I wrote last week about depression, specifically mine and how all-consuming it has been. At my lowest of lows I stay in bed and sleep for the good part of a weekend. I get up to let my dog out and maybe eat something. Then I go back to bed. Initially I turned off my Facebook account because I was upset to see anything relating to the ex-bf. I was too sad to even delete my pictures. Deleting pictures was deleting what we had and I still haven’t been able to admit to myself that we don’t have anything left. In the breakup/grieving process, I’m still in denial and nowhere close to acceptance. Living in denial makes getting over things harder including depression. I should have prefaced that with saying when you have been clinically diagnosed with depression there is no real “getting over it”. You manage depression, just as you manage your weight or diabetes.
How do you manage depression though? I like to mentally compare my depression with my asthma. I take asthma medication every day to assure that I can breathe normally. I avoid allergens that I know will cause a flare up. This doesn’t mean I never have asthma attacks though. Once in a while I’ll be exposed to something that triggers an attack. All I can do then is treat the symptoms until it passes. Clinically diagnosed depression is much the same. You have to manage it daily in order to avoid “flare ups”. This can include medication – as in my case, but it also includes avoiding “triggers” just like with asthma.
Depression triggers can be different for everyone. Some of mine include high stress which leads to severe anxiety, putting myself in situations where I feel out of control and of course emotional distress. Some more generalized triggers that all people with diagnosed depression should avoid are excessive drinking, recreational drug use, “junk” food… you know, all the stuff we know is bad for us but we do it anyway because we like it. Some depression triggers cannot be avoided, such as the death of someone you love, a divorce or breakup, being diagnosed with a terrible disease, losing your house… every “trigger” is as individual as every different person is.
In this case, my depression was caused by a mix of several of the above. In fact, over the past 6 years I have been diagnosed with MS, gotten divorced, changed jobs, and lost my father. This relationship I was in was the first “serious” one I’d had since my divorce. It was the first one where I really let myself think, “Yeah, I could see myself growing old with him”. So, to lose that on top of all the other things I was dealing with sort of tipped me over, down into my hole. I was also eating poorly, not sleeping well, drinking more frequently and occasionally smoking weed. I was depressions perfect candidate.
You can’t rush yourself through depression. There is not on/off switch or magic pill that will make you feel all better. It’s a cruel waiting game and sometimes I wonder who will win. So how am I getting through this? What makes me actually get out of bed every morning? There are a few things. First, I have animals that depend on me to care for them. Without me, they would literally die. I am such an animal freak that the thought of hurting ANY animal is almost too hard to think about. So I get out of bed each morning (ok, sometimes it’s more like noonish) and let my dog outside and give my guinea pigs treats and give everyone scratches and pets. When I’m most depressed, I get right back into bed, which is ok, because when you’re depressed even doing the littlest things can seem like running a marathon.
I also see a therapist. If I could recommend nothing else to someone who is depressed it would be to get therapy. There are options for everyone no matter what your financial situation, no matter what health insurance you have. There are people who want to help you. I know that therapy tends to come with a stigma. In the past the only people who saw therapists were “crazy” or needed to be in a mental institution. I believe that stigma is changing now. We are talking a bit more about mental health as a country and how getting treatment at the start of issues can help a great deal more than dealing with it after the issue. My therapist is like my mental mechanic. I check in every couple of weeks to let her know what’s going on. She will look everything over and let me know if there is something I need to be concerned about. She has also given me the tools to deal with my issues on my own, when I’m not with her. Granted, it’s taken years to develop some of those “tools” but it has been time well spent.
I also don’t berate myself or push myself too hard. At first I was disgusted with how I was behaving, sleeping all day, leaving my half eaten food and dirty clothes all over the house. I didn’t have the energy to do anything. I didn’t want to vacuum or do laundry or take out the trash. When I told my therapist about the guilt I was feeling for neglecting my “normal” life responsibilities, she said, and I quote: “Fuck that!” She explained that pushing myself to do things I didn’t want to do was not helping anything. Instead she suggested I do one thing at a time and congratulate myself on accomplishing that one task, instead of beating myself up for not doing the other three. So I took her advice. When I finally felt like getting out of bed, I emptied the dishwasher. That was the only “productive” thing I did at all that day, but I was proud of myself. It was 100% more productive than I had been the day before. Having that tiny bit of self-pride felt amazing. The next day I vacuumed and blogged.
