By Putting Identified Solutions Into Practice
This final step brings together everything that you've learned in this series. You could liken the process to growing a garden. Let's say you move into a new house, and find that the garden area outside has been neglected for years. It's full of tall weeds, hard untilled dirt, old leaves and debris.
But you have a vision of what that spot of ground can become. So, through several clear, practical steps, over the process of time, you work hard - and you successfully transform that pile of weeds and debris into a fresh, vibrant vegetable garden.
What steps will you need to take, to accomplish that transformation? First - you'll need to remove the debris. It's in the way of what you want to grow there. Then, you'll need to pull up the weeds. Some of them might be old and tenacious, with long deep roots that may keep you tugging for a while. Once the ground is clear, you till the soil, and nourish it with fresh organic matter. It is no longer hard and crusty. It is now ready for planting - ready to sustain rich new life.
These early stages of gardening can be likened to Steps 1 and 2 of healing from depression. The work at those early stages is not very fun. It's hard, and it's dirty, and it's exhausting. Some of the problems you encounter might be like those old, long-rooted weeds - thick and tenacious and difficult to remove. You might wonder if it's worth the effort. But hope and vision keep you going, till the hard work is done.
Then, you get to move on to the fun part. You carefully decide what you want to plant - what you want to use your newly-cleared soil for. You select the seeds and the tender young plants. You plant them with great care, one at a time. (This is like Step 3 - Identifying Solutions - where one by one you replace old depressive habits with new healthy ones. You are literally planting new life - one small seed at a time.)
But a recently-planted seed is not a harvest. You have to keep nourishing your new plants - watering and fertilizing them. Before long, they start to grow. If you continue to care for them, they grow larger and larger - filling the soil with fresh, nutritious vegetables. You take joy in the harvest - the literal fruit of your labors - and you lovingly share that harvest with others.
Nourishing the good habits you planted in Step 3, building on them, and then sharing the fruits of them with others, is what Step 4 is all about. It is a joyful stage in the recovery process. Hopefully, you will be engaged in Step 4, in happy and positive ways, for the rest of your life - building on what you've learned, and continuously gaining new skills and perspectives to help yourself and others, for many years to come.
Nourish What You've Planted
If you exercise for a week, and then stop - it's not going to do you a lot of long-term good. If you learn some new skills in thinking or communicating more positively, but then return to older, more negative patterns, those new skills will be ineffective in enriching your life.
As you use "The Cookbook" and other resources to learn new strategies for health and wellness, take care that you continue to use what you have learned.
Any gardener knows that it doesn't take long for weeds to creep back into the soil, if you're not keeping on eye on it. Nourish the good - notice and root out the negative, as early as possible.
Guaranteed - those old weeds - those old negative thoughts and habits - will crop up from time to time. Notice them, and pull them out while they're still small - then refocus on the good things. Remember the new skills you learned, the new insight you obtained. Nourish what you've planted.
Build on Your Successes
Whenever you learn a new skill, it's a good idea to start small. Kindergarteners beginning school start with the ABC's - not with Tolstoy. New fitness enthusiasts in the gym start by lifting the 5-pound weights, not the 50-pound weights. As you start to apply the Cookbook and other tools, start small. Be realistic. Set goals you know you can attain, and meet them daily.
Then, as you become stronger and more confident in that small success, build on it. If you walked 5 minutes the first week (after months of being on the couch all day) then the second week bump it up to 10 minutes, then 15, and so on. Pace yourself, and add new skills and replacement strategies in a timetable that allows you to master each one, level by level, before you move on to something else.
It can be a good idea to keep a "gratitude journal" during this time - recording your successes, even if they're small, and noticing the positive experiences life sends your way. When you feel discouraged, as we all sometimes do, you can go back and read of your successes in the journal. That will help restore confidence and courage, to help you continue to move ahead.
Keep learning and growing. Emotional healing is a gradual process - layer by layer, a step at a time. This site is only one of many helpful resources, online and offline, that can help you build on your successes - continually adding to your treasurehouse of skills, insights, and tools to help yourself and others - both now, and for years to come.
Share the Fruits of Your Labor with Others
As you learn to heal and recover, you will find that the result is contagious. Your outlook will be brighter, your health will be better, your heart will be lighter. And others will benefit from your successes - particularly those close to you.
Depression is notoriously contagious - affecting a wide circle of acquaintances and loved ones. The cycle of depression affects more than just you, in a vicious downward spiral.
Happily - healing from depression is equally contagious - affecting those around you in a positive upward spiral. Your hard work will pay off - not just in healing you, but in helping and supporting others you care about. That is the beauty of the healing process.
On the hard days (and they will unquestionably come!) remind yourself of that. You are not just healing for you. You are also healing for those around you. Perhaps it's your children, or a husband, or your siblings. Perhaps it's your roomates, or your coworkers.
Often, my clients tell me that if it was all just for them, it wouldn't be worth it. The effort, the time, the focus - they wouldn't do it for themselves alone. They don't think they're worth that much. But they'll do it for their kids, or their boyfriend, or someone else they care about. And over time, as they recover, they realize they themselves were "worth it" all along. But now they've blessed other lives to0 - besides their own.
As you heal, you will find yourself able, as never before, to help others who are struggling. Because not only have you "been there" - you have been there, and out again. You know the path to healing. You can model and point the way for them. You can point them to resources that helped you, that could help them as well.
Through our daily, personal influence on others, and through actively passing on what we have learned, we can expand "the cycle of wellness" - we can transform our own lives, and make a positive difference in the lives of others.
When depression isn't weighing us down, we laugh easier.
We love more freely - and far more deeply.
We take care of ourselves, and we take care of others.
We do our best work, and feel satisfaction in our daily efforts.
It's a gift to ourselves,
and a gift to those around us,
to invest in becoming emotionally well.
A step at a time - a layer at a time –
we can move steadily
from depression and distress,
to joy and emotional wellness.