Depression is not just going to go away. For most of us, it tends to be a cyclical, ongoing experience, and like any depression-sufferer will tell you, there is no fool-proof remedy to make it disappear for all of time. Medication might help, but the depression still exists. Hence the need to continue taking anti-depressants.
If you struggle with depression (and I mean clinical depression, which is not the same thing as simply being sad when something sad happens), then it’s probably going to hang around for a while (maybe forever), and you’re going to have to learn how to live with it.
So now that I’ve said the gloomy thing, let’s find some sunshine, shall we?
Because the good news is that while you can’t poof your depression away, you can learn how to live with it, manage it, and thrive in spite of it. This is the conversation I am interested in, because for now, while there is no “cure” for depression, it’s the only conversation that actually helps anyone.
I’m 27; I’ve lived with depression for maybe 15 of those years, and I’ve taken an active role in managing it for about seven. All that to say: I’m no expert. But seven years is long enough to have learned a thing or two, and since there’s nothing I want more in the world for other depression-sufferers than a little bit of freedom, empowerment, and a few more ways to thrive, I’d like to share my findings.
Here are 7 things I’ve learned about managing my depression for the last 7 years:
Take notice of patterns.
The sooner you learn your tell-tale signs, the sooner you can be on guard, the sooner you can give yourself what you need, and hopefully, the sooner you can end the bout. If you can catch it early on (almost like a cold) you can start managing it more acutely. Initial symptoms might include a sudden loss of interest in literally everything, bad sleeping habits, or increased irritability. Once you notice yourself getting a little snappier than usual, or find yourself staring blankly at a face whose mouth is moving, sending sounds in your general direction, without a clue (or a general interest) as to what they’re saying, it’s pretty safe to assume you might be slipping. The warning signs might be different for you, but track your patterns. Write them down if you need to. That way, you can look back at last time and compare notes. It’s also helpful to ask the people closest to you. My husband usually picks up on my depressive states before I do. I ask him, he’s honest with me, and I trust him even when I don’t quite see it yet. So ask your partner, family, or close friends if they’ve noticed anything “off” about you lately.
move your body.
Anyone who struggles with depression just read that sentence and went, “HA. yeah. right.” And I get it, because the actual last thing you want to do when you’re depressed is turn off The Office, stop scrolling your Facebook feed, get out of bed (which is really more like a hybrid living space at this point) and exercise. But you can do it. Agree to a yoga class with a friend, so getting out of it is a little more difficult. Join a recreational team that counts on you to be at practice. Go for a brisk walk through the park or sweat it out in a Crossfit class. Whatever your exercise of preference, make an effort to go do that instead of lingering around under the blankets for another round of re-watching LOST. You'll hate it at first, I promise. But bodies were made to move. Getting exercise might be the best shortcut to feeling more positive. And when you're done, your body will be slurping up the happy hormones and you'll be glad you did it.
Side-note: Social media and binge-watching shows are maybe the actual worst for depression, leading to comparison, self-loathing, and unhealthy-escapism (to name a few). So let's try not to go there.
Go be outside.
Sunshine is medicine for depression; I believe that with my whole heart. Sure, while you’re locked up in your cave with take-out Chinese and bad 80’s movies with the black-out curtains drawn, the sun might sound like a fiery orb of torture, but be brave, young vampire. The sun is your friend. Even better, invite someone you trust to come along. Go sit on a blanket by the river and read out loud to each other. Sneak some wine in kiddie cups and make fun of all the happy couples canoodling each other. Open up to them about what you’re going through, because vulnerability is the weapon of the brave, and an excellent tool for carving away at isolation, which always comes traipsing hand-in-hand with depression.
I can't make it clear enough how much this matters.
I know most of you will read this, and then not do it, and I'm telling you now: BIG MISTAKE. Being part of a volunteer program gives you the opportunity to get outside of yourself, connect with another human soul, engage positively with the world, and lend a helping hand to someone else's problems (instead of ruminating over yours. again). Volunteering pulls you outside of your own head, and throws you into the present moment.
In general, we aren't very good at forgetting ourselves; at losing ourselves in the miraculous reality of the present; at making other people a priority. We obsess over our own thoughts and feelings, and spend our day making sure we are satisfied and comfortable. It's no good, especially when we are depressed and our thoughts and feelings center around hopelessness. It fuels depression, which is often driven by a sense of meaninglessness. So what better way to fight meaninglessness than to take part in something meaningful? We are built to be tribal, communal people. We are built to be aware of the present moment. We are built for meaningful lives. Go do something good. It will make everyone feel better.
Stop catering to your imbalance like it’s a fragile little child.
I want to be a little insensitive here. Because we depression-sufferers can often dramatize our experiences and make them bigger than they need to be. We feed the beast until he shits all over everything, and then we feed him again. I'm guilty of this; crumpled up in bed like a sick child, moaning about how depressed I am and how life is completely void of anything worthwhile. This is called "feeding the monster" and it's the worst thing you can do.
Yes, depression is a monster. A very real monster. I am not making light of said monster; I am pointing out just how real he is, and I'm telling you to stop feeding him.
If you're struggling with depression, you should:
1. Acknowledge that you're depressed (and tell someone)
2. Inform depression-monster that you are going to be okay despite his presence
3. Gently and consciously start doing the things that help you ease out of depression
4. Don't ever EVER feed the beast
The beast is not a fragile little child who needs your loving care and concern. The beast is a beast who must be starved of what he likes best: negativity and hopelessness. Instead, feed him sunlight, community, exercise, and maybe Zoloft. He'll be running for the hills soon enough.
Take your medicine.
(Includes: pharmaceuticals, oils, plants, homeopathic remedies etc.)
Medicine is a touchy subject among the chemically-imbalanced. I have friends all over the spectrum. What matters though is that you find what works for you, and stick to it for however long it works for you. Talk to your doctor/therapist/psychiatrist about your experience, and determine what you need together, with you and your loved ones best interests in mind.
Stop blaming yourself for your depression
and stop trying to eradicate it from your life completely, which leads to shame when you slip into it again. The reality is: you may struggle with the cycles of depression for a long time, and there is absolutely no shame in that.
Because it isn't your fault.
There are a lot of things that might cause depression; a lot of things you can't and couldn't have controlled. Let it go. Stop the why me? and begin asking how you can better care for yourself so that your life can be full and rich in spite of the unfair imbalance you face. Medical professionals haven't found a cure yet for depression, so stop pressuring yourself to never struggle with it again. It isn't your fault. It isn't your fault. Say it with me. It isn't your fault.
If you beat it last time, and you feel it coming on again, show yourself some grace and respect. It's not back again because you failed. It's back again because that's the nature of the beast, and every time you face him bravely, you become stronger and more capable of thriving. Embrace it.
In your face, beast.
And number 8 for good measure:
Eat ice cream if you want it; don’t listen to the haters.
image by TwistedLamb