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When I first considered writing this post, I hesitated for a bit. Would anyone really be interested in this topic? I mean, it’s not in my normal wheelhouse of creativity, productivity, or worship.
But then I remembered that a lot of people wrestle with depression, and perhaps I could help someone by sharing my own struggles.
I have been dealing with depression since my late 20’s. I’m now 42, so this has been an ongoing battle with a demon that will be lurking in the shadows until I die.
A couple of months ago I went through a major wave of depression that lasted for a couple of weeks. In this post, I want to share what happened and what I learned.
If you are struggling with depression, I hope you will come away knowing that you are not alone in your struggle. But my main goal is to urge you to do whatever is needed to get healthy.
It should go without saying that I’m not a medical doctor, nor am I qualified to diagnose or recommend treatment for depression or any other condition.
What depression feels like to me
I don’t claim to know everyone’s experience with depression, so I can only tell you about my own journey.
Depression does not feel like sadness to me. Those who haven’t dealt with depression themselves often think that it’s just an intense or prolonged feeling of sadness or having “the blues.” But that’s not the case, at least for me.
I would describe depression as a fog. It’s not a feeling of sadness or being “down.” Rather, it’s feeling like you can’t think straight, your life is going in slow motion, and you just want to sit and stare at the wall. It’s having your emotions deadened to the point where you don’t feel much at all.
Sometimes you hear about people struggling with depression who can’t even get out of bed. This doesn’t make sense to many people, but it does to me. Depression, if left unchecked, sucks away your motivation to live. At its worst, everyday life becomes such a burden that even simple things like getting dressed or brushing your teeth take all the emotional energy you can muster.
I have never seriously considered taking my own life, but I’ve been in very dark places in my own mind enough times to understand why some people choose that path.
I’m not saying it’s a good choice or even the right choice. I’m just saying that I understand how people emotionally come to a place where they feel it’s the only option.
A recurring dream
Throughout my whole adult life—and this is a true story—I’ve had this recurring dream. I’ve had it at least a couple of dozen times. In the dream, I’m running somewhere, but there is a shadowy, unseen force holding me back. It takes all the effort I can muster just to move a short distance.
I don’t know enough about human psychology to understand what the dream means, or why I keep having it. But I do feel that it’s a metaphor for my life in general. It seems to take an extraordinary amount of effort for me just to make a little bit of progress.
One thing I do know: I’ve alway felt like I am my own worst enemy. I overanalyze everything, tend to be a perfectionist, and find it hard to focus on one project because I’m constantly distracted.
It’s never occurred to me until just now, but maybe the shadowy, unseen force in my dream is me. Maybe I’m in a room full of mirrors.
Back to the main story: In this recent bout of depression, I was dealing with a lot of anxiety. I was experiencing some heart palpitations, had a lot of acid reflux, and felt generally checked out of life.
Depression and anxiety have always been bedfellows in my experience. When I feel anxious or stressed, my depression seems to get worse, and it manifests itself in physical as well as emotional symptoms.
In the rest of this post, I’ll explain three reasons for the flareup, and what I did to address it.
As I think back on this experience, there were three things that contributed to this recent flareup.
First, I was working too much. I don’t mean my college job. I also have several freelance clients, and I post twice a week here on my blog, in addition to having a podcast and a newsletter.
It’s all work that I love … but it’s still work. When I thought about my schedule, I realized that I hadn’t taken a full day off in at least a month.
Yes, I know that’s stupid and careless. But when you’re trying to make progress toward your goals, it’s easy to get blinded by momentum and activity. I was emotionally and mentally fried, which is a basically an open door for depression.
Second, there was a stressful situation in my side business that was causing a huge amount of anxiety. It wasn’t so much that the situation itself was a big deal—but I had made it a big deal in my mind.
And third, I wasn’t doing anything to renew myself. I had been pushing myself so hard that I hadn’t read anything fun. I also had barely watched any movies, which are my go-to source for inspiration. As Stephen Covey would say, I wasn’t sharpening the saw.
These three reasons were the major factors in my recent bout of depression.
How I got through it
As soon as I felt myself succumbing to depression, I knew I had to take action. This meant getting away from the computer.
Most of my work, whether for college, writing, or freelance work, involves computer work (like right now, as I’m writing this post). But you have to get away from technology sometimes and remember that there is a real world out there.
One afternoon, in the middle of this crisis, I took my son geocaching. That was a breath of fresh air. I also bought a novel (a print book—remember those?) I’d been wanting to read for a while, and I made some time to actually start reading it.
Another important step was talking to my wife about what was going on. She knows me better than I know myself, and she could see I was under a lot of stress. (She also knows that most of my stress is self-imposed, thanks to my analytical and melancholy personality.)
Just having a sympathetic, understanding person who will listen to you is a huge part of dealing with anxiety and depression.
Another key part of getting through this crisis was setting better work boundaries, which I hadn’t been doing as much as I needed. The problem with being a writer and freelancer is that you can do work anytime. That is both a blessing and a curse.
I would often find myself checking email as soon as I wake up, about a million times during the day, and right before going to bed. I have tried curb this habit by not getting on social media, and not doing email, after 9:00 p.m. I haven’t been totally successful, but it’s an ongoing effort.
By all accounts, I live a pretty charmed life. My family and I are all healthy, I have a steady job, and I’ve had some minor successes with my business this year. So I don’t want you to get the impression that life is horrible. Life is great most of the time.
However, this recent episode of depression did throw me for quite a loop. I’m on the other side of it now, and am thankful to say that these actions have helped a great deal.
The biggest lie we tell ourselves
When it comes to depression, the biggest lie we tell ourselves is that we should be able to handle it alone. “I should be stronger,” we whisper to ourselves. “Why am I so weak?”
When you’re in the midst of the struggle, you don’t realize that there is no possible way to be strong. Remember the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy and her friends were running through the poppy fields, trying to reach Emerald City? The Wicked Witch put a spell on them and they all fell asleep.
Finally, Glinda (the good witch) made it snow and they all woke up. The lesson? You can’t do it alone. It’s not only OK to ask for help … it’s necessary.
If you struggle with depression, the most important thing I can say is that you can’t do it alone. Reach out to a trusted friend, contact a professional counselor, or see a doctor.
I hope this post encourages you to take action, get healthy, and ask for help when you need. Your life is too valuable, and your creative work too important, to let it wither at the hands of depression.
What are some attitudes, practices, or habits that have helped you cope with depression?