We’ve all seen the commercials:
“Do you have trouble concentrating or making decisions? ___ [drug] can help.”
“Depression can take so much out of you.”
I have to say that all of that is true. I hate to use the word depression (I think most people do), but things have been rough since my daughter died. I’ve scraped for words to express the isolation, pain, persistent sadness, discouragement, lethargy, roller coaster days, rage, sullenness, futility… but every time those words fall short.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot of things not to do, and a few things to try.
Most important is that a quick fix is a myth. So often I’ve woken up feeling OK, moved through the day’s activities relatively well, actually enjoyed some of the day’s moments, and thought to myself, “Hurray! I’m better!” Only I woke up the next day back in the swamp, feeling worse than before because I was wrong. I hadn’t actually left it behind.
Here are a few ways that have helped me, along with a few things I recommend avoiding.
If you are struggling with depression:
1. If you are a spiritual person, pray and tell God about how you feel and ask for help. Don’t shut God off just because you don’t feel God’s presence anymore. Feelings are fickle things, affected by lack of sleep, poor eating habits, hormones, illness, grief, and more.
I found that praying in the shower was a good place because
1) I could usually count on not being interrupted by my children, and
2) if I cried my heart out, the water washed my tears and snot away (I’m not a pretty cryer.)
2. Talk yourself through the day. I don’t mean talk out loud to yourself – that’s the fast-lane to crazytown. What I mean is this: if you catch yourself possibly over-reacting or taking the actions or words of another person personally, try to stop long enough to remind yourself that you are predisposed to assume the worst right now. Tell yourself, “I need to take my own emotional/mental/physical state into account when I’m reading other people and cut everyone, including this jerkwad, some slack.”
When I remind myself of this, I’m more likely to step back and wait to see if what I am jumping to conclusions and being paranoid (and usually I am). This helps preserve those relationships, and heaven knows we need as many healthy relationships as we can get.
3. Talk to someone about your struggle. Be selective. Keep your circle small, at least at first. Look for someone who is strong because they have struggled through some hard things themselves (not because he or she is a know-it-all). Find someone you can trust. Don’t talk to that girl who starts every story with, “Don’t tell anyone else, but so-and-so told me …” If they tell stories about other people, don’t give them any dirt on you. The right person will listen well, try to understand you, and give realistic counsel. They will be flexible but also persistent, drawing you out even when you withdraw or hide what’s inside.
4. Remain engaged with your family and friends. Make yourself go to birthday parties, cook-outs, ball games… whatever it is that you and your friends and family do together. Go even when every cell in your body wants to hole up in bed. We need people, and you have never experienced encouragement quite like spending time with people who care about you and who love to have fun.
I am so thankful for my husband and friends who have dragged me out of the house. No matter how many times it happens, I’m always surprised at how much better I feel when I go, even when it’s The Last Thing I want to do that day.
5. Give yourself time. This one has been hard for me. I want to be done with this depression. I want to move on, move forward, leave it behind, get better. I’m tired of dragging it around every day. But my counsellor keeps reminding me that there is no timetable on grieving. And if I try to stuff it all away and hide it, that actually makes the whole process longer. I need to feel those feelings and work through my grief, not run away from it.
6. Go see your doctor. Ask him or her to check for any physical problems and talk about how you are doing. It is very common for an illness or untreated condition to affect every part of you, including your energy level and outlook on life in general. They will collect some labs to look for things like low iron, an out-of-whack thyroid, or abnormally high white cell count (indicates that your body is fighting an infection somewhere). The doctor should be able to work with you to identify ways for you to improve your physical health, and present some options for improving your emotional and mental health.
7. Do your homework before trying supplements and/or prescription medications. Talk with your doctor about this. They will help you select the best things to try and often have non-prescription options as well. Taking a pill, whether it is an antidepressant or an herbal remedy, is not going to make you happy. These treatments are designed to give enough of a boost to do the hard work of recovery.
Be sure to ask your doctor and pharmacy about how various things interact. Tell them everything you are taking, including herbals and home remedies, because some things are very dangerous when combined. And if you think you need to change something because it isn’t working, don’t just stop cold-turkey! Call your doctor or pharmacist to see if you need to wean yourself off or if it is safe to just stop.
The best advice I was given about trying meds? Try one thing at a time, and give it at least a month before changing anything. Otherwise you won’t know what helped and what didn’t.
8. Build in some cushion. During the worst of my depression, I realized that my weeks were so tightly-scheduled that I had no slack at all for bad days. You know the kind: it’s all you can do to get the kids fed, dressed, and to school, and when you finish that, you collapse. Forget work, laundry, paying bills, washing dishes, cleaning house, grocery shopping. I got radical, backing out of commitments, canceling activities, and taking a leave of absence from work to build in some slack. It gave me the time I needed to rest and recover.
I hope these tips are helpful. I offer them up as ideas picked up along my own struggle in hopes that they encourage you to keep going, keep trying, and most importantly, get help.