Your Struggle Does Not Define You: 2 Steps to Start Breaking Free


“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” ~Nido Qubein

It's difficult to remember the exact moment when things fell apart.

By now, so much time has passed that when I think back to that evening, the chain of events is clear up until everything stood still. I don't remember how I slept after midnight or when he left.

Just the eerie glow of the flip phone in my darkened apartment as I ignored the calls after I sent the text. The text that set my whole life into forward motion after feeling stuck for years.

You'd think I would remember the text clearly, but instead I remember how my then-boyfriend rushed into the apartment, reeled when he saw I was safe, and then slid down the wall like a cartoon character, numb with tears.

I think I sent: “I won't be here tomorrow,” but I can't be sure. I thought about the tequila that was above the refrigerator and the ibuprofen that was in the medicine cabinet. I did nothing with either.

It was the second time in my life that I was in such a low, but it was the first time in my life that I realized I had to get help. Because when I saw how much I was hurting someone else, I finally saw how much I was hurting myself.

I tell this story today and it doesn't feel like it's part of me anymore, even though it's here on this page. After that evening, I drove myself to the doctor and got an antidepressant. Then I drove myself to my first yoga class.

And this was when things really started to get interesting.

I considered the possibility that I was not destined for depression my entire life just because it was in my genes.

In fact, I was not destined to be or do anything I didn't want to be or do. I was not trapped, not insignificant, not worthless.

Turns out, our lowest lows reunite us with our resilience.

A lot of us equate bad days, depression, and whatever else we're struggling with as roadblocks in our progress toward being a more mindful, happy person.

Feeling down is not the same thing as moving backward. Depression isn't regression. Your dis-ease is key to your transformation.

This is for you on those off-days, those disaster days, those days when you'd rather pull up the covers for no reason at all. This is your two-step process for easing your way into a life that is worth living again.

1. Identify that you are struggling (with depression or <insert your pain here>).

You've probably heard the first step in the twelve-step program before, proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous: admitting that you can't control your addiction.

In this first step, however, it's all about identifying with your pain without giving up your power to change it. In fact, you're now fully stepping into your power because you're present with your problem instead of remaining a victim.

Hi, hello—yes, I see you there. I feel you and I see you. Now, let's get on together with this, shall we?

2. Stop identifying with your struggle.

This is the most important thing to remember, always: You are not whatever you said you were in step 1. As an example, here's how I recovered, day by day for two years after I sent the text.

Every time I felt a spark of hopelessness, I told myself: You are not your depression.

You may be or have been depressed, but depression is not who you are. That's difficult to understand, especially when you're consumed and it feels like there's no other possible way to feel. Like all the feels have evaporated quicker than sweat on a 100-degree day.

Until I started taking a yoga class once a week, I didn't think twice about rethinking who I was at my core. But when you're laser-focused on bending your body into yoga poses with proper alignment, you have little time to ruminate on what's happening in your head.

And so it dawned on me that depression is a temporary experience, just like taking a yoga class. If I could get out of my depressed mind for an hour, I had the potential to get out of my depressed mind all the time.

You do, too, no matter what's causing you pain. The pain is the starting point.

The rest is up to you.

Photo by Dominik SK

About Caren Baginski

Caren Baginski is a writer and certified yoga instructor who guides others back to themselves with You Again Yoga, a 30-day digital yoga and meditation guide. For weekly yoga teachings, meditations, free videos and one ridiculously cute dog, follow her at

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  • Scott Cunningham

    I really like this, well done. You hit on something toward the end I have noticed with meditation: During some moments there are so many things I’m NOT (anxious, depressed, self conscious). Those moments help remind me nothing is permanent and that I can be free.

  • Very inspiring.

    Like they say – “this too shall pass.” Have faith. Your resilience will flow form that source.

  • Thank you for being so visible and real. It’s true. We are not our struggles. We’re whole humans having the whole human experience, and sometimes that includes despair. Yoga and meditation pulled me up when I was at rock bottom, too.

