Life After Depression

Update: Wow! I received a lot of messages regarding this post. :-) For clarity’s sake, depression has not been a part of my life for several years now. Happily, I have healed and learned a lot from the experience. The following post details that journey and the tools I used to fight back. If you have any personal questions for me, feel free to leave them in comments below or if you would like to remain private, email me at the address listed on this page. Thank you!

Suffering from depression feels like looking into a mirror everyday and seeing a pathetic version of yourself. Every reflective surface reveals the same disturbing secret. The illness is like having earmuffs involuntarily installed on your feelings. When I was battling depression, I wasn’t sad like the name of the illness implies, instead I was numb. My passions no longer excited me, and the people in my life no longer inspired me.

At the core of it, clinical depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Unfortunately, the day-to-day of living with depression is not nearly that simple.

That which once made me, me, was inexplicably extinguished. The creativity and motivation that used to enable me to stand up and fight was gone, and its place appeared hopelessness. Like a food critic who loses his tongue or a musician who loses her hearing, depression was a loss of my identity. Whereas my self doubts previously had taken the form of mental walls, my new doubts took the form of defensive castles. This mental illness knew all of my secrets and weaknesses, and it controlled me because it was me.

However, none of those troubles were the the hardest part of dealing with the illness.

The hardest part of dealing with depression was that I couldn’t vocalize any of my internal suffering. My power to do that was also gone.

In the past, I have talked about how my Life List was the ladder I used to climb out of depression. I was asking myself bigger questions, and I used my List as a framework for finding answers. This is still true today and it is the primary force that keeps me making forward progress on a life that I am proud to be living.

But my list wasn’t the only tool I needed to overcome depression. I also used two tools that I don’t often speak about publicly – prescription drugs and professional therapy.

My depression dragged on for years longer than necessary because I was too stubborn to believe that I needed something other than myself to overcome my mental illness.

Drugs

I really don’t like drugs. Tylenol makes my head unclear, flu medicine makes me feel hollow, and recreational drugs are fun, but ultimately feel like a shortcut to something that should require more work.

When I heard that prescription drugs might help me overcome depression, I balked and actively fought the recommendation. I reasoned that I was above drugs. I didn’t need a crutch! Like I had done with all of my previous problems, I would just barrel through and solve this myself. I knew, without a doubt, that taking antidepressants would sabotage who I was. If I wasn’t going to be myself with depression, then who was I to become without it? Clearly, more chemicals couldn’t be the solution to what was already a chemical problem.

All of these excuses underestimated what I was up against. My stubbornness was a symptom of the illness, not a pathway to a solution. But to hell with anyone who tried to tell me that. They didn’t know me like I thought I knew myself.

Therapy

From the moment my parents picked up the phone to hear that I would be coming home to have dinner, they knew something was wrong. After a year of excruciating mental pain, I finally broke down.

It was the most difficult conversation of my life, but my mom and dad helped me admit that I needed to talk to someone. They volunteered themselves, but in a moment of uncommon mental clarity, I realized that I needed to talk to a third-party. My problems felt too deep-rooted to share with anyone I knew.

It took me mentally collapsing, falling to a place where I had nothing else to do but surrender, to finally get the help I needed.

The experience of talking to a therapist was exactly how I imagined it would be. I laid down on a big couch and talked to an old doctor who charged me ridiculously high hourly rates.

For the first few sessions, I talked, but didn’t really say anything. The defenses of the castles in my mind were still rising higher. The therapist asked questions and I gave short, sarcastic answers. I was sure his prodding was in all of the wrong places. I knew I was smarter than he was, and felt convinced that I was wasting time and money on something that made me feel both embarrassed and pathetic.

The Same Until It Was Different

Every New Year’s Eve I think about where I was the previous New Year’s Eve. As I envision the prior year’s scene, I internalize how much time has passed. Each time I do this, I get scared at how one-directional and fleeting life is.

My experience climbing out of depression felt the same way.

During my recovery, everything that was external seemed to remain the same. My therapist asked the same dumb questions, and I took the same useless drugs. Each new day was as numb as the previous day.

This ceaselessly continued until it didn’t anymore. Like running by a planked fence, the scene on the other side of the barrier started to flash through into my reality.

