How Challenging Depression Can Cultivate New Pathways to Freedom via @brandonkrogel
A few years ago I took the plunge and sought out an actual medical diagnosis for the way I was feeling.
I had lived with the same overwhelmingly unpleasant emotions for as long as I could remember. Some part of me had just accepted that I would always feel this way and that was it.
The truth was, though, I didn’t actually want to feel and live the way I was.
Seeking an official diagnosis was the first step for me in what would become my quest to discover whether I was doomed to slavery from my mental illness or if there was some kind of freedom to be found.
It’s been a long and ongoing journey that has tested every part of me but in the last three years, I’ve found more freedom from my mental illness than I thought would ever be possible.
For the first time in my life, I am not at the mercy of my mental illness and instead, I progress and flourish despite it.
The positive changes I’ve made have tremendously improved every aspect of my life and allowed me to reach my dream job of working in digital marketing at an SEO agency.
There has been no other time of my life where I have felt more peaceful, fulfilled, and optimistic about my future. If I can make it to this place of newfound freedom, then I know others can as well.
I hope that by sharing my experiences and discoveries, anyone else who may be suffering can take these insights and work to cultivate their own pathways to freedom.
The Origins of My Despair
When I was officially diagnosed with severe clinical depression and complex PTSD a few years ago, I couldn’t help but recall where it all began.
Growing up in a single-parent home with my younger sister and brother, I always felt a little different, despite how common this situation is.
My mother had separated from my father because of his drug and alcohol addiction. Despite her deep love and care for him, she knew that his lifestyle would only bleed destruction into everything around it.
Even though my child-mind understood in some sense the situation, it didn’t mean much to me then. My dad was still my hero and in the times that we all got together and felt like a real family, I was my happiest.
But he died from a drug overdose when I was 12 and that was that. Mom couldn’t cope in the couple of years that followed. Grief led her to drugs as well and our family split when I was 15.
My siblings went into foster care. Nobody wanted a 15-year-old kid so I alternated living with different friends. Not for long though.
I never truly felt welcome. I seemed like a burden.
I moved out on my own when I was 16. I’ve been out in the world since.
My Late Teen Years
I managed to finish high school despite a swelling depression that was beginning to consume me. I found comfort in smoking cigarettes and drinking with other outcast kids.
As I traveled through my early 20s, the bottle was never far out of reach. It had become my medicine and the way through which I coped with my overwhelming emotions of hopelessness, fear, isolation, and anxiety.
I carried on this way until I was 28, at which point, I had reached the most depressing time of my life.
The Darkest Night
It’s hard to find words to describe how utterly awful I felt at this time of my life.
Drinking 50% of my waking life for nearly a decade by this point had not only created a physical, mental, and emotional dependency on alcohol but it had also fostered an impressive amount of debt, among other things.
The only reason I was able to remain employed for so long was so I could support my drinking but at this point, I was unraveling completely.
The alcohol had created an internal clock that was never late and when the time came, the need to drink was all-consuming. I was terrified because I knew I had lost control.
By this point, many of my friends had died. Family had grown scarce. I never felt more alone and disconnected from the world.
Calling the suicide hotline in a drunken stupor became my Friday night tradition. Alcohol had progressively paired me with more negative people and situations.
I found myself exploring drugs in my drunkest of nights in a furthered effort to numb my pain and bask in the illusion of connection to others.
I took to self-harming in my loneliest of nights, waking up defeated to the dried blood on my arms the next day.
Words cannot describe the soul-crushing emptiness, the infinite burden of sadness, the crippling fear and anxiety, and the devastating loneliness and isolation that composed my very being during this time.
It was the blackest night. It was the heaviest darkness. It was the loneliest suffering.
There was nothing to live for anymore. My depression had only gotten worse over the years and once manageable anxiety had taken on overpowering forms.
I had no money. I had no connection. I had no reason to live.
Although I had pondered it many times before, I began to seriously plan the best way to end it all.
Deep down inside I didn’t want to die. After all, I felt like I had never really lived yet but I could see no way out and I had no more strength to fight back against my depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and the bombardment of tragedy that life relentlessly hurled at me.
