When I was in my early twenties, I went through a severe bout of depression. I was sad and anxious all the time and struggled during social events. I chalked up my social anxiety to my introverted personality but for the life of me, I could not understand why I was always sad. I was young, healthy, and for appearances sake, I was happy.
My dissatisfaction was more evident when I was alone. My thoughts would turn to irrational guilt. My mother had been ill so I was always feeling guilty for not spending more time with her. I felt guilty that my home was not always spotless. Social guilt would consume me when I would realize I hadn’t seen my friends in several weeks but I had been tired to the point of exhaustion and not sleeping well. In addition to the guilt, I was also extremely anxious. If I tried to relax, any little noise would make me react in either a startled jump or a twitch. Eventually, when I would manage to attend a social gathering, I would be counting down the minutes until I could go home. When it finally got to that point, I asked my family for advice. Their reply: “You don’t look depressed.” So I turned to my friends. My friends responded with “You don’t act depressed.”
What exactly does depression look and act like? Should I have been curled into the fetal position sobbing? Should I have sat with my head down silently ignoring other people? Perhaps I should have worn black clothing with dark makeup as a cry for help. Depression, I learned, does not have a ‘look.’ People can be suffering from depression without any outwards signs. Depression is one of the world’s most tragically misunderstood words. While passing sadness is unpleasant, it is simply part of the human condition, a hard-wired reaction to negative life events. However, its effect on us should be temporary and have little to do with our ability to function. Clinical depression does not fade.
Without the support of my family and friends, I was lost. I finally mentioned my feelings to a coworker who empathized with me. She gave me several tips on dealing with depression, which I will share here. I credit my coworker with saving me from depression. When I had reached the darkest abyss of my existence, she held out a light and took me by the hand. She showed me that I was not alone in my struggles and that, if I truly wanted help, help was available. Below are her 9 tips that I used to defeat depression.
- Move! I had been sedentary so I started slowly with short walks. Eventually I transitioned to running. As my overall physical health improved, so did my mental health.
- Balance the body’s needs! I started upping my Vitamin D with my physician’s supervision, as I was severely deficient.
- Learn! I started reading again. Non-fiction engaged my mind and fiction allowed me to escape on a dreary day.
- Eat healthy! I changed my eating habits, adding more healthy alternatives. I reduced my sugar intake by slowly adjusting from sweet tea to unsweetened tea.
- Journal! I developed my creativity by beginning a daily journal. Writing down my issues helped me work through them when I was mentally able to have some perspective.
- Change! I realized that I was in an unhealthy relationship. Making other changes gave me the courage to end that relationship without looking back.
- Sleep! My most noticeable change came by transferring off of an inconsistent schedule. As my sleep improved, my mental health clarity started to return.
- Love! It took a while but I finally learned to love myself in spite of all of my perceived flaws. After all, if I don’t love me, who else can?
- Get help! Most importantly, I found outside help to fight my inner battle. By attending counseling, I was able to receive the guidance I needed to improve my self-esteem, and my outlook on life.
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