Depression is different for everyone
Fighting depression is hard and often requires support from therapists, doctors, and medications. My thoughts below come from my own experience with a bout of short-term depression in 2015. My hope is that you will seek the help you need but find encouragement and maybe some tips from my own experience. I gained many tools and practices from this time that have helped me ever since.
My journey through depression
In 2015, I went through a time of debilitating anxiety and depression that was difficult to recuperate from. I lost weight. I lost confidence. I lost hope. I even felt like I lost myself.
The thing about being in the dark for so long is that, when you do finally come outside and open your eyes, everything is so much brighter. Now, months later, I am living out the future I feared, and there has been so much unexpected joy.
For a while, I have wanted to share some of the things that I found helpful during that time. It has taken me some time to decide what to include, but my hope is that the following will be an encouragement to you.
Having had anxiety for so long, I knew that the best way to get rid of it is to get out of the house and have little victories. I would have to do something somewhat hard in order to relax afterwards. If I stayed at home where my family knew what I was going through, I would just sit in my condition. But if I went out where nobody knew, I could at least pretend that I was normal. Which brings me to the second thing.
Act normal to feel normal
This was something my dad helped me with. He would say, “You have to act normal to feel normal.” I have learned again and again how true this is. Sometimes this meant doing something as simple as taking a shower in the morning and fixing myself up. Sometimes it meant walking with good posture instead of hunching over. Sometimes it meant forcing myself to smile or laugh.
The amazing thing is, these simple actions really did make me feel more normal. The true “me” was able to show her face for an instant, and I remembered who I really was. I was able to separate from the anxiety and feel like myself. So I tried to fill my life with normal moments, spending some time with people who made me laugh and remembering how I would normally be and trusting that I would be like that again.
Don’t worry about food
Actually, I did worry about food. I worried about it a lot. But, over time, I learned that I didn’t need to. When I’m anxious, I can’t eat, and I don’t truly feel normal until I can eat solid food. For most of the week, I was obsessing about getting that solid food. But I couldn’t, and I was losing hope.
Then I remembered. First of all, I have never starved to death. I am always able to eat something eventually. Second, people live on liquid diets all the time. Just because it’s liquid doesn’t mean it’s not nutritious. So I swallowed down some liquids–smoothies or broth or just milk–every day, trusting that was okay and that one day I would eat solid food again. What helped was to not worry so much about it.
When I was really struggling to get something down, I tried distracting myself. I’d play a video game and take a sip whenever I lost or beat a level. I took a sip during commercial breaks or at the red light. One of the most successful things I tried was thinking of a person I loved and taking a sip in their honor, a kind of toast. It reminded me what I was doing all of this for, and it reminded me, again, that I was someone with friends and family who loved me a lot. I was able to look at myself from their point of view and see how much they cared and how much they would want to see me well again.
Keep a gratitude journal
A friend gave me the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, which is a lovely, poetic book about gratitude. Inspired by her daily journal practice,I would write down at least three things I was grateful for or that made me happy and at least three things I was looking forward to. I just focused on the beautiful things in life. For instance, I would write something like, “Today I am grateful for sunshine, for the color green, and for the smell of rain. I am looking forward to soaking in the sun in the summer, to taking a walk today, and to going to church on Sunday.”
There is a quote by Elizabeth Eliot: “You have to choose joy and keep choosing it.” To me, this looked like filling my life with good things. If I watched a movie or something on television, I chose something positive and feel-good. This also went for music, books, articles, etc.
Psychologically, we can train our minds to think negatively or positively. It’s like walking in one direction for so long that it digs a rut in the ground. You want to break out of the rut and start a path in new territory. Switch your thoughts to positive things. Don’t think of this as pouring out the bad as much as just flooding in the good so that it washes away the bad as a result. Talk about your joys. Find something to laugh at. Go outside. Read the Bible. Whatever gives you joy, seek it out.
Don’t fight bad thoughts–yet
I didn’t fight bad thoughts. This may sound counterintuitive, but I knew that I was not in the mental condition to argue myself out of negativity. I knew that I had things I needed to figure out, but that was a fight that needed to happen when I was stronger. For now, I just needed to get through the day one step at a time. So I let myself hold off on those thoughts and learned how to post-pone worry for a better time. This is something I still do sometimes, and it has been extremely helpful and effective. No fears or worries or obsessive thoughts have to be dealt with right now. So relax and wait until you’re ready.
Focus on one moment at a time
This is so important, and it is also something that takes practice. The more you do it, the easier it gets. I literally had to close off my “peripheral” vision of past and future and narrow my vision to the present. This allowed me to deal with one thing at a time and not worry about tomorrow.
Take care of yourself
First, I slept. Sometimes catching up on sleep is all you need.
I also exercised. When I was feeling better and getting more calories in, I tried some exercises like running and yoga. Not only did it help by calming my mind and releasing endorphins, but it also reminded me that I was strong and had some control over my body.
Finally, I adapted my diet. Again, I wasn’t able to do this until I was feeling well enough to focus on what I was eating. I cut out sugar and started introducing a lot more nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Like exercising, this made me feel strong and in control. Feeling healthy in itself is a great way to feel better emotionally.
See a counselor
Seeing a counselor can be hard, but I can’t recommend it highly enough. The important thing is to come with an open mind and with a desire to get better. When you see a counselor, you are telling yourself that you can get better, and often that alone is enough to make you start feeling better.
Prayer at this time was hard. I was grateful to have others praying for me in ways I couldn’t pray for myself. Often, my prayers were as simple as stating to God that I trusted Him, even if I didn’t feel that I did. I practiced His presence. Like positive thoughts, a relationship with God is something that takes time and practice. Now is the time to create good habits.
I don’t want to treat God like a quick fix or a medication, but I also knew at that time that I needed God badly, and there is no shame in admitting that to God and asking for help. And God certainly did help. It was by God’s strength and by the hope of Christ’s goodness that I kept moving forward. I knew that, while I didn’t understand God or why some things happened, I knew from my past, from scripture, and from the testimonies of others that God was good, and that God would not leave me alone.
Take mental breaks
Sometimes I just needed to give myself a rest, so I would read a book (or listen to an audio book) and just shut off everything else. I would color and watch a movie. I would listen to music with some rain sounds in the background (using the RainRain app). I would do anything to just turn off for a while, building up my physical and emotional strength.
This may sound like escapism, and in many ways it is. But as long as we are escaping in healthy ways and in small doses, I believe it is okay to allow ourselves to take these breaks.
If prescribed medication gives you comfort and you notice results, go for it. I increased my medication at this time, and I think that it was helpful for me. But don’t rely on medications alone. Think of healing as a holistic approach. It requires everything from diet to exercise to positive thinking to prayer.
Not all of these things will work for you, and something what works once may not work in the same way next time. The important thing is to try. You have to want to get better, and you have to believe that you will get better. For me, just the act of trying reminded me that I was moving towards something better. The more times I have been through hard times, the more I believe I can go through them again.
Don’t forget to ask for help, too. Talk to people and let them pray for you. Have someone who can encourage you along the way, even if it’s just a text message every once in a while.
Again, the important thing is to try—to choose joy, and to keep choosing it.