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Depressed? Here’s What You Can Do.

5 Pieces of Advice From Someone Once Beaten By Depression

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article detailing my experiences with depression. It was a difficult, heart-wrenching process that left me feeling completely exposed and vulnerable, but I thought it was time for me to share my experiences with the world. I also did it because I wanted to tell others dealing with mental illness that they’re not alone. I wanted people to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

After publishing my story and sharing it on social media, I went into a brief panic. For years, I successfully hid my illness from everyone but my immediate family and closest friends. Now, my entire network of family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues knew my big, dark secret.

Within a few hours, though, I knew I’d made the right choice. As expected, I heard from many of those closest to me. What surprised me, however, was how many people from my past — some who I hadn’t spoken to in years — came out of the woodwork to talk to me. Most who contacted me opened up about their own experiences with depression and the struggles they go through each and every day. Although I had briefly touched on some of the things I did to deal with my depression in my article, many of those people told me they wanted to learn more.

Just like how I wanted to share my story, now I want to talk about what I did to help me “rise from the abyss.”

Before I go on, however, I feel compelled to say a few things. First — and most importantly — I am not claiming to be “cured” of depression. I don’t think anyone can ever be truly cured of a mental illness. As a matter of fact, I still struggle with it almost every day and I expect to fight this battle for the rest of my life. Secondly, I am not a mental health professional, so please don’t take what I’m saying as the “word of God.” I am simply someone who knows what it’s like to feel overwhelmed by a terribly misunderstood illness and who wants to help others. What worked for me may not work for you, but at least it’s a start.

If nothing else, I hope this will provide you or someone you love with a little bit of optimism.

Tell The People You Love What’s Going On And Lean On Them

Possibly the most difficult step in dealing with depression is telling those closest to you what’s going on. Unfortunately, we still live in a society that completely misunderstands what mental illness is. Although we now have heightened awareness about it and more resources available to handle it, society’s preconceived notions and prejudices towards mental illness have yet to catch up. There is a very real and understandable fear amongst those dealing with mental illness that once people find out you are sick, they’ll think you’re “crazy,” “weak,” or something else.

In 2013, I was convinced that there was something was “wrong” with me. I was having immense trouble falling asleep at night and even more trouble getting out of bed the next morning. I was constantly tired, felt sore all the time and was beginning to withdraw from the world. In July of that year, I invited my dad to lunch and told him what was going on. We saw each other almost every day, so I already knew he was aware of what was going on. But, I still felt compelled to explicitly tell him, “Dad, I think there’s something wrong with me.” I didn’t expect him to understand what was happening to me, I just wanted him to understand that something was happening. As I expected, though, he was supportive and immediately helped me find a professional to talk to.

Telling people you trust that you think you’re suffering from a mental illness immediately relieves some of the emotional burden you’re dealing with. Yes, you will likely still feel “alone” in your struggle, but at least there are now people around you who are aware that something is going on and can help you. Of course, telling people you think you’re sick doesn’t give you unlimited “get of jail free” cards — in other words, it doesn’t give you the excuse to suddenly treat people like crap just because you’re sick. But, it will give people some deeper insight into why you might be doing the things you’re doing (oversleeping, gaining/losing lots of weight, substance abuse, etc.).

These people love you for a reason, so don’t be afraid to lean on them in your time of need.

Seek Help From A Professional

It’s imperative that you get help from a mental health professional (ideally a psychiatrist and/or a therapist) as quickly as possible. Trying to deal with undiagnosed mental illness opens you up to a world of unhealthy (and dangerous) possibilities. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate yourself with drugs, alcohol, tobacco, etc. Find someone who has spent his or her life identifying and treating mental illness. You might think you’re bipolar, but you could actually have borderline personality disorder. They may sound similar, but the treatments for these two diseases are vastly different and improperly dealing with your illness could make things significantly worse.

When I first met with a psychiatrist in 2013, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. At first, I was terrified. Suddenly, this idea of being sick was confirmed by a doctor. The worst part was when he told me it could “never be cured.” For the next few days, I was shell-shocked from being told I would be forever battling something I could never defeat. But, after a few weeks, my initial fear turned into something much different: relief. See, after years of speculating, I now knew what was going on and I was given a treatment plan to deal with it. I went from wondering what was wrong with me to knowing for certain. I finally knew what my enemy was.

Speaking to a professional and getting diagnosed will give you a plan of action. Sometimes, this may entail medication or cognitive behavioral therapy, but maybe it won’t. Whatever the verdict is, at least you’ll know what you’re dealing with and how to deal with it.

