DESPITE PRACTICING AS a psychotherapist for several years I still find it difficult to share my own experiences with depression. Fear of judgement and being labelled are all reasons why those who suffer from depression often just keep it to themselves.
This approach only makes things worse; the only way forward is to open up. It is vital that as a society we work to dispel the myths surrounding depression and create a platform for sufferers to air their feelings without feeling judged.
This article describes how I overcame my own depression.
What does depression feel like?
I have vivid memories of lying on the sofa after work just feeling empty inside. I was constantly tired, my brain felt dull, I was distant and distracted. I went through the motions of life, work and socialising, but inside I felt completely unhappy.
Most people close to me were oblivious to what I was going through however a friend commented when we were out the one night: “you look like you want to laugh but something is holding you back”. There were times I just cried alone, I felt trapped and found it hard to see a way out.
Psychologically, it felt like I had accidentally fallen into a deep dark hole. I was alone, no one could pull me out and I wasn’t strong enough to climb out myself. I would read anything I could on personal development, try different natural supplements, journal, meditate and all the other things suggested but it was a constant uphill struggle.
Over time things changed. There wasn’t one definitive solution, but a lot of small adjustments. These adjustments became habits, consistent patterns which chipped away at a problem which controlled every aspect of my life.
These are just my suggestions based on how I personally overcame depression. It’s up to you to find the right steps for you and to STICK with them:
Accept there is a problem and only you can fix it
Personal responsibility is key. I decided things needed to change and it was up to me to make the change. If your depression is tied to a specific relationship or situation, blaming someone or something outside of yourself will make no difference. It may be completely unfair, but it is now your job to fix this.
Become your own boss, set simple yet quantifiable recovery goals, create a project plan on how you will approach it, assess your progress and celebrate milestones reached.
Get to the root
It can be hard to pin down the exact source. For those with troubled childhoods or those who experienced specific traumatic events the root can be quickly identified however but harder to fix. For others who have had a reasonably “normal” childhood there is no one defining moment. It could be your first breakup, falling out with friends, failing an important exam, moving out of the family home, a poor lifestyle finally catching up with you or a physical injury.
Reflect on your depression: When did it first creep up? Did you change the circle you socialized with? Did you change your regular habits? Did a specific relationship change? Knowing why you are depressed will help you identify what you need to focus on to avoid future depressive bouts.
Find role models
No one can magically eliminate your depression, but you can be inspired. There are so many stories of people overcoming illness, mental disability, physical limitations, etc. Read their stories, understand that they felt as you did and then become your own role model. Be the person people will talk about years from now, the inspiration to the next generation.
Talk to the right people
When we are stuck in our own world it often feels like we are the only person going through this. By sharing your inner world with someone healthy, compassionate and understanding, it can help normalise how you feel and eliminate the need to awfulise the situation.
A recent client told me of a conversation she had with her friend regarding mental health where the friend stated “there was no such thing as depression and it’s all in their heads”.
For many, unless they have personally experienced anything they struggle to comprehend or empathise with any condition (physical or psychological).
Psychotherapy helped me to validate what I was going through and understand that it is more common than I realised. It helped me to objectively look at my thought processes and find more productive ways to view myself and life in general. It also helped keep me on track and prevented me from falling back into bad habits such as not looking after myself physically and finding reasons to not exercise.
Deep breathing is essential to maintaining healthy oxygen levels and promoting optimal health. By performing belly breathing you are taking the first step in talking control of your body.
Take a slow long breath in and notice your belly rises like a balloon filling, hold it for a few seconds and then let the breath go and notice how your belly drops. Taking fuller diaphragmatic breathes oxygenates the blood, which increases circulation across the body, flushing out toxins and feeding damaged tissue.
Your body was not designed to be sedentary. We were made to move, be it walking, running, standing, pushing, pulling, lifting, jumping, crouching, etc.
Moving will get you out your head and back into your body where you can feel what’s happening. You may become aware of the sluggishness in your brain, the tiredness of your muscles, how you’re unconsciously picking up biscuits, chocolate, sugary drinks or fried foods and not giving your body the nutrients it actually NEEDS like water, lean meat and vegetables.
