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A Long Walk in the Dark: Depression and How to Cope to Work Your Way Out
It doesn't have to be drugs -- learn new ways to manage your depression
Looking for some step-by-step choices for managing depression? Try these; they may just transform your life.
When your mind turns against you...
Depression is possibly the least understood disease experienced by any human. Yes, I said disease. Many people think depression is feeling sad or down for a period of time, but those of us who actually have to live its worst side effects know that it is something that can completely take over your mood and your normal functions. I am not a professional, so I can not explain these things on a professional level except as far as they were explained to me. I can tell you what I have learned through my personal experience, and through the many professionals who have tried to help me live a "normal" productive life.
At the age of 15 years old I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Up until this point, I'd had a number of labels handed to me by various doctors and semi-professionals, namely ADHD and "strong-willed child." At some point along the way my behavior took a very serious turn for the worse, and all those labels went down the drain. For three years, my mother tried to employ conventional wisdom and coping skills to deal with the decline in my behavior, until an inappropriate medication threw me off the edge and I went into inpatient care just before my 16th birthday. What ensued was a grueling three-year climb out of a senseless black pit of depression and an endless parade of medication and therapists.
Now, I've never been a person to happily accept being dependent on anything, whether it be prescription drugs or eyeglasses. I made it clear early on that my personal ideal would be to find a way to live that "normal" life drug-free. Be warned that this approach is not for everyone, as it does require a lot of self-accountability and it is a constant struggle to pull yourself out of depression and other undesirable behavior through coping skills. It is rewarding for people like me who wish to avoid drugs if it is at all humanly possible, but should always be entered into with the close cooperation of your therapist. These coping skills are useful whether you have to be on medication or not, and apply to anything from mild, temporary depression to the serious, debilitating and incurable (note: not untreatable) illness.
Before I list some of these coping skills, I'd like to give a quick recap of exactly what depression is. This is mostly for the benefit of those who have not experienced it, as those who have already know and can identify with what I have to say. I am well aware that many people out there -- and you might be one of them -- are researching this subject in order to help a depressed loved one, and may not really know what's going on. As I'm sure most people know by now, as science and medicine advance to greater understanding of this particular problem, depression isn't about "having a bad day" or "feeling blue." The melancholy one feels is just one small part of the whole experience -- you may have seen the "Depression Hurts" commercials on TV, and it is so true.
Depression Side Effects
Recall that I am speaking from the experience of a major depressive disorder, but even sufferers of mild depression have some or all of these "side effects" (that is, everything other than the melancholy and feelings of hopelessness that seems to be the trademark symptom of depression) in varying degrees.
Headaches. I can recall so many days that the onset of serious migraines have put a cap on my plans, hurting badly enough I couldn't see straight and wanted to vomit.
Sleeplessness. Even after so much therapy and striving to cope, most of the time I still can't sleep more than three or four hours a night, and that interrupted constantly. For those who can get to sleep and stay that way it can be the other extreme, a person gets so drug out by all the other nasty effects that they simply can't muster the motivation to get out of bed in the mornings and keep right on sleeping.
Aches. Possibly the worst effect I've ever experienced, and the one most overlooked by professionals and informative books, is an indescribable aching in the bones. Anyone who has experienced it can relate to the maddening, constant ache that precludes sleep, exercise, and so many daily activities because every joint feels inflamed and painful (though there is no visible swelling or other indicators of physical pain).
Sounds like quite a drag, huh? The good news is that most of these effects can be lessened or eliminated (temporarily or permanently, depending on the type and cause of your depression) by using some simple coping techniques. Let me reiterate that under no circumstances should you rely only on these without consulting a professional, and that your best bet for recovery lies in finding the proper help and support to get through it.
Depression Coping Skills
Refocus. My most recent therapist reminds me constantly that one huge factor in depression is a kind of circular thinking that focuses on all the negative feelings and what caused them, which will make the bad feelings even worse. This makes it seem impossible to climb out of the hole you're in. To break this vicious cycle, focus on something else; it can be a puzzle, handicraft, TV, a call to a friend -- anything that will catch your attention and hold it away from the negative thoughts.
Take time for leisure. This isn't always easy, as average daily schedules are getting more and more hectic. Rising prices and rising material demands require more and more work from the frazzled working public; however, leisure is necessary. It can be enjoying five minutes of reading before going to bed, putting the kids someplace age-appropriately safe for ten or fifteen minutes so you can have a cup of tea in peace, even weeding a garden or taking the dog for a walk. Anything that relaxes you is important, and a little bit of time every day must be allotted for this purpose, otherwise it's awfully hard to remember what you're working so hard for.