I don’t think I will ever pinpoint the day or exact experience, but at some point I turned the corner on depression. It took a long time, over two years, but eventually the unknown engine of my motivations started slowly running again.

When the machine started humming, I was ready. I channeled that mere hint of a spark into my Life List project as strongly and intensely as I could. I started small and local on my list, and with almost unmeasurable movement, I made forward progress. That tiny ember that made me feel unique and human slowly started to shine again.

Depression was the most important battle that I have ever fought. It pitted me against the only competitor that I admit I can’t defeat, myself. With the help of my family, friends, Life List, prescription drugs and therapy, I slowly built a new me. I eventually weaned myself off of the prescription drugs and therapy, but kept my prescription of self improvement.

A couple years after officially beating the mental illness, my mom called me with worry in her voice. She told me she had bad news and asked me to brace myself.

“Danny, your former therapist, Peter, died today. He had a heart attack and passed away in his office.”

I was silent.

My mom was silent.

Every secret I had told him, every private thought, every jarring realization was now irreversibly gone.

Like the mental illness itself, this news was uncomfortable and twisted. There was no longer a record of my scars.

I looked at myself in the reflection of a nearby window. I saw neither the person that I was before battling depression, nor the frightened warrior who had made it through the mental battle. Instead, I saw a new person. A better version of myself.

My healing was finally complete.

32 comments… add one

  • Sanjana Mar 3, 2014

    Thank you, for sharing this. You come across as a beacon of positivity and happiness, so it’s heartening to see how you’ve not just recovered, but thrived and grown out of it all.

    • Danny Dover Mar 3, 2014

      Truth be told, I wrote this post to serve myself as much as I wrote it to serve other people. I had just finished a heartfelt conversation with a friend and realized that I still had more to tell of this story. I hope it helps other people like it helped me.

      Thanks Sanjana.

  • Franco Mar 3, 2014

    Danny, you did really good writing this post. I’ve read it carefully, paying attention to all of your words.
    What I found out is a brave guy, who fight courageously, face to face. Depression is the worst thing a human being can succumb to. The fight with ourselves is the hardest, and is dangerous because is the most difficoult we can recover from.
    Your family, your friends, is a good way out. rely on them, they won’t nevere let you down. Talk. Becuase even the person you can’t imagine, can give you an hand to battle your fight.
    You have been an inspiration for many. I bet you are.
    You helped and improved the life of many people. Mine too.

    I hope it can help.
    Franco

    • Danny Dover Mar 3, 2014

      Hey Franco!

      > The fight with ourselves is the hardest, and is dangerous because is the most difficoult we can recover from.

      >Your family, your friends, is a good way out. rely on them, they won’t nevere let you down. Talk. Becuase even the person you can’t imagine, can give you an hand to battle your fight.

      Very smart words and advice. I think you are absolutely right and remarkably honest for saying it.

      As always, I appreciate your contributions to these discussions. You have a lot to give, keep fighting the good the fight.

      Cheers bud!

  • Emma Mar 3, 2014

    Thanks for sharing this Danny. When you get diagnosed with depression, I think you search for and believe there will be an instant cure, the drugs will make it all ok again, or therapy will the key, after the 1st session it’s all ok again. When that doesn’t happen, you feel like this is it, this depression is permanent.
    It’s so hard to believe, because depression doesn’t want you to, that one day you will start to feel better, all the little things you have been doing to try and make yourself ‘better’ instantly, they add up, they have an affect over time.
    Everyone’s different, symptoms, reasons, feelings, etc. It’s taken me seven years to come to term with myself, this makes me sad that it has taken so long, but relieved because it’s happened, and I can start taking steps in the right direction again knowing they all help.
    Thanks again!

    • Danny Dover Mar 3, 2014

      >When you get diagnosed with depression, I think you search for and believe there will be an instant cure, the drugs will make it all ok again, or therapy will the key, after the 1st session it’s all ok again. When that doesn’t happen, you feel like this is it, this depression is permanent.

      That is exactly how I felt. One of the hardest parts of dealing with the illness was that it was ceaseless.

      >they add up, they have an affect over time.

      Agreed, glad you can see that :-) It took me too long.

      Best of luck on your own journey. :-) Congrats on your continued progress.

  • Jeremy Mar 3, 2014

    Thanks Danny. Needed to read this this morning.

