This winter, however, has felt frigid in both my heart and community.
The temperature, much like my moods, has been up and down leaving my body scrambling to adjust and often sick, achy, and utterly exhausted.
I’ve been in a seething, foul, and agitated state for what seems like weeks. I don’t know for how long though because my memory seems to be under attack, as well.
I’m having trouble focusing, remembering, and even feeling like I am in my own body. I feel stuck in a cavern of darkness.
What if you’re like me and you’re feeling consumed by darkness, attacked by the Noonday Demon, or like a regular in your own personal hell.
What do you do?
I’m going to share a few things with you that have been helpful and a few that have been not so helpful.
I understand they are simple, but my mind already feels overwhelmed by feeling as if each thought has to move through a thick sludge or find its way through a black fog, so simple is best.
Bad Ways of Coping with Depression
Excessive Drinking And/Or Substance Abuse
In January, I drank more than I had in months. Anyone who knows me knows that drinking has long been my drug of choice. I do not practice a full sobriety program, but I consider myself a person who is recovering from someone he used to be. There was a season in my life where I drank like a fish (a minimum of 18 beers a night or at least 1 bottle of liquor). It was how I escaped this world and remained trapped in another.
I had about 2 weeks in January where I drank at least 2-3 glasses of whiskey a night. Again, it may not seem like much, to some, but to me, it’s a huge red flag and something to pay attention to. It was using my old way of trying to escape from stress and avoid my own personal darkness.
Depression should not be avoided but felt and felt deeply.
It hurts like hell but trying to avoid it or fighting against it only makes the feelings worse.
Avoiding People and Socialization
I’ve isolated myself from others because being around most people has felt exhausting.
I struggle to hide my agitation with their small talk, look at them with condescending eyes that beg for them to just shut up, and have zero desire to spend any time with them.
By nature, I am a person who is good with people and needs a great amount of alone time to recover from personal interactions, but I am not like this usually(agitated, condescending, etc). This is my depression and it makes me a jerk to be around.
Oddly enough, when I connect with the right people, the people who look deeply into my eyes and say, “me, too” these are the people that help pull me out of the pit, so to speak, but I have avoided them as well.
I haven’t blogged in over 3 weeks after all of you helped my last post become my most shared and read to date! Thank you so much! Together, we can offer hope to a world that desperately needs to know that they are not alone, however, I can’t offer that hope if I don’t write it down. To be honest, every time I would start to write, it’s as if weight was put on my brain and nothing would come out. Each and every keystroke felt heavy and wrong so I would just stop.
Allowing Negative Self-Talk to Reign Free
I sent a student an email apologizing for forgetting something and wrote “stupid Dan” and she very bluntly told me in our next class, “Dan, I don’t ever want you to call yourself stupid again. We all forget things.” I realized then that my mindset was beginning to not only affect me. I’ve also been told more than I care to hear the last several weeks, “You are so hard on yourself.” Yes, yes I am, and sadly, a lot of is coming from a dark place-my depression.
Entertaining Suicidal Thoughts
No plan, no action, only ideation but I do realize that a few times, my thinking has gone directly to “I should just kill myself.” It’s been a long time since these types of thoughts have been around but I know enough about myself to know when to go to the hospital so there is ZERO chance I will ever try again, but just the presence of these thoughts is enough for me to know that something isn’t quite right and I definitely don’t need to entertain them.
Finding a Light in the Darkness
These are the bad ways I’ve been coping with this recent depressive episode. I presented them to you first to paint a picture because the reality is, to me, there is always light (or hope) in the darkness.
We all have the power to choose to seek and embrace healing, wholeness, and wellness in spite of the darkness we may feel and experience.
I never want to leave you with a picture of darkness without also offering a glimmer of hope-a light, if you will.
I hope these good coping skills encourage or inspire you in your own journey with depression.
