image courtesy of Newtown grafitti on Flickr
How can someone who everyone thinks has the perfect life and seems to have everything working systematically to perfection be depressed? I’m a petite blonde, former NFL cheerleader, growing up in the “safest city in America” near the California coast, a home, a set of beautiful twin girls and an incredible husband. I have it all, so what would I have to be sad about? Apparently – a lot and I didn’t even really realize it until I hit my late 30s.
At 14 my Mom left followed by my father deciding to marry a woman that didn’t care to raise another child which left me in the middle of the biggest divorce war ever on record. Most days I was surprised their atrocities didn’t make front page news. With many other events culminating into one big firestorm of sheer awfulness, in the end I lost my childhood home, contact with my father for years and living with a parent that I wanted nothing to do with for leaving me a few years earlier. By now I was 17 and college sounded like a dream – just to have some independence. Still, that wasn’t even far enough away from the bickering and chaos I heard about daily from my family on how awful the other one was. Okay, so let’s head off to Europe. No one can bother me there.
Twice I studied overseas. My first experience in London was incredible. Friends I still have now, freedom and no email, phone calls or any way for my parents to reach me without paying about $1.50/minute to talk to me. Pure perfection. As a Junior I spread my wings once again but this time for a semester in Spain followed by a summer in London. Spain had its ups and downs but was still amazing – new friends, new experiences, traveling, drinking, and solidarity. I decided not to stop there and headed up to London, a city that I was very familiar with at this point, get a service job just to pay the bills and travel a bit more to finish out three more months away from what I knew awaited me at home.
Unfortunately that trip in London was the polar opposite of what I had experienced 2 years earlier. Gone were my friends I once had; now living in other places without the luxuries of living in the posh area of Kensington - housing, money and necessities. Anything and everything you can think of went wrong – and then some. Things occurred that are difficult to repeat or discuss but left a mark I thought I could push aside – a tendency towards depression later in life. Having suppressed all these events in order to survive those months alone would afterward rear its ugly head. No one would ever see me as someone that could very easily find herself in that place or believe it if I told them I had.
In my never ending quest to understand why various experiences can do this to people I came across a fascinating documentary simply called “Happy.” It discussed why the poorest person in India is innately happier and more grateful than the highest producing stock broker on Wall Street. As we are always told money does not always translate to happiness. It provides short spurts of happiness but not sustainable, genuine happiness. However, it did state that the number one way to achieve lasting happiness and satisfaction in life was to do consistent acts of kindness and service for others. To make a conscious effort to partake in something greater than yourself that benefits another in some way. So in other words, completely selfless acts in which you do for someone else genuinely expecting nothing in return.
Depression is tricky because it is still deemed taboo to discuss. Each situation and each person is different and should be handled as such, but for me I know my “go to” list that I must accomplish in order to ensure I don’t sink below the surface. A huge part of that is acts of kindness for others - volunteering, interacting with all sorts of people. Taking the focus off of me and onto something or someone else. Given my history I also wanted to ensure that my children: 1. Never could say they saw me depressed and 2. Never had it happen to them. I cannot control what the outside world will do to them but I can equip them with the tools and intelligence on how to build a foundation that will give them the best chance towards a life of happiness. Every activity we do at home or as a family has a purpose, a lesson or a way we can do something nice for someone else so they can see the response they get by surprising others with kindness. This gives them compassion, confidence, pride, a feeling of worth, and most of all happiness. Outside it appears I am doing this for them, but really they are providing me with a way to sustain my own happiness by watching them flourish, knowing I am changing a pattern I swore I would never pass onto them. So far, it is working splendidly.
I will probably always be someone who has to consciously work to keep myself from retreating from others when depression wants to sneak its way in. I will always have to be open with my emotions and not ignore traumatic events because I feel I can mentally overcome them myself, as I did from ages 14-22, and do the things I know work for me personally. Fortunately for me, through my children and their kindness to others I know I have another resource that helps tremendously.
|Kimberly Downey is an Orange County, CA native and founder/CEO of the non-profit, The Infinite Smile Project, which teaches kids and adults how to incorporate a lifestyle of kindness and service for a more fulfilling life. She is the Mom of beautiful twin 4 year old twins whom inspired her non-profit after one of them had a life-saving open heart surgery in 2012. Kim also owns a children's dance company called OC Dance Productions with 14 locations across southern California, is a Los Angeles radio co-host, public speaker, and the head of the philanthropic ministries for youth and adults at her church. For more information on her non-profit please visit www.theinfinitesmile.com.|