Exercise. You've heard it before, and now you hear it again -- exercise stimulates the body, increases endorphin levels, helps strengthen and loosen the muscles, and it's just plain fun. Go walk around the block, go for a bike ride, lift some weights, participate in your favorite sport, practice some yoga -- as Nike says, "just do it"! (You have permission to finish reading this hub first)
Spruce up your surroundings. There's nothing more depressing than a dark, cluttered house. Sunlight does amazing things for moods, and if you're not getting enough, it can contribute to all sorts of depression-related problems. For instance, there are times my mood is only elevated enough to sleep when the sun comes up. Sunlight isn't always possible, but light-friendly wall colors and bright daylight-simulation light bulbs can prove an effective substitute. Clutter in a house may not even seem like a problem to you -- until you start getting it cleaned up. The feeling of actually removing all that junk and seeing a house that is easy to walk through and do activities in can really go a long way.
Take care of yourself. Here we're talking about mainly a good diet and personal hygiene. So often, I don't even have the motivation to take a shower or eat for days on end, and those are the times when I just have to force myself through it. No matter how much I didn't feel like doing it, I've felt better afterward. You know the feeling at the end of a hot day where you just stink and itch and you just can't wait to hit the showers? Daily grime can often accumulate much more slowly, so you don't even realize how uncomfortable you are until you're clean. As for food, I never realize I'm hungry. I went through high school doing serious damage to my muscle mass and overall health simply from not feeling like eating, sometimes for three or four days in a row. Overeating can cause almost as many problems, and make you feel just as bad as not eating at all. Nutritious food in appropriate portions is essential. If you have problems sticking to a good eating schedule, perhaps it would be helpful to make out a specific menu and set alarms for the times you're supposed to eat.
Deal with problems. Is there something specific getting you down? Maybe you've had a falling-out with a loved one or don't feel satisfied with a relationship, and that is contributing to the depression? Deal with it! Approach them with a cool head and tell them what's going on. Don't expect them to take it well -- a lot of people don't -- but if you don't bring the problem to light, it's just going to fester and grow. A loved one might not be happy to hear you have a problem with him/her, but if they truly love you they'll eventually realize that they're glad you brought it up so it doesn't have to stand between you.
Set a schedule. This may not be helpful to everyone, but it's exceedingly helpful to me. Write out a schedule for what time to get up, when to eat, when to go to work, when to do housework (and a separate schedule detailing WHICH housework), when to take the kids to the park, and so on. Schedules help me by keeping me focused and allowing me to make decisions when I feel mentally able to, and be able to "follow the script" when I don't feel able. Your schedule can also include a list of alternative activities, an ongoing shopping list, anything that will help you maintain productivity through the bad times.
Find some support. It may be a significant other, close friends or caring family. These are the people who have at least been versed in what's going on with you and your ongoing internal struggle, who will be available day or night to offer their support. It can be going for that all-important walk with you, or just talking to you when life is feeling especially lonely. I have had reason to use my support group a LOT in the past, and am now privileged to also be able to be part of other people's support groups as someone they know understands at least a bit of what they're going through. I've tried to go without having any support before and it worked for a while, but eventually there is so much stress and hardship that could be alleviated with this essential tool.
There are a number of situation-specific coping skills as well, but too numerous to list here. These general skills (which I‘m sure I will add to as time goes on), if incorporated into habit, can go a long way to keeping your head above water and moving forward in life, regardless of what's going on inside. The important thing to remember is that doing nothing will only make things worse, until you start to question why you're even living. It's definitely worth it to put out the effort for your own health. Depression is a serious problem, but it doesn't have to just be a fact of life. No matter what degree you experience it, there are ways to fight it.
Thank you for reading this hub, I hope it has been helpful. Now, I would greatly appreciate a moment of your time. Please take a moment to post a comment answering the question, how has depression impacted your life, and what are the most effective coping skills you've found?
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A site dedicated to helping people get off anti-depressants safely
- Psychology Information Online
All sorts of information on what depression is and what's available to treat it
- Men Get Depression
Information on depression in men geared toward raising awareness of depression in a gender all-too-well-known for just "suffering through"