  • I needed to read this today. I have been in such a downer state of mind lately and there is no particular reason for it but a tiny million reasons I have magnified in my head as “problems.” It’s tough feeling like it won’t end, but this is a beautiful reminder that it’s all temporary. I handle my down days much better than I did when I was younger by accepting it and not denying it exists and then takind care of myself like doing yoga. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Caren Baginski

    I’m honored it could help you, Mariel. No doubt those downer days are a struggle, but it is comforting to know that they pass!

  • Caren Baginski

    Really appreciate your kind words, Mani. Yoga + meditation for the win!

  • Caren Baginski

    Thank you for reading, Vishal. “This too shall pass” is one of my faves.

  • Caren Baginski

    Thanks, Scott! I love the moments of noticing what we are not, so that we can reconnect to what we are.

  • Wow … You’ve been through some difficult time I think. I was in depression couple of days ago, but it lasted only for two days 🙂 It really takes courage to step out of that quicksand zone. It feels like you love staying in bad mood. I am really glad you made it out 🙂

  • Hannah Eagle

    Powerful article Caren. Yoga is a great way to give yourself the space to Rethink who your are at your core and the other key factor is to change the way you talk to yourself—to move from victimizing yourself to empowering yourself. – is the practice – the best tool I know of for “rethinking yourself”.

  • Peace Within

    Hi Caren, thank you for sharing your experience. I wish you the best in your life! Take care of yourself. Nature is very therapeutic. For me, if I am experiencing negative emotions, I “check” myself. I have learned a lot about mindfulness. I make myself see the positives in my like. Things like waking up in the morning, breathing, all the blessings we have that we tend to overlook, unintentionally. Your mind is a muscle and it’s up to you to train it. We choose the lens we look through in life. Overtime, you can change your whole outlook on life and naturally start seeing things in a different light. Always remember that “this too shall pass”. Another thing is the realization that we can’t control anything. All we have is now, the present moment. Relax, hold on, and enjoy the ride of life. Sending you universal love. <3 Take care!

  • Twase Denis

    thanx Caren Baginski your article really mine evening really bright, it brought a smile to mine heart. that quote by Nido Qubein is so nice. it one of the best i have read. thank you so much

  • Bree

    I really wish you could have chosen a different example other than depression. “Being really sad for awhile” is not the same as depression. No one is “in depression” for “a couple of days” (from a comment). A yoga class is not going to help anyone “break free” of a medical condition. As someone who has lived with depression, and survived, for over a decade, this article was incredibly insulting.

  • Caren Baginski

    Hi Bree, thanks for your comment. While I agree that being sad for a couple days is not the same as depression, I know that I am living proof of overcoming depression through yoga and meditation. A consistent practice over the course of two+ years (not just going to class one time) was what it took for me. Also, exercising, eating healthy, etc. I was medicated, twice, so I know the darkness. But, through this practice, I also know the light. I wish you well on your journey.

  • Caren Baginski

    I love smiling hearts! Thanks for reading, Twase.

  • Caren Baginski

    Thanks so much for your comment! What you’ve described is exactly the journey I have taken. So great to hear others on the same path. Nature + gratitude journal + meditation & yoga = happy momentum.

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Really needed this today; thank you for sharing! 🙂

  • Luigi

    It’s really an heart shaking moment of my life, someone really close to me is struggling with health issues and at the same time I stumbled into one of my recurring pattern: going after a woman who, for a reason or another, is not available for a relationship. I started yoga last week and reading this post gave a great relief: deep down within myself I know that yoga and meditation will help me focus better on what’s important and what I really want and how I want to live. Thank you Caren 🙂

  • Peace Within

    Hi Bree, life is about perception. Caren shared hers. Just because you don’t agree doesn’t mean it is wrong or insulting. Keep an open mind… I know tons of people who deal with depression in different ways. Some people choose not to go on medication. Yoga helps some people and doesn’t help some. You only took negative things out of what she said, that isn’t what she was trying to do. Depression doesn’t have to be full blown and last many days. It’s different for every person. Every human being has a different mind. No reason to take things so personally. I hope you understand my point of view. Just some food for thought. Take care.

