Category: Emotional wellness

Depression, the final chapter: A survival story

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When I decided to do it, I was down on my knees, crying like I’ve never cried before or since in life, begging for a sign that I could live. I loved my life once, I never had it all, but I always had enough. I had great hopes for the future, I wanted to live to see it, but the pain of living had become so unbearable that I didn’t think I could take another breath without my chest exploding from pain… I was going to kill myself to end this suffering.

Clearly I didn’t do it. What saved me was my cat’s innocent eyes. They came to me as a reminder of my promises. I had to live.

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Suicide is not something people like to talk about freely. Religions condemn it, society considers it a weakness, a mistake, a tragedy. Tragedy it is, mistake it may be, but having been so close to the edge and having walked back, I can tell you it’s not a weakness. Weakness is what stopped me from doing it- I was overcome with it when I saw my little Milo.

Talking to people about these thoughts is the last thing I wanted to do. I knew exactly what everyone was going to say. But they couldn’t understand just exactly what it was that I was going through. When you’re that close to the edge, others can only take you back few steps temporarily, until you start inching closer again. What you need is to turn your back towards the precipice and start walking in the other direction, towards healing. But how can you do so when you can’t even see clearly?

Before I proceed, if you’re in need of help urgently, please call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or someone close to you. This post is based on my personal experience and does not offer professional or medical advice. It simply shares ways to avoid suicidal thoughts that helped me during my struggle, it is not qualified counseling.

If you’re finding yourself struggling with such thoughts, first of all, speak to someone you trust. All of the steps from my previous two posts on depression are still valid (Depression 101, Depression 201). But sometimes depression can sneak up on you like it did on me. I was mildly depressed until I lost my job. But once that happened, it was like the rug was pulled from under me and I couldn’t find my balance. I kept spiraling down until I was too close to hitting the bottom. I went from mildly depressed to this final stage within days. I only crossed the second stage during my recovery.

So how to avoid these thoughts? And not just avoid them once but toss them away for good. Try these two things:

Step 1: Give yourself a reason and keep it in front of you at all times

Your family, your friends, your pets, your garden… It could be anything. In the moments when you do think clearly, make a list of these ‘reasons’ and keep them close. Put pictures around the house if you can’t physically have them. My cats are my reason and my biggest responsibility, and they’re always around. I know no matter how bad things get, I will endure anything to keep them safe. I promised to give them a healthy, happy life and I will never break that promise. Promise yourself you will not abandon anyone or anything that depends on you and loves you.

Step 2: Remember that your death will be in vain 

Harsh as it may sound, it’s true. Most often suicidal thoughts stem from events brought on my external triggers. You were hurt, mistreated, abused, it’s what someone else did. Or you incurred huge losses, lost a job, lost someone dear, these are things you couldn’t control. First of all, your death will not undo anything, it will only add more grief to the lives of those left behind. Secondly, even if the perpetrator that caused you the suffering felt remorse, you wouldn’t know it. You won’t be there to watch him/her apologize. So what’s the point then? Sure, your suffering might end, but it will end eventually if you live too- nothing lasts forever. At least in the latter case you have a possibility of great things happening.

Take that chance. Survive this crisis and live. Turn all the hurt that you’ve got inside into something meaningful. Start volunteering, share your story, or write like I’m doing. In the coming weeks I will write about all the wonderful things that have happened to me since my recovery. Although depression is a morbid topic to pick for the first series of my revamped blog, it is the most fitting considering this is truly where my journey began. It only gets better from here on, I promise 🙂

Be well,

P

 

 

Depression 201: When crawling out of bed is a challenge

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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.

Be well!

P

Depression 101- Introverts Pay Attention!

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This is my first post in the series of emotional issues. Depression is a monster. Almost all of us have, knowingly or unknowingly, grappled with depression at some point in our lives. Life isn’t always kind. Sometimes things are rough and they can challenge our fortitude.

I started seeing a therapist last year after a series of mishaps. What he told me shocked me. I knew I was depressed, but according to him, I had been depressed for the better part of my life! Is that even possible, you ask? Apparently so. I am a social butterfly chatting up with strangers, making friends wherever I go, but when it comes to talking about problems, I am as introverted as they come. It’s vanity really. I can’t appear weak, it’s unattractive. So I pretend I’m strong and life is oh-so-awesome, and that I’m totally in control of what’s going on. But in creating this impenetrable facade I had accumulated a ton of baggage inside. During my first session which went over by 30 minutes, my therapist and I didn’t even talk about my current problems. We talked about my past, and man, it wasn’t pretty! Thank god for Kleenex 😂.

Anyway, I now realize that from time to time the strongest of us need a boost. We can handle our problems more efficiently when our mind isn’t fogged up with depressing thoughts. Now, if you’re not sure whether you’re depressed, ask yourself these questions:

Are you able to fall asleep at your regular time?

Do you sleep soundly?

Are you able to wake up at your usual time?

Do you feel refreshed when you wake up?

Do you have enough energy to go through the day?

Are you physically and socially active?

If you answered no to all or most of those questions, I’d say follow the next few tips. If you answered no to a couple, no big deal. You didn’t sleep well? It could just be your allergies keeping you up. Are you tired all day? Maybe you need a metabolism boost (we’ll talk about that at a later time). But if you can’t sleep, and feel tired and unmotivated, something else might be going on. If your symptoms are worse than what’s outlined above, please see a specialist first.

If you’re only mildly depressed, here’s what to do:

  1. See a therapist! Seriously. There is no shame in seeing a therapist. I think everyone should do that once in a while. You don’t have to make a habit of it, and if they are trying to coerce you into coming back more than you like, run the other way! My therapist was actively working to make sure we didn’t need too many appointments. A good therapist wants you to get and feel better, not keep you wallowing in misery and return to him/her every week. I only saw my therapist for 2 months, and I was majorly depressed, like suicidal depressed 😟. Once you find a good therapist, like I did, you’ll realize that it’s nice to be able to talk freely in a neutral environment. You don’t have to worry about hurting anyone or being politically incorrect. And you don’t have to be clinically depressed either. Just speak your mind!
  2. Force yourself to workout! Doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym everyday and pump iron. Try going for a long walk, or follow a workout video at home. Join a dance class, play with the kids; but get moving. It’s simple physics really, first law of thermodynamics or the law of conservation of energy- energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be transformed. So if you have any pent up negative energy, you can’t miraculously destroy it. You have to transform it. Transform it into kinetic energy by getting active.
  3. Watch what you eat! It’s convenient to run for the jar of cookies or a box of donuts when you’re feeling blue. Who doesn’t like sugar! But sugar can only make you feel better temporarily. If you keep eating junk, and continue being inactive, you’ll ultimately end being more miserable than you were before because your body wouldn’t feel good. So force yourself to eat healthy. If you’ve lost your appetite, you need to see the doctor first and then come back to this list!
  4. Meet new people! This is especially important for us introverts. As depression worsens, it becomes easier to stay cooped up in a dark room than to step outside and fake a smile. And we’re too proud to go cry in front of our friends 😕. Best way to overcome that impasse? Join a volunteer group or sign up for a Meetup (go check out the app if you haven’t heard about it). In short, meet strangers. They don’t know your story so you don’t have to pretend anything. Just showing up is enough. Your brain will take care of the rest. It will immediately stop worrying and start taking notes of its surroundings, analyzing people, staying alert- it’s what it’s programmed to do in unfamiliar situations. Extroverts are blessed in this regard. I know a few people who’ve hit some hard times over the years. But they would simply go around talking to the whole world about it, crying to any friend or acquaintance they met. They are proactive in seeking social suport, without consciously being aware of it. Introverts need to work hard on this one.
  5. Breathe! Alright, obviously I know you’re breathing, but what I’m saying is to stop everything else and notice that you’re breathing. Take a few one-minute breaks during the day when you put everything aside and take long deep breaths. Fill up your lungs and notice the air coming in and going out. Say those words in your mind if you have to, “breath coming in, breath going out“. Here’s some more elementary science. Doing this exercise will increase the oxygen content of your blood which is much appreciated by tired cells.

So there you have it. Few simple things to practice when you’re feeling sad or blue. I use the term ‘depressed’ liberally as this is a non-technical discussion. If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, please follow your doctor’s advice first and take any medication you’ve been prescribed. You can still apply these steps in your day to day life but listen to the experts first! For example, I was placed on clonazepam when I was diagnosed with depression. However, my therapist and I worked diligently to make sure I didn’t develop any dependence on the drug and eventually came off it.

I hope these tips will help you just as much as they helped me. Know that there is nothing wrong with feeling weak; acknowledging weakness and fighting it is the bravest and most difficult thing to do. So kudos to you for taking control!

Be well,

P