In other words, it’s possible that the maladaptive thought patterns that accompany depression literally change our brain.

    While I know everyone is different, I believe there are likely a lot of people like me out there – people who are telling themselves they have a disease when, for them, it isn’t true.

    I think it’s important that we challenge the stigma that accompanies depression, and it doesn’t help anyone to shame someone who’s struggling and suggest they can “positive think” their way out of it. But I also think we need to realize that many of us have a lot more power than we’ve been led to believe.

    Please know I’m not trying to negate your opinion. I just wanted to share my alternative perspective and experience because I think it might be helpful to others who may read this.

    My hope is that people realize there is no shame in taking meds if it can help you when you’re in crisis. But it’s quite possible you won’t need them forever. And there’s a lot you can do to help yourself beyond taking pills.

    Thank you for receiving my thoughts on this!

    Lori