  • Bree

    Actually, no. Depression is a medical disease. And by speaking about it as if it is a flighty situation that can come for a couple of days and be fixed by yoga continues the perpetuation that mental illness is not real illness. Those of us that have to fight for doctors to treat us like real patients, those of us that bang our heads against the wall to convince insurance companies, employers, and even family and friends that we are suffering from a real medical illness no less serious or deadly than Cancer – we are insulted by this. I am 100% in support of what the author went through and I’m genuinely pleased that she is now in a good place. But I am not going to celebrate that to the detriment of my experience, and for the perpetuation of mental illness being not as serious as physical illnesses.

    And please don’t tell me it’s not insulting. I feel insulted, and I don’t think it’s your place to dictate how something makes me feel.

  • “You are not your depression.” – Powerful! Thank you for this beautiful piece Caren. For nine years I dealt with severe depression, I was admitted into a psychiatric ward and attempted suicide. It wasn’t until I come to love depression in 2013 that I released the hold it had over me. I’ve now been living depression free for over a year. Much of what you share here has been part of my journey. Thank YOU for sharing yours.
    Hugs Lee 😀

  • Caren Baginski

    I’d just like to say that nowhere in my article or comments did I imply the following: “And by speaking about it as if it is a flighty situation that can come for a couple of days and be fixed by yoga continues the perpetuation that mental illness is not real illness.”

    Overcoming mental illness through yoga does not imply the illness is not an illness. It simply means you’ve gotten well.

  • Caren Baginski

    YOU are inspiring, Lee! Simply amazing work.

  • Caren Baginski

    You’re welcome, Luigi. I wish you all the best with your yoga journey!

  • Caren Baginski

    My honor.

  • Bree

    No, it means YOU have gotten well. Not that everyone can get well. I would hope, if you’ve truly been in the depths of depression, that you know that it takes a lot more than some pills and some deep breathing to work your way out of it. Are they tools? Yes, absolutely. But they are not a cure for this disease, and yes, your article does imply that they are.

  • Caren Baginski

    I guess we will have to agree to disagree, but I appreciate the discussion. My own experience speaks otherwise.

  • yclaray

    I am glad to see this discussion because I can see both sides. For me, depression was very real and FOR ME it turns out it was a symptom and not a disease itself. I had undiagnosed thyroid disease for many years with a lot of symptoms including depression and OCD. I was mad at myself for not having control over my own emotions, but now I see that I never really could have controlled the chemical imbalance without medical intervention. But now that I am out of it I have clarity and I can tell when my mind is different and I actually can do something about it (get bloodwork to see if I need to change my thyroid dose). I’m just sharing this because it’s a slightly different experience than the others. We all have a different path.

  • Caren Baginski

    I appreciate you sharing this perspective. I definitely relate on getting mad about not being able to control your emotions. Human physiology just amazes me. I felt similar about my antidepressant: It gave me the energy to see what was happening, so that I could take over and take control. Thanks again for your story!

  • jack2211

    I really appreciate this story, actually. My biggest step toward getting better was not seeing it as an incurable, progressive, terminal disease/condition (as a lifelong/death sentence) and as an illness or injury that I could move on from. A shift in perspective. Something I’m going through instead of something I am (and can’t change).

    It was talking about a grandmother who had a nervous breakdown in her 30s, back in the ’50s when they called it that, that helped flip a switch for me. Just the words. It was something she went through (like a horrible bump along the road) as opposed to something she still was.

    The alternative? Well, there was a radio story of a woman in Belgium, I believe, who had legal doctor assisted suicide because it was defined as an incurable condition.

    And the writer makes a good point in her story — realizing that We can feel better for an hour or for however long really helps make the lousy stretches bearable. I didn’t see the story as “yoga and antidepressants magically fixed me!”

  • jack2211

    A couple of days isn’t depression — it’s being sad.

  • I wasn’t being sad, I was in the first phase of a depression. It’s great that I have very supportive family to cheer me up in that situations so I won’t fall into the depth of depression.