in Lessons, Wellbeing

A few years ago I had cause to seek help to address chronic depression.

I met with my GP and he offered referrals to either an NHS psychiatrist or a new service that was being run out from their surgery –  a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.

Knowing that I didn’t really favour a route that involved medication for any prolonged period, I tried the CBT route.

And I learned something fundamental –  the journey through something is greater than the reaching a destination.

During my CB therapy I learnt techniques to help me tackle many kinds of thoughts and behaviours and I developed an inner voice that is my objective and more rational counsel when I feel overwhelmed. If I had gone down the psychiatry route, I fear I would have never developed this super power. I overcame my depression but didn’t cure it and I now have awesome tools to prevent and manage it when it happens again.

When I look at the world around I see achievements are hugely celebrated – from winning gold at the Olympics to selling a startup for a few billion dollars. What is hardly ever mentioned is how you are changed by the journey to the achievement. How the athlete has been changed  – both physically and otherwise – by what she had to endure to win the gold. Changes that make it more likely that she will win another gold and changes that mean that if she never won another gold – she would have developed the qualities to be OK with that.

Those are changes that come from the journey, not the destination.

You can reach the same place from different roads but not all teach the same things.

I always dreamed of winning the lottery. Of waking one morning to find that my ticket was the 100 Million Jackpot winner. So I would arrive at wealth but without the qualities to create wealth, nor the humility to appreciate it. What is more valuable in the end?

As I ponder life, sitting on my Spanish terrace dealing with the hopes, fears and dreams of now, I wonder less about my destination and more about what journey I am on, what journey I should be on. Perhaps there is a way to choose the journey by choosing the destination. Perhaps by saying that I shall have acquired certain qualities  and experiences, I would auto select the journeys.

What do you feel when you read this?

What journeys are you on?

What qualities are you learning from them?

I’d love to hear and share. Please consider sharing this, leaving a comment or tweeting to @mhsutton


Featured Image By: Jon RawlinsonCC BY 2.0

Share that thought!

  1. I went the medication route for over a year, after finally reaching the point where I felt like I need a chemical boost to get the engine running again. I don’t regret that, although I feel better knowing that I don’t depend on medication for basic brain function any more.

    I haven’t adopted quite the optimistic viewpoint that you have–at least not yet. I still hate my depression and the hold it has on me. I have, however, learned to make my life more “mood-fault tolerant” in order to avoid having to fight with my mood most days. I never knew why I wanted to work less, so I built high-leverage profit stream in order to collect options. Every day that I wake up with a dark mood, I spend one of those options. Worth every Joule of energy spent on obtaining them.

    My improvement in self-talk has come from an unexpected source: my reconnection with bowling. Since I re-dedicated myself to the sport, I’ve had to explore the psychological aspects of performance in a sport where the objective is to do the same thing over and over again. This has led me to seek out a more even mood, and my friend Bryan Beecham gave me the book “Zen Golf” which gave me a practical reason to practise more positive self-talk. This has bled into my non-bowling life, as one might expect. A therapist taught me the same thing, but I didn’t believe it would help until I had a practical arena in which to see it work.

    None of this makes it clearer to me which journeys to choose, at least as regards journeys that relate to my professional life. I don’t mind: I have enough slack for now. I do worry about the day when that slack runs out, but I can defer that at least a decade, barring catastrophes that would likely give me more urgent, serious problems to deal with.

    • Thanks for the comment JB and for sharing your experience of dealing with depression.

      As I wrote it, I thought I ought to put a paragraph in about how CBT was not a substitute for medication in all cases. There are situations depression is a symptom of a chemical imbalance than can *only* be restored with medication and perhaps supported with other therapies.

      Then I thought – no, it would make it longer ;-(

      If it would be helpful to you, I would be happy to talk offline about the things I found useful and maybe you might find useful too.

      Bowling works also.

  2. Thanks for sharing Mike. Depression is not a switch, but a continuous line where everyone moves on. We all feel depressed sometimes. However, is a chronic state what is called depression, regardless of the actual feelings and thoughts we all have, and worst, spreading thinking as “if i’m able to cope with it, everyone should be able to”.

    As a psychologist, I feel (most do) that drugs and CBT is a marriage, rather than two different ways to deal with it. With pills, you free your mind to build a scaffolding to deal with them. Like building a drydock to repair the boat and go back sail afterwards. You can be forever on pills (like with SSRIs), increase the dosage to be stoned-like (as with benzos) or even use these discontinued drugs with tons of secondary effects to avoid “being yourself and the depression”. Not ideal.

    If you manage to build the scaffolding learning the CBT tools to do it, you’re free. That does not mean that you never have to go back to the dry dock though. Most likely you’ll have to tune yourself up to deal with new things. Here, preventive therapy comes up. Movements like Mindfulness, a clinically tested practice that comes from meditation, are taking its place as ways to be prepared to cope with life. I highly recommend it (Note: Always check for a chartered professional with credentials. Never leave you mental or physical health in someone who, even having good intentions, is an amateur or has received a “course”).

    I’m not going into artificial things that provoke depression, bipolar and other illnesses, but I’m afraid that, as humans, should take care of ourselves. Pity is that we do not realise this until is too late.

