Tag Archives: journey

Top Ten Principles for Depression Recovery

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” — Henri Nouwen

For depression levels: All

These Principles form a strong foundation for health and everyday happiness.

There’s been one positive, unintended side effect of having recurrent debilitating depression over the last several years: It’s given me time to think. In between depressive episodes, I have pondered what it really takes to get well and be well on an ongoing basis.

I came up with 10 foundational Principles that have helped me to keep moving in the direction of wellness. I can’t say as I’ve mastered them all; far from it. As I’ve mentioned before, having depression and choosing to undertake the journey to recovery is an ongoing hero’s journey (see Hitting the Trail–Part 3). However, keeping these Principles in mind helps me to bridge the gaps between despair and hope, passivity and activity, and disempowerment and empowerment. More importantly, practicing these Principles makes the essential difference between remaining ill with depression and recovering from it fully.

As an example, here’s Principle #5: “I am not a victim. Even though depression has taken away my motivation, there are still some things I can do to help myself. Therefore, I do one thing right now to feel better.” One of the ways I live this Principle is by belonging to a wellness center operated by the local hospital. The monthly, no-contract fee is very reasonable; it’s near my house; and I can go to as many yoga, water aerobics, and studio classes as I want. Because the classes are on a regular schedule, and because the instructors and other members know me and remark if I don’t show up, it’s relatively easy for me to grab my gear and just go. I seldom actually feel like going, but I know I will feel so much better afterward; conversely, I know I am inviting depression if I don’t exercise.

The Principles

1.     I am not my depression. Depression is an illness I experience. Therefore, I quit saying, “I’m depressed,” and look for ways to treat the illness.

2.     No matter what diagnosis I received, it is not definitive. Remission and even complete healing are possible. Therefore, I choose to believe that I can become completely well and go on to live a rewarding life.

3.     My feelings are not facts. They are real only if I let them be. Therefore, I make choices based on what I know and not on what I feel.

4.     I am not alone. It may feel that way most of the time, but there are lots of people who are willing and able to help me. Therefore, I reach out for support daily.

5.     I am not a victim. Even though depression has taken away my motivation, there are still some things I can do to help myself. Therefore, I do one thing right now to feel better.

6.     I am not my past. While understanding how past experiences contributed to my depression can be useful, ultimately, this will not heal me. Therefore, I forgive the past to the best of my ability, see the good in my present, and project hope into the future.

7.     I am responsible for improving my state of health and state of mind. No one can heal me, rescue me, or make my life better but me. Therefore, I stop waiting and start acting.

8.     The Universe is on my side, even though it might not seem like it. The more aware I become of Divine forces working on my behalf and call upon them to help me, the more they will do so. Therefore, I develop a simple daily practice of prayer and meditation.

9.     Although depression affects every aspect of my life, it isn’t personal. Life isn’t out to get me. Therefore, I choose to stop feeling persecuted and start looking for the deeper meaning of my illness.

10.  My experience of depression is unique to me. Although friends, loved ones, and colleagues care about me, they will never “get it.” Therefore, I stop demanding that others understand me and make specific, practical requests for help instead.

Working with these Principles invites beauty, order, and wellness into your life.

Working with the Principles

Rather than seeing these Principles for depression recovery as “to-do’s” or “shoulds” that you have to memorize and act on immediately, I invite you to simply write down in your journal or on a scrap of paper that you post in a visible location the Principle that speaks to you the most right now. Just read it aloud a couple of times a day and ponder the possibilities that Principle could open up for you.

Say to yourself, “If this were true, I could… .” Or, “If this were true, it might mean… .” Do some journaling in response to these springboards. Discuss the Principle with a friend or therapist. Introduce it at a support group meeting. See what opens up! You may find that you are inspired to take certain actions. Write down these inspirations so can keep track of them; select one to follow through on, asking for help from your support team if you need it.

When you feel that you’ve got this one embedded in your consciousness, pick another one and go through the same process. You might wish to rotate the Principles once a month, coming back to the first one you selected in the rotation after 10 months. Each Principle informs all the others, and you’ll be able to look at the older ones with fresh eyes and a heightened consciousness.

Share Your Experiences

I invite you to share your experiences in working with these Principles by leaving a comment below. I hope they make as much difference for you as they have for me.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.


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Filed under Finding Your Way Home, Principles, Top Ten Lists

Hitting the Trail—Part 3

Meditation garden near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico“Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind.” — by Henri-Frederic Amiel

The Wizard of Oz. It’s a Wonderful Life. Lord of the Rings. Man of La Mancha. The Pursuit of Happyness. Star Wars. Harry Potter (1-7). Gone With the Wind. No doubt, you have your own favorites to add to the list of the best journey films of all time.

What is a journey film? It’s a transformative cinematic tale in which the heroine comes smack up against the painful realities of life, at which point she must undertake a sometimes long and always arduous journey to recover from, surmount, go around, push through, and just generally overcome her difficulties. Journey films tend to have several characteristics in common:

  • The protagonist faces overwhelming odds: a natural disaster, a catastrophic illness, political upheaval, social constraints, economic calamity, war, family implosion, evil on the loose and looking for trouble.
  • The “journey” may traverse a geographic landscape, or it may occur in the landscape of the mind—oftentimes both.
  • The protagonist always finds or receives tools to help him on his journey: maps, magic talismans, cryptic notes, alchemical elixirs, books, signs, transportation, clearly marked paths, other-worldly guides such as angels, (blogs?), and so on. Think of Angel Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life or Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility.
  • There are always boon companions. In other words, the heroine is never alone on her journey; she can always count on others to accompany her and assist her as she travels the unknown. Take The Wizard of Oz, for example. Although Dorothy is the primary traveler, the one who must defeat evil and find her way home, her friends—the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man—undergo their own transformative experiences.
  • Transformation always occurs. Oftentimes, the hero finds himself back where he started, but he is fundamentally changed. Because of his courage and willingness to undertake the journey, he experiences a healing and a homecoming that allow him to lead a better life after his travels are over.

What do journey films have to do with depression? Glad you asked! You, as someone who suffers from clinical depression (nasty, chronic, intransigent), are the protagonist of your own journey film. You’re the star. Yeah, I know. You’d rather have blood-sucking leeches from head to toe than have depression. You’d be hard-pressed to wish depression on your worst enemy—even on our nation’s worst enemy (although it would be an effective way to take them out…). It’s small comfort to think of yourself as taking the place of Luke Skywalker jetting off to save the galaxy when you can’t even get out of bed in the morning.

That’s okay. You’re still a hero, even though you didn’t choose this journey (at least not consciously). And you have what it takes to strap on your hiking boots, hit the trail, and find your way through the wilderness—even though you’d rather not. The alternative is to stay stuck there, floundering in the quicksand of despair. I know you don’t want that.

This blog is both a potent tool and your companion on your journey of recovery from depression. In it, may you find inspiration, practical knowledge, healing processes, real-life companions as valiant as you are, and, most of all, hope.

Next time:  “Trail Markers.”

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen


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