This is a topic that I have dreaded because it is way too close to home. The reason I am willing to talk about this is because I know that I am not the only one dealing with this issue, and I want to be able to offer up my coping mechanisms in the hopes that it may help someone else.
- Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
- Pessimism and hopelessness
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in things once pleasurable
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Aches, pains, headaches, or cramps that won't go away
- Digestive problems that don't get better, even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts (webmd.com)
If you haven’t figured it out by now, this week we are talking about depression. We’ve all heard the facts about how widespread depression has become, specifically in America. I’m also willing to bet that, knowing or unbeknownst to you, each person reading this either has/had depression or is close to someone who has. Depression is experienced for a variety of reasons at varying levels of severity. What scares me about depression is that it’s unpredictable. I can be having the best week of my life and still feel an empty sort of helplessness about my own existence.
I have been dealing with my depression for several years now. Specifically, I suffer from seasonal affect disorder. Because I have chosen to live in a place where six months out of the year are cold and dark, I have affects (before, after and during) of depression affecting me for the majority of the year. This can leave me feeling an overwhelming sense of dread that is almost impossible to shake. Short of quitting my job and staying in bed all day, I have had to find many ways of coping with these feelings.
My most important piece of advice for dealing with depression is to learn to separate yourself from the illness. It is incredibly easy to spiral during instances of extreme depression. The emotions can overtake a person and leave him feeling terrible about himself. Being able to consciously acknowledge that you might feel terrible and damaged but you aren’t actually terrible and damaged is a really important skill to learn. If you can see that you are feeling the way that you are because of a chemical imbalance in your brain and not because you are inherently bad or a failure, it makes it a little easier to keep moving forward.
Beyond that, you need to identify things that make you feel happy, productive and positive, and pursue those things. This might be physical activity, a hobby, or even a pet. Surrounding yourself with things that make you truly happy will not solve your depression, but it will serve as reminders and evidence of good things in your life.
Lastly, don’t keep your feelings to yourself. Sharing your feelings with a friend or loved one is great, but if you are able to see a therapist for help, you might see a lot more progress. Whoever that person is, it is so important to tell other people about what you are experiencing. During episodes of severe depression, this person can keep you grounded in reality and prevent you from spiraling thoughts that could lead to negative actions. Whether it be a physical human or an online chat/support group, you need someone else to share these experiences with you.
If you or a loved one are dealing with depression, please take it seriously. Don’t write your teenager off as “angsty” before considering the adverse effects of untreated depression. This is an illness that affects more people than you would think. Ask you children and loved ones if they are experiencing depression and support them if they believe that they are.
For those of you that are facing depression, please know that you are loved. You are a valuable member of society and your life matters. I urge you to seek help and identify coping mechanisms to deal with your depression in a healthy way. I know there are days that it feels absolutely impossible to get out of bed, but please keep waking up each morning and moving forward. The world would be less bright without you in it. You are valued and important and capable of achieving greatness. If you are feeling helpless, please reach out for help. Here is a list of resources that can and will help in these moments. Be safe, stay strong. You are not alone.
National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-NAMI (1-800-950-6264)
Anxiety and Depression Association of America 1-240-485-1001
National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-82557