David Baxter PhD
Where My Depression Really Came From and What Helped Me Healby Brianna Johnson, Tiny Buddha
April 8, 2021
One afternoon, during a particularly low slump, I was getting out of the shower. Quickly reaching for something on the sink, I knocked an old glass off the counter, shattering it onto the floor.
In most cases, one might experience stress, frustration, or sadness upon accidentally breaking an object that belongs to them. They might feel agitation on top of their already poor mood. But in the moment the glass shattered, I felt instant relief.
It was an old item I’d gotten at a thrift store, and the image on the glass was all but worn off. In the back of my mind, I’d wanted to get rid of the whole glass set, and the shattering of one of its pieces served as a firm confirmation it was time to let go.
In that unexpected moment of relief, I realized I was holding on to the glasses out of some strange obligation and a fear that I wouldn’t have the money to replace things if I gave them away.
I marveled at this interesting aspect of my consciousness I had not noticed before, wondering, “What else am I doing this with? How many things in my life are subtle burdens that I tolerate out of some vague sense of obligation? Does it really make me a “good person” to tolerate so much, to hold on to so much unwanted baggage from the past?
Suddenly, I remembered something I had recently learned from one of my mentors about depression: We must stop clinging to people, places, and things that no longer deliver the joy they once did. Even more importantly, release things that never delivered joy, even when we thought they would.
This sacred practice is all too underrated. We must cut the dead weight in our lives, even if it is unnerving. Whether it is a negative relationship, a job in which you are disrespected, a habit that is draining your health, or even some unwanted items in your home that are taking up too much space.
It is our stubborn unwillingness, our fear of letting go, that keeps us in low spirits, day after day. In these instances, we are waiting for the impossible. We are waiting for things to miraculously improve without us having to do anything different.
Even though I was in a bad mood, I thanked the glass and the sudden shattering for its lesson. The humbling realization was that I was a clinger—someone who stuck with people, places, and things long after they’d proven they were not right for me.
As the saying goes, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” The glasses that I didn’t really want any more were a small symbol of how I was an energetic hoarder. I kept things until life forcefully yanked them out of my hands.
Often, I clung to subpar situations out of fear. I was afraid of being left alone, with nothing, so I’d gotten myself into the habit of anxiously settling. And as we all know, settling is no way to live a satisfying, dignified life.
When we settle, the parts of us that aspire to grow are denied respect. We subconsciously tell ourselves it is not worth it—we are not worth it.
My habit of settling had gotten me into more binds than I could count—low-paying jobs, incompatible relationships, boring days, and restless nights wondering what I was supposed to be doing. Why weren’t things better?
The simple answer was, I didn’t choose anything better. I didn’t know how.
When we don’t know ourselves, we don’t know what we want and need. And when we doubt our worth or our ability to make things happen, we hold ourselves back from what would make us happy. This is where depression breeds, along with burnout, stress, and apathy.
So how can this painful spiral be prevented? And if you already find yourself in this predicament, how can you climb out of the hole?
1. Assess everything in your life.
What just isn’t working, no matter how hard you try, in work, your relationships, your habits? These are the areas where you need to make a decision. Either let something go or make a change that is significant enough to transform how you feel about the situation.
2. Find the hope.
Hopelessness is a huge aspect of lingering depression. The problem is, people often try to talk themselves into being hopeful about something that actually isn’t going to work (e.g.: a relationship that was meant to end). Instead of clinging, let go and seek out new things that feel truly hopeful instead.
It’s not always easy to let go, especially when it pertains to relationships, and particularly when you’re not hopeful there’s anything better out there for you. Start by asking yourself, “Why do I believe this is the best I can do, or what I deserve?” And then, “What would I need to believe in order to let go of this thing that isn’t good for me and open myself up to something better?”
3. Change something. Anything.
When we are stuck in a rut, it usually means things have been the same way for too long. Routine and consistency can be a poison or a cure, depending on the situation. If you’re feeling stuck, look for how doing the same thing every day isn’t working. Sometimes, making any random change is enough to shake you out of that rut.
This could mean taking a new route to work or doing something creative when you usually binge watch Netflix. Sometimes little changes can give us a surprising level of new insight and self-understanding.
4. Lastly, admit to what you really want.
If you won’t risk being hopeful and taking action toward what you really want, you will default to a life of tragic safety. You will shy away from the truth, clinging to all the things that don’t really resonate with you. Ironically, you have to be willing to risk loss to in order to acquire valuable things in life.
So start by being brave enough to admit what you really want in all aspects of your life, and perhaps more importantly, what you need. What would make you feel fulfilled and excited about life again?
We often think of depression as a vengeful disease that robs us of our joy and vitality. But when we begin to look at our lives with more honesty, we can see depression for what it really is: a messenger.
I like to think of depression as the first phase of enlightenment—a reckoning we must endure to come out the other side with clarity. When we stop pushing negative feelings away, we can discover why they exist and what steps will resolve them.
For me, this meant letting go of how I thought my life should be and embracing how it was. Rather than lamenting about the past or obsessing about the future, I started taking practical steps to improve the present. This included cleaning up my diet, giving up a job that no longer worked for me, and digging into attachment styles to learn how to improve my relationships. The more action I took, the more hopeful and empowered I felt.
The road to happiness isn’t nearly as direct as we would like it to be, but this gives us the opportunity to access what we truly wanted all along: self-understanding, self-acceptance, and self-empowerment. Depression isn’t a problem, but a road-sign. The question is, will we ignore it, or let ourselves be guided?