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7 Steps To Defeating Depression (And Getting Your Life Back)
Understanding the Enemy
"A sense of being stuck in black tar"
These are common words that come up when people like you and I try to describe what depression feels like. One thing we can all agree on: it steals any and all peace and happiness. In their place it leaves us barely clinging to life. In our minds it really is hopeless. There isn't any way out.
With those types of lies swirling around in our heads, it isn't any wonder why depression is the #1 disability in the world, according to the World Health Organization. In America alone, 30,000 people will commit suicide this year (www.save.org).
Chances are you already know if you suffer from depression. But in case you're wondering if it's that or something else, or if you're just sort of crazy (you're not), here is a list of common indicators.
- I feel sad
- I cry a lot
- Feel 'empty'
- Lack of confidence
- I don't like myself
- Feel scared but not sure why
- Feel mad a lot
- Feel guilty
- Can't concentrate
- Have a hard time remembering things
- Feel tired all the time and sleep too much or can't sleep at all
- Can't have fun
- Feel helpless
- Feel restless
- My head feels like its spinning
- I feel self-conscious
- I feel ugly
- Don't feel like talking anymore
- My life seems pointless
- I drink and/or use drugs regularly
- I don't care how I look
- I feel different than everybody else
- I can't eat or I want to eat all the time
- I have constant physical ailments (aches, stomach issues, nausea, etc.)
- I feel clumsy, accident-prone
- Life doesn't feel worth living
If you see yourself in most of the above, you are not alone and you are not crazy. You are suffering from depression. Once you understand that, you can begin to do something about it.
Why Am I Depressed?
In order to win a battle, you first have to understand your enemy. Depression, like any disorder can be triggered by certain chemicals or situations. Ask yourself the following.
- Is there a history of depression in my family of origin? If so, were those people ever treated? Was there an improvement once they were?
- Do you spike your energy levels with high doses of caffeine (coffee, soda or energy drinks)?
- Are you a carb or sugar junky (enriched flour products and sweets)?
- Who or what are you angry at? Unresolved anger often manifests as depression
- Do you drink or use recreational drugs? Mood swings will feel like depression
- Are you getting regular exercise? Lack of it can cause sluggishness and depression
- For women, does depression come on at regular times of the month?
- Are there ongoing conditions such as thyroid that must be monitored for optimum health?
Once you start eliminating the variables, you can begin to see what actually is causing your depression.
Knowing how physically healthy you are is a big part of the puzzle. Anemia, fatigue, illness, poor diet, being over weight or constipated will definitely bring on feelings of depression
Solving the mystery of why you are suffering with the misery of depression requires honesty on your part.
If you can point to any or a group of the above, you can approach your condition with thoughtfulness. What's more important - the rush of a monster drink on a groggy Monday morning, or your overall mental well-being? As with everything else in life, we often have to give something up to get something much better.
However, if no one reason sticks out and it seems like you are just cursed, you still have the power to overcome depression just as you do any obstacle in life. You do not have to remain a miserable victim.
7 Ways to Overcome Depression
As one who has walked down the same path as you, I have found these beliefs to be the backbone of my own journey in living with the disease of depression without having it run my life. I share them with you in the hopes that you will receive them with an open mind instead of cynicism which is all too often of the dark outcomes of depression itself.
- Accept that you have a treatable disease. If you have been diagnosed with depression this is the first step to learning how to live with it. It's not a mood swing. You can't 'snap out of it' like your loved ones wish. It's real. But it is not a death sentence.
- Commit to working on your issues. I found out the hard way that when we let unresolved hurts from the past or even current situations fester, they only add fuel to the consuming fire of depression and anxiety. Whatever it is that has shut you down, make a decision to seek help and work through it no matter how long it takes, how painful it is. Don't let time or money stop you. There is nothing more important in your life at this moment than your own healing. The only way to do that is to do the work. If cash is an issue, almost all therapists work on a sliding scale. Most churches have trained volunteer counselors who would be happy to help you, even if you are not a member of their congregation. Group therapy is also helpful. It is a comfort to be able to share with others who get what you're going through. Please make this a priority.
- Be open to including medication as part of your healing. Taking a pill is not going to fix your problem if that's all you are willing to do to help yourself. It's like putting a little bandage on a broken leg. But, including antidepressants as part of a comprehensive approach to overcoming depression can be a very helpful decision. Be aware, however that it often takes several attempts before you find the right drug or combination of drugs that work for you. And there will probably be side affects in the beginning. Keep your long-term goal in mind when choosing this option and remember to ask yourself: 'What's worse - these annoying but temporary side affects, or the prospect of living the rest of my life in the pit of depression?' There are many choices available today that can definitely stop the bleeding so that you can finally work on the real problems.