  • Monica Hill Mar 3, 2014

    Dude, thank you for writing this piece. It is so honest and kind. There is such a stigma for getting help and doing what it takes to get better. This piece could be the a-ha moment for many to do just that. I’m sure you got as much encouragement and gratitude while writing it for it is in servitude that our suffering turns into appreciation. Sending you joy and love from KC!

    • Danny Dover Mar 3, 2014

      > There is such a stigma for getting help and doing what it takes to get better.

      Agreed. The stigma for getting treatment is real and incredibly hard to get past.

      > This piece could be the a-ha moment for many to do just that.

      I sure hope so.

      > I’m sure you got as much encouragement and gratitude while writing it for it is in servitude that our suffering turns into appreciation.

      Indeed I did. It felt good to bring up this old subject after having had time to process the whole experience. I hope it helps others who are still in the process.

      Thanks Monica!

  • Jonathan Goodman Mar 3, 2014

    Incredibly Powerful! It takes such strength to talk about this subject. I commend you for your bravery. Thank you.

    • Danny Dover Mar 3, 2014

      As always, thanks for the support Jonathan. I appreciate every minute of it :-)

  • Jeff Sliger Mar 3, 2014

    Hi Danny,
    As many of your other friends I am sure feel, you are the LAST person I know that would come to mind on a subject like this. I am passing it around because you have shined a light on that fact and your sharing is extremely powerful. Amazing.
    You are so awesome. You make other lives so much better just because we know you. Don’t ever forget that.
    If you were here I would hug you so I’m taking a rain check.
    Peace my friend.

  • Kate L. Mar 3, 2014

    Thanks for sharing this! It’s very helpful and inspirational, and means a lot both to those dealing with their own depression as well as their friends and family trying to understand and be of help. May your progress continue!

    • Danny Dover Mar 3, 2014

      Happy to share my bit of this story. I hadn’t thought about this being potentially helpful for family members of those struggling. Thanks for pointing that out, that is a nice unanticipated benefit. I know a lot of people deal with similar struggles. I appreciate the support Kate. Cheers!

  • Ricky Mar 3, 2014

    Never knew, and never would’ve thought or suspected that after having met you (only once though) but I guess that goes to prove how efficient ones defences work. One question though; how did you know you had a depression problem? I mean when or how did you understand that the lack of excitment for life was triggered by depression, and did you find out what triggered it? Thanks for sharing though, couldn’t have been that easy putting it out there like that.

    • Danny Dover Mar 3, 2014

      Hey Ricky,

      > how did you know you had a depression problem? I mean when or how did you understand that the lack of excitment for life was triggered by depression

      For a long time I didn’t know. I just thought I was having an off day, then an off week, then I figured I had just changed. It wasn’t until I hit my low point and talked to my parents that I understood something was wrong.

      > did you find out what triggered it?

      I don’t think it works like that. It just happened, kind of like other diseases (arthritis, infections, cancers). There might have been some contributing factors but it wasn’t like getting bit by a bat and then being able to directly tie that to getting rabies.

      Good questions!

  • Brandon Mar 3, 2014

    Hay Danny first time I have written to you this article was great but one thing I struggle to overcome with my depression is I can’t get my life to go any where I can’t afford to do the things on my list and I don’t know what I want to do with my life I have tried goals and they did not work for me and just would like some of your input into it thanks.

    • Danny Dover Mar 7, 2014

      >I can’t get my life to go any where I can’t afford to do the things on my list and I don’t know what I want to do with my life

      Hey Brandon. My best advice is to start small. I didn’t have a lot of money or time when I first started my list. As such I just focused on the things that were achievable, the first one being getting a straight razor shave. For more ideas check out this post: http://www.lifelisted.com/blog/introducing-monthly-life-lists-fun-free-neighborhood/

      If goals don’t work, keep searching for what does. Other people who I know who have overcome depression have used creating art, reading and writing as their ladder out.

  • Claudine Mar 4, 2014

    Thanks for sharing Danny. So important for all of us to be vulnerable – helps ourselves and others enormously.
    Ugh…we all have our stuff! Check out The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. I started to dip this year and I started to take some amino acids and found it helpful….(I am not against any form of treatment).

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    xo Claudine

    • Danny Dover Mar 7, 2014

      Thanks Claudine :-) It is amazing how many aspects of ones life diet can affect.

