I once read a very interesting description of depression. It went something like: “I am depression. I am cold like the Arctic mist, I dampen your spirits and your soul. I fill your mind with gloom. When I appear, you are but a withered leaf under wet snow. But I can do much more. I can drive you away from your friends, your family and I can drive laughter into the darkness. I can steal your life and rob you of pleasure and ambition. I can overwhelm you with thoughts of hopelessness and make you helpless. Once you are in my web, I have you and will trap you with all my power”
Depression can affect anyone and it can hit at anytime and have many causes. Puberty can bring on depression as can social factors such as job loss, relationship breakdown and rapid change. There are many factors that correlate with depression:
- Depression tends to run in families.
- Depression is aggravated by a preoccupation with unrealistic expectations, worry, anxiety and feelings of failure.
- Disposition towards perfectionism, lack of assertiveness and withdrawal.
- Major life changes such as death of a loved one, moving or marriage or the birth of a child.
- Chemical and hormonal imbalances
- Traumatic experiences such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse and many more.
Depression has many faces and it is wrong to label a sufferer with a uniform tag. Though some symptoms are common in sufferers, behind the depressed mood is a complex, feeling, doing individual who will have some atypical symptoms from mild to severe. Even when this is highly disruptive and burdensome, it does not define who you are. Once you find out what kind of depression you are facing, you can be sure that depressive thinking, your emotional reaction and depressive behavior habits will usually cut across all categories. Working on the adage that once a problem is known, solutions can be found, these three pillars of depression can be addressed. However, anyone who has gone through the misery of depression will testify, knowing and solving are two very different things.
A Positive Change
Positive is a word that is difficult to comprehend when you are depressed. The world seems a dark, dangerous place and pessimism can cloud your judgment. You may lack the energy to do the very things that could bring about the changes needed to set you on the road to recovery. You may be putting off these changes because you may be afraid of what it could mean if they work. Your inner critic may well be advising you to do nothing..why bother? is the message. Around 25 years ago, I went through a period of moderately severe depression. It hit me like a fast train and I experienced a period of depressive thinking culminating in the inability to get out of bed for ten days. I could not sleep, eat, had difficulty concentrating and was immensely irritable and negative. Even psychologists are not exempt from the full force of depression. I knew deep down that it was important to deal with the issues and get my life back on track. I knew it was not going to be a quick fix but I was lucky enough to have the knowledge of the cognitive aspects of my depression, meaning the distinctive thought patterns that commonly associate themselves with depression. I realised these thoughts were a reflection and not a cause of my depression and I tried to adjust my thinking as they appeared. This was not an easy process and I was not always successful but making this special effort convinced me that I could shorten the length, if not the severity of my depression. Three thoughts helped me keep this process in focus :
1. Depression is time limited….just as you go in, you will come out.
2. Activity is a remedy, even when this activity is forced.
3. Depressive thoughts are a state of mind and not reality.
Additional to this, I found the following steps extremely useful in alleviating symptoms. I use some or all of these with clients today. They all apply in one degree or another to all forms of depression.
- Avoid depressive-thinking and fight the inner critic : this was perhaps the most helpful for me, battling the self-talk and fighting against the inner critic. Avoiding those mental traps and combating them takes time and effort but is worth it in the long run.
- Exercise and healthy eating: It is amazing how a walk in the fresh air lifts a mood and I did a lot of this while trying to stay mindful and in the present moment. Eating regularly is essential even if appetite is poor.
- Adequate rest and sleep : I tried not to beat myself up over interrupted sleep but focussed on trying to get back to sleep using relaxation techniques.
- Use spare time constructively : It is very easy to become a couch potato when you are depressed. Finding worthwhile activities during downtime is essential for restorative purposes.
- Maintain social contact : extremely difficult to even think about, let alone do. However, I forced myself to do it and it usually went well. I found that if I made a concerted effort not to complain, it encouraged other people to be more open.
- Conflict resolution : again difficult but essential otherwise things fester and get worse.
- Priority setting: the temptation is to go at it when energy is there but for me, this meant the next low-energy period was around the corner. Setting priorities and dealing with essentials during these periods meant I didn’t overtax myself.
- Plan small changes in routine: depression means routine is sometimes important but it can be boring. I decided to make one small change per day which brought on an action initiative. I decided to make that change at a set time of the day and force myself to do it. This meant procrastination was minimised. Even though these were normally low-impact activities, they had a huge effect on my morale.
- Write about it: I wrote a journal and tried to look at each day realistically. This helped me to keep a log of my feelings and how I had survived the low times.
- Keep going : I found that I had tremendous trust in some of these things and the effect they had on my depression. Just the creative force of finding new ways of alleviating symptoms help my mood.
I am not going to lie and tell you that this was an easy process. I had to push and force myself every day in order to achieve small steps. Some I found more difficult than others but I tried to have a greater goal in mind. My depression lasted about six months but was at its worse for three. These points saw me through.