In thinking about depression the last few days it occurs to me that so much of the battle to overcome it is simply about looking forward instead of back. I think this is obviously the case in depression caused by an abusive childhood, or any other kind of trauma, but I think it’s also true in cases where it’s not clearly related. Depression is all about losing the ability to enjoy life, and there’s nothing more enjoyable about life than the anticipation of an upcoming event.
It seems to me the more people I meet who have suffered from depression at some point the more I can tell a difference between those that are looking forward, and those that haven’t found that yet. The one’s who are looking forward have accepted that they have to live with this disease, in some form or other, and are looking forward to what they can do with their lives now that they’ve learned that. The other group is still mourning what they’ve “lost” because of their depression.
The thing is, when you are suffering from depression, it’s simply too difficult to look ahead to anything. You don’t get any enjoyment from what you’re doing now, why should tomorrow be any different? Yet at the same time, we all, for some reason, spend time regretting that our depression is going to make use change the life we’re currently miserable in. I spent a long time mourning my first marriage when it was over, even though I was completely unhappy in it. It was only after I came to terms with the fact that being healthy was more important than not being single, was more important than any friendship I might lose because of my decisions, and would always be more important than anything else that might come along in my life, that I could then look forward. It was only after I was willing to make decisions that were healthy for me, regardless of what change that brought about in my circumstances, that my focus changed. Instead of looking back at what my life used to be, I began to look forward to the next healthy decision, no matter how small it was.
Instead of spending my time concerned with what had been, I spent my time finding things I could enjoy, and look forward to. Things as simple as watching a ball game on TV, or a trip to the library, or buying an ice cream. Choosing to do these things simply because I enjoyed them gave me a freedom I didn’t have before. It gave me a sense of responsibility for my own happiness, and my own health. It made me focus my attention to the future. To the next activity I would enjoy doing, to the next day, the next week. As I focused on the next day, I became curious about what events would occur in the future that I couldn’t plan, people I would meet, things I would learn, sights I would see. The more I allowed myself to focus on that, the less my depression had a hold on me. I was no longer stuck in my own misery, I was learning to anticipate what life had to offer, and what each day might bring.
I still have lost certain things. I have to spend more time watching myself for signs of slipping back into depression than other people do, I have to be careful about negativity and about expressing emotions in healthy ways more than other people do. Because of my past severe depression and dissociation I have to keep a close eye on things like my mental focus, how much I sleep, how much I eat, etc. to make sure I don’t slip into a bad spell like that again. Most people don’t have to do that, and I guess I could spend my time being angry about that, but who would I be hurting with that anger? I find it’s much healthier to accept that as part of my life, and continue to look forward to what my life can be, instead of looking back to what it’s not.