Can I Choose My Way Out of Depression?

No-one Chooses Depression

“Depression is about choice. It’s about having the right mindset. It’s about making the decision to be sick or to recover. You just have to get on with it.”

I’ve heard and read these words before – in the same form, in a similar form, in a disguised form or even in a cowardly ‘this is what I think but I’m going to pretend I don’t’ form.

And in many ways they make me furious. They make me want to shout and scream. They make me want to slap their user (despite the fact that I don’t do violence).

I would never have chosen the fifteen months of hell I have just lived through and I am certain that no-one else would have chosen their depression either.

It is an illness that creeps up on you. It kills pleasure. It kills joy. It kills the ability to believe in yourself, in love, in the future. It kills the will to live.

And it is agony. I would never wish it on anyone and I would never suggest that anyone has chosen to suffer from it.

Making Choices

Yet in my fifteen month rollercoaster of a journey, that has had so many peaks and troughs that I am amazed I still have people supporting me, I have learnt that there is a strong element of choice. It’s been hard to accept. Hard to believe. And even harder to act upon. But I have had to admit that it is there.

It is there and, ultimately for me, it will be the difference between relapse and recovery. Looking back, I can see where the right choice, even a tiny, seemingly insignificant choice, made all the difference.

The Banana

It was there when a community team visited me at home and, in a deep depressive state, I’d forgotten to eat all day. It was partially down to nausea and partially down to that simple lack of will to live. As they gently placed a banana in front of my eyes, I hesitated, pushed it away and then changed my mind.

Choosing to eat a banana that day gave me the energy to greet my daughters when they came home from school; to cuddle them on the sofa; and to be reminded that there was a reason to live after all.

The Beach

It was there when, after days of refusing to go out, my mind was no longer on a downward spiral – it was more like a vertical drop into despair. A friend suggested a walk on the beach and my immediate reply was that I wasn’t up to it. She pushed a little. I pushed back (mildly irritated). She pushed even harder. I gave in.

The subsequent walk on the beach, dragged me out of that pit of despair. The ice-cold wind, the crashing waves and the listening ears refreshed and revived me, giving the day ahead a brand new perspective. It wasn’t so much the right choice. More the lack of energy to fight it. But it made such a difference. And I was the one who made it.

The Break

And it was there last week when I woke up and felt utterly overwhelmed at the thought of a morning at work. I’ve only been back a month, calling in
sick just wasn’t an option. I had to prove to them that I am better, stronger and able to be the teacher I once was. That was what I thought until I reached the crucial traffic light. Right to work or left to the beach.

At the last minute, I swung guiltily towards the beach. The guilt accompanied me as I called in sick: as I walked along the sea shore; as I sipped a coffee in front of a roaring fire in the café; and as I drove home. It was there when I fell asleep at 11am and again when I woke up at4pm.

But then it disappeared. It disappeared when my husband finished working and asked me with concern how I was feeling. So much better was my reply. And it was genuine. And I felt so proud for having made the right choice for me, for my recovery and, even better, without anyone prompting me.

Too Far Gone to Choose

Despite my belief that these choices made such an importance difference, there were times when I wasn’t well enough to make the right decision.
Times when I have been so blinded by pain, by irrational thoughts, by fear, by that negative loop that I couldn’t escape from, that the right choice was light-years away.

That is what depression does to you. You enter such a dark place that the right choice is actually a long way away from reality.

Don’t Face it Alone

I undoubtedly couldn’t have progressed this far alone. Over a year of therapy, antidepressants and the incredible support of those around me have got me to the point where I am capable of making the right choices. I could not have done it alone and no-one should be expected to overcome depression alone.

But here’s the thing:

“You don’t go straight from one to a hundred. There are stages in between. You have to make those right choices sooner.”

My therapist must have said this a thousand times before the significance of her words sunk in. If you manage to make the right choice to eat that banana, to get out to the beach or to take a break from your daily routine, you might just be able to avoid reaching that crisis point when a rational decision just won’t happen. It took me so long to get it.

I Choose Recovery

As someone who has been diagnosed with severe depression, and made four serious attempts to end my life, I now truly believe this. I am tiptoeing steadily towards recovery and I know that it is the choices I make that will make all the difference.

That doesn’t mean I won’t have difficult moments. And it doesn’t mean I have to do it on my own. It doesn’t even mean that I am capable of avoiding reaching ninety-nine.

But, if that happens, I have a responsibility. A responsibility to me, to my family, to my friends and to all the amazing professionals who have worked so hard to keep me alive during the last fifteen months…

I have to make the right choice, to make that phone call, to ask for help, to cling to the sofa, whatever… but I have to choose not to hit one hundred.

It’s up to me. It’s my choice. And I choose recovery.

What about you? What do you choose?

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Claire Phillips

Raw, honest and open Mental Health Warrior and Advocate.

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