How Woodworking Helped Me Deal With Depression

After high school it was very clear what I wanted to do. I wanted to study Earth Sciences at the University of Utrecht. However, that never happened. Instead, a mountain that had been growing within me for a few years was getting harder to ignore: Depression.

Honestly, when I started college, I went mostly because I thought it would make people around me proud of me and appreciate me. I felt the expectations of others weighing on me.

But when I first walked around campus, I already knew that I would not even finish the first year.

I soon realized that I could no longer continue like I was. I felt deeply unhappy and had no personal goal or ambition at all. In my mind, whatever I did would not make sense anyhow. Sometimes I even hoped that something bad would happen to me, such as an accident. Anything to stop me from having to go to university or having to make any decision at all. Every thought, every task, every step felt like my mountain was growing and I was losing that uphill battle.

Then, one day, I didn’t even get on my train to school. I froze and turned straight back home, crying all the way. Something had to give! I needed help. I already had a referral from my physician. I called a psychologist on the bus home that day.

That is where my mental journey began. It soon became apparent that therapy once a week was not enough. I was referred to the public organization where I live in the Netherlands that specializes in psychological and psychiatric challenges. I was very lucky with the wait list and was able to enter a group within about 2 months. I was penciled in for therapy 3 days a week, from 9 a.m. to half past 3. Yes, that is 6 hours of therapy, three times per week.

I learned to believe and understand that my whole thinking and actions up to that point showed patterns that had a negative impact on me. I worked with the help of psychologists, service providers and group members to understand, accept, and find tools to deal with this. I was only 18, the minimum age to go through that program, but despite the large age difference between me and my group mates, we understood and supported each other.

After the better part of a year, I had absorbed all the information they offered me and learned to apply new skills to deal with negative thoughts. I also felt a lot more confident, but I still didn’t have a purpose in life. Or even an idea or plan for daily activities.

During the program, I didn’t do much outside of therapy. I stayed at home in my room. I slept a lot. Working a whole day from 9 to 5 would never have been possible in my state of mind. It improved as time passed, but even by the end of the year, I knew I needed more.

It was time for a new kind of program, one that focused on a daily activity that could help bring me structure, give me more energy and some purpose.

Together with a supervisor, I looked at the options for activities – I found the selection process terribly scary. Everything in me screamed that I didn’t want to be busy, try new things, didn’t want to choose. Even though I knew it would be good for me. That is why I settled on a daytime activity that, for me, seemed like it wouldn’t be too taxing, and as an added benefit was less than 4 minutes by bike from my house.

The activity group is centered around woodworking. They make everything from scaffolding to wood benches, tables, planters. The name of the organization is “Aldoende,” which in English means something like “as you work.” I had never worked with wood before and was therefore totally inexperienced. Still, I immediately felt very much at home because the people are nice and there is always room to be yourself. I never expected to have such a good time there! I learned how to handle all the tools and how to turn a few shelves into a beautiful table, for example. Because you spend a lot of time with people, it is also the perfect place to learn to set your own limits, and to try things without having to be perfect right away.

I’ve been with “Aldoende” for a year now, and I’m continuing to have a great time. I still have a long way to go to conquer my mountain. I want to keep improving myself. I also hope to find a study to aspire to. It is certainly not easy, and not every day is a party. My mood can vary greatly.

But I have a dream for my future, and it is to be happy with the life that has been given to me, and to make something of it for myself.

Little by little, I am climbing the big mountain that once stood in my way and can look back on the progress I have made. I could never have done it alone and am very grateful for the people in my life who are always there for me. Asking for help is the best choice I have ever made.

Kim is 20 years old and lives in the Netherlands where she has been dealing with depression for about 5 years, and working on recovery and returning to society for the past 2.5.