Lessons from Overcoming Depression: We Are Not Powerless

You Are Not Powerless

“All wrong-doing arises because of mind. If mind is transformed can wrong-doing remain?” ~Buddha

When I first started on the path of personal development, I naturally came to the question: What is the first step for me? There are certain improvements I could have made which would have had the biggest impact on my situation. And there were probably things that were great to improve but wouldn’t have helped me that much at the moment. So where should I have started? The answer became clear to me soon enough.

How I Developed Clinical Depression

When I still was a teenager, I learned the hard way that I am responsible for myself. At the age of 19, I had something like a minor stroke after a tennis game. I couldn’t speak or see properly anymore and also had strange tickling sensations in my arms and legs.

Especially when you’re young, you don’t really expect this kind of body breakdown. I went to my doctor the day after and couldn’t be more disappointed with his approach: He measured my blood pressure and that was basically it. I was shocked and disappointed, and I felt left alone.

He later sent me to another specialist who made all kinds of medical examinations without any result. I was losing faith in my doctors and felt completely ill-treated. I felt convinced there was something else going on, but these doctors wouldn’t be able to find it.

Out of this hopeless situation, I started to develop a clinical depression. I later realized that many people experience something similar.

Who Is Responsible for Your Situation?

My own parents were completely overwhelmed. I learned that I couldn’t rely on them in difficult matters, or my doctors. While my parents cared for me, they simply didn’t know what to do to help me. I was completely lost.

So here I was, in a deep depression, with no help from the outside. I had to take responsibility for my own situation; nobody else could do it for me. The situation only improved when I insisted that my doctor send me for a brain scan and refer me to a psychiatrist who could give me the right treatment for a clinical depression.

The depression I developed was a learned helplessness that changed my brain chemistry. Basically, it shut down due to overwhelm and loss of control. After the brain scan, I knew I wasn’t physically ill and I managed to find a treatment that could help me eventually.

It took more than three years until I could say I was really done with it. During that time I developed an interest in a new field that later became my first Internet startup. I know that this passion helped me to find new hope to do something again.

Many years have passed since then, and I’m happy to say that I never had any kind of depressive disorder since then, ever.

Three things really helped me to overcome my clinical depression:

  • I found new hope through developing a passion—a new business with good friends.
  • I took medication, which slowly changed my brain chemistry again to normal.
  • Time. It took a long time until the depression went away completely and I felt no trace of numbness anymore.

Defeating this illness was my personal starting point into personal development, and I was only going upward from that point on. I learned a lot about depression and who my true friends are. But above all I learned one thing: I am responsible.

You Are Responsible: Take Back Control of Your Life

The first giant step in personal development is to realize that you are responsible. Nobody will come to the rescue. You are responsible for everything that happens in your life right now.

You simply have to accept the fact that everything around you is the direct effect of who you are, of who you were to that very moment.

Of course, this is a bit of an over-statement, since there are things that are out of your control. Of course there are!

You aren’t responsible when nature strikes or when people get out of order around you. But I’m talking about a mindset to develop here. A mindset that is 100 percent empowering—that gives you back control over your life.

Because the first question is always: How are you going to react to anything that happens in your life? What does it mean to you; what is your internal representation of it? Are you taking responsibility for your own thoughts and what goes on in your mind?

The second question is: What are you actively doing? Because responsibility means “response-ability.” It means you are in control—as long as you exercise that gift and take responsibility to act. That is the beauty of it.

A Move to Power

You have to realize here that whomever you point the finger at—whom- or whatever event you make responsible for how things are—you also give complete power over yourself.

The moment you take back full responsibility in your life is the moment when you regain your power again.

It is a major shift and you can feel it instantly. It probably feels like free falling—frightening at first. But then you realize that you don’t have to be a slave to all of the things that could be responsible for what you don’t like in your life.

If you are responsible, you are naturally driven to take action. It doesn’t make sense to look for excuses any more because you know that you are the one who will work it all out. It is a refreshing attitude, and it will help you to gain more personal energy.

“But wait, isn’t it risky to take responsibility?” I hear you asking.