Moving will also help your body to release serotonin, a naturally occurring hormone associated with balanced mood and happiness into your brain.
While I don’t encourage you to take any form of inflammatory drugs to treat this problem awareness of food and how your body reacts to it is crucial. There have been further studies around the negative impact of sugar and depression.
Try removing these out of your diet slowly, one by one and record how you feel. Note that changes likes these take time to fully take affect in your body so give it a chance to kick in.
Get your fish oils
A recent study has highlighted the connection between fish oils and healing depression. The omega-3 fatty oils contain 2 chemicals, EPA and DHA, which are thought to be lacking in sufferers of depression. As well as promoting healthy bones and cholesterol levels, the fish oils act as a cognitive lubricant, improving blood flow to the brain and reducing mental fatigue. With this said bear in mind that the fish oils need to be taken consistently on a daily basis for the benefit to be seen.
Retrain your brain
There is more to recovery than just positive thinking, but a solution focused mind-set helps to push out unhelpful thoughts and create a new sense of optimism.
Start by reflecting on a happy moment from your past. It could be anything but preferably a memory that makes you smile. For me it is a simple memory. One time I was watching the Simpsons with my mother and there was a particular scene which for some reason caused us both to burst out laughing. It was natural and a moment when we were both happy, I’ll never forget it.
For many, finding a happy memory is tough when they have so many negative experiences dominating their head space however you need to persevere; the memory is in there somewhere. Once you find your memory hold it in your mind for 20 seconds. You may find this incredibly hard if you constantly feel tired and are unable to focus on any one thing but keep going. Try to do this every day, twice a day for a week.
At the end of the week change the 20 seconds to 30 seconds and after another week try to increase it to 1 minute. It is important to try and hold the positive thought throughout the full minute and will take practise but you’ll get there.
Use this exercise as a starting point to build your new life in your head. Start with imaging what would be doing if you were happy and feeling relaxed but focused. How would look? What would you be wearing? What would you be doing if this depression wasn’t part of your life? What would you do with the energy and time? Would you change your career? Would you embrace a new hobby? Would find the right partner?
Don’t censor yourself with thoughts of reality, embrace every positive notion like it is reality and you will see how a new sense of hope starts to grow through the negativity.
I’d be the first to admit my artistic talents start and end with Star Wars Lego but I also have a very active imagination which I try to use to its fullest when working through my depression.
I would imagine unhealthy people who were part of my life but instead of focusing on how they actually were I would visualise them as functional human beings that had not been wounded by life.
In my head I would visualise the conversation I needed to have with them; I would express how I felt and verbalise the damage they had done and the times they weren’t there for me. I would then visualise the words I NEEDED to hear. This exercise would always provoke emotion in me and in doing so served to highlight the need for me to express how I felt.
This is what worked for me, however remember there is more than one way to express yourself and everyone has their own talents. The medium of art whether is it drawing, painting or sculpting can be used to relay feelings which words cannot describe. Once you can see the emotion you can start to feel it. The lines, the colours, the imagery can help tap into our unconscious and raise awareness of what happiness can look like.
Some discover a talent they never knew they had and in that find a new reason to move forward.
I’m always jotting down what goes on in my head or around me. I find it helps to process a thought or emotion quicker by putting it down on paper and then objectively reviewing it.
Many sufferers of depression have a pre-disposition to ruminating over every aspect of their life, whether it is something someone said to them that day or a situation that may have happened years ago.
Journaling can help make sense of what’s going on, to help rationalize what you are experiencing and is a great outlet for expressing your feelings privately.
In time reading what you have written to someone you trust can help and if they are honest enough to admit they have the same “crazy” thoughts (which we ALL have) then it might bring you closer to realising we are all EXACTLY the same. We are all doing our best to deal with the same issues and get through the challenges life throws at us.
Depression is no longer part of my life; in fact, it’s so distant I sometimes forget how I used to feel.
The turning point for me was when I caught myself laughing at something fairly silly. I started to stop taking people and life so serious. But that doesn’t mean every day is great.
I have bad days just like everyone else. However, being in control of both my mental and physical health is always on the top of the agenda and the more I prioritise it the less of a struggle it is.