You aren’t just blue or mildly depressed, and Depression 101 isn’t for you. You are at a point where you spend most of your day in bed, you have no energy to do anything, you can’t eat anymore, you can’t focus on anything, and your thoughts are a messy jumble of despair and fear. If you are still working, which can be a very daunting situation, you think about calling in sick everyday, and when you’re at work, your performance isn’t what it used to be and you avoid coworkers. I’ve been through all of this, and below are few things that helped me fight back.
I used to be one of those people who thought depression was a sickness of the weak-minded and it could never happen to me- I am a very strong person. I used to think that people did it to themselves, that it wasn’t a real thing. It is still true in part. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. While that bit is out of our control, depression does feed depression. By not taking any action to fight it, you are allowing the imbalance to worsen. So the most important thing to do is to take control. But when you’re depressed, taking control seems impossible. It is a vicious catch-22. So let’s take it slow.
Step 1: Talk to yourself
It might sound silly, but when your mind is full of incoherent thoughts it’s hard to concentrate on any one of them. Talk to yourself out loud, in first person or third, whatever you prefer. Ask yourself, “What is happening to me? Why do I feel like I’m losing control? I need to stop this, I need to find balance“. You won’t jump out of bed and feel better suddenly, but this is the beginning of a positive feedback cycle. You’re acknowlding there is a problem and that it needs to be dealt with. Do this anytime you find yourself unable to do something. Keep this conversation going, and build upon it until you find your mind responding, “I can do this“.
Step 2: Write, write, write
You don’t have to write a blog, just keep a personal journal next to your bed. I didn’t write much on my blog in the time that I spent being depressed. But I scribbled in a diary. Whatever was going on in my head was out on paper so I could read it back and decipher what it meant. Slowly I started seeing that these thoughts made no sense. They were just mundane what-if scenarios. I knew then that I had to avoid these thoughts. Anytime I felt a negative thought coming, I would preemptively shift my focus to something else- think about something positive. So write down your thoughts and start weeding through them, and replace at least one negative thought with something positive.
As you start getting clarity of thought, start making a list of things you can control in your life– like the times you wake up and go to bed, things you eat, etc. Look at this list everyday and prime yourself for the next step.
Step 3: Small victories
Now you’ve acknowledged the problem and you’ve prepared your mind to overcome it. Next step is to set small goals for yourself, “today I will get out bed within next 10 minutes“, “today I will take a shower and get dressed“, “today I will get groceries“. You can’t feel better in one day, it’s a process. When you force yourself to act normally all the time, it becomes so overwhelming that you give up even before you can start. Allow yourself the time it takes to recover and do one normal thing a day, and keep increasing it as you get your confidence back.
Step 4: Find a source of joy
Writing is my source of joy. Once I was well enough to get back to normal life, I resumed writing regularly, but my posts were still rather gloomy. It was ok because I wasn’t bottling it in anymore. When you’re ready to progress to this next step, find something that makes you happy and stick with it. I find baking very therapeutic too. Whatever you choose to do doesn’t have to be a hobby, it is your own personal totem that represents your success. This activity serves to remind you that you were able to free yourself from the grasp of depression and no matter what happens next you won’t let yourself go to that dark place ever again.
The road to recovery from depression is not an easy one, and most commonly it is a very lonely one. No matter how many professionals, friends or family you gather around you, no one can lead you down this road unless you are willing to. In my experience, the biggest challenge in overcoming depression is to find this will to do it. I hope these simple steps will help you. In my next post of this series on depression, I will talk about suicidal thoughts and how to cope with them.