It was in this darkest night of my life that I turned to face my reflection to see this empty shell of a man staring back at me. Suddenly I was hit with a question I had never asked myself before.
“Do I have any control over this?”
A New Dawn Begins
For as long as I had suffered from my depression and anxiety, my response to it was always the same. It was a fear-based response with a single objective of trying to counter it or escape it.
With the monumental hopelessness and apathy that depression fostered, I always felt powerless to fight back against it.
Depression is incredibly good at convincing you there is no hope to the point where you stop trying or even entertaining the thought altogether.
Despite this, when I really started to explore the question of whether I had more power than I thought to fight back against the all-consuming nature of depression, the more I started to see holes in the story that depression had told me.
I felt hopeless yes, but was I actually?
It was here that something ignited in me and I resolved to see if I could challenge my depression through proactive action – a concept I had never considered before.
I decided I would challenge every defeating thought, feeling, and notion that depression brought me to verify if this was indeed the truth.
As difficult as it was, I began to approach the concepts and feelings that depression brought me with more objectivity and rationality.
In doing this, I began to see everything was based on fear. With this knowledge, I began to look for ways to not give in to fear.
The Climb Out of the Hole
Drinking was responsible for 99% of the things I did that I regretted most in my life. That was a staggering realization. I knew that alcohol was continually recycling negative people, situations, and experiences in my life.
Depression and alcohol both had convinced me that drinking was a solution to my problems.
Even though that was how I felt, when I started to challenge that belief, it was clear that this was not a solution but in fact, a crippling problem and a major contributor to my continued depression.
I knew if I wanted to true shot at fighting back against my depression, I needed to remove the alcohol from my life. If I wanted to challenge my fear, drinking could not be my response to it.
Well over a decade of smoking had left me breathless. I couldn’t walk up stairs, run, or do any kind of activity that engaged my cardiovascular system without nearly dying afterward.
Cigarettes, like alcohol, had kept me suppressed under the illusion of comfort and relief. The lies that cigarettes convinced me of were deep-rooted in my mind. Challenging them was far from easy but with time, I won.
I knew the best place to start in challenging my depression was removing the things that I knew were driving forces of negativity in my life, such as the drinking, smoking, and not as prominently but just as detrimental, my apathetic approach to drugs.
As I began my quest to overthrow these rulers of my life, I realized more and more that these things were not the source of my depression, but rather my response to it.
Removing them would stop the cycle of self-sabotage however, the roots of my depression still ran very deep. I had tried for years and failed to combat my depression at the source but I didn’t understand it.
I didn’t know how to navigate it. I wasn’t equipped properly to fight it. I realized then that I needed to seek outside help.
Getting to Know Myself
Therapy became one of the most powerful things I used to equip myself with tools, strategies, and insights to fight back against my depression and anxiety. I learned a great deal about myself and why I responded the way I did to my emotions and life in general.
Having this knowledge was paramount in my success because of the depth of understanding it provided into the most forgotten and unexplored parts of my internal landscape.
Therapy helped me continually challenge every single arrow of despair that depression shot my way and eventually, it was as if I could catch them mid-air before they reached me. I wouldn’t let them pierce me any longer.
Perhaps the greatest control I gained in my life came from my conscious decision to give up control completely.
Ironic, isn’t it?
When I looked into my heart and realized that everything I did was in response to fear, it showed me something.
I was afraid of losing what little family and friends I had left. Ultimately, I was afraid of being alone.
I was afraid of my feelings, of depression, of alcohol, and of all the things that existed that I couldn’t control. So how do I release myself of this fear? I discovered it would be through surrender.
The Beauty of Surrender
When I accepted that I had no control over others or of the things, both good and bad, that life would throw my way, a beautiful sense of peace washed over me.
It was then that I learned to surrender what I could not control. It was then that I learned to surrender my fear.
I accepted and made peace with life. I understood that it was part of the human experience to deal with terrible times however, I decided I would deal with them as they came, instead of living in constant fear anticipating their arrival. This practice was indescribably freeing.
