How Depression Can Make You a Happier Person

depression happier

“Whatever you do, don’t try and escape from your pain, but be with it.”

– Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

A few years ago I suffered from major depression. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. In no way am I endorsing depression as a pleasant experience here. It is a mental illness that zaps the life energy right out of your bones and makes you feel like you are free-falling into a dark, endless pit of despair and hopelessness. However, as in my case, depression served as a catalyst for me to finally confront the soul wounds I had carried around from a dysfunctional and traumatic childhood into my adult life.

I had to look inside myself and address some painful, repressed emotions and beliefs about myself: Why did I feel unworthy and unlovable? Why did I push myself so hard to prove my worth? Why did I feel responsible for everyone’s happiness at the extent of my own? What was I ashamed of? Why did I feel so alone? Why did I personalize everything? And most important of all, why did I find it so hard to love myself?

It was seeking the answers to these questions in group therapy and in counseling that served as the first stepping stone in a personal transformation where I have emerged emotionally stronger and loving the person I am in this moment.

How can that be so you ask? By tapping into the emotional undercurrents of my depression, I was able to release myself from its grip towards greater personal empowerment and happiness.

Accept you have depression and let go of shame

When I was first diagnosed with major depression I was in denial. The notion I even had depression was embarrassing because I equated it with weakness when in my mind I was supposed to be strong. My own expectations of how I should perform and operate in the world created a sense of shame in me. This shame compounded a deeper sense of shame and feelings of unworthiness I carried around since childhood.

When we keep depression a secret for fear of stigma and what others will think of us, we feed the fires of shame already growing inside of us. Shame is insidious as it keeps us imprisoned emotionally and in a perpetual state of feeling unworthy and unlovable. Unlike the feeling of guilt which signifies the act of doing something bad, shame signifies the indefinite idea that one is a bad person. Confronting my depression head on without shame, secrecy and embarrassment was the first step towards battling it and gaining some sense of self-control emotionally and over my depression. Shame is like depressions’ best friend. They emotionally work off each other. Releasing the shame of having depression basically comes down to realizing one truth and believing it—depression does not make you a bad or weak person. If anything, overcoming depression takes a huge amount of courage that can be a starting point to recovery.

Feel and process the full range of emotions rooted in your pain 

While my depression was precipitated by stress and life events, I know for sure an underlying cause contributing to its intensity was pain from childhood trauma I never dealt with. When you stripped away the situational factors all that truly remained were painful emotions attached to a sense of unworthiness and not feeling valued or loved. Depression has a way of leaving you vulnerable and ‘emotionally naked’. It leaves you with the sense you’ve lost so much already, what else is there possibly left to lose. I instinctively knew if I didn’t deal with the emotional pain and my limiting beliefs disguised under the grey blanket of depression, I risked relapse. Therapy was my only solution.

This is not an easy task because no one wants to relive the pain of their past. It is why so many people fall into addiction; they work so hard to repress and forget the pain they’re feeling. Addiction serves as a way to soothe or numb the pain. It is like putting a band-aid on a wound that won’t stop bleeding. My soothing addictions were shopping and wine. Both of these provided a release from my pain. For example, a new outfit made me feel temporarily worthy and seen. A glass or two of wine made me feel less alone and gave me a reprieve from unhappiness.

What we don’t realize is when we don’t confront and feel the true extent of the painful emotions harbored inside our core, they will continue to control us. We will remain a victim to our pain and traumatic circumstances. We must be willing to feel all the hurt, rejection, anger, abandonment, isolation, aloneness, sorrow, resentment, and much more to be free of the pain that scars us. Only then will such painful emotions hold no power over us.