    From a personal point of view, I am myself going trough a journey. Learning from the work I do every day. I tend to embrace more than I can all the time. My mind is hungry for more, regardless of going trough a personal hell. I know it’s there and try to live with it, instead of fighting with it. It could be easily confused with ambition or success, but is not. The only success I’ve ever known in life is the ability to be happy with yourself, in silence, enjoying what you’ve got in that precious moment. I tend to forget it too often, but dammit, this is a journey, so I have to enjoy it.

    A recommended video about depression: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiCrniLQGYc

  3. Jeronimo – thank you for such insightful words.

    My understanding back then was to try CBT before medication or even get to a point of medication to build the ‘drydock’ and then other non medicinal therapies to create the longer term techniques.

    I came upon Mindfulness after a few months of increasing frustration at my noisy mind. My anger was primarily at my own inability to focus but disguised as anger at my loved ones for interrupting my thoughts and I found the yoga based mindfulness classes a huge benefit in teaching me the tools to use everyday.

    I can highly recommend them.

    Ultimately each of us will discover and develop coping strategies for life. Even burying our heads in the sand and pretending what is happening isn’t happening is a strategy!.

    I take your final thought as a beautiful gift – to appreciate this as journey. Even more than this, I take it as an educational field trip with Life as the teacher. There are lessons I need to learn and Life is very patient, I tend to stay in a state until the lesson is learned – personal inconvenience/discomfort notwithstanding.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  4. First reaction was that I feel sad for you… Because I suffer from depressions my self and I know how tough it can be…

    Second was that I am happy that you talk about this; I wish depression was not such a taboo. I wish people would seek help and those who seek help, would seek it earlier.

    Third I was happy that you talk about help that is not medication. Default seems to be to give medication – which is necessary in some cases – and in other cases some kind of therapy would be worth so much more. And together it can do wonders.

    With what I know now, I know that I had a severe depression at 18. I think I had one at 25 as well – and maybe more..

    I had my first diagnosed depression at 33 and felt it as a total failure. That I was so weak that I could not even pull my self together and move on. I would just sit in the sofa all day – trying to pull myself together and take a shower… And digging myself further down in the dark pit, because I was blaming myself for not doing it. I got medication and got better. Saw it as a total defeat to take medication… So as soon as I could (after a year), I stepped out of medication.

    Looking back, I can see that it was a mistake. I was diagnoses with severe depression again at 37 – so three years after I stopped. I just climbed slowly and steadily further into darkness and despair without realising it…

    Luckily this time, I had another doctor. He talked to me every week for 2 hours for 8 months before we decided together that we needed to put me back on medication to get me all well.
    The big difference is that this time we worked with me; what pushed me into depression; how I treated myself; how my low self worth time after time put me in situations the pressured be to my borders and beyond; and much more. At the same time I was also working with a personal coach, so that helped to.

    This time I did not see medication as defeat, but as it is: medication. Just like medication for high blood pressure. I am now on medication in my fourth year. I tried to step out last spring, but sunk into a more and more grey world again – ever so slowly so it took me ten weeks to realise it. I may have to take this medication all my life.

    Some people ask me if it does not take away my feelings. And no it does not. I can still feel sad, angry, happy and all other feelings.. But I don’t fall into grey bottomless pits and that is the difference.

    When I look at my life, the talks with my doctor helped me tremendously in so many parts of my life. Another step on the journey to making my life better and growing as a person. Allowing myself to be me and not be who people expect me to be.

    So I learned that the right tools help us along – and that sometimes it is not enough 🙂

    • Gitte, thank you for sharing your journey so far. I felt sad when I read that had so much self directed anger at what you perceived to be ‘failure’.

      I also felt happy to discover that you have a set of strategies – medicinal or otherwise – that are helping you cope successful on your journey. *Hugs*.

      Depression is a terrible state for anyone to be in. I feel frustrated when I encounter ill-informed opinions about how it isn’t real or it is “just feeling down” or “just having a bad day”.

      I suspect it is a much much bigger problem than anyone is willing to admit and I’m glad that there are beautiful people willing to cross that taboo line and engage in meaningful progressive conversation about it that supports sharing and learning.

      Thanks again.

  5. Dipo, you have known me for a long time now, my ups and my downs. At quite a few points in life I have had to pick my self up and strive to change things around. My experiences tell me that the times when depression sinks in it is when self confidence is at the lowest. I turned to cricket while in Ife to gather myself up from the doldrums and strive to move on in life. At another point I turned to write a few lines now and then to express myself and the feedback received helped build up confidence. Sometimes you need to look at a life from a different angle to get a new perpespective to deal with things. That’s where people around you can help. In my case it was Mumsie, my father and a few others who helped me in discover my strengths and weekness and got me going to work on them. In the end, much more than the medicine and techniques it is your believe in yoursef that helps you journey to your goals. We need a plan and have to continously review the plan to make changes in the plan to help achieve get to the results we set out to get.

  6. Alok – my brother – I know you have been a true survivor and you speak wise words. Thanks for your contribution.

    Seeing something from a different ‘angle’, taking a new perspective is a technique.

    Also – more important than the techniques are the people who love you and help you through. With support , time and space.

    I have learned from writing this that so many people have a mixture of success with different things, but I think I am seeing a pattern here.

    Whatever the case, each of us is beautiful and special and whether it is by medicine, non-drug therapies and the pragmatic and unconditional support of those to whom we matter, we each deserve to have our wonderfulness realised.