Today I complete my discussion of depression and Depression. Last time, I went into depth about what it was like for me to live with, and through, Depression. Today I’m going to talk about what I did to get myself out of that place, and why I made those choices. I warn you in advance, this topic may be highly triggering to some. If you are worried it may trigger you, please consider leaving.
I would like to state that I am by no means an expert or a professional on this particular topic. I am speaking from personal experience and opinion. Please do not take my words as any kind of gospel – form your own opinions on these topics and take whatever steps you feel necessary to address them. On the topic of Depression especially, I strongly encourage anyone who is severely depressed or suicidal to talk to others and seek council if they are suffering to that extent.
So what did I do to get myself out of depression?
The short answer is: nothing. I had no plan at all. I did nothing special, and I made a lot of poor choices along my way out. I had my reasons, and I got out alright in the end – but I also acknowledge that I may have had a better, smoother, or faster recovery had I made different choices.
So what choices did I make? What options did I see that I did not pursue, and why did I decline to do so? I’ve had a couple of years to take stock of my choices, and analyze which ones did and did not help me. I’ve had time to think over what I could have done, and what I would recommend to someone else in my circumstances – or to someone who knows someone in such straits.
So here are the options as I see them.
Option 1: Therapy, with or without medication
The big elephant in the room, the first obvious choice, is therapy. Find a professional and talk to them about your problems. Consider medication if they suggest it.
These people are professionals trained to diagnose and treat mental health issues. They are doctors of the mind, and will be able to provide a level of experience and expertise that can be matched by few. And medication can help balance out or alleviate the emotional distress of Depression. For people who are suicidally depressed especially, the options of therapy and medication cannot be ignored.
But some people don’t feel comfortable pursuing this option. They may feel uncomfortable talking with a shrink. They may be opposed to taking medication. And this resistance can range from discomfort or avoidance of the topic to full-blown shouting matches. So how do you convince someone to see a therapist or take medication?
I have no clue – I was one of those who was staunchly against therapy, and even more opposed to medication. For me, I did not want the social stigma of therapy. I didn’t want to feel like I’d failed to take care of myself. I wanted friends to listen to my problems and help me – I didn’t want to pay some stranger to listen to me. I felt that taking medication would turn me into a different person, and that I wouldn’t be able to find my way back to myself. Additionally, I did not want a perceived “black mark” on my medical history. I was afraid that seeing a therapist would get me classified as “damaged.” And fear is (by nature) irrational, but my fears had a logical basis.
I live in the US, a country that spent the past few years debating changes about our healthcare system. One of the aspects of these changes was how “preexisting conditions” were treated – and that was important to me. I did not want to begin seeing a therapist, only to have the law change on me, and now my medical record contains information that I’d been treated for Depression. I was worried that such a thing could happen, and if it did, that it would have severe and lasting repercussions on my life. Like I said, irrational. But there’s a logic behind that fear, and I don’t think my concerns were entirely unfounded.
But please consider this: I, who was opposed to therapy for myself, am still listing and recommending it as an option for people. I did not personally want to pursue it, but it may be the correct choice for someone else. We’re all different; what did not work for me may work for someone else. I want to present a balanced set of options to allow people to make an informed decision, as well as address any fears that someone may have that they’ve been unable to convey.
In the end, it’s still the choice of the person who is Depressed – provided they’re of sound mind to make the decision. Someone suffering from severe suicidal or homicidal urges is not of sound mind to make this choice. But if someone is opposed to any choice, do not treat it as gospel to be repeated until someone converts, because that could leave someone who’s already suffering feeling alienated. They may shut people out, hide whatever they’re truly feeling, and the results of such repression could be disastrous as well.
So if someone does not wish for therapy and/or medication, what are the other options?
Option 2: same kind of help, different source
So what does that mean? That means looking at the benefits of what therapy and medication provide, and getting those benefits from different means.
A major part of therapy is talking – giving someone a safe place to open up about their problems in a non-judgemental environment. People are social creatures by nature. Isolation is bad, especially extended isolation. So giving someone who’s suffering from Depression a place, person, or people where they can be safe and talk about what’s bothering them without fear of judgement is important. This is critical for anyone choosing this option – that cannot be understated.
