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How I overcame my depression by connecting to my environment.
Imagine waking up in the morning and instantly yearning for the sweet solace of unconscious sleep again. Reality abrasively rushes you, demanding your focus and attention. You may feel irritable, depressed, and lonely. You may feel like the whole world is against you, and the daily grind may actually finish grinding what little spirit you have left.
Imagine hating your reflection so much so that you avoid mirrors at almost any cost, and imagine that you are so busy that your social life is virtually non-existent. You're so worn down that you've basically forgotten happiness and joy altogether, and you live solely to experience 5 minutes of occasional peace at your smoke break, or over a box of donuts. You've lost hope and interest, and the colors of life are fading.
Imagine that you constantly feel imprisoned within yourself, you're surrounded by people you despise, all of them strangers. Imagine the sting of shyness as it engulfs you, making you socially awkward.
Imagine not having an outlet; not knowing how to understand your pain, being blinded to everything beautiful in the world.
In 2011 I was living in Reno, Nv and my workplace was 3 miles up the road. There was a bus line near the complex I lived in, behind a large Casino, and heading one of the dirtiest and busiest streets in the city. Every day I would wake up, go through my cleaning ritual, then get ready for work. I would hurry to bus stop, and always with a little paranoia in the back of my mind of infectious diseases and muggers. I was steeped in depression and social anxiety at the time, and I was always in a rush to get to my monotonous job so that I wouldn't have to think about my unhappiness. This had been going on for such a long time that I actually began to believe this was as close to happy as reality would allow for me.
I began to have frequent emotional break downs. I would cry for hours, in public and at home. It was humiliating and infuriating. My body wouldn't listen to my mind's persistent ,"I'm okay. You don't need to do this." It became so bad that it affected my work performance, and my co-workers were starting to come to me with concerns. I was mentally foggy, and making a lot of mistakes. It took me nearly losing my job to realize that I needed to make changes in my life. I needed to rediscover some kind of joy.
I thought that maybe getting exercise would help my brain produce more endorphins, and naturally improve my mood. I didn't have much free time, so I wanted an exercise routine that would flow with my busy schedule. I figured that running to work would be a good way to do that. I knew the streets in my area fairly well so I decided to customize the best route to and from the office. I could feel positive results right away, which I credited to the natural high cardio induces. I just wasn't expecting the greater impact it would have on me as a person.
The path I ran was in the opposite direction from the dirty little bus stop and it was beautiful. There was a small lake in the front of my apartment complex filled will wildlife and one lone swan. All types of people would meet around the lake: artists, musicians, elderly, children, athletes, you name it. I had a new smart phone with a zune player on it, so I would usually start out my trip by playing Deadmau5's "Strobe", which is nearly 11 minutes long. Kicking my run off to this song was almost a magical experience for me because I felt as if I was swept into a kind of time-warp that allowed me to draw in the pure beauty and richness of the environment in an eerily orchestrated way. As the beat picked up I would notice more activity flourishing around me, with seemingly perfect choreographic motion.
I started noticing the world around me with a depth that felt wholesome and pure. Instead of running away from my problems as I had before, I was now running through the world, and I was no longer blind to my surroundings.
I began to have frequent epiphanies during my jaunts across town because I was constantly inspired by what I saw and felt. I remember noticing two young teenagers cuddling along the shore side holding hands, and I felt love radiate in my heart. On windy days I would witness a mother duck's struggle to keep her ducklings all in a row and I would feel humor and sympathy for her and her little family. Musicians would set up by the water with their instruments and play freely in a way that made me feel proud and impressed. There was a man who also ran, I saw him every day in all weather. He wore long hair, simple sweats, and he never broke his step. I was inspired. I took notice of how the seasons affected the plant-life, and I watched the trees change color. No matter how dead or alive it was outside, it was always beautiful to me.
My ritual of running to work started out as a small attempt to encourage my natural brain chemistry to cheer me up so I wouldn't get fired from my job, but it became something of a spiritual revelation. It gave me empathy, and opened me up to my city. I felt safe, empowered, and eventually in love with my home. My work-life improved because I was happy to be there. My co-workers became my friends, and my customers ceased to be irritating strangers. My outlook on the world was re-born with compassion and intrigue.
What I learned
For a long time, I was at constant battle with myself because I was so absorbed in my responsibilities, obligations, and insecurities that I couldn't see or experience"the bigger picture".
I knew that I was filled with sickness, but I didn't know where it was coming from. I didn't know how to heal myself. I was so depressed from trying to bottle and ignore every single desire, pain, and curiosity, that I was starving myself of a deep human need; I'd lost touch with the physical world outside of myself.