If you struggle with depression, I wrote this for you.
This is about a recent experience I had in a battle against depression that I didn't know I was fighting. It is written with the intention of sharing a technique I learned that helped me greatly. My goal is that it might help someone else going through the same thing.
I struggled with isolation and depression since 12 years old. The first time I threatened suicide was at 16. After being officially diagnosed with depression at 19, I took various anti-depressants and mood stabilizers (depending on whether or not I could afford them) for about 13 years. Because I learned the mental path to depression and isolation very young, I tend to backslide when life gets complicated.
The catch, here, is that all of life tends to be pretty complicated.
So, when I tore my meniscus last year, I fell into depression without even noticing it. I think it's because I was so used to being able to run around to perform at comedy venues all over NYC that the immediate inability to do so really impacted me. There was an internal conflict growing between who I saw myself to be, and who my physical body would allow myself to be.
Internal conflict leads to self loathing leads to depression.
I developed negative mental habits. Mental habits that, in moments of silence, whispered:
"I should be doing more..."
"I should be performing tonight."
"My body is holding me back."
"I'm losing ground in the community."
What awful thoughts, right? But subconsciously they were popping up every time I had a moment where I wasn't thinking anything else. I thought them so much that I didn't even know I was thinking them.
How I taught myself to climb out of the depression I couldn't see:
Thanks to the power of the google keeping track of the things I watch when I am sad, I discovered a new mental health exercise. (The video reference is embedded at the bottom of this post.) It suggests that for 40 days, you write down 40 positive "I am" statements... I'm on day 34.
It was really hard to come up with 40. I got to the 23rd "I am" and floundered. I wrote "I am love" several times until I could come up with more. I forced myself to make it to 40, but it was effort-filled.
I didn't realize how few positive words I had to describe myself.
Reaching 40 (still with effort) becomes possible.
I can do this, but why am I? Is it really doing anything except removing my focus from comedy?
Something happened. I felt myself daydream aimlessly, and wander into an old negative thought: I started thinking about my new handicapped knee. I thought it isn't even worth being in New York anymore if I can't walk and do stand up, so I should just quit and run away. I should move back home. "My dream is dead."
My thoughts felt like a car driving down the highway, and my consciousness was falling asleep at the wheel. I drifted into oncoming traffic, which is the ultimate dream killer. Except... this time, at just the right moment... my new intentional thoughts kicked in. They honked loudly as my artistic death approached:
"I am love! I am creativity! I am writer!"
Old thought vs new thought in a head-on COLLISION.
I felt a jolt in my brain and body.
Not only did I think these "I am" statements, but as if on cue, a second level of programming started whirring away in the machine: I started to problem solve a moment in the story I had been writing.
My new morning habit is working.
The 20-something days:
Nothing much happened -- I practice in good faith because of what happened that 16th day.
In those 10 days, the 40 statements of "I am" still feel just far enough outside of my comfort zone that it takes effort to get there. There's an actual stretch that I feel in my brain, right around "I am" number 37, so I can instinctively tell when I'm finished with my practice.
A funny thing has happened in the last few days. I don't repeat words in the same entry anymore (except maybe "I am growth" and "I am gratitude"). There's always a new word to move on to. Today I stopped when I felt the stretch of number 37. I counted and discovered I had written fifty one positive things about myself in a row.
WHOA. WHAT A BEAUTIFUL THOUGHT.
Side note: I have 3 pretty major projects coming out within the next 6-9 months. To hear about those and everything else I'm doing, please sign up for my email list by clicking this link. Thanks for being you, and I hope to hear from ya.