If you follow me on Instagram, you know that lately I’ve been very open about the fact that I’ve been spiraling into a depressive episode. This is nothing new for me. I’ve been dealing with a major depressive disorder since I was diagnosed with anorexia during high school.. Although today, almost fifteen years since my diagnosis, I know the signs, symptoms, and what to expect, the difficulty of the situation remains the same. What does help me is what I am about to share with you. While I lack professional experience in mental health fields, I have ample personal experience and over time have found certain specifics that aid me when I am hitting a low point. While I cannot promise you that these techniques will work for you, I can share with you what assists me when this issue arises..
When I know I’m about to fall into a depressive state, there are certain things I do to try and mitigate the symptoms. Sometimes I can head off the full on depression, sometimes I can’t. Either way, I refuse to let it wash over me and engulf me completely because that makes it worse. I have to hold onto my will to fight, for whatever reason, or I will sink completely. I’ve been to some very dark places in my life (mentally), and I know I’m lucky to have pulled myself out. Now, I do everything I can to fight from falling that deeply again. Sometimes it works, sometimes it takes every ounce of strength just to walk my dog in the morning. But at the end of the day, I know I fought a little bit for myself and that makes a huge difference.
So, what if you’re spiraling?
If you’re familiar with your depression, by now you already know the warning signs for an impending depressive episode. If you aren’t, here’s what happens to me.
I get really, really hard on myself. I’ll be sitting at my desk paying bills or thinking about upcoming work projects, and I will start to think about all the money I could have made by now as an attorney. Or I’ll think about all the things I need in order to repair my car and all the money I need for my upcoming move to New Jersey, and how I don’t think I’ll ever make ends meet. “Why am I doing this to myself? Why did I give up on years of education and schooling to choose this path? Being broke is hard. All this stress...why am I constantly adding more pressure to myself when a corporate job would be so much easier? I have the experience. Hell, I could probably make more money going back to bartending than teaching yoga at the moment. What am I doing with my life?! I’m thirty years old for fuck’s sake!!!!!”
Usually something along those lines. And then it keeps going and I cycle through all the problems in my life. Real or imagined, miniscule or magnified. This process could take hours, especially because I naturally dwell on things that bother me. And every time I think about one of the things that triggered that cycle, it starts all over again.
I also get very irritable. I will snap at anyone who looks at me strangely, or start crying at the drop of a hat. It’s 50/50 but I’m an angry crier anyways (by which I mean I tend to cry when I am mad). Usually it’s a combination of the two, with irritability winning in public, and crying taking over when I get home. Just ask anyone who has ever dated me when I go through these episodes. Tread lightly or you will get snapped at. Sorry exes (and current boyfriend)!I will cry for no reason. None at all. I could be brushing my teeth. I could be walking my dog. I could have just gotten an “I love you” text from my sister. I will bawl my eyes out and it will only stop when I have no more moisture left in my body.
I will feel guilty and apologize for everything. This goes back to me being hard on myself (and maybe a little of the Jewish guilt I inherited from my ancestors, who knows). I will apologize for things I did in high school (did I mention I’m thirty?). I will apologize for things I said in anger four years ago that others probably don't remember. I will apologize for any and everything that could cause me some level of guilt. Honestly, it’s because I feel like a lousy person and these apologies feel like something I need to do. I feel as though I don’t deserve those people in my life because of my actions. I know it’s mostly in my head, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling that way.
How do I deal with this?
First, I tell my loved ones. My mother also has depression. I love her for the fact that she never tries to fix me, she just tries to be there for me. I have friends like that too. It’s really important to have people like this around because you are not broken; there is nothing to fix even if it feels like it. That, and what works for others (especially those who don't actually have clinical depression) may not work for you. My boyfriend, as much as I love him, struggles with this. In all fairness, it is very new to him. I didn’t used to tell him what was going with me, and my depressive episodes (thank goodness) don’t happen all too often. I understand why he wants to make suggestions to improve my situation. It’s normal to want to try and help the ones you love. I have that same tendency too. However, that doesn’t actually help me. What it does is make me angry and guilty and sad and frustrated and overall, makes me feel worse about my situation for not being able to “fix” myself. I am not broken, I just feel deeply and differently. So while I will tell the fixers what is going on, it’s the people who just offer their support and love that I rely on. I need some safe space to voice what’s going on, or if I can’t, then to simply feel loved. Often I don’t feel anything inside, and the love from others eases that pain.
Next, I get outside. Aside from the proven healing benefits of sunlight, nature just helps me. The unfettered beauty, the purity of it all. I really don’t know what it is, but something about trees and mountains and waterfalls, makes everything I’m going through seem much less significant. Maybe it’s because I’m reminded that no matter what, life will go on. Maybe it’s the reminder that most of the world is much bigger than me and my struggles. Maybe it’s seeing a blade of grass break through some concrete just to survive. I really can't pinpoint it, but I can tell you that it helps me.
My pets play a huge role in my psychological recovery. My dog will snuggle with me for hours, and whenever I cry, my cat will jump in my lap and purr. She knows I need her and will sit with me to comfort me as best as kitties can. Petting her really helps me get into a meditative calm mindset where I’m not thinking about anything else but that moment. Being responsible for two living beings helps me retain my sense of personal responsibility and keeps me getting up in the morning.
I force myself to be active. Even if it’s only for ten minutes at a time. I hike with my dog or take her to the dog park just to see the smile on her goofy face. I’ll do some yoga intermittently, or go to the gym and lift weights for abit. Mostly i do things that I can do from home because getting motivated is hard. But I know from experience that exercise helps. Scientifically it stimulates the neurotransmitters in your brain that induce feelings of happiness. Personally, it makes me feel like I accomplished something and did something to better myself. And most importantly, given my eating disordered history, it helps me keep from feeling negative about my body.
Last, I always, always force myself to do something I’ve been putting off. Whether it’s paying my bills, or putting away my laundry, or even just showering, I make myself do it. It’s easy with depression to get lost in the sadness and wallow in the dark places. The only way I can get out of it is to take responsibility for myself and my life. It starts with the little things. The sense of accomplishment from doing one little thing I’ve been dreading or avoiding helps me carry on with my day to day life and helps me remember that I can accomplish things if I try.
The most important thing to remember is that everyone’s experience with depression is different, and you have to find what works for you. But you have to be the one to do it. I am depressed, but I also have anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (and a history with drug addiction and eating disorders), so my experiences might be very different from yours. In my times in between depressive episodes I have been proactive about making choices that will foster happiness in my life. It is my (and your) personal responsibility to deal with this depression. So try different things and see what works for you. What we all have in common is that hiding behind our depression or wallowing in it makes it worse. Sharing what you are going through is hard; personally, over time I’ve realized that it helps me heal. What I hope for all of you is that you can find what works for you as well. Your depression may never go away. I’m fifteen years down this path and I don’t necessarily think it will suddenly be fine in the future. But I have set up a system that works for me to help me cope with what I’m going through as well as keeping people that are close to me updated on my situation. Please remember, it’s ok to not be okay. We’re all just doing the best we can in this world, taking it one day at a time.
I'm Cheryl. I moved to Los Angeles from Vermont in late June of 2015, gave up the path I'd spent years planning for, and started down a road to a happier, more fulfilling life. Goodbye suits and courtrooms, hello bare feet and yoga mats. I know I don't have all the answers, but I'm slowly starting to get the hang of things. :) I'm just taking things one day at a time, trying to figure out how to live my best life and help others do the same.