Some advice from a survivor
I don’t write about this kind of stuff very often. Even though I wrote a piece recently about the #1 thing people don't mention about depression, I typically prefer to stay on the lighter, more positive aspects of life. And while I don’t have thousands upon thousands of readers (I appreciate all of you), I do still feel responsible for the impact my writing can have on the lives of others.
So, I thought it was about time I wrote about my experiences dealing with depression and how I learned to manage the symptoms. I do so in the hope it can help those who are struggling or know someone who does. Ultimately, I consider myself recovered these days, and so the advice I give is from a survivor’s perspective.
However, I want to make it clear that I am in no way shape or form, a medical professional. The advice I give is what worked for me when I hit rock bottom, but it might not be as useful for you or whoever you have in mind while reading.
The Reincarnation of Fun
I was a little kid, about 9 or 10 years old when I got my first taste of depression, though I didn’t know what it was at the time. My memory fails me often when I try to think about this time of my life — it’s almost like it didn’t happen. But I do know I cried a lot.
Losing the motivation to have fun, and being generally in a low mood most of the time is a bit weird as a kid/tween. But it was a reoccurring symptom of the depression that gripped me throughout my teenage years and into my early twenties.
When I was 18, my doctor referred me to a charity called Bernardo’s. They lumped me in with other kids/young adults who struggled with their mental health and together we all just went on days out like bowling, walking in nature, cinema, or indoor stuff like painting and crafting. It was a lot of fun. I firmly believe being a part of this group, and being held accountable to show up, helped drag me out of my moods and boosted my motivation.
As an adult, I always make a point of not reneging on my family or friends unless it’s necessary. While it might seem daunting when thinking about it (that’s the depression talking), surrounding yourself with people who love you is remarkable medicine.
Realising You Are Not a Lost Cause
The insidious thing about depression is that it often becomes a downward spiral; feeling depressed, thinking you’re a burden on others, guilt, more depression. Some manage to climb out of this sooner than others; I almost lost my life several times to the cycle.
This symptom, for me, couldn’t be lifted by accepting help from others, because that only confirmed to me that I was burdensome (remember, depression talking.)
I realize now, what helped me the most to manage the feeling of burden or guilt, was contributing my time to helping others. For me, I spent my weekends volunteering at a charity bookstore that relied on me to show up when most people would be enjoying their weekends off.
I also spent time helping those who also struggled with mental health issues, mainly the other kids in the group I previously mentioned. But I also became an ‘accountability buddy’ of sorts for other people online, which lead me to some of my most impactful relationships to date.
For you, that could mean helping out at an animal shelter, a homelessness charity, or any cause close to your heart. By lending your hand to help others, you realize you are not a lost cause, and your life can have a positive impact on the world around you.
It’s More Than Just Mind Over Matter
I think people who have never experienced depression often don’t realize that one does not simply think their way out of it (yes, I used the meme phrase). It’s almost absurd the number of times people said to me something along the lines of:
“Oh stop worrying, it’s just mind over matter. If you think positively things will improve.”
The thing about that phrase is that it’s not wrong; I use it now all the time for myself whenever I feel a particular mood coming on. I’m also a believer in Karma and, to an extent, the Law of Attraction. In a simplistic sense, depression is a physical, chemical imbalance of the brain, and there’s even more to it than that.
People who are depressed can’t just will their way out of it in moderate to severe cases like mine was. So for me, managing the symptoms was also about physical and medical intervention.
At my lowest point, my doctor prescribed medication to help. At first, I was reluctant due to the stigma attached to ‘getting meds’. But I later realized how ridiculous that was, considering people take medication for all sorts of things they can’t help on their own.
When I was well enough to come off the medication, I made sure to keep a healthy lifestyle — I became involved in some sports like martial arts and went for long walks often, as well as eating more natural food instead of processed garbage. I think these things are what keeps depression at bay in my life now.
Having gone through my mental health struggles in life, and seeing loved ones around me also suffer, I’ve found there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution. However, what does seem to be universal is the layered approach I’ve shown here.
It’s likely if I hadn’t experienced any one of the methods above, my road to recovery would have either been even longer or might have veered off course entirely, and I wouldn’t be writing this today.
Therefore, managing mental illnesses like depression, for me, is about creating a network of potential solutions all working their way towards the ultimate goal of recovery. Coming up with varying strategies and emphasizing certain parts of your system is where you tailor your approach to wellness.