What comes after depression?

For about nine months, I didn’t feel like doing much. I was depressed with a capital D. It took all I had to get through my workday. When my obligations were fulfilled, all I wanted to do was binge watch The Good Place and scroll mindlessly through Instagram. It didn’t feel good, necessarily. But it took significantly less energy than it did to do, well, anything else.

In my post, An Ode to My Prozac, I wrote about how I felt when I had been taking Prozac for about three months: “I wake up feeling energized and excited about the day, my insomnia and the irritability that caused so many arguments are gone, and I feel more in control of my emotions and my reactions to other people.”

What I didn’t share was that, during that time, I was still isolating myself from my friends, avoiding physical activity, and opting for solo Netflix and chill sessions rather than make the effort to do anything creative or fun. And while I emotionally felt better, my life didn’t feel like it was improving all that much.

I started to wonder — why am I still acting like I’m depressed, even though I no longer feel depressed?

The habits of people who are depressed

In 2017, The Mighty shared an article outlining their mental health communities habits developed while they were depressed. While some members reported adopting healthy habits like running, most people reported that their depression habits included things like sleeping all day, bingeing on sugary foods, and isolating themselves from friends and family.

Habits generally work like this: cue > routine > reward.

Example 1: Depression gives you low energy > you eat sugar > you feel better temporarily

Example 2: Depression makes you feel alone > you isolate from friends and family > your brain gets confirmation that you are alone and feels validated

But what happens after the “reward” wears off?

You’re left with a sugar crash and even lower energy. Your isolation creates a feedback loop that sinks you further into depression. This same cycle can be applied to any habit you create — positive or negative.

The habits you develop during depression can’t be magically cured with Prozac or any other depression medication. An SSRI may increase serotonin in your brain but it isn’t going to suddenly give you the willpower to go to a kickboxing class or turn off the TV and go for a hike. You still have to change your routine, if you want to reap the benefits of no longer being depressed.

What comes after depression?

For me, what came after depression was a lot of frustration, angst, and worry that I’d never feel better. Once I observed how detrimental my habits were to my physical, mental, and emotional health, I knew that I had to make some intentional changes. Taking Prozac just wasn’t enough. While it worked miracles to balancing out my brain chemicals and giving me a higher baseline to work with, it’s not a magic pill. I had to put in the hard work of forcing myself to get out of bed and meditate, go to yoga, walk the dogs, arrange to have coffee with friends.

At first, it was slow going. Changing habits is incredibly difficult — which you know if you have ever set a new year’s resolution. Little by little, my meditation practice stopped being something I had to make myself do and started becoming a slice of my day I look forward to. Hiking has become a regular activity in my life, as has yoga, hoop dancing, and aerial silks. I see friends regularly, and barely have time for TV anymore because I have so much life to participate in.

Everyone is on their own path with mental health and any other conditions they may have to live with, so I know my experience doesn’t necessarily represent the collective experience of people with depression. However, I feel that I can speak with authority when I say this: you have to choose to move forward after depression.

The path of least resistance is to continue with the habits that comforted or protected you during depression. When you’ve found a way out of depression through medication, therapy, self-care or a combination, you have an opportunity to live in a way that brings you joy and makes you feel good about your place in the world.

If you’re coming out of the weeds of a mental health condition, take some time to think about how you want to spend your time, your energy, and even your money. Without the dark cloud of depression hanging over your head, your potential is limitless.

All you have to do is choose to participate.

Originally published on christinavanvuren.com