Finding the Light in Depression

For a long time, I thought depression was something I had to deal with myself. I’d make appointments, take whatever was prescribed, tell my story to a counselor. But in the past six years, I’ve learned that it’s not something you have to do alone and there are many options to treat the darker times.

Yesterday, Sarah Silverman opened up about her struggles with depression and how she’s dealt with it over the years. I thought about it for a long time after I read it, and I thought about my own experience.

I’ve seen counselors at different times in my life and never really connected with any of them. And I think it can be difficult for people to see multiple counselors and tell their story again and try to get something meaningful out of it. I do think counselors or therapists are a very important part of treatment. But they are one part of it.

I also took anti-depressants at times. I took Wellbutrin, which I felt was like caffeine, and Lexapro, which made me numb. I learned that I wanted to feel my feelings, even if they were difficult.

I’ve had luck with other methods for dealing with my depression. Some seem quite obvious, while others came as a surprise. People who live with depression experience it a different way. With some people (like me) it’s genetic. Some people face it based on difficult times in life. But what I take from this is that different people respond to different methods and we need to be open and mindful of what works for us. And it is very, very hard work.

Fitness: I never really worked out until I turned 30. I would zone out in gyms from time to time, but nothing ever stuck. I joined CrossFit in 2009 and was immediately hooked. I’d never been athletic and I never committed to any kind of fitness. But this was challenging and encouraging and helped me in numerous ways. Not only did it change me physically, but mentally it made me a lot stronger. I couldn’t focus on my thoughts spiraling while I was working out; I had to focus on what was in front of me. Some people run or bike or swim; I needed to do a variety of exercises and challenge myself in order to keep my mind from wandering.

Community: Years ago, I saw a very special Oprah which was focused on how to find happiness. One of her guests said that it was crucial to have a place to go, outside of work and family, at least once a month where people knew who you were and they were expecting you. This could be a church, a social , or in my case, a gym. It sounds like a no-brainer, but walking into a room and having someone genuinely glad to see you, outside of your work and home life, is huge. And it’s not comfortable for many introverts at the start; it’s much more comfortable to hide at home and not make that leap. But the benefits of true connection, when you find it, are incredibly therapeutic.

Acupuncture: I came across this by accident. When I lived in Eugene, OR, a friend told me she went to a community Acupuncture clinic because she was having trouble sleeping. I was having some shoulder issues and didn’t have health insurance, so I figured I could give it a try. The acupuncturist asked me about my different health symptoms, physical and mental, before my appointment. I knew it would take a few weeks to see results and I was feeling open to it, so I kept going. A funny thing happened. One day, and this was in February, which can be a pretty dark time for some, I was out and about and realized that I felt….good. My mood was lifted for no apparent reason. I didn’t really know how it worked, and I started asking my practitioner what each needle was for, but somehow that energy was getting redirected and I felt great. I don’t know if it’s for everyone, but it’s definitely been the most unexpected relief from my dark thoughts.

Nutrition: This should be a no-brainer but it’s perhaps the hardest for me (and likely a lot of Americans) to accept. Our food is our foundation, and if we’re eating terrible processed food, that’s likely how we’re going to feel. I’ve gone through 30-day time frames where I’ve cut out a lot of food groups, then reintroduced them to see how I feel. And I know that when I’m being mindful of my eating, that sets a good precedent for being mindful about the rest of my life. I’m not as strict as I used to be with my food. But I know that we can’t control every aspect of our lives, but we can control the food we eat. That awareness can set the standard for fitness, sleep, and well-being.

This is what’s worked for me. It is not easy to maintain and I go through ebbs and flows of how active I am and how mindful I am of my decisions. Everyone is different. But doing the work and empowering ourselves in finding what makes us happy within allows us to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.