July 15

How to find your passion when you are depressed

Introduction

I pop the pill into my mouth. I take a gulp of water.

Here goes. I’m not sure what will happen.

This is my first day taking antidepressants.

When my psychiatrist first prescribed it to me, I refused to take it.

In my mind, I was thinking,

Nah, I can do this on my own. I don’t want to depend on a pill for my happiness.

In my mind, there was another self-help book, another technique, another therapist I could try.

But it didn’t happen that way.

I found myself returning to the cakes, cookies, and chocolates for comfort. I couldn’t stop binging on food, and within a month, I found myself growing by 8kg.

I had lost my passion for life. The zest and passion to strive, push, achieve… all that was gone.

I had no idea how to find it again.

Maybe that’s you today. You’re feeling lost. Depressed. Confused over where to go next.

You long for the day when you would wake up each day feeling excited about work. You want to be engaged with work! But somehow, no matter how hard you try to rev your passion engines, it doesn’t seem to start.

Why?

How do you find passion when you’re depressed?

Before we go into how, let’s look at why it’s difficult to find your passion when you’re depressed.

Why it’s difficult

You’re listening to depression radio

I can’t do anything.

I’m not wanted.

I’m useless.

My therapist caught me.

That sounds like depression talk, John.

When you’re faced with depression, you’re constantly tuned in to depression radio. It repeats why you’re useless, why you can’t do anything, and puts a tint on everything that you see.

You find yourself losing confidence over things that you’re traditionally able to do.

Tuning out of depression radio, is about recognising it first. Everytime you hear yourself using absolutes like:

  • always
  • never
  • can’t
  • shouldn’t

You know you’re tuning into depression radio. Depression talk tells you why you can’t do anything, rather than celebrating the things that you can do.

Counteract depression radio with the things you can do.

One exercise you can try is the Self-Esteem Raising Tool.

On one column, put down 3 things you can do, for every thing you cannot do. This keeps you focused on the qualities you have, rather than the quirks you have.

The Self Esteem Raising Tool helps you to see the possibilities, rather than the problems within yourself.
The Self Esteem Raising Tool helps you to see the possibilities, rather than the problems within yourself.

If you want to find passion amidst your depression, the first step is to walk out of the cloud of rain that depression talk puts you under. It’s speaking against the depression by reminding yourself of the qualities you have.

You’re constantly comparing

When you’re depressed, you can get into an endless rut where you’re always comparing. You look around you, at people who seem ‘happier’ than you, and you wonder why you can’t be like them. You scroll through instagram, and you see people celebrating their promotion at work… and you wonder why you can’t work with the same level of passion.

The game of Comparison has only one winner. It’s the other party. Always.

Comparison always leads you to be the only loser because you often compare to someone in a better position to you.

I’m not saying that you should compare to someone in a worse off situation.

Rather, compare yourself to your self of yesterday. That’s all you need to do.

Stopping this rat race of comparison is about realising that you have the power to step off the treadmill.

As Lily Tomlin once said,

The problem with the rat race is, even if you win, you’re still a rat.

Stop trying to win the rat race. It’s a treadmill that will keep you running, with no lasting satisfaction.

You simply need to celebrate yourself, rather than compare yourself.

Each day, ask yourself:

  1. What are 2 things that I’m proud of myself for doing?
  2. What is one thing I can improve on?

You’re chasing an emotion

Why don’t you find your passion when you’re depressed?

Firstly, passion, is an emotion. It changes, fluctuates, and varies.

If you’re finding your passion when you’re depressed, the cloud of depression may fudge the nuggets of excitement that come up from time to time.

You’re tempted to discount the passion that appears from time to time.

Finding your passion amidst your depression might also lead you to constantly find that elusive ‘it’. Instead of being ‘okay’ with where you are now, you are constantly chasing that feeling of ‘passion’.

Let me tell you what got me better from my depression, and helped me find my passion again.

It was simple. One thing helped above all.

Acceptance.

Remember when I told you that I refused to take antidepressants when I was first prescribed?

I eventually took it because I accepted that I was battling a disease, and I learnt to accept where I was. I stopped chasing passion, purpose, and accepted that for now, the most I could do was to battle depression.

If you’re trying to find passion whilst being depressed, practice self-acceptance. You might wonder how that’s possible.

Aren’t they on two ends? Isn’t self-acceptance and the drive to get better on two separate ends? Aren’t they dichotomous? How do you get more passionate about life, if you’re simply accepting where you’re now?

Self-acceptance and the drive to be more passionate aren't opposite sides of the spectrum, but sides of the same coin.
Self-acceptance and the drive to be more passionate aren’t opposite sides of the spectrum, but sides of the same coin.

You can. As entrepreneur Shane Melaugh shares in this podcast, think of a baby.

You love it to bits, accepting it even though it’s pooping everywhere…

But you also want it to grow.

It’s the same concept. You can accept your depression at the moment, and also continue having the motivation to get better.

How to find passion when you’re depressed

Now, here’s the how-to. These are techniques that have worked for me, and with the clients that I’ve worked with. But the most important thing to note is that each works differently. Find what works for you. Do more of it.