Yes, of course, life is always risky in a way. But it is far more risky not to do it. If you want to live a life of quiet desperation, dissatisfaction, and dullness, then go ahead and leave responsibility to others. At least you still can point the finger at them when things go wrong. But not being responsible keeps the main door for your personal growth closed.

Stop Running Away

Taking full responsibility for your life means you are no longer running away—from yourself, your dreams, your hopes, frustrations, and fears. You are stepping to the edge when you need to step up and when things demand more from you. Because as you already know: you alone are responsible for the outcomes that are defining your life. And this is a good thing.

If you’re also dealing with depression, know that I’m not saying you’re responsible for it. What I’m saying is that dealing with my depression taught me to take responsibility for myself—something that turned out to be valuable, and my start into personal growth.

Reflect back on your life so far and look at the defining moments. How did you react? Did you act at all? Did you take full responsibility for yourself and make the decisions that were best for you? Will you do that going forward?

Photo by Yuga Sekiguchi

About Myrko Thum

Myrko Thum writes at Personal Development that Transforms. In his life he's been driven to answer one burning question: How can I get the most out of myself? You can get the essence of what he's found by signing up for his Free 5 Day Introduction Course!

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  • Dan Garner

    “The moment you take back full responsibility in your life is the moment when you regain your power again. ”
    Very true and very powerful. In our society we generally look to someone else to solve our problems. It’s not going to happen.

    Dan @ ZenPresence . com

  • Thanks Dan, you seem to be everywhere 😉

  • linnea

    Thanks for that post, I really needed to read that. / recent responsibility-issues-realizer

  • “The first giant step in personal development is to realize that you are responsible. Nobody will come to the rescue. You are responsible for everything that happens in your life right now.”

    For me, this realization was more crippling than the original Depression I suffered. It took me a long time to move from, “I’m all alone and no one can save me and nobody loves me enough to help me and I’m charge of me but I suck so I’m doomed!”

    — to —

    “I’m lonely, not alone, which is a big difference. It’s true, no one can save me, but at least I can try to save myself, and maybe in the process figure out how not to need to be saved. Also true: nobody will love me enough, because true love comes from within, and until I love myself, I shouldn’t expect others to love me, either. Since I’m in charge of me, and I’m doing such a crappy job, maybe I should ask for some help, and keep asking till someone figures out that I ain’t playing around over here. Also? I don’t suck. At least, not any more so than anyone else on this planet, and probably a lot less than many. As for being doomed: We’re all doomed, so I might as well figure out how to make the best of things!”

    Not saying this little soliloquy would work for everyone, but somehow, knowing that (a) Happy is a choice (insofar as you must actively pursue it; not that it comes easily once the decision to get joyous has been made), and (b) everyone else is in the same crappy place I am… well, these two thoughts combined to produce a chemical I like to call *giltter* which invaded my brain and seems eager to stay. I’m happy now, but don’t take away my crazy-lady pills or I get cranky. And don’t drink the last Coke, either, or you’re likely to lose an arm. Otherwise? I GOT THIS.

  • You’re welcome, linnea 🙂

  • Jennifer

    When you say you had “something like a stroke,” I can’t sort out whether you’re referring to an actual neurological event or to symptoms which made you feel as though you were having a stroke. The reason I ask is because I’m trying to sort out whether your depression manifested initially with these strange symptoms – which I’m guessing weren’t a stroke, or else it’s unlikely you would have sought medical attention the next day, or that your doctor would have done basically nothing – or whether you believe you developed depressive symptoms on the basis of a physical event that was stressful and you felt wasn’t taken seriously by the medical community.

    Also, you talk about the resolution of your depression and feeling the numbness resolving – are you referring to an emotional numbness or to physical symptoms, and if the latter, were these the symptoms that initially made you think you were having a stroke? If the latter is the case, then it sounds as though you must have had a significant underlying anxiety disorder to cause this kind of persistent numbness – if it were from a physical cause, then it’s unlikely that resolving the depression alone would have resolved this symptom, too.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks Dan, you seem to be everywhere 😉

  • Emily

    Do you still take anti-depressants? I only ask because I’m afraid to take them with the fear that I can never go off them again. Thank you.

