How Visualization Helped Me Overcome Depression
And how I’ve succeeded with mental illness.
Visualization is a powerful tool that I use to overcome obstacles and health challenges in my life. In the visualization process, you are forming a mental image of yourself that (should) motivates you to take action. Depression had become my teacher and instead of drowning in it, I learned about the things that worked and didn’t work for my health. One week after I attempted suicide in 2008 and returned home from a psychiatric hospital, I had a moment where I visualized myself down the road — happy, healthy, and doing something I love.
First, I must say that life with mental illness is a challenge each day. People without it don’t understand what it’s like for someone who suffers with it. I share my story about living with mental illness with the goal of motivating others to believe that they too can overcome it. While suicide is tough to talk about, I share both what led to my attempt and also what made want to get better.
Let’s rewind a little bit. I learned at the young age of fifteen that I have depression, but internally, I always knew I had it even as a kid. For ten years (from age 15 to 25), I took anti-depressants, countless, and they never worked for me. After two short months of taking them, I’d feel only the uncomfortable side-effects. And no, I won’t list them. Aside from that, I didn’t feel better, nor did I feel anything at all. Operating on autopilot or simply going through the motions of life hindered me from thriving. In those ten years I took medications, I still engaged in self-punishing behaviors and kept feeling that something internally wasn’t right. Again, I want to emphasize that I’m not like everyone else and I wanted to manage my mental health in a way that works best for me: holistically and mindfully.
One year later, after spending eight months at home being off medication and seeking other alternatives (homeopathy, acupuncture, and massage therapy), I’ve found that maybe I could live a happy life naturally. It took a lot for me to let go of self-punishing habits such as envying others, undermining myself, and tearing myself apart. Once I broke those habits by creating new and better ones, I began feeling more grateful for the smallest things. The other cause of my depressive spirals occurred when I’d think that I’d never achieve my dreams or goals.
When I stopped listening to how other people believed my life would unfold, only then could I create my fate. With depression, it’s easy to think irrationally and give into what others are saying to you. Believe me, all my life, I heard how depression would always be an extension of who I am. I couldn’t allow that. By fall of 2010, I remember this so clearly — it was a gloomy October day outside, and I woke up in the morning smiling (for no real reason) for the first time in I didn’t know how long. When I was alone and feeling happiness about the gifts that had come my way, I thought: I guess I’ve made it through the dark tunnel. And, I felt empowered to be living on my own successfully with mental illness.
What got me to that place? For one, counseling each week (still do), creating a structure, and putting my well-being first. I couldn’t have put these things into place without visualizing myself getting there first. I started doing things that eventually led me to find purpose and meaning. My life lacked passion, purpose, structure, gratitude, and faith (in myself) which I became determined enough to implement. Pretty soon, I was actively pursuing career options, traveling with organizations that support people with my genetic syndrome, meeting people all over the world in Canada, Ireland, and Italy, and sharing my story of survival.
Even today, I question how I’ve survived all that I did. Beginning in the earliest days of my life, I’ve fought through tremendous hardship and challenges from losing friends because of my illnesses to facing one health issue and diagnosis after another. Many things I did each day (exercising, swimming, doing fun activities just for the heck of it), aided in my transformation, but I had to be the one to act. I had to access my inner strength to create purpose in my life. Some days, however, can get hard with my depression and I need to work harder. The difference now is that I have cultivated strategies (counseling, writing, affirmations, meditation, and yoga) and found purpose by sharing my story and being of service to others.
To clear something up, having depression doesn’t mean you are weak — quite the contrary. You are strong because you are moving through it. If you can visualize yourself happy and healthy, then you already possess the strength to move beyond the struggle. Visualization allowed me to see my power and desire to heal, and it’s the most effective step towards success.