Practice self-care as an act of self-love

One of the pivotal things I learned about myself in therapy was I was a caretaker. My caretaking role was learned in childhood by having young parents who did not provide adequate emotional nurturing. On some level, I believed it was my responsibility to ensure other people were happy, often at the extent of my own happiness. I believed caretaking others could prove my worthiness—essentially that I was a good person therefore deserving of love. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What I really learned is caretaking others serves as a distraction from what pains us most. It is very similar to addiction because it deflects attention away from our pain and problems onto others. It’s easier to contend with other’s pain and problems than our own. The bottom line is we can’t fix other people or heal their pain. This can only be done at an individual level. None of us are responsible for the well-being or happiness of others. We are however completely responsible for our own happiness and well-being.

I had to unlearn this behavior and relearn it was natural and necessary to take care of myself ahead of others. I had to make my happiness a top priority. This even required putting my own well-being first for a time so I could be the stronger, loving, and confident mother my son deserved. What this entailed was learning to slow down, exercise, and participate in activities that gave me joy and pleasure. Meditation was also pivotal in helping me calm my anxiety, and the incessant chatter and judgemental voices inside my head. Establishing social connections with people who cared for and appreciated me were all essential for my recovery. I also spent a lot of time in nature.  Nature soothed my soul and allowed all my worries and fears to dissipate. I was able to find peace and serenity in the present moment.

Give your feelings a voice

Deciding you matter and deserve to be cared for and loved also entails acknowledging your feelings matter and need to be voiced and heard. Don’t fall into the habit of stuffing your feelings down because you are afraid to stir the pot and upset someone else. Learn to communicate openly and calmly using “I statements.” For example, “I feel a sense of rejection when you ignore my concerns.” This allows you to communicate in a way that doesn’t evoke a sense of blame on others or make them wrong.  Denying and burying your emotions leads to emotional repression. Emotional repression can lead to illness and depression.

Trust your inner knowing and wisdom

One of the biggest learning curves through my depression was to learn to think for myself and trust in my own feelings and inner wisdom. Most of the limited beliefs I gave in to were the result of allowing the opinions of others to define who I was. I gave too much stock to what others thought. I also felt I had to be perfect at all times. This didn’t leave much room for failure. When I messed up or disappointed others by not living up to their standards, I relived feelings of unworthiness and not being good enough leftover from my dysfunctional childhood. In essence, I was my own worse critic because I allowed this. To overcome this mentality took hard work. First, I created space in my life to be imperfect and gave myself the freedom to slip up and make mistakes. Secondly, I adopted an outlook that I am more than just a body bound to action. I am spirit, soul, energy, and emotions. So are you!

Redefine what success really looks like

Prior to my depression, I equated success as having an aspiring career, status, and being goal driven. Success was measured by what I could accomplish. At the early stage of my depression, I was working in public relations for a company that didn’t really value me. I was also a single mother trying to make ends meet. My son was going through some challenges that required my undivided attention and energy. I could no longer balance a full-time, demanding job and motherhood without sacrificing something. I tried balancing the two for a while, trying to live up to my own expectations that I had to be a perfect employee and a perfect mother. It became too emotionally overwhelming. My anxiety led to insomnia which in turn, gradually led to burnout and then depression.

As a result, going through depression radically altered my idea of success. I chose to put being a mother ahead of career and quit my job. I eventually downshifted in my career to a less stressful job in administration, picking up contract work so I could spend more time with my son. My depression had also taken a toll on him and he needed my love and support to work through it as well.

Essentially, I focused on learning how to be happy with less and worked on my personal development and spirituality. I exercised but removed the pressure to be self-competitive and goal-driven. Instead, I approached health more holistically and focused on the joy of moving to feel better and as an opportunity to meet new people and socialize.

When I look back, depression gave me a wake-up call and realigned me with what really matters most in life—to be happy, healthy, and alive in the present moment. Jobs come and go. Tomorrow is a new day. Things are just things. Relationships, security, safety, love, health, and a sense of belonging are everything. What matters most is creating meaningful experiences and memories you can look back on fondly that bring you countless joy. Without our health and happiness, what do we truly have anyway?

In what ways has struggling and overcoming depression helped you find balance, happiness, joy, and a newfound inner peace?

