I talk to so many people who are really desperately depressed, and equally as desperate to feel better. They are trying new diets, taking vitamins, joining gyms, reading self-help. They’ve tried eating better, and sleeping better, and exercising. People tell them to get out of the house, start a new hobby, take a class, switch careers, start dating, try a new antidepressant. They are trying as hard as depression will allow them.
But depression makes everything feel overwhelming. It makes us really skeptical that anything can ever actually work. It’s so hard and the results are so slow to show up. We get disappointed and impatient and frustrated. That really sound advice of joining a club or going gluten-free leaves us feeling even lower when we mark it off the list of possible solutions.
I took a lot of that sound advice. I tried everything on those “10 ways to feel better when you’re depressed” lists all over the internet, and nothing worked until last spring when I happened upon the secret that was preventing all of that sound advice from working. There was one crucial problem I needed to accept before I could make my life better.
My heart was dead
Sorry, that was dramatic. I mean dead like a dead battery, not dead like dead-dead.
Imagine yourself as a car. When you’re depressed, your battery is dead. No matter how much gas or oil you dump in, no matter how many times you wash it or wax it, you can’t fix the car. You can do everything possible to make it go faster and handle better, but it’s pointless if you can’t get the car on the road.
For me, none of the work I was doing on myself ever had the opportunity to work. My heart was drained, and it had been drained for a very long time. I didn’t have the emotional energy to perceive happiness anymore, even when it was right in front of me. I couldn’t see clearly through my suffering.
Jumpstart the heart
I never knew my battery was dead until I jump started it by accident. I didn’t want to give up on happiness, but I was too tired and too discouraged to make any more changes in my life. So I started a journal on a whim. I decided to write down a list every night of a few things I was grateful for, a few places I saw beauty, and a few places I noticed humor.
Incredibly, this one simple easy change in my day started changing everything. My days started feeling better. My mind quieted down. My focus shifted from what was wrong with the world to what was right with the world.
And it happened so surprisingly quickly. I could tell a difference in my mood within a week. It wasn’t overwhelming like all of the other stuff I had tried, and it produced immediate results. It was easy to stick with it, and I actually enjoyed it. Once my mood improved, I was able to start implementing all of that sound advice that had never worked for me before, and it started working too.
I realized that I was expecting too much of myself too quickly. I was asking a car with a dead battery to win the Indy 500. I was asking a girl with a dead heart to win at life.
I had to jumpstart my heart before any of the changes I made could make a difference.
I did it by introducing gratitude and beauty and humor to my heart. I had been expecting happiness to appear while I was living with a heart that felt gratitude for nothing, noticed everything that was ugly, and had forgotten how to laugh. I needed to grab my own hand and point out to my heart, “Watch, you can find gratitude here if you try,” “Look, this is what beauty is,” “Listen, this is what humor sounds like.”
I recharged the battery by simply noticing the parts of the world that weren’t all that bad. The daily repetition rewired my regular thought patterns. My mind shifted away from the usual depressed things I thought about. The weight of depression started lifting, and the energy in my battery started building up. I got strong enough to turn the engine over and get out of bed when I didn’t want to, to feel excited about a hobby, or actually enjoy a conversation with a stranger.
All of that sound advice stopped feeling like a long-shot lunge at happiness, and more like natural movements in a good world.
What kind of world would you live in, if it was up to you? Let me know in the comments below or reach out on Facebook.
As always, thanks for reading.
Until next week,