As for a medication substitute…well, I’m gonna burst a few peoples’ bubbles right now – no, I am not recommending you self-medicate with home remedies or recreational drugs. I think that’s a rather bad idea in fact. Don’t do it. But I think medication treatments do two things at a very basic level: they affect our body chemistry and they stabilize our moods. What other activities also do that?
For body chemistry, exercise is the first choice that comes to mind. Endorphins are a hell of a mood booster, and exercising outside exposes us to sunlight – a great source of vitamin D. No, I don’t think it’s fun either, and you’ll get sweaty while you work out, but it’s still good advice. There are plenty of options as well: weightlifting, running, bicycling, dancing, yoga, Zumba… If you’re unsure what would be a good fit, keep trying them until you find one that feels good. And added benefits of exercise are weight loss and body toning – which could bolster someone’s confidence and feelings of self-worth.
The options for mood stabilizers are a little narrower, but things like exercise can still help. Exercise and other physical activities provide an outlet for the restless energy that often accompanies mood spikes. People could also take up activities like meditation to help ground that restlessness. Other activities like painting, writing, and playing or listening to music can also serve as outlets and stabilizers. So run, bike, jog – hell, just go for walks. Get your zen on to some relaxing music. Take up painting, drawing, or some other creative hobby. Find something that makes you happy, that pulls you up instead of dragging you down.
Given the opinions I stated about therapy, it’s safe to say that I favor the second option in my life. And I practiced and continue to practice many of the things I suggested. I exercise as regularly as I can. I go for walks when the weather is nice. I go to yoga and meditation classes – and found some in my area that are either free or donation driven. I listen to music that inspires me. I write, and have been writing for several years.
But what I did not do – that I am recommending for those who are suffering – is that I did not find people to open up to about my problems. I tried, but I did not find people who could give me the kind of support I was looking for. Part of the problem was the high demands I was making on them for support. Another part of the problem was that they had their priorities in different areas. And it does not make them villains to say, “Sorry, but we have our own problems that we need to deal with.” But I put all my eggs in one basket, and it cost me dearly when that bet did not pay dividends.
And it’s because of that lack of social support I still consider the choice of therapy, even now when my emotional and psychological state is far more stable than it used to be. I never stopped considering it. But I had people in my life who treated that choice like it was the only choice – and I shut them out because I felt that they could not or would not empathize with me and my situation. I felt that to them it was “my way or the highway.” And like many-a-fool before me, I told them, “Highway,” and I got hurt because of that choice. I carry scars because of that choice. But I made a choice I was comfortable with, did not listen to the advice of those who I felt did not listen to me, and I found my own way out.
And to me that meant everything. It meant rebuilding my self-respect by not dismissing my thoughts and feelings simply because others believed strongly. It means going on a healing journey, and knowing neither the path nor the destination. I found a path and forged a strength all my own. But it took time – it took a long, long time. Which brings me to my closing option.
Option 3: Time
I said earlier in my posts that people suffering from Depression cannot simply wait it out. I described it as a season, but not like one on a calendar. It had no set beginning or ending, or none it feels like publicly sharing. But regardless of what choices someone who’s suffering makes, the reality is that it will take time to heal. Waiting will not fix them, yet time must still pass for them to heal. And that paradox is one that I got hung up upon myself. Because I did not realize something.
It’s not how long it takes that is important. What is important is how we fill our days. The people we meet, the conversations we have, the things we do, and the things we share… All of these are what helps to fill the void created by Depression. So in the end, all we have is time – and each other.
So if you know someone who is suffering, please be kind. Be considerate. Listen to them. Perhaps you may be the first, or only, person to do that. And it will mean the world to them.
Make time for the people who are important to you. Show them that they matter to you, especially when they most feel like they do not matter at all.
And if you yourself are suffering, dear reader – then I say to you: Oh my brother, my sister, my friend – I know your pain. I know it well. You are not alone. You have not been forgotten. Don’t give up. Be brave. Stay strong. Keep fighting. It will get better.
I promise you: it will get better.