“The opposite of depression isn’t happiness, but it’s vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.”
In his brilliant, heartbreaking and illuminating TED Talk, Andrew Solomon describes depression with astounding accuracy. Having lived through bouts of my own depression, I was able to relate to this statement on a deep level. I liken depression to an image of polluted water. Sometimes it begins slowly, an insidious trickle of water that weaves its way around your brain, fraying the wires of communication so that they spark and fizzle out leaving behind distorted messages of who you are. Sometimes it comes as a tidal wave, knocking you over after an event or experience. In any case, it is helpful to understand that depression is NOT who you are. It is not the truth.
I tell my clients to inscribe to memory that depression is your brain playing tricks on you. When you are sad, confused, helpless and trapped, you might think that the veil has been lifted and this is the truth. You are wrong. Depression is the veil; it clouds and interrupts reality. We have a shocking way of dealing with depression in our society. Despite its prevalence (in North America alone, the likelihood of having a major depressive episode in any one year is 8-10% for females and 3-5% for males*), we try to hide it, push it away and avoid speaking about the pain it causes. I believe that transparency, vulnerability and honesty about the human experience are essential to connected and full lives. Here are some ways to cope with depression and regain your life.
1. Talk about it
Shutting out depression doesn’t make it go away, it strengthens it. When you stay stuck in shame and secrecy, the isolation of depression grows and further distorts the truth (which is that you are meaningful, worthwhile and deserve peace). Further, when you bravely talk about how you’re really feeling, you allow for others to gain permission to share their own experiences with you. 12 years working in mental health has taught me that we are all walking more or less the same path with the same human emotions- depression being one of them. When you honestly share how you’re feeling, you create the space for people to nurture you, know you and support you.
Depression steals action. It keeps you laying down, exhausted and heavy. The opposite of inaction is action, and consistent action OR inaction creates momentum. When you want to feel better, you must move. For some people, this means simply getting out of bed each day and taking a shower. For others, it’s going for a walk around the block. Wherever you are, plan to move. Even if you tell yourself, “I am just going to get in the shower and I can hop right back in bed if I want to after”, you’re still beginning to create that momentum for yourself. Start where you are, but move.
3. Make one small change, and do it daily
There a millions of articles and suggestions on overcoming depression (and allow me to add this to the list). There are literally hundreds of suggestions on how to get out of a depressed state, and I find that in the western world they continue to centre around medication, therapy or a combination of both. While I think that both can be instrumental for overcoming depression (if you need a good therapist, I know a gal), it is the small, incremental things that we do with our day that ultimately lead to change. Understand that depression is playing tricks with your brain, so the last thing you will feel like doing is, well, anything. Yet the power is in doing the thing. Look at your routine and see where you can make one small, positive daily change. Maybe it is beginning a meditation practice for 3 minutes in the morning. Maybe it is going for a walk around the block daily. Perhaps you will journal or create a gratitude list each evening. Whatever it is, daily practices are what lead to change in the long-term.
4. Be gentle and compassionate to yourself
Please. If you do one thing, do this. When depression sets in, it begins to whisper all kinds of crazy shi!t to you. It tells you how much you screw up, how useless you are, how you’re wasting your life or disappointing your children. This is excruciatingly painful- I know. When these moments come, take a deep breath, place your hand over your heart and tell yourself, “this is a moment of suffering. This will pass. I am sorry that I am hurting right now”. Think of how you would talk to a hurt child or loved one if they were suffering, and then turn that compassion in towards yourself.
Please know that if you are suffering right now, there is help. I know what it feels like to be crippled with sadness and to feel trapped by your own existence, but I also know how sweet it is to emerge on the other side. I am honoured and grateful for my life’s work of walking with and guiding people out of depression. Do not hesitate to call me for a free 15-minute consultation to see if counselling might be helpful for you.
* I do not believe that this is an accurate statistic and I would suggest that men experience depression in far greater numbers. Frustratingly, society continues to punish men for their depression and sadness, making accessing help difficult.