All over the webs, you will find lists of things that help with depression. On those lists, you’ll find things like exercise, meditation, yoga, getting more sleep, ingesting some root found in the mountains of Peru, etc. Those things may or may not help acute depression. That’s not the kind of depression I’m talking about though.
This is a list of things that might help chronic depression, or Major Depressive Disorder, that I’ve learned through personal experience.
Recognizing it as a distinct entity
My depression mostly takes the shape of a sneaky voice in my head, an internal monologue if you will, that tells me that everything is pointless, worthless, and devoid of meaning. It tells me that there’s no point in living and that I should just go ahead and die.
I lived with this stupid voice for years thinking that, since it was in my brain, it must be my brain. The second that I recognized it as a discrete entity separate from how I truly feel, it got scared and ran away. Of course, it came back (it always comes back), but its power had lessened somewhat.
I don’t truly believe that life is meaningless and I don’t want to die. I don’t think life has a point necessarily, but I don’t think it’s all pointless. Sometimes, feeling the sun on your face or enjoying a fresh cup of coffee has enough significance to keep you going for another day.
Naming your voice
Recognizing that your depression is separate from yourself can be startling to say the least. It can be terrifying to learn that a lot of the horrible things your brain yells at you are, in fact, not how you really feel. Since it is a distinct entity, you should name it and define its appearance.
I recommend naming your inner voice something non-threatening and enervating. Give it a name or persona that you’d have difficulty taking too seriously. You want a name that takes its power away.
I named mine Eeyore after the sad little stuffed donkey from Winnie The Pooh. Eeyore never has anything positive to say. It’s much more effective to say, “Shut up, Eeyore,” than to say, “Shut up, undefined, insidious, shadow monologue of awful things.”
Talking about it
Depression hates the spotlight. It wants you to crawl inside the deep dark hole with it and never return. One of the best things you can do is talk about it either with a psychiatric professional or a friend or even on a blog like this one.
Depression will fight you every step of the way, because it doesn’t want you to, but talking about it helps. Don’t worry about what you friends or family may think if you were to tell them there’s a mean cartoon character in your head trying to ruin your life. They’ll probably support you regardless of how crazy you think you sound. Or if that’s too scary, you can find someone to talk to who won’t judge even if that someone is an anonymous stranger on a blog or a psychiatric professional.
Having a goal
Sometimes, having a goal can mean just getting out of bed that day. Sometimes, it can be reading a book or traveling to a country you want to visit. Whatever your goal is, you always need to have one to focus on. For example, “I can’t die today, Eeyore, because I’ve got to __________.”
Whatever your goal is, you should celebrate when you accomplish it and immediately create a new one. “Today, I got out of bed. Huzzah! I’m going to celebrate my achievement by eating some food as well.”
Last time I had a really bad depressive spell, my goal was to write a complete work of fiction. I couldn’t die until I did that.
Animals are great
A few years ago, my depression got so bad that tears were constantly streaming down my face and I couldn’t get out of bed. I was contemplating all the different ways I could kill myself when I though, I can’t die; who would take care of my dog? No one would love her as much as I do and she would be so very sad…
My dog quite literally saved my life. I recommend getting a dog because they’re more empathic, but cats or other living things are good too. Just having an entity that you are responsible for feeding and taking care of can be a goal. Even if you’re allergic, there are many hypoallergenic breeds these days. Trust me, they’re worth it and they may save your life.
Forcing yourself to do things
For pretty much the entire month of April, I got hardly any work done. I’d wake up and say, Today, I’m going to work.” Then I’d sit at my computer and do anything but. At night, I couldn’t sleep because I was panicking over not having gotten any work done.
One day, I forced myself to get to work and just kept working until I finished my project. At the same time, I made an appointment to get antidepressants. Had I not forced myself, I might still be in that vicious non-working cycle.
I’m not talking about forcing yourself to go to parties or social events. That would probably be too much. I mean forcing yourself to do small, achievable things. When I’m horribly depressed, I force myself to work. I force myself to walk my dog. While thoroughly exhausting, every little bit of rebellion helps. Whatever your depression is telling you to do, you should try to do the opposite.
For many years, I avoided antidepressants, partly because I thought they’d turn me into a zombie, but mostly because my depression wanted me to avoid them. Once I realized it was my depression that wanted me not to take them, I started taking them.
Antidepressants are not a cure. In the worst case scenario, if you’re taking the wrong one, they can even make your depression worse. Suicidal ideation can be a real side effect of taking the wrong pill. The problem with antidepressants is that they take about 4 to 6 weeks to take effect and you won’t know for that long whether it’s working or not. It can take many months of experimenting to find the right pill for your brain chemistry.
I was lucky that the second one I tried worked for me, but I know people who’ve hunted and pecked their way through a veritable pharmacological catalogue before they found one that worked for them.
That said, the slow, carefully scrutinized and managed process of finding the right antidepressant and dosage for you is totally worth it when you find it. The right pill and dosage can help you cope a little better. You can view things a bit more rationally and it turns the volume down on that annoying inner voice. While not a cure, antidepressants definitely help.
After just over a month of antidepressants, my depression has all but disappeared (for now). I had an appointment with a psychiatrist yesterday. When he asked me all about side effects, anxiety, and other disturbing things that may come from taking antidepressants, I resoundingly answered no, I hadn’t experienced any of the above. Eeyore is quiet and I have had no side effects.
Realizing that you are not alone
Depression is isolating. It estranges you from the life that you would normally enjoy living and the people you love the most. It wants you all to itself. It wants you to feel completely alone and have no one to rely on.
But, you are not alone. There are many of us who are right there with you experiencing the same misery and hopelessness as you are. If you ever feel like you can’t talk about it, you can and you should.