  • I liked your comment on “responsibility” definition. It is actually “response-ability”… Thank you and have a great life ahead!

  • No, I only took them for 1-2 years and it wasn’t difficult at all to get away from them. On the other hand, they weren’t that strong in the first place, based on natural ingredients.

  • You’re welcome 🙂

  • Jennifer, the first was a physical event. It was probably not a stroke, but something like a Hypertensive Crisis. But I can’t tell you for sure now. BUt it was physical with physical/neurological symptons (coudln’t speak clearly, couldn’t see clearly, sensations in my arms/legs).

    The reason why I was developing depression was because I felt fearful, not taken seriously and most importantly helpless. I would not have developed a depression just out of the physical event.

  • Yes… I think it’s a life’s lesson: You need to take responsibility for yourself. As long as you haven’t done it, life tends to show you situations again and again where you could learn it. Same as with self-love. After loving ourself and being enough for ourself inside, people tend to be more loving towards ourself as well.
    Of course, there are people who help and love you. But it’s not directly in our circle of influence. But we ourself are, so we need to take responsibility for the obvious.

  • Guest

    “You simply have to accept the fact that everything around you is the direct effect of who you are, of who you were to that very moment.” – I am completely aware of this, to the point that is painful to see myself run around in circles in my head trying to figure out how can I break through the boundaries of self doubt and sense of doom.

    How does one find their way from feeling completely lost and directionless to regaining some form of control over the present? Being responsible for oneself is a given fact, but caring enough to nurture oneself to happiness is perhaps a habit that needs to be formed and practiced.

    I don’t know what I want- peace and contentment; but is it something that comes from a sense of fulfillment by doing and excelling at tasks, or is it something that comes from within? I try not to discuss this matter too much with friends and family because there comes a point where you hear and agree ‘it’s life, just suck it up”. And being of 30 plus age, one would think that by now should have some form of grip on reality and illusions of mind.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Hmm… Taking responsibility is only the first thing of course. Listening inside what you truly want and also getting inspirations from the outside will lead you to a meaningful life. I think examining your current desires and discovering passions will lead you to something you could call your purpose. Then you build a vision and execute that with goals and action.

    In fact that’s part of my personal development system that I’m currently developing as a video course. If you are interested in that path, get on my email list mentioned above and you won’t miss it.

    Generally speaking I think following the impulses after taking responsibility will lead to making a plan and to taking action. That’s why I believe it’s the first necessary step.

  • Jennifer

    Thanks for clarifying, and for sharing your story. Despite all the press it gets, mental illness is still very much a taboo subject – especially when it comes to someone describing their own personal experience with it. I made mere mention of being depressed in front of a group of physician colleagues, and I recall the awkward silence that followed – clearly, a doctor shouldn’t get depressed (that’s something that happens to patients, after all), and if they do, well, then hopefully they’ll have the good sense to suffer in private! I know for a fact that nothing will change until people from all walks of life “come out of the closet” about mental illness, and so I applaud all, like yourself, that do. Best of luck on your journey.

  • Yes that’s probably because of the roles that (we) all play and the identities we make, and maybe also because of the fear of not being able to handle the situation or getting involved ourself.

    So I think it shows real strength when you are able to reveal and face mental illness – always with the will to get out of it.

  • Richard

    This is a great article. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m glad that you were able to be patient and find the help you needed. Best wishes to you. 🙂

  • Thanks Richard!

  • lv2terp

    Wonderful post!! Thank you for sharing your story, journey, and being vulnerable to allow others to feel less alone! Great message, and wisdom 🙂

  • emilymarthavdwashington

    Thank you for replying. So you went a different route than prescription drugs, like st. johns wort or something?

  • Thanks lv2terp !

  • Yes exactly!

  • WJ

    Four months ago I finally took responsibility of the depression I’ve been suffering from for so many year and got the help that I needed. It has changed my life, but it doesn’t mean I don’t often get tired of taking meds, seeing doctors and talking about my feelings all the time. I have a chronic problem which means meds will probably be part of my life forever. I struggle with this. But I have taken responsiblity of my health and lifestyle and I am the only one who can do this work, for me. I’m unfortunately not very patient and I get tired of sticking it out all the time, but it’s so good to read that even if it takes time things will get better. I needed this, thanks.