  • JAY SLIGER Mar 4, 2014

    hi danny yeah my brother posted this and I found it very inspiring. I lost the two most important people in my lifetime a few years ago, my wife and my x-wife within a few weeks of each other.
    Im still trying to figure out…what I’m suppose to do.cause I’m really not sure what to do.It is super hard to explain what I am feeling, it is surely not a good feeling. Maybe we could talk via email or something? Whatever i’m glad to see your feeling better though.

  • Leigh Shulman Mar 4, 2014

    There is a fine, fine line between being creative, meeting goals and fulfilling life dreams and the fear and doubt that it is possible. “Maybe for other people,” many say to themselves. “But not me.”

    I see it all the time when I work with people on their writing. I do a lot of free writing to open ideas. I cannot tell you how many people have to first fight through their own devils before they can really write.

    There is so much self criticism, such heavy doubt and often incredible pain. Many times, also, the pain comes because writing forces us to really face whatever it is that lies below the surface.

    That is exactly why posts like yours are so important. They let people know they’re not alone, and that while on the surface you are confident and achieving, you, too, have had your battles.

    I’m sorry to hear about Peter. It is not just a loss of what has been said but of someone who supported you and someone you trust. His death is a very clear dividing line in your life. While I’m sure it is still difficult, I’m happy to hear you can see yourself moving forward and growing even so.

    As always, lovely to read your posts.

  • Gour Mar 6, 2014

    Hi Danny, I have your SEO Secrets book, so let me share some of my ‘secrets’, although I’m not the author…

    http://vedabase.net/bg/6/6/en

    All the best,
    Gour

  • Donna Mar 8, 2014

    I have suffered from depression for many years, I have had my ups and downs with it, I went without medication because I didn’t want it and thought I could get through it on my own, and for many years it wasn’t all bad. Over the last couple of years I have felt depressions grip on me, pulling me further and further down, I’m tired of being this way, the thought of just getting out of bed makes me sick to my stomach, once I am out of bed, I dread going back to bed because I know I am going to wake up with the same hopeless feelings that I face every single day. I did go to my family doctor and agreed to medication, I haven’t been taking it long so I feel no different yet, my doctor also suggested I talk to a therapist, I just haven’t taken that step yet. I often think to myself “What do you have to be depressed about”? I have a home, a very loving and hard working husband, we are blessed to have all these things that many people don’t have, and yet every single day is a huge struggle, I don’t tell people about the depression because it embarrasses me, my husband knows I am depressed, but he doesn’t know the depth of just how depressed I am. Thank you for this post.

  • Gour Mar 9, 2014

    @Donna: No higher goal in a life…we’re not just the body, but the soul which can’t live just with “home, a very loving and hard working husband, we are blessed to have all these things that many people don’t have…”

  • Laura Mar 9, 2014

    Depression is the main reason I started my list. I had some sessions with a therapist because I didn’t want to be on medication. Think I’d spent about six months getting straight into my bed after work and watching tv until I went to sleep then repeated the same again! Don’t know what actually clicked on in my brain but it wasn’t the therapy, just went and booked a bungee jump last June and been working on everything else since and actually feel happy for the first time in years. My list has definitely changed me for the better.

  • Thea Macaraeg Mar 10, 2014

    Hello, Danny,
    I came through you via youtube. Your journey inspires me, maybe because I’m in the same predicament as you had been & am painstakingly (so slowly) getting myself out of it — on my own. I hope it continues to help others start seeing the light at the end of their tunnel — as it has mine. Thank you for continuously sharing your thoughts.

  • Pam L. Mar 11, 2014

    I love your blog, it is so inspiring. I want to thank you for addressing such an important subject. I guess Iam a bit biased because Iam a therapist. People find it so hard to accept that our brain can malfunction just like our heart , liver ect.. It is perfectly acceptable to have a broken arm but not a ” broken” brain. Our society suggest that needing to talk to someone is a sign of weakness, when in reality it is a sign of strength. You need to be very proud of yourself for your recovery. Your list is fantastic ! Pam

  • Stacy Apr 3, 2014

    Thank you for sharing what you faced. Thank you for describing what some people can’t quite begin- or may even know how to- say, but can deeply identify with. I admire your honesty and transparency, and am encouraged by your passion. Wishing you the best as your continue in your journey.

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