More than two months ago, I made a decision that would change the path my life would take: I nervously called a doctor and set up a consultation to treat my depression. It was the single most taxing thing that I’d ever done, which is sort of ironic – the symptoms of depression distort your reality, habitually thinking negatively, feeling zapped of all motivation and validity. It can get in the way of work, school, or family, even increase your risk for heart disease. It can even get in the way of finding ways to treat yourself.
I am not a doctor, nor am I qualified to diagnose or treat strangers on the internet, but I’ve learned a lot over the past several years of dealing with depression. You should always seek out professional council for your situation. That said, I’m going to point out the three nagging thoughts that permeate your mind while experiencing depression symptoms, and the things I’ve found to fight those voices that try so desperately to keep you dysfunctional.
This is one of the most difficult voices to adjust to. There’s this tendency to believe that suffering from a mental illness means that you’re flawed. News stories sprinkled with statistics tell us that we’re constantly broken. An editor at openDemocracy pointed out the results of the stigmatization of mental illness:
“The silence and social stigma around mental health is deliberate, the product of an institutional refusal to talk about the affective impact of socio-political conditions. Some people get depressed, or psychotic, we think, because of chemical imbalances or individual traumatic experiences. They’re just lazy or making it up. We don’t talk about austerity, poverty, demonization of the unemployed — the politically-driven stigmatizing of the least privileged groups of people — but is it any wonder we’re unhappy?”
In other words, these stigmas protect the status quo. It tells us that if you’re mentally ill, it’s your fault. If you’re mentally well, then it must be due to your own cleverness, responsibility, and hard work.
Except that’s not how it works. It’s dangerous to compare yourself to others, and you shouldn’t consider yourself broken or handicapped in any capacity. Even though your emotions aren’t inherently bound to facts, that you know you have valuable traits, that doesn’t guarantee you feel good about it. Depression isn’t about having justified sadness; it’s about being unhappy despite your circumstances.
Depression is a blackness. Depression sucks all emotion from you. You are left feeling hollow and numb and with a deep sense of hopelessness and loneliness. Things you enjoy seem less appealing, and you have a hard time seeing positive aspects about yourself. The voice that tells you to give up is a strong one, and it’s difficult to challenge those beliefs, not only because they feel completely true, but because you might find yourself in a situation that makes them seem true.
One of the many tricks your brain plays on you is that no matter what you do, somehow you feel like everyone around you is better than you. Your mind will lie to you. It will tell you what others are thinking and that you are unloved and unworthy. It will tell you that others think little of you or don’t care, and may even wish you harm.
Discipline is important, and it may not be the same for someone else. Everyone has a certain way of handling their depression. There’s a friend who get adversarial with it. “Oh, you want me to stay in bed? NOPE. I’m going to get up to spite you! Oh, I don’t want to work out? WELL WATCH THIS!”
“Once you’ve been depressed once, you know that depression is not sadness – it’s just numbness. It’s the reaction of your mind’s “immune system” to protect you from overwhelming “viruses.” Issue with that is it becomes a habit to seek numbness when your mind is overwhelmed. Numbness is soothing and tolerable.”
The scariest part of depression is that it’s in your head. Talking with other people is one of the most important ways to help distinguish between which feelings are based on reality, and which feelings are over-reactions. Unfortunately, talking to other people is largely uncomfortable for most of us. Some people are fortunate enough to have friends who are willing to listen and understand, and there are always avenues that can be explored if you do not.
Depression will try to undermine your relationships, encourage you to break down connections by telling you that others don’t care, and that you don’t need them. The truth is, you do. Know that you’re not alone, whether you reach out to old friends or family, or seek out a professional, who know how to listen to the ugly stuff and help you find a way out of the darkness.
Those who don’t deal with depression usually try to give advice purely out of genuine (and sometimes misguided) concern for you, and that what they say is coming from a good place, even if you’re being blamed for your own symptoms.
Eat better, even if it’ just sound, regular meals. If you can’t muster the energy, just eat the things you like. I went through four weeks of nothing but bagels, cream cheese, and spaghetti. Be consistent; chucking your blood sugar around is going to make you feel worse, trust me.
Forgive yourself. Sometimes I can’t even muster the strength to take a peek outside, or walk up the stairs, or eat dinner. Today I went outside for twenty minutes. I will try again tomorrow. And I will try again the day after that.