100 new things that lifted me out of my depression
Jessica blogs about the challenge she set herself that proved she had the capacity to enjoy life.
Boxing Day, 2021. On the brink of drifting into the annual food-coma, my mind wandered and, reflecting upon the past few days, I realised something incredible: I had enjoyed myself.
This was a revelation not due to any issues with hanging out with my family (promise, Mum), but because it had been years since I’d felt genuine joy and I had got to the point where I’d given up hope of ever being able to. In fact, I had pretty much given up altogether.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when my mental health began to deteriorate or assign a cause. Everybody’s depression is different – from root to manifestation – and I do count myself fortunate to have not suffered a significant trauma to trigger mine. Instead, my depression crept up on me slowly.
“I was extremely good at hiding my depression from those around me. This was in fact one of the most exhausting elements.”
My mental health struggles were even more of a surprise to everybody around me. There are still so many preconceptions about what it “looks like” to have depression and I don’t fit the stereotype – I’m not constantly sighing, wearing black, or wandering around with an Eeyore-esque cloud above my head. In fact, if you met me during those years you’d have seen a bright, smiling woman who seemed to have life sorted.
I was extremely good at hiding my depression from those around me. This was one of the most exhausting elements; the façade took so much energy I had nothing left for myself when I came home at the end of the day.
This desire to appear “normal” and happy not only zapped my energy, but also made my depression worse. I would work so hard to join in with fun events with friends and family, only to come home feeling empty, knowing that I didn’t really enjoy any of it, feeling like a terrible person for not appreciating all the good that was in my life.
Lack of self-love
I tried various forms of therapy, was on medication, and followed other guidelines such as keeping active to try to beat the cloud that harangued me. But what I didn’t understand was that the core of my depression was a distinct lack of love for me. Without that, I was never going to be happy.
Which brings me on to my challenge – and back to Boxing Day 2021. Having realised that there was still the potential to feel good, I decided I needed to give life one last go. I made a plan.
After the terrible two years of the pandemic, I decided to dedicate the next 100 days (starting December 27th) to trying new things. It seemed a fitting way to begin to make up for lost time but I had no idea how transformative it would be.
I started small: trying a Pot Noodle, doing a backwards roll, learning to shuffle a deck of cards. This was super important – I needed small, manageable firsts to get the ball rolling – and fit into my life, work obligations etc. I got a little thrill each time I could tick a new thing off my list. A simple task like cleaning a bath plug wasn’t going to drastically change the course of my life, but it gave me a tiny moment in my day where I could congratulate myself and feel a sense of achievement – and what’s more, it was an act my destructive brain couldn’t try to warp into a negative.
“I was waking up not just dreading the day ahead but looking forward to what new thing I would do.”
All my new things were pure and good in what was often an otherwise miserable day, and they shone for that reason.
Within only a few weeks, I was waking up not just dreading the day ahead but looking forward to what new thing I would do within it. For the first time in years, I had hope. Hope that life could be good; hope that maybe I had a future after all.
Once ignited, this inner light shone brighter and brighter. I began to have pride in myself, in the little things I was achieving daily. For the first time in forever, I felt I had something to offer – both to myself and to others.
I began to like myself. And from this I started to look forward to speaking with people. I felt I suddenly had something to say, like I wasn’t just a waste of air. Being around other people became less exhausting, because my smiles and laughter were no longer a charade.
As the challenge went on, my new things evolved and became more adventurous. I went on several solo trips (something I never thought I’d do), tried activities such as surfing and ballroom dancing lessons, and I even flew a plane! This was another transformative side-effect – I have become so much more open to new experiences. Life – and the world – is fully open to me now because I in turn am open to embracing it.
When I’m asked what my favourite activity was, I reply that it’s this new-found sense of adventure, and ability to be independent, that has been the best outcome.
Although my challenge has long finished, I continue to look around me for new things I can try. Big or small, whether I enjoy it or not, the important part is celebrating the newness of it.
“The confidence I’ve built up has given me the foundations to bounce back. I know I can feel happiness.”
While I have predominantly overcome my depression, I am fully aware that I’m not “fixed” and that this is a facet of my life I will always need to work on. Indeed, last weekend I had to shut myself away for a day because I didn’t feel capable of seeing or speaking to anybody. This was unsettling, as I felt I was going “backwards”. But the confidence I’ve built up over the past year or so has given me the foundations to bounce back. I know I can feel happiness, I know how strong I can be, and I have a year of memories to give me the energy to accept low moods and to start again afresh the next day when they happen.
To anyone reading this – especially those feeling lost like I was – give the challenge a go. Even if you don’t experience the transformation that I did, at worst you’re going to be able to look back and reflect on having achieved 100 (or whatever target you decide upon) new things that you hadn’t experienced before. Which is still pretty cool, right?
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