Fighting for a New Life
It was not easy to climb out of the infinite despair I had learned to call home. I was knocked back down many times over.
I would make progress and then revert. I would challenge my fear and then cower when it pushed back. It was the bloodiest battle I have ever fought.
Despite the onslaught of resistance depression gave when I challenged it, slowly but surely I could feel its power over me weaken until it reached a point where beaten and battered, I stood up for the first time in my life and felt depression under my feet.
Out of the darkness, I looked up to face the sky and taste the sweet redeeming sunlight I had only ever dreamed of.
Although I feel as if I have released myself of the complete control depression had over my life, it is still very much a part of my life.
I feel like I have caged the beast but I know if I turn my back or give it any room at all, it has the power to break free and consume again. This is why my approach to my mental health must remain proactive.
It is an ongoing battle and likely one I will fight for the rest of my life. Depression and I are locked in an eternal struggle for power but I have finally learned what it takes to subdue it.
The Proactive Approach
The essence of depression is composed of fear and lies. No enemy is as perfectly equipped to keep us in slavery and torment as depression is. This powerful force often knows us better than we know ourselves.
Depression cultivates an indescribable and overwhelmingly powerful sense of fear, hopelessness, apathy, and isolation.
All of these things combine to form a perfect system of control over those suffering. It nurtures the belief that we are helpless to do anything. It drains us of all energy and motivation to resist.
Lastly, it keeps us isolated from the world. This is such an effective method of oppression. It doesn’t take long for depression to seem unbeatable.
What I have learned is that all lasting positive change comes from within. For my whole life, I believed the lie that depression would always be in control and dictate every single part of my life.
The thing was, as long as I believed that, it remained true and there was nothing I or anyone else could do, to change that.
When I asked the question for myself of whether or not I had more power than I realized over my depression, I challenged that belief.
As I explored that question further, it solidified the belief that I could do more and I could be more. So it was at that moment, my beliefs surrounding depression changed.
I went from believing I had no power to believing there had to be a way out somehow.
It was my new belief that changed my reality because from it, I set an intention to do everything I could to challenge my depression. This intention then led me to take decisive action and steps towards this objective.
As I continued in this way and discovered all of the ways in which depression was lying to me, I continued to achieve positive momentum in this direction.
Even when I would get knocked down, I’d rise up again because I believed that there was hope and that there was something wonderful waiting for me on the other side.
By taking proactive steps in challenging the self-defeating notions and thoughts that depression threw at me, removing the strong sources of negativity in my life, and combining that with the actionable insights of therapy, I have cultivated new pathways to freedom that I never could’ve imagined.
Even though I still carry my depression with me, it is no longer this all-powerful, monumental force that consumes me. Instead, through a proactive approach, I have made it small and put in my pocket.
I’ve learned that the difference between being ruled by my depression and learning to live a fulfilling life despite depression, comes down to taking a proactive approach to it.
- Making a conscious effort to continually challenge the lies of depression.
- Working with therapy and medication.
- Eating healthy, getting regular exercise.
- Removing sources of negativity in my life.
- Surrendering what I cannot control.
- Fighting back against negative thinking by intentionally seeking out positive people, environments, and ideas.
Like many things in life, it was hard at first but the more I practiced this discipline, the easier and more natural it became.
People lose their will to fight if they think the battle is hopeless but even the slightest bit of hope can snowball motivation, inspiration, courage, and positive action.
Hope is ultimately the belief that things can be different and this belief is what separates the idea of “I can,” from “I can’t”.
Absolutely everything starts with belief.
When those suffering from depression discover their belief and their hope in the idea that there can be something better, that is the beginning of something powerful.
When we learn to challenge our depression by taking a proactive approach, we have a fighting chance that we didn’t have before.
- We Are Worthy: Seeing Our Worth Through Depression & Anxiety
- What I’ve Learned from 10 Years with Clinical Depression & Anxiety
- Mental Illness – No Shame – Lots of Hope
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita