I’ve struggled with depression for as long as I can remember. I look back at pictures of me as a small child and I see the sadness in my eyes.
Does this mean I spend my days crying?
To be honest I RARELY cry about anything. I used to when I was a hormonal teenager, because I really had no control over my emotions, but today… depression washes over me as numbness, uneasiness, negative thoughts and beliefs, low energy, and a feeling of hopelessness. When depression is bubbling up to the surface my house gets messy. I become scatterbrained and unable to organize my thoughts. I am extremely exhausted, and daily habits like taking a shower seem like a massive obstacle to overcome. I feel empty, and I want to fill the void with something that makes me feel different – food, relationships, sex, booze, exercise, shopping, etc… something that will quickly change my state.
For more than 3 decades of my life these quick fixes were the tools that I used to manage my depression, but none of them actually made me happier after the immediate rush of endorphins I got from compulsive behaviors. No, after the “rush” was over I was often left feeling worse about myself and my situation. Now I had to deal with the consequences of my actions. I would then beat myself up for being so stupid and impulsive.
It was miserable.
I am happy to say that I no longer go through life this way. Yes, I still deal with depression… quite frequently to be honest. But, now I realize that my body is having a physiological response to something. Maybe I ate something inflammatory? Maybe I’m not getting enough sun light? Maybe I’m running myself ragged taking care of everyone else, and not giving my mind a few brief moments to reset? Maybe my body is remembering a time where I was hurt in the past because someone said or did something that hit a nerve of some past hurt, and re-opened that wound? Maybe I’m dehydrated? Maybe I’m deficient in a vitamin or mineral? Maybe it’s been too long since I let myself laugh? Maybe I haven’t stopped to take a deep breath? Maybe I haven’t connected with God lately?
There are so many internal and external factors that influence our mindset. It’s not a moral failing to feel depressed… it’s simply an opportunity for us to recognize these feelings, and try to determine what our body needs to feel better. Now because I have become very in touch with the signals my body is telling me, I am better able to identify what I need to give it to feel better… to feel happy… to feel joy.
My most recent example of this was just last week. I have been feeling depressed for months… even though I am genuinely happy with the circumstances of my life. Everyday I felt dread. Everyday I felt exhaustion. Everyday I felt overwhelm. I didn’t know why though? I have accomplished more than I ever thought possible for myself. I have everything I need. I have more than so many other people… yet, I was depressed.
Being this way used to send me into a shame spiral…
Why can’t I just be happy? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I snap out of this? Why does everyone else seem to be happier and more put together than me? Why am I so broken? It will never get better. Life will never be better for me. I deserve to not have the successes that others have because I can’t even appreciate what I have now… how fucking selfish of me.
The list would go on and on as to the things that were wrong with me, and why I deserved to feel so bad.
But, one day I stopped. I stopped beating myself up for where I was currently, and I started focusing that energy into how to move out of the dark hole I was in. I recognized that depression is simply a signal my body is sending to me that it needs something – love, nourishment, rest, etc. I simply need to identify the symptom of depression, then determine what my body needs to heal.
If I was having a heart attack, and I chose to ignore the chest pain, the pain radiating down my arm, the shortness of breath, the sweating, etc… If I just pretended that these symptoms are not that serious or not even there at all… If I chose not to go get help at the hospital to clear the blockage, eventually that part of my heart that is being deprived of blood, filled with oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive, would die, and it will affect my physical abilities in life, and I could even die if it’s serious enough.
The same is for depression. Not in a literal sense that my heart will stop if I’m depressed, but that if I choose to ignore these symptoms my body is showing me, it will effect every other aspect of my health and my life. I won’t be able to be the productive, happy, giving person I wan to be. I have to give my body what it needs to feel better… so I can be better.
Identifying what my body needs can be tricky, but I always start with the low hanging fruit – diet, movement, sunlight, rest and God. Sometimes it’s more than this. Sometimes I have to dig deeper. But, no matter what, I tell myself that I will find the missing piece to my happiness puzzle. I tell myself to keep hope… even if I don’t feel hopeful. I give myself the opportunity to believe that rising above the depression is an option for me… I simply need to find the right ladder up to the light.
