Depression is hard. And it seems it can be as unique as fingerprints to the people it affects, as different as the experiences that scaffold our current realities.
I’ve been dealing with mine since as far back as I can remember. I considered suicide in 7th grade. Middle school sucks for everyone at some point. But when you are depressed, what sucks a little can be enough to want a permanent way out.
I’m 41 now. Depression is a bull in my life, ramming into my head/heart/soul/spirit and breaking all of the fragile things, huffing and puffing after the damage is done, pissed there isn’t more to ruin.
It’s annoying, it’s painful, it’s inconvenient, it’s very serious, it’s real, it’s debilitating, it’s lonely and it’s cold and dark and sad and desperate and always makes me believe that I am just not cut out for living.
In the last year through my work with Brave, I’ve encountered nearly 3,000 kids in middle school, high school and college. I open our sessions talking about how my ongoing battle with depression is the foundation of much of my confidence. Session after session, kids approach me afterward to ask my advice on dealing with their own depression, or to thank me for bringing it up because they struggle, or they lost a friend, or sister, or brother or a parent to depression.
My life relies on me being an expert on my own depression. In 25 years, it’s shape-shifted so many times that I feel equipped to share my advice to people who struggle with chronic or long-term depression. This isn’t nearly a list of all the things, but these are the things that have helped me.
NOTE: It was only after I accepted that my struggle with depression would be ongoing for the rest of my life, these remedies became far more effective.
When you are depressed:
1. Acknowledge that you are in a depressed state (the down of the cycle).
2. Tell people you are in a depressed state.
a. Those people have already been identified and given DOs/DON’Ts of how to be most helpful.
b. These people care a lot and get better with every episode.
c. These people are doing this for you because they love you and that is something you want.
3. Refer to your ever-evolving Self-Help list. This list is made up of things you have been able to find a way to do within previous depressive episodes that have been helpful, even if just a little.
Things that work for me: Netflix (this can be a long indulgence), a massage, getting a manicure/pedicure, going to the movies, taking a walk, taking a shower, coloring / painting / art, looking at pictures of good times, plucking my eyebrows.
4. Write a letter to your “happy” self and be completely honest. Only she/he will read it.
5. Read a letter from your “happy” self, which should be packed with tough love, gentle reminders about evidence of joy in your life beyond this state and motivation to get moving toward that state.
When you are not depressed:
6. Cultivate the ability to recognize signs before the ground drops from beneath you.
7. Recognize useful health and wellness maintenance (personal diet and exercise) that contributes to your well being.
8. Talk about your depression with a friend who helped you out and troubleshoot the last episode.
9. Write 1–5 letters of gratitude. Mail them, or not.
When you are “happy”:
10. Write a letter to your “sad” self (or record a video) and speak honestly about the joy in your life, how somewhere in you is a curious person who wants to live, to see, to experience. Give yourself a lifeline — you know what will work.
Crista Samaras is the Founder / CEO of Brave Enteprises. Brave helps people do hard things, running sessions for schools, teams, and corporate groups.