It took me a long time to realize that feeling good was not a reliable measure of how well I was dealing with depression. The state of my feelings went up and down by some logic of its own rather than my efforts to get well.
I was still at the mercy of mood. When it was up, life was good, when down, life was all frustration. This contributed to the sense of futility about my main treatments of medication and psychotherapy.
I started looking around for an approach to mental health and well-being that could give me more guidance on how to get better at living, not just better at depression. It was easy enough to think about the opposites of the symptoms – focused thinking instead of mental fog, relaxation instead of tense irritability, energetic activity instead of sluggish inaction, staying with people instead of isolating from them, and so on.
But thinking of the positive side of symptoms didn’t add up to a better life. It still kept me focused on what was wrong. I was feeling the need for a more comprehensive view of what my life could be like.
I found several ideas about psychological well-being that have helped switch my focus from what I don’t want in my life to what I do want. What is so different about these ideas, compared to my earlier experience, is that they help empower me to move from the disorder of depression to well-being in all its dimensions.
So long as I followed a disease model of recovery, I was only trying to stabilize symptoms. With a model of wellness in mind, I have moved to a different sense of possibility about who I am and what I can do. I know that might sound like a self-affirmation tape, but there has been nothing simple or fast about this change.
The first glimmerings of an approach to depression based on mental health came through the writings of Viktor Frankl whose Man’s Search for Meaning has become such a timeless classic. It was he who first helped me understand in an immediate way that having a sense of purpose was essential to being able to adapt to extreme circumstances and to survive.
When the emotional depth and value of these purposes came to the forefront of my mind and feelings, I knew I could keep coming back to them, even when lost in depression. They went to the heart of who I was. The illness has a way of shaking and testing you that deeply.