I was sitting down to write a paper for grad school about How We Determine Our Worth and I saw the news about Robin Williams. He allegedly committed suicide after years of battling depression.
I've long considered writing about my own experience with depression but since it felt more situational and wasn't a clinical diagnosis, I felt it wouldn't be as valuable.
And then I realized that was dumb.
My depression was real. I felt it so deeply I wanted to commit suicide multiple times and I expressed those feelings to friends. I wasn't kidding or joking or trying to get attention. I felt helpless and hopeless beyond belief and beyond comfort many, many times.
My depression was legitimate to me, with or without some clinician signing off on a diagnosis or prescription.
I've been able to find my way out from under the weight of the depressive bouts on each and every occasion over the years without prescription medications. I seem to be on a good upswing because the bouts have become much fewer and farther between, lately. I figured that it may be helpful to someone to read what helped my depression so I've decided to push past the thoughts about the depression other people feel and experience and write about mine.
I talked about it. Perhaps one of the toughest parts about depression is speaking about it. There may be fear or shame there because it may carry a stigma implying individual weakness. "Just pick yourself up and move on," people might say. I felt that fear and shame but I still spoke about it. I said it to my therapist. I said it to my friends. I said it to myself. "I feel depressed," I'd say. "I am depressed."
I felt it. Much like talking about it, simply feeling it helped. I allowed myself to be or feel depressed and didn't make excuses or feel like a failure because I was experiencing depression. I knew it was something people feel and I was now feeling it. It sucked and I often wished it would pass more quickly, but I never beat myself up for feeling it and that may have helped me not sink further down. On one occasion this past year, I backed myself into a closet and cried loudly until the tears stopped. I felt a little concerned while it was happening and wondered if calling 911 made sense but on the other side of it, about 30 minutes later, I felt a tremendous weight lifted.
I assessed my current situation and determined that it might be making me feel depressed. It might not be you. It might be your job, your relationship or something else that is not a good or right fit. In more than a few instances, changing my situation profoundly helped my depression.
I ate foods that seemed to improve my mood and (tried to) avoid ones that made it worse. When I ate sugar, my depression came on like gangbusters. What was mildly annoying or bothersome or frustrating one day would become utterly and profoundly hopeless within hours of ingesting too much sugar. I felt painted into a corner by paint that would never, ever dry. "This will be like this forever!" I'd say. And then, I would drink a lot of water and eat more vegetables (especially dark, leafy greens) and the sugar would pass through my bloodstream. The same situation that had me paralyzed hours earlier would feel slightly less horrible. And then, mildly horrible. And then, not so bad at all. I tried to remember this the next time I was tempted to eat a lot of sugar in one sitting but it didn't (doesn't) always work.
I made sure I got sleep, even when it was erratic. Experiencing insomnia brought on by anxiety or depression is hell. I've been through it a few times in the past few years and each time I become incredibly angry. We need sleep to function, it isn't something we can skip on and expect to really thrive. I hated that I wasn't sleeping, especially when I tried everything I could think of to remedy the insomnia. Essential oils. Baths. Not eating or drinking after 8pm. Cool temperature in the room. Blankets. No lights on. Earplugs. God, everything. But I persevered and eventually the circadian rhythms righted themselves and it dissipated. The most helpful thing may have been my tenacity with a regular bedtime, no matter how long I stayed asleep or how many times I woke up during the night.
I wrote about it. I wrote about my depression and didn't publish the blog posts. I got the words out with a pen in a paper journal. I sometimes resorted to drawing angry or sad faces with a crayon.
I listened to music that inspired me in some way. Sometimes it was African lullabies, sometimes it was Disney songs. Sometimes it was cathartic singer-songwriter stuff, in moderation of course. Listening to the suffering of others sometimes helped me gain much-needed perspective on my own situation. Often it helped me feel connected to someone, that person who wrote that song, even if that person was a total stranger who didn't even know I existed. They knew what I was feeling, though, and I felt less wrong or bad or hopeless that I would ever feel anything but those things.
I reminded myself that it might be depression. During especially difficult moments, the kind when I wasn't sure I needed to keep hanging out here on Earth, I remembered that it wasn't total and complete reality that would linger forever. It might be depression, instead, and it might pass.
I remembered my accomplishments. When I felt like I'd done all I could with my life and wanted to pass Go and collect my $200, I reminded myself of what I had accomplished. I considered all I've overcome. I reflected on the lessons I've learned and wondered what else was left for me to experience. "If my life has been this rich," I'd think, "what if there's even more ahead?"
I reached out for help from people I knew would listen. When I was depressed, hanging out or speaking with someone who didn't understand it or have compassion for it made it much worse. Calling someone who didn't judge or condemn it, and even understood it, helped me much more. Even though I don't experience ongoing depression and mine seems to come and go, I still relate to the fundamental quality of it. I remember it. While I hope that all people can find and experience relief from it, I can still hold the space for them as they find that relief. Not everyone can do this. They can't sit with their own feelings and probably can't hold the space for you. I don't spend too much time around these people, anymore.
If you feel depressed or experience ongoing depression, I encourage you to try some of what helped me, in addition to whatever you're doing that helps you wake up and put your feet on the floor each day.