10 Things That I Learned from Depression That I’d Rather Have Learned Another Way:
- Depression is a life threatening illness. It is more than just feeling sad.
- It is not something that you can just talk your way out of.
- We should seek the help and advice of medical professionals at the first sign of depression.
- Our brain is a ridiculously complicated and finely balanced organ.
- Life is fragile.
- Mental/Brain health issues are both real and serious. They can affect ANYONE. Depression does not discriminate.
- We are a big bunch of chemicals. When those chemicals get messed up, we’re in big trouble.
- Life is too short to spend it regretting what has happened and worrying about what might happen. When you have the choice (i.e., when you are not depressed), choose to live in the moment as much as you possibly can. Stop and smell the roses. Taste your food. Hear the music. Hold and cherish your loved ones. I’m too conservative to truly believe in living each day like it’s your last, but maybe live each day like tomorrow is your last.
- Depression is so torturous that thoughts of suicide can start to seem like a legitimate way to obtain relief. For the first time, I understand how people can have thoughts of suicide.
- Thoughts of suicide, if you survive them, can pass and there will be a time that you are glad you didn’t take active action.
A COMMENTARY ON THE ROLES AND PERCEPTIONS OF OTHERS (STIGMA SUCKS).
During my most recent depression, I was blessed with both a caring, empathetic wife and a friend who legitimately comprehended the seriousness of my condition. They were both ‘there’ for me. My wife took on 95% of the household chores. She let me rest, yet helped to keep me active. A few hours of rest on the couch was balanced by a trip to the local indoor running track. Here, we would walk the track, talking and enjoying the time with our children. She organized my medical appointments and helped me get to them. She took me to the emergency ward when it became necessary. She supported my doctor’s decision to reduce my workload to half-time. She picked up my prescriptions and, most importantly of all, she never lost her patience with me. Thank you, Kelly, you are amazing and you helped to save my life.
“Thank you, Kelly, you are amazing and you helped to save my life.”
Trust me, a depressed person will test your patience. Their perceptions are altered, but very real to them. They will be confused at times and whole-heartedly believe their own perceptions at others. They may be excessively emotional, possibly mean. Men especially often manifest their depression as anger. Man or woman, they will likely be resistant to many efforts to help them. If you truly love them then see your role now as saving their life. You are helping them to recover. You are a major part of the cure. You are a police officer on the highway back to health. Your lights and sirens are on as you drive ahead of the patient, clearing the road of traffic and other obstacles. “Make way, brain-health patient coming through.”
“Trust me, a depressed person will test your patience.”
My friend answered texts in the middle of the night. She spoke to me on the phone when my wife was busy/exhausted and I needed to talk. She came around after work to make sure that I did not have too much time alone. We drank tea and ate biscuits. We went for walks and chatted endlessly about my thoughts and feelings. She helped organize low-key get-togethers on the weekend so that I had something to look forward to. In short, she also helped to save my life.
I wish that I’d always had the will power to do the things on this list. However, there were certainly days when I couldn’t muster the necessary energy and motivation. Most of these things were helpful after my depression had peaked and I was beginning to recover. I hope they help someone else:
- Get straight out of bed in the morning – no dawdling. I would try to get up, shower, eat, and get on with the day (sounds easy, but felt insurmountable at the time).
- Got my sleeping issues fixed. I was willing to do whatever it took to get it fixed. Pills, melatonin, totally dark bedroom. Tiredness was like caffeine for my depression – it boosted it to a whole new level.
- Tried to avoid going on ‘auto-pilot’ on day-to-day tasks. Taking a new route to work kept me concentrating on my driving. This, in turn, helped to keep me out of my own head. I even listened to a different radio station every day to help me focus on the DJs and the music.
- Exercise… not only did this help improve my own self-image, but the natural endorphins released helped improve my mood. What amounts to exercise varied from day to day but could be anything from a walk in the woods to a workout lifting weights. I had no interest in exercise at the peak of my depression, but as things improved, the workouts really did help.
- Eat healthy. I had a tendency to eat junk or not eat at all when feeling down or anxious. Without the relevant amino acids and other nutrients, our bodies cannot manufacture the chemicals we need to stay happy. Also, if we run low on energy, we become tired and we’ve already talked about the effects of that!
- Accepted all the help available to me. Doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, naturopaths, acupuncturists, shamen and witchdoctors… the list goes on. I kept an open mind. My brain, like all brains, is incredibly complex (depending on which of my friends you ask!).
- Avoided stress. I cut back on my workload (luckily I work in a profession where this is possible and I had an incredibly understanding boss). I took life as easy as possible. My body needed time to recover (I’d say about ten months in my case). It was akin to being in a car accident… it took time to heal completely and I feel lucky that I didn’t die.
- Kept a ‘Gratitude Diary’. Every night before bed, I wrote two or three things down that I was grateful for. This included things from that day or from further in the past. This bedtime habit helped to keep my thoughts positive just before bed. It only took a few weeks and I found myself thinking of more upbeat things the moment I walked into my bedroom at night. Like some of the other things on this list, this one did not help at the peak of my depression, but certainly did as my mind healed.
- Do the things that I love to do. I did not feel like it, and I often had to fake it at first, but ‘faking it’ sometimes turned into ‘enjoying it’… often when I least expected it.
- Did my best to stay in the present. My mind tended to be thinking forwards or backward in time. When I was depressed, this amounted to regretting things that had happened in the past and worrying about things that might happen in the future. Often, there was actually nothing to worry about in the present moment, but much to appreciate.
A PERSONAL DISTINCTION…
While I say that I was feeling sad, I want to make a personal distinction between sadness and depression. For me, I get sad when life events trigger this emotion in me. For instance, I feel sad when a loved one gets sick, or at the loss of a family pet. Although I am feeling sad, I know in my mind that the feeling will not last forever, and sometimes I can talk my way out of it. Other positive things in my life can still trigger hints of happiness and enjoyment during this time. However, depression is a whole other layer of despair. There are many different shades of grey when it comes to depression. People experience everything from a low grade sadness that will not go away, to truly gut wrenching sadness that comes and goes whenever it chooses. For me, there was no talking my way out of this feeling. Other thoughts did not create sparks of happiness. I was depressed. It was the deepest sadness I had ever felt. Every thought that came into my head created a gut wrenching anguish that made me want to bail out on life itself.
“Other thoughts did not create sparks of happiness. I was depressed.”
The power of this type of depression is unfathomable and overwhelming. It swallows you up and spits you out on the side of the road. Your soul is beaten to a pulp. The feelings you feel are more akin to a vivid, nightmarish hallucination than mere fleeting moods and thoughts. It’s like a 60’s acid trip gone bad. In the moment, you believe the negative thoughts with all your wretched heart. They are 100% credible, persuasive, and definite. Your mind has turned against you. Life seems futile, your existence pointless. You will never be able to make things right. The world would be a better place without you.
“Life seems futile, your existence pointless.”
In the case that this is you and you are reading this while you feel depressed, hang in there. These feelings won’t last for ever. They will pass. If you haven’t already, reach out and tell someone else how you are feeling.
You are not alone.
You are sick right now and this sickness can be cured.