If you struggle with depression, please know that you’re not alone. If I am able to overcome it, then you are too. Depression is a battle. Occasionally we may lose a battle, but that doesn’t mean we lose the war.
Here are some things that have helped me overcome my battles with depression.
Eating foods that nourish my body. Yes, it’s so much easier to reach for comfort foods that make us feel better temporarily, but we all know it makes us feel worse in the long run. I no longer look at food as something of comfort. I look at food as medicine – 100% of the time… whether I’m depressed or not. I know that what I put in my mouth has the power to heal me or hurt me. I literally look at junk food and booze as poison. I wouldn’t drink a cup of poison and expect to feel well… I don’t put poisonous foods in my mouth either.
I give myself grace. I no longer beat myself up for where I am or how I got there. I simply acknowledge where I am, and then I determine one small step to move in a different direction. By not using all of my energy to mentally beat myself up all of the time, I am able to use that energy to do good in the world… to create, to help others, to care for myself.
I realized rest is not laziness. Just like I wouldn’t expect my phone to make phone calls, texts, surf the web, etc. without recharging it when the battery gets low… I no longer expect the machine that is my body and mind to run forever without recharging it. Along with providing it with the nutrients it needs to survive, I have to give myself down time to recharge. If I’m depressed or physically sick, I need more down time than usual… and that is okay. My “battery” % is at 0%, so I will need extra time to recharge it fully.
I get into the sunlight. Everyday. There are physiological changes that happen when your skin and eyes see the sun. Nothing can substitute for it. So, so get into the sunlight everyday for at least 20 minutes.
I pray. A lot.
I surround myself with positivity. I don’t play sad songs anymore when I’m depressed. Instead I play worship music, or something uplifting… even if I don’t feel like listening to it at the time. I look for inspirational quotes or I read Bible verses. I reach out to friends who I know will lift me up… not beat me down for being down. I envision myself overcoming depression… I manifest it happening before it actually does.
I move my body. This one can be VERY hard when you’re depressed, but I know from experience even just simply moving to a different room is one step forward. If I can will myself out of bed and to the couch instead, I am one step closer to putting on shoes and getting out the door to walk, exercise, clean, etc. I just have to start with taking one step.
If you are struggling with depression I hope these things help you. I’m not a counselor or psychologist, but I have first hand experience with this myself, friends, and with working with clients. A good resource I found recently that has helped me is the https://www.bravermantest.com/. I was doing all of the things I normally do to rise above my depression, but it still wasn’t enough…. I couldn’t completely rise up out of that dark hole. This test helped me identify which neurotransmitters I may be deficient in, and I started supplementing to support my body through this time. I do feel better. I also started meditating, which amplified the benefits from the supplements. Hopefully after my 30 days of meditation I will be able to stop taking the supplements, and naturally produce enough neurotransmitters to feel happy and be productive in my day… time will tell. If you’re interested in the type of meditation I am doing, I am using the Z technique https://zivameditation.com/preview/?gclid=CjwKCAiA5JnuBRA-EiwA-0ggPXGNBy4Syb8GUGdGZW91h6VbFt1o-xV7SNx6hZGL_pLau1Mhvu-ZNxoCWnwQAvD_BwE I couldn’t afford the full course, so I did the first 3 days that are offered for free, then I bought the audiobook “Stress Less, Accomplish More” by Emily Fletcher. https://www.amazon.com/Stress-Less-Accomplish-More-Extraordinary/dp/0062747509 which outlines how to do this type of meditation, and also gives all of the overwhelming, scientifically proven benefits to meditation. I’m only halfway through, but I highly recommend.
Anyways, I hope these words help somebody. You are worthy of feeling healthy and happy… you don’t have to do anything to earn this right. The fact that you were placed on this earth is proof that you are worthy of these things. You are that important. Love yourself, and give yourself what you need. Right now.
To your (mental) health, my friends.