Good Ways of Coping with Depression
Choose a Mantra (Or More Than One) to Focus On
Lately, my mantras have been simple,”I am stronger than I realize” and “Lord, help me help myself.” I’ve also caught myself breathing parts of Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous Serenity Prayer, namely the part that states “taking this world as it is, not as I would have it..” because I tend to fall apart when the world around me doesn’t seem manageable or within control. All of these have helped me keep on keeping on and have reminded me to “accept the things I cannot change”.
Listen to Those Who Love You (And Ignore the Naysayers)
Andrew Solomon said it best in his book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression when he wrote:
“Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don’t believe it.”
Admittedly, your depression WILL LIE TO YOU, but it doesn’t mean its words have to be taken seriously. Listen to those who love you. Conversely, ignore the people who bring your further down, drain you, gaslight you, or give you sage advice such as “Oh everyone gets sad, get the hell over it!”
Ignore the stupid.
I’ve been fortunate to make a huge amount of friends who promote their mental illness journeys on Instagram.
We connect. We chat. We love on each other.
Remember, it really is healing to know that you’re not alone.
Practice Good Hygiene
If you’re anything like me when darkness falls, you start to realize that depression has a dirty little secret: it takes all of your desire away to groom yourself, bathe regularly, and care about your appearance.
I cannot begin to tell you how many people I’ve spoken with tell me, “I showered today. It’s been four days.” or, like your fearless blogger, “It’s been a week since I’ve showered.”
That used to be me. Luckily, I realized that a shower not only makes me cleaner and look healthier but there is also something about envisioning washing the cares, problems, and worries of today off of you and being clean again.
To be honest, it reminds me of the sacrament of baptism, washing away the dirt and coming back clean.
The most I’ll go without bathing now is 2 days, it used to be a week. Progress is progress.
Do your best and try to keep bathing and hygiene a priority because you will be amazed at how much better something as little as brushing your teeth, your hair, bathing, etc. can do for not only your body and mind but the soul, as well.
Try to Exercise
When I exercise, I shoot for insanely low goals.
I aim for 10-20 minutes most days of the week and usually, most of the time, go beyond that.
At the minimum, I am able to walk. Even when I am in my darkest place, I can and walk slowly.
It really does help.
Choose something that is so ridiculously easy that you cannot help but succeed. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel and not only will your body thank you, but your mind as well.
You’ve accomplished something when everything in you screamed: “You can’t do this!”
Don’t Be Afraid to Reach out to Your Doctor
Medicine helps and has made a difference but like anything, it has its limitations.
Our bodies are constantly changing and we may need an adjustment.
Be open with your doctor and if you think you can’t wait until your next appointment, call a local crisis hotline and talk with someone or seek help in therapy.
You could also keep a mood/symptom journal which is very beneficial to your doctor and yourself. You can begin to notice patterns and this awareness may help you plan for and avoid future episodes.
Remember, you’re the one in control, not your illness.
We will stumble and we will fall but we also have the power to keep getting back up!
A Final Word: Connect with Others
I have battled, lived with, been surrounded by, etc. depression most of my life.
For as long as I can remember, with the exception of some drug-induced moments, I have been accompanied by a darkness.
I’ve learned a lot about this over the years and what has helped me most, more than any pill, any therapy, any technique (which all have their place) is the connection with people who truly love and care about me and connecting with others who live with this, as well.
In the future, I’ll be doing some interview with people I’ve met on Instagram from all over the world who are doing amazing things while living with mental illness.
Because in the family I grew up in, it was almost a badge of honor to talk about how sick you were, well, I don’t accept that and I want to use this platform to encourage others to be more than their illness, their shortcomings, their failures, their darkness, their disease, etc.
You are not your illness.
You are not less than because you may have some limitations.
You are capable, valuable, and worthy of the same love and respect as anyone.
And finally, dear reader, one more time so you don’t forget:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
From the darkness to the light,
PS: Share share share! Let others know that we are here and they are not alone!
Stigma ends when we begin to own who we are, what we fight, and collectively choose to not let our diagnosis dictate our lives and worth!