Find the slightest thing that brings you joy (drag yourself there if needed)

When you’re battling with depression, or the quarter life crisis, you might feel that there’s nothing that brings you joy AT ALL. Everything seems a slog.

When I first came back from England, it was the same. I lost everything I knew. Friends I had come to call family. The place that I had come to call home. Activities that I had come to do weekly, like Public Speaking.

The grief was unbearable. Sometimes, it felt like someone had stabbed my heart and left it out to bleed.

How was I going to find joy in sunny Singapore?

Wanting to reconnect with my love for speaking, I found Toastmasters.

I thought to myself,

How can I go there, being this depressed?

But I still went.

I came to enjoy the routine after weeks.

You might find yourself wondering if you’re in a state to go to things that you used to enjoy. You don’t want to be a drag on people’s emotions. You don’t want to be the wet blanket of the party!

Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Care less about what people think, and care more about what makes you happy.

Get into a routine

Finding your passion when you’re depressed… will take time. Be patient with yourself.

Getting into a routine is about being willing to do the things that you find yourself interested in, or skilled at, whether or not you like it.

Is there a weekly group that you can take part in? Is there a weekly exercise class that you can go for? Find the routines that will build up your interest in the subject.

Go, regardless of what you feel that day.

Often, we make the mistake of thinking that we need to have motivation before we go for something. But as James Clear shares in his book ‘Atomic Habits’, motivation starts after you start doing something.

Don’t wait for motivation. Commit to the activities you’re interested in.

Work your skill.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi recognised and named the psychological concept of flow, a highly focused mental state conducive to productivity.

Finding flow is about doing something that's just outside your comfort zone.
Finding flow is about doing something that’s just outside your comfort zone.

As you can see below, flow comes when you do something that’s within your skill, but just outside your comfort level. For example, you may like writing. Are you able to write about something that challenges you? You might be used to writing non-fiction. Write some fiction then.

When you use your skill, you find yourself slowly regaining your passion and confidence again. You play to your strengths, rather than your weaknesses.

Connect (and converse) with humanity

Have a real chat. Not a Messenger chat.

Have a real update, not something that comes through Facebook.

Have a real coffee, not something you see through Instagram.

In Sherry Turkle’s book, Reclaiming Conversation, she shares about how we mistake connection today for conversation. Connections that occur over LinkedIn updates, or messages through WhatsApp; are a poor substitute for the face to face, spontaneous conversations that you have in real life.

When she studied how robots were being used as companions for the elderly, she writes a poignant passage.

It seemed that we all had a stake in outsourcing the thing we do best – understanding each other, taking care of each other.

That day in the nursing home, I was troubled by how we allowed ourselves to be sidelined, turned into spectators by a robot that understood nothing.

That day didn’t reflect poorly on the robot. It reflected poorly on us and how we think about older people when they try to tell the stories of their lives.

The Instagram stories you see daily are a poor substitute for helping you to feel connected in your struggle. You might feel alone and depressed.

Like no one knows, sees, or even cares.

But there are.

If you’re finding your passion amidst depression, have conversations with real people. In real life. Share your pain and struggle. Be authentic, be real, be open.

Enjoy the journey

What if depression was a gift?

What if your lack of passion was a gift?

What if what you’re facing now is a springboard to catapult you further in your journey through life?

You might say,

John, don’t give me this positive thinking thing… it doesn’t work.

Well, look at it both ways.

Without the lows of life, how would you recognise living life with passion and purpose? Without going through this, how might you help someone facing the same?

Finding purpose in your current journey through depression, without passion, is about first being thankful.

Each day, however horrid your life is, find 3 things to be thankful for.

Enjoying the journey is about accepting where you are at, rather than fiercely chasing after the point where you’re un-depressed, purposeful, and passionate.

It’s recognising that at this point in the journey, there’s also something to be learnt.

Ask yourself these questions and write down your responses:

  1. What am I learning from this?
  2. What would success mean to me, now that I have gone through this?
  3. What if this particular season in my life was a gift? What would that mean to me?

Smile.

It’s not the end of the world yet. As long as you’re alive, you still have hope.

Conclusion

In February 2020, after 4 months of popping pills, I stopped.

Somehow, I didn’t find myself needing it anymore. I started laughing. Cracking up when people said something funny.

Initiating jokes on my own.

I wasn’t sure where I was going with my life. But I came to accept depression as a little black dog.

It wasn’t necessarily a bad companion.

It was just a companion.

And this thing called passion?

Following your passion might not be the best advice. I realised that chasing passion all the time, was just going to leave me high and dry. Chasing after an elusive ‘it’ might never bring me fulfilment.

It was much better to simply find fulfilment in using my skill, rather than expecting myself to feel excited and passionate everyday, all day.

Life wouldn’t be great everyday, always. But the beauty of life is learning to see, the light, despite the darkness.

The hope amidst the hopelessness.

Lifting your face to the gloomy sky, tasting the rain, and feeling alive again.


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