This next part has been the hardest. I’ve been eating better, exercising, limiting my drinking and cutting out recreational drug use. I hate having to watch what I eat. My favorite desserts are red velvet cupcakes and pretty much any flavor of ice cream. I love sweets! I also love carbs, biscuits, bread, muffins… bring ‘em on! I know though the more bad food I eat, the fatter I’m going to get and the more I’m going to hate my body. Hating your body is not the way to go when you’re already depressed. So I started watching my calories again and using the Fitness Pal app on my phone. I have been having delicious green smoothies for breakfast each morning and a big salad for lunch. In this one week, I’ve already lost 4lbs. I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself of anything, I’m just being more diligent. Last night, I was craving ice cream so I went to DQ. I ordered a small blizzard and ended up eating only about ¼ of it. Once I had just a little sweet fix I was ok. I didn’t feel the need to inhale the entire thing. Having self-control is a great feeling, so is seeing your scale move down every day. These little bits of pride keep me going.
Exercising is more challenging. My therapist stressed its importance though. She didn’t even say “stop eating cupcakes” she said “you need to exercise”. Again, I set my limits too high. When I was exercising frequently I was doing yoga 3-4 times a week and cardio in between. My yoga classes were at least an hour long and I could easily do 30 minutes on the treadmill. Now, the thought of an hour doing ANYTHING is exhausting. So, like with my chores I started small. Ten minutes of yoga is better than no minutes of yoga. Ten minutes on the treadmill is better than no minutes on the treadmill. So I’m doing it. I’ve been pushing myself harder than those 10 minutes (because I like to always aim high) but I’m not beating myself up if I don’t reach that goal. The point is, I’m doing it, and it feels good. When I’m exercising I am not thinking about work or laundry or my relationship, I’m thinking about working out. It’s as beneficial for my mind as it is for my body.
Being social when you’re depressed is terrible. As I said a million times, I don’t even get out of bed some days. So you can imagine how much energy it would take to get out of bed, shower, find clean clothes and then go somewhere and interact with people all the while acting like you’re fine. I already do that at work five days a week, by the time my “me time” comes around I don’t want to deal with anyone. I explained this to my therapist who assured me that it’s a normal reaction to depression, and as long as I’m still going to work and semi-functional there is no reason to push myself into going out and being with friends or co-workers. So I haven’t. I don’t answer my phone. I’ve turned off my Facebook (except to post my blog) I seldom answer emails because I don’t have the energy. I don’t want to explain why I’m upset or have to act happy for someone else when I’m honestly not.
I’ve withdrawn. Some people have not been able to understand why, others have let me know that they respect where I’m at, and are always there if I need them. Honestly, and I am not saying this in an unkind way, I didn’t know I had friends like that. Sure I have some great people in my life who are generally supportive, but going through tough times like these are when my real friends have shone through. No one has been pushy saying things like “you should go out, you should start dating again, and you should get back into a hobby”. They have been gentle and subtle. I received emails after I posted my depression blog. A couple I were along the lines of “I feel bad but I’m more writing so you fill me in on the juicy gossip of what happened to you”. Others though have truly filled me with hope. They wrote to simply tell me they were thinking of me and loved me and if I needed something they were there for me. They didn’t suggest I do something to get over things faster, they offered their support. I had a friend send me flowers to say she loved me and was thinking of me, another sent me a book that she read when she was going through a difficult time. She was careful to point out that she wasn’t trying to compare bad situations or offering something to make it all better; rather it was “hey, this really helped me and maybe it could help you, and I care enough about you to let you know that”. I had someone else show up at my house, buy me dinner and junk food and watch a movie with me. I’ve gotten support I didn’t know I needed.
Depression makes you feel so lonely. Going through this depression in part because of a breakup was even lonelier. My ex-bf had turned into my best friend. He was the one I shared my good and bad with, the stupid inside jokes. He was the one that hugged me tightest and soothed me. After the breakup I figured I’d lost all that. Turns out I just needed to look other places.
I still miss the ex-bf terribly. I still wish he’d show up at my door with one of those big hugs. Slowly though, I’m realizing that if that never happens (notice I said “if”… remember denial) I truly will be ok. I have enough respect for myself (though it seems buried under mountains of self-rejection sometimes) and the support of amazing friends and family to see that eventually, be it a month or 6 months or a year from now, I’ll be ok.
I know I’m far from being out of my depression hole, but I am seeing bit of myself coming back. I know it will take a lot of time and I’ll probably have setbacks, but the point is I can now see there is an eventually light to this darkness. In some cases it’s come from myself, I’m lighting little candles here and there and in other cases it’s come from my friends, shining their flashlights down on me saying, “we’re still here for you”. Thank you friends and family who continue to support me though this. For anyone going through something similar, or not similar but feeling the same way, please know that it does get better. Please know that there are people in your life that care about you and want to see you happy. Try not to be too hard on yourself, remember that there is no “normal” in life and how you choose to deal with yours should be respected.
If you know someone who may be going through a depression, keep them in your mind and let them know you are thinking of them, that you care. Sometimes in situations like this, your kind words can be the one flashlight letting them know there is light.