- Get moving. One of the most common refuges that depressed people seek out is isolation. The temptation to avoid contact with the world in order to dodge more pain is irresistible at times. But the outcome of being alone too much is that we get stuck in our heads where nothing healthy is going on. It may not seem possible right now, but once you begin working on changing how you live with depression, it's vitally important that you develop the new discipline of reaching out. Try a new hobby and find people with similar interests. Take a class. Join a book club...and do more than read, go to the group! If even this sounds overwhelming, experiment with just being in a crowd and listening to a talk, go to church and sit in the back. Take small steps to get out of your head and into life. It's good for the soul.
- Make your whole self a priority. It is nearly impossible for the mind to function in a balanced way when the body is totally out of balance. In order to have the strength you will need to be a conqueror of depression, anxiety or addiction, you must make your entire being as healthy as possible. This means cleaning up your act. Look over the list in Part 2 of this article. What unhealthy habits do you have that need undoing? Think of yourself as a warrior and depression is the enemy. Make a decision to do whatever it takes to get as strong as you possibly can in order to win your war. Yes, this will be hard. But again, what's worse, giving up gallons of ice cream and vodka or living in mental purgatory for the rest of your life? Make this an attainable goal by starting small. Get a check up and make sure all you're dealing with are bad habits. If you are over weight and sedentary, join a gym or other health-oriented organization with like-minded people. Struggling with addiction? Depression and addiction go hand in hand, so you're not alone. AA and similar organizations (Adult Children of Alcoholics, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.) provide encouragement, accountability and fellowship. You've got to deal with your problem on all fronts to be truly victorious.
- Be mindful. Much has been said about mindfulness lately, but don't let that make you think it's just another passing fad. Being mindful is a crucial tool in your journey into peace. To be mindful is just another way of saying to observe yourself without being critical. Easier said than done since an unhappy person tends to view oneself from a very negative perspective. There's no mystery to how to do this. Simply begin noticing what you choose to do, say and think about. Don't kick yourself over these choices, just be aware. You have the ability to say, "My doing that isn't contributing to my well being. I'm going to change it." At first you will fail. But after many gentle attempts, you will begin to make different decisions because the outcome is more positive. Think of yourself as a little child who is learning how to function in the world. Be gentle and patient. Over time you will look back and realize your old habits aren't even tempting anymore.
- Practice forgiveness. The conventional thought is as that we must forgive those who hurt us in order to ever attain happiness. I disagree. If you cannot forgive yourself (for poor choices, actions, or just for being a flawed person who suffers from depression) then you can't possibly believe that you did not deserve the pain others hoisted upon you. You are convinced that you're a lousy loser and somehow deserved what you got. Lies. Your first priority is to learn how to forgive yourself. Developing a new way of seeing who you are and who you want to be is key to any positive change. Once you believe you are worthy (and always have been) of goodness in life, then you can begin the work of forgiving others.
In my book, I include a series of thoughts or "Vital Signs". One of them says: "Feeling sorrow or anger for what happened is not to be confused with forgiving or not forgiving. Sorrow is an emotion - a noun. Forgiveness is an action - a verb. A life of peace or one of constant angst hangs in the balance of that difference."
The gentle warrior
One of the most dangerous pitfalls of depression is that it steals our ability to have hope. Instead, we are consumed with mind-numbing sadness, guilt, anger, fear and many other debilitating emotions. For anyone to be able to function well enough to commit to the above seven goals in spite of all the crippling thoughts and feelings that make up depression takes strength...lots of it.
If it were easy, everyone would be able to do it and depression would no longer be the #1 disease in the world. But it's hard. So hard that most people who suffer this way don't even try, or if they do, can't muster the strength to stick with it. Understandable and tragic.
You are the only one who can decide if you can maintain the strength to gradually overcome the soul-sucking disease of depression. Can you stick to your decision to keep moving forward no matter how 'hopeless' it feels right now? Can you be gentle with yourself, understanding that what you are doing is exceptionally hard but not impossible? Can you imagine a time when you can achieve peace in your mind and body and look forward to each day?
Do you believe you are worth it?
To answer 'yes' to these hard questions requires real strength. You have that strength within you, even though depression's lies want you to believe you're helpless. When you begin to treat yourself with compassion (not to be confused with self-pity) and make a decision each day to do something that assists in your healing, you are slowly building a whole new frame work to live by.
Depression can be overcome. Be relentless in your fight. Be a gentle warrior.
Jeanette Menter is the author of, "You're Not Crazy-You're Codependent" which includes a Guide to Recovery Through Mindfulness. It is available at www.amazon.com.