Photo by Cam Evans

15 thoughts on “How Depression Can Make You a Happier Person”

  1. Hi Tess,

    I really appreciate your sharing about your personal struggles.
    I have also been depressed and felt ashamed about it because I perceived it as a weakness and I was afraid that I would be judged harshly for it.
    It has been hard especially since most people in my circles are not educated enough about it and I expected them all to act like a trained therapist which led me into disappointment.
    I also have trauma from a physically and emotionally abusive wounded parents and I am about to move out from home where my father lives because our relationship have been very toxic and it has been hard for me to focus on his good sides.
    I have tried to talk nicely and politely to him and when I have learned that he mostly ignored and neglected it, I stopped talking at all to avoid the feeling of rejection.
    Because of that, I also became a caretaker for others and at times, I did too much and ended up resenting myself when it was taken advantage of or that they care less of me and my needs.
    I am doing the best I can for self care and self love and try to be very discipline at it because I have learned the hard way about the long term effects, the guilt, and the regret I have when I did not prioritize it.
    I hope your son is doing better and you will lead a fulfilling life.

  2. Hi Purna,

    I am glad sharing my experience with depression resonated with you. I personally we go through hard times in life so we can learn from it and grow with the possibility of helping others down the road. Unfortunately, many people out in the world are still uncomfortable and don’t know how to adequately deal with someone who is suffering from depression and any mental illness for that matter. Depression can be a very “isolating” illness. I felt that writing about it would perhaps help others feel they are not alone. As you go through the healing process, take the time to practice lots of self-love and self-care. It is very important. You are worthy of this. I hope you are able to find someone to talk to who can help you heal from the trauma of the past. I appreciate your kind words and wish the best for you. By the way, my son is thriving and doing so well. This experience has actually made our relationship stronger and we are very close.

    1. Hi Tess,

      I am doing myself more and more self care.

      I meditated, I exercised, I am raising a dog, I read a lot to find stories like yours that have made me feel less alone and connected, I sometimes wrote although not regularly, I fought for a cause that I feel passionate about, I traveled alone and had adventure, I gave my body a hell of a body treatment, I speak up my mind and what I am feeling inside a lot more, and I wrote down all my feelings when it was too overwhelming.

      I was not taught about the importance of self care and self love because I was expected to fit in and that has been the toughest challenge to endure.

      I am happy that your son is doing alright and thriving.

      I can imagine that it must have been challenging for you to raise a kid alone which I am applaud for. Not everyone can do that especially when they have special needs. You must be a hell of a strong woman.

      I also agree with you that depression can be an isolating disease and talking about can be frightening at times because not everyone can show empathy and compassion and very uncomfortable about sharing their personal failure.

      I hope we can be friends Tess.
      I hardly said this to anyone, but intuitively, I feel like I would like to be friend with you.

      Lastly, have a wonderful life and I wish you joy and inner peace.


  3. Great article.

    When I started reading it, I thought she’s not going to say anything that applies to me. But as I read, I began to realize how similar our struggles were. You’ve really given me hope that I too will be able to handle my depression better than I have been. You’ve given me a lot to discuss with my therapist. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    1. Hi Yolande,

      I am glad you found some commonality in our experiences. But even more, I am glad you found hope in my words. Hope is what keeps us going so please hold onto hope and keep working with your therapist. I wish nothing but the best for you!

  4. What a wonderful deep personal sharing!

    I went through 10 years of one month per year in a mental hospital, labeled as a paranoid schizophrenic. Recently I published a memoir, and then got interested in going online.

    I’ve come out of retirement to serve those caught in the mental health mill by providing self-care alternatives. My feeling is that self-care gives one something that no counseling can. It’s often very difficult to find a good therapist: to not be swayed into obsessiveness or dependency.

    How did you manage to avoid taking anti-depressant medication? From what I have read, those taking these medications relapses more than those who do not. There is no scientific proof of the medical psychiatric model or of genetic predetermination.

