This week’s article is a reflection of my own struggles with depression and what habits that I try to maintain in order to lead a healthy and happier life. This is something that I wanted to write about for a long time, but there was a stage where I could have thought of nothing worse than typing these words.
Growing up, I had a great childhood and probably like the majority of kids I did let things get to me. I always bottled my worries and emotions up, keeping them in my head knowing that eventually they would go away. But then came a stage in my life where these worries and the darkness in my mind never did go away.
My first bout of this was when I was 24. Not realising it at the time and blaming situations for how I was feeling, I was depressed.
It took me a good two to three years to finally come out the other side, feeling like myself and then a few years later it hit me again.
And again I was putting it down to situations in my life at the time but it felt worse, darker and got to a stage where I thought it would really never end. In a negative way, it changed my whole approach to life, personal relationships, even my own enjoyment and love for sport was gone.
I had no drive or motivation to do anything, even a simple task of getting out of bed was a struggle, all because I was trapped in my own head.
I used to look at depression as only a thing lazy people had and they were looking an easy way out of work. I always thought that depression was a choice and something that you could get over and snap out of it. Unfortunately, I was very wrong.
It is something that takes over your whole life from the moment you open your eyes until you close them at night. Then the next morning when you wake up, the nightmare starts all over again.
It took me a while to firstly to speak to someone and secondly, admit to myself that I was suffering from depression.
I thought that it couldn’t happen to me, I was the life and soul of the party, fit, healthy and always willing for the next adventure.
But it did and I had to do something about it, which wasn’t easy. My first step was to talk to my doctor who prescribed me medication and set me up to talk to someone through CBT.
For me doing any of these two things was scary, all I thought was this is the stuff for people who have really lost their mind, I still felt sane but what I didn’t realise was that I needed this help.
Still in denial I didn’t really follow the medication plan but I started to get something from the therapy sessions. At this stage I had opened up to family and friends but their love and willingness to help was nearly overpowering to me. All they wanted to do was help and for me I just needed someone to listen and that’s what I got from the therapy.
After many months of on-and-off treatment, I finally started to commit and accept that I was suffering. I was willing to try and come out the other end.
I made a decision that I would use the therapy and especially the medication as a tool to help me to a certain point but the best and only person who could really help me was myself.
This was still very difficult, from someone who used to be highly self-motivated to believing they were a fraud. I felt like I was only pretending to the outside world that I was still the same me, but I wasn’t and people who knew me best saw this.
I needed to really look at what habits and lifestyle changes I could make to help set me on the road to happiness.
There wasn’t one thing but more a collection of habits that I adopted that helped me move away from my darkest times.
The biggest change I made was in my morning routine. No matter how hard it was to start the day, my first task was to get out of bed.
Having my phone outside the room and setting the alarm was one step. Another was an idea I came across of pretending you were a NASA rocket ship and once you counted down from 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 you shout ‘out of bed’ and up onto your feet.
This worked a good few times, others I may have had to try three or four times before I got up, but it was the first step. Once I was up then it was time to make my bed, first task done for the day and this meant I was less likely to get back into it.
Next I would go downstairs with a book and start to write down how I felt and things I was grateful for.
This was very hard at the start but once I started to write I would fill a page or two, the next would be ten minutes of guided meditation using the Headspace App. Meditation was alien to me but after a lot of practice I started to feel the benefit, even if it was for a minute or two. Following this I did some yoga from YouTube. Yoga by Andria was always my go to.
Then I would listen to some motivational videos or talks to set me up for the day.
This is what you may call a perfect morning for me but sometimes it didn’t go like that. I struggled, found it pointless and there were even times when I didn’t even make it out of bed. But it did help, it helped me realise what did and didn’t work for me. Now my morning routine includes yoga, meditation and writing, all done within 20-30 minutes.
Talking to others was another huge step which I took. I have a very supportive family and circle of friends who were always willing to listen. The biggest thing that I found was when I opened up to friends about how I was feeling. I was surprised to find out that they had their own mental health problems or someone close to them was also suffering.
They could relate to how I was feeling and it was reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone.
I had to get on top of my eating habits and a simple method was not to buy any ‘comfort food’.
Eat clean and feel good. Making and preparing big pots of homemade curry, chilli and soups when I was having a good day meant that I could reheat this food with little effort on the days I wasn’t feeling as good rather than grabbing something handy which more than likely meant a poor food choice.
Slowly I started to enjoy training and playing football again. At my worst times I hated playing football. For a stage in my life it was the only thing I really cared about but it turned into something I did so people wouldn’t ask questions as to why I wasn’t there. I may well have not been there with some of my performances but, this started to become a vicious cycle where I would play, feel worse after for playing and just sink down deeper over analysing my performance and why was I doing something I didn’t enjoy anymore.
Then I decided to look at football for the positives it brought me. It was more a social event somewhere where I could train hard but still be surrounded by my friends. I started to enjoy the competitive side once again because I realised I wasn’t alone, I had people around me fighting for the same thing.
The next step was my sleep pattern, I found that this was my biggest trigger. If I didn’t get enough quality sleep then it definitely wasn’t going to be a good day. To prepare myself to sleep, I would try and get off my phone, I would write down ten things that I was grateful for that day, this was very hard at the beginning, and then I would read. I tried to read stuff that related to my work but I couldn’t concentrate. I then read self-help and personal development books. These were brilliant for giving me ideas on what I could do and also again to hear the stories of where some people had come from to where they are today. Reading these books has been a massive help in both my personal and business development. If you asked any of my past school teachers, I think they would fall off their chairs if they knew I was reading so much these days.
These are just a few steps that I took but not all of them worked for me. I had to use a lot of trial and error and as I changed so did my routines and habits. Awareness of how you are feeling, what triggers your mood and how you can change or maintain that feeling is something that I still work at every day.
I don’t think you ever ‘get over’ depression and I think it’s something you live with and maintain. When people say mental health they relate it to depression and anxiety.
But there is such thing as positive mental health, not just being happy all the time but training the body and mind to identify when things are starting to feel bad that we acknowledge them and have habits and routines in place that can help steer us in the right direction.
This won’t happen overnight and it will be harder to fix when you are feeling at your worst.
Instead work on your own positive mental health when you are feeling awesome, happy and motivated. Ask yourself what am I doing to feel this way and when things do go wrong, then go back to your tried and tested methods for a happier healthier you.
I would like to thank you for reading this article and my hope is that it can help you or others around you to understand that if you or someone you know is suffering from any negative mental health issues that they are not alone, there are people you can talk to and you can come out the other side.
It may not feel like it right now but trust me there is light at the end of that tunnel everyone tells you about.