  • WJ

    I have no problem with people taking the natural route, but from experience I learned that it didn’t help for me (I tried it before prescription meds). What I can trll you about prescription meds is that anti-depressants are not addictive and by working closely with your doctor you will be able to work out when you are ready to go off them and he/she will guide you and slowly decrease your dose. Please don’t EVER stop taking all of them at once, it will just skrew your brain up again. This process needs to be guided and monitored by a doctor.

  • Your’re welcome. Know that you are on the right track.

  • Sas

    I’m so glad you said that first couple of paragraphs, because I thought I was alone in that respect. I have so many friends who were in similar boats who, once they realised this lesson that they were responsible, it was like a lightbulb went off and they haven’t been the same since. I am so happy for them and have so much respect for what they have built since.
    However, I’m still struggling a bit with the “oh crap if I’m responsible I’m screwed” way of thinking. I accept I’m responsible, but it’s fuelled a huge anxiety that i simply don’t have what it takes to get myself through this thing called life. How can I trust myself? I let myself down over and over again.
    It’s not always there, but when I’ve needed to move to another stage or make a new change, it crushes me again and I get swallowed up by the fear and memories of all the other times I have let myself down, and how far behind I am already.

  • Alicia Marie

    How great that you took control of your situation (even as a
    teenager) and insisted results. Not many could say that they have done the
    same. It is theorized that depression is at least partially caused by some need
    in an individual not being met. Whether this is a basic need such as clothing
    or food or a need for esteem through achievement or respect from others, the
    person will ruminate on this- often past the point at which simply giving it up
    would be adaptive. With this in mind, I can certainly see where taking control of your situation and demanding change would help you out of that. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, I think it may be very useful for me in helping my father through his recent struggles.

  • Kris E.

    My 17 year old son is suffering from depression. He has been treated for it for 4 years. He recently started CBT which we are hoping will help retrain his negative thinking about himself. The frustration is that he isn’t really doing the work to help himself get better. It seems that depression has it’s grip on him and he can’t see the way out. How can we help him see that HE is the way out? I am afraid that if it continues, it will have a lasting impact on his future. I do not see how we can send him to college in his current state, but if he does not go what will his future hold? What made you realize that you had the power within yourself?

  • Anonymous

    Gee, I’m glad that stroke didn’t take your speech, vision, or ability to think! You might’ve had to really pull yourself up by the bootstraps—that is, if you could still remember what they were.
    Or how about leaving you a quadraplegic, surrounded by people who had no idea how to take care of you? How about locked-in syndrome? Think running a business is all about “can-do” when you can’t move your body at all? How about mountain climbing as a quadraplegic? C’mon, you’d only be completely helpless & dependent as your body was hauled corpse-like up a sheer mountain face! You just have to want it enough!

    Your story does not inspire. Your attitude is insulting and pathetic.

  • Anonymous

    “maybe in the process figure out how not to need to be saved”

    Not needing other people is a guaranteed sign of narcissism. Have a nice life, mirror-lover.

  • “Not needing other people” is absolutely NOT the same thing as “Not needing other people to save me” because I should be able to save myself. Thank you for the insightful comment. It’s input like this that makes me appreciate even more those who actually want to help me when I’m ready to ask for it.

  • jihye

    I think i’m same of yours.
    I started my recovery of depression a few years ago.
    But it’s tough to endure and practice repeating days of ups and downs.

    Im acually a bit tired of psychological growth itself.

    I hope i overcome my deepest fear completely and take full responsibility of myself soon.


  • jihye

    Hi. Myrco.
    I have a question.
    ‘How, when, what kind of feeling turning point at, did you to “recognize” your responsibility?

    People know how important resposibility is, but it takes its rime, motivation, foremost willingness or awareness i think.

    Im struggling to overcome depression since a few years ago though. I think it grows not get at once to take responsibility of my life.

    Im very curious when to have a full awareness and naturally being driven into action.

    Thank you sharing for your process of growth and your kindness to replies.

  • Primal

    I suppose if you were in a Vietnamese prison camp you would be responsible for how you react to daily torture; I guess.