    In discussions of depression, I think it paramount to mention this faulty and dangerous idea coming from the mainstream and from Big Parma.

    Thanks again for your article.

    1. Hi Don,

      Thanks for your comments. It is good to know that there are other people out there taking the experiences struggling with mental health and using it to help others such as yourself. I actually did take medication for a year but found it was just a “bandaid” solution. It didn’t work for me and I chose to focus on self-care, therapy, and lots of exercise. These three things are often overlooked by the medical community.

  5. I wish I didn’t have to take meds, but whenever I’ve gone off them my symptoms come back big time. So I’ve resigned myself to being addicted. I’m glad when people say that they were able to manage their mental health without medication, but I do believe that for some people medication is necessary, & I’m one of them.

  6. This is such a phenomenal piece of work!
    I really appreciate you sharing this article and being so open about this. Some people tend to hide what they feel and it usually doesn’t lead to good things. By you opening up, it gives people a chance to see that they are not alone and they do have people out who can help them with their struggles. I know for a fact after reading this article I feel liberated.
    Thank you once again!

    Stay strong

  7. Hi Tess,

    Thanks for sharing your story, am glad you could turn a difficulty into positive change.

    I was wondering if you have a view on how people over-use the word depression?

    I find it a bit like the over-use of the term OCD. In my school, people went through a phase of saying they were OCD and soon half the year seemed to be carrying around hand sanitisers.

    Now you hear people all to regularly, saying they are depressed for quite menial things.

    I tend to believe that this dilution of terms and real struggles people face, may mean that people take it less seriously. So perhaps if you say you’re depressed and need someone to talk to, a friend not in the know may say, just snap out of it, or just smile!?

    1. Hi Alex,

      It is true that many confuse depression with feeling blue or sad. However, there is clinical difference. Depression typically lasts longer than two weeks as where sadness is a day or two and passes. It can also be confusing because “sadness” can also be part of depression but there are obvious other symptoms that are required for diagnosis. For example, I had insomnia for months leading up to my depression brought on my anxiety. I also had deep feelings of despair and hopelessness; simply put the world felt like it was caving in on me and I was emotionally drowning. I could not function or focus at work.I slept all the time and cried much more easily. I became socially reclusive and disinterested. I also began gaining weight (one can also lose weight).

      I also believe that depression kind of exists on a spectrum with minor depression at one end, major depression in the middle and those who suffer from life-long (manic depression) at the other. Every person is uniquely affected and depression manifests itself differently in the individual. There is also still a lot we need to learn neurologically about the brain that may deepen our understanding of depression.

  8. Maybe your right Alex. Maybe depression should be used when it’s serious. Why can’t a person be sad? Sadness fades after a short time. But depression can last for days & weeks. I know some days I’m sad for no reason. But it only lasts for a day or two. Other times I don’t want to get out of bed. Or I’m crying for no reason. That’s depression.

  9. Such a poignant and truthful post, Tess. Depression is such a Lighthouse shining in the night, which may seem odd, but you said it perfectly: “By tapping in to the emotional undercurrents of my depression, I was able to release myself from its grip towards greater personal empowerment and happiness.”
    That’s exactly what self-examination will do, and so often, we have to be pushed into it.
    Thank you for this!

  10. I felt as if I was reading my own story back to me. This is exactly what I felt and how I feel depression ‘acquired’ me. The part you mentioned about having young parents who were able to emotionally nature you, really resonates with me. Those words really help to string everything together. Thank you for sharing your story! x

  11. Hi Tess,

    I completely agree that going through depression has made me a happier human being. Depression has taught me how to manage my feelings and emotions through self-love, acts of kindness towards others as well as staying positive no matter what happens. When I began trusting in myself it gave me the strength I needed to move forward in life and ultimately forget about the pain, sadness and anger I’d been through. Through my experience with depression it made me mentally strong enough to withstand any obstacle, because I know that pain is only temporary and that positivity will give me my peace and happiness.
    Thank you.

    -Trent Dillard

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