Make Small Goals

Even though I was diagnosed in 2013, the worst of my mental health struggles occurred from mid 2015 to early 2017 (during the aftermath of my mother’s death). For almost 18 months, I hid from the world as much as I possibly could. Moreover, my sleep pattern was completely off (I had trouble falling asleep before 4am and I rarely woke up before noon), I gained significant weight, neglected nearly all of my responsibilities and took almost no care of myself.

When you’re deep in the throngs of depression, one of the most common feelings is that of being completely overwhelmed. It’s like standing at the base of a mountain, looking up at the summit and realizing you’ll never get there — so, why even try taking a step? Why not curl up into a ball instead? For 18 months, that’s exactly what I did.

Luckily, in February 2017, I took my first step. It was an incredibly small step, but it was a step nonetheless. After a year and a half of self-imposed exile, I decided to go back to a coffee shop in town I used to visit every day. At first, I was terrified — the café has a bit of a Cheers vibe to it and I was nervous the baristas and “regulars” I’d befriended over the years would inundate me with questions about my prolonged absence (I even worried some would be mad at me). This is one of the many problems people with depression face — the feeling that they’ve done something wrong and that the people around them are angry with them.

Thankfully, I wasn’t met with any anger when I returned to the coffee shop. In fact, outside of a few people saying, “hey, we missed you,” it was business as usual there. That first week, I only went once — it was painful not being in my safe place at home, but I still did it. The week after that, I went two times. Then three. Then four. Each time, I stayed a little longer and talked with more people. Before I knew it, I was back to my old routine there and had recaptured a part of my life that used to make me happy (I’ll touch on this more later).

Taking small steps allowed me to ease myself back into a past routine. I did this with many other aspects of my life, not just the coffee shop. When you make small goals, you are making goals that are relatively easy to achieve. When you achieve those goals—however big they may be—your brain rewards you with a hit of dopamine. On a basic level, dopamine is your brain’s way of telling you, “good job” — it makes you feel better. So, do a lot of small things — get those little rewards from your body — instead of trying to climb the mountain right away. The more successful small steps you take, the more confidence you are giving yourself for the bigger steps down the road.

Re-Discover Something You Love Or Find Something New

Another big problem for people with depression is having a lack of interest in things that used to bring/are capable of bringing them joy. For me, this manifested itself in just about everything I used to love: listening to music, watching sports, being with friends, etc. Up until my late-20s, those interests were very pronounced and I was extremely vocal about loving them. But, when depression really started to take hold of me, I stopped caring. I couldn’t listen to music anymore, I didn’t care about how my favorite baseball team was performing and I had absolutely no desire to be around friends or family. Simply put, I had become the walking embodiment of ennui.

Similar to my previous point about making small goals, I also decided that it was time to inject some joy into my life. In my article from two weeks ago, I talked about how I re-discovered my love of writing. When I went to the coffee shop, I wasn’t just going there to hang out — I also went to write. It didn’t matter what I was writing about, all that mattered was that I was writing. For me, re-discovering something I loved reminded me of positives in my life that I had forgotten about for a few years. At first, the joy came in very small doses, but it was enough to keep me going.

Re-discovering a past interest or exploring something entirely new will give you something besides work and daily living to look forward to — in other words, it’s a positive distraction from things. It doesn’t matter what it is — watching sports, cycling, cooking, etc. — just give yourself something constructive to do outside of your job and chores. Injecting a little joy into your life will help you realize that not everything is negative or monotonous.

Be Patient and Expect Many Slip-Ups

The most important thing on this list, you need to be patient and understand that this is a process. As I said earlier, there is no way to cure depression and it takes time to feel like a “normal” person again, but you can deal with it in a multitude of ways. At first, that might be difficult to come to grips with — it sure was for me — but there are millions of us out there who have been able to lead productive lives in spite of mental illness.

Even though it’s been almost two years since I started to “rise from the abyss,” I still have many days where I feel like I’m back to square one. I can have spans of 24–72 hours where it seems like I’m stuck in a rut again. But, that’s ok! Going back to the mountain metaphor, you need to understand that you can’t always be ascending — sometimes you have to pause to regain your footing or take a break. Remember that every step you take is part of a bigger process, so remain patient.

Nobody lives a perfect life and, unfortunately, there is no step-by-process to overcoming mental health issues. So, when you inevitably fail, don’t feel like it was all for nothing. Go back to your small goals, seek help and guidance from people you trust, remind yourself of the things you love and keep moving.