From Someone Who Has Been There
Hey there, friendo-
I’ve dealt with depression for most of my life. I grew up with a physically absent father, a mentally absent mother, and have experienced sexual abuse, mental abuse, and one of my relationships began to teeter into physical abuse before I finally ended things. I used to cut myself, and attempted suicide at 13, which resulted in a 4 day mental hospital stay. My senior year of high school, I became obsessed with thoughts of the world ending, of the fact that I or anyone I love could die at any point, and what my purpose was in the world, if I had any purpose at all. That loop got me stuck in an existential crisis that lasted for almost two years. After I went through a traumatic premature labor and delivery in April of this year (followed by my daughter being in the NICU for two months), I experienced postpartum depression, which was some of the most intense hopelessness I’ve ever experienced, and sent me back to a state of mind I hadn’t been in for a very long time. Having said all of that, here’s my advice for you. This is going to be a lengthy post, but on this matter, I refuse to leave any stone unturned.
-Be honest, not just with yourself, but with the people around you.
*Chances are, the people who love you will want to know that you’re hurting, even if it is an uncomfortable subject. And truth be told, there’s no easy or “right” way to bring it up. You just kind of have to do it, which can be easier said than done when you’re feeling so vulnerable.
-Don’t fret about being a burden or people pitying you.
*Loving relationships are built upon support for one another, and if someone claims to love you but cannot be there for you during your dark times, then they’re not someone who should be an active force in your life. Tumultous times reveal the true nature of people. Though that may seem disheartening, the removal of toxic or unsupportive people in your life makes way for better things and better people. I think of it like this: you can’t swim to the surface with dead weight tied to your ankles.
-It’s okay to not be okay.
*This is such a tired platitude, I know, but I believe some things are cliche for a reason. Mental health does have a stigma surrounding it, but I think that comes from people who are afraid of finding a crack in their rose colored glasses. Toxic positivity is pervasive, with mantras of “good vibes only” slapped across a million vapid social media posts, but it’s okay to not always be positive. There is a duality to all things, and there is a great power in not just acknowledging your shadow side, but also learning how to work with it. In order to defeat your demons, you must face them first.
-People will not always know what to say.
*Depression is a tricky subject, and people who have never truly experienced it often don’t know how to react. Don’t hold it against them. Sometimes, their reaction may come from a lack of understanding as to how they should deal with their own pain. Also, the reality is that on occasion people will say “call me if you need anything”, “I’m always here for you”, etc. but won’t be able to handle a major depressive episode or a frantic call at 4 AM. Do NOT let that discourage you from reaching out to people. It is painful to reach out emotionally to someone and feel like you’ve met a brick wall, but there really are people who will want to support you and will try to do so in any way that they can.
-Do NOT let anyone tell YOU how YOU feel.
*When I was in the mental hospital, they decided after 3 days that I was ready to go home, but I insisted I was not. They essentially bullied me into going home, and once I returned, the depression returned. When my dad came back into my life, I was understandably happy, and the mental health counselor I’d been seeing then labeled my depression as situational and decided that I no longer needed care, despite the fact that I’d attempted suicide just months prior. Once the high of my father coming back wore off, I was left with a lot of questions and unresolved pain and fell back into a deep depression. I don’t tell you these stories to discourage you from seeking help; I mention these because of how much I wished that I had been more assertive in telling them what I needed. I knew that I was not okay, despite how things may have looked on the outside and sometimes I wonder how things would have turned out had I been more demanding of my needs.
-Don’t be afraid to seek help, in whatever form it may take.
*I have remained unmedicated my entire life and haven’t seen a therapist since I was about 14. I’ve managed to make it through on my own devices, and with the support of loved ones, but that is not something that I would necessarily recommend to people. I did not grow up with a lot of money and didn’t have health insurance, and so I pretty much had to work through it all by the grit of my teeth. My mother, however, has been on medication for a long time, and I have many friends who have made the extra effort to get therapy, and this has worked out very well for them. So by all means, have no fear or shame in asking for help, whether that is from your loved ones or from a professional.
-Find an outlet.
*There are many ways to channel your pain. For some, it is physical- going on walks, working out, etc. For others, it’s more mental-writing, talking, creative expression. I honestly believe that writing saved my life. Were I not able to express myself in such a raw and fluid way, my depression probably would have eaten me alive. Looking through my old notebooks can be really hard because of how dark some of the writing is, but I am grateful to have them to reflect on. I’ve also made a promise to myself to do a daily yoga routine, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. And sometimes, through these outlets, we are able to find a release or reach an epiphany, something that may not have happened if we allow ourselves to do nothing but sit in silence and stay steeped in our despair.
-Be wary of relying on crutches.
*When you're in a deep depression and something feels so good that it distracts you from your thoughts, it is ridiculously easy to begin to rely on that thing to make you feel better. Sometimes we project our feelings onto others and expect them to be some sort of savior for us, and other times, we try to search for meaning in one night stands or at the bottom of bottles and powdery baggies. At the end of all things, your vices may numb the pain for a bit, but it will return, and if you don't break the cycle, you end up chasing the high until you burn out and hit rock bottom.
-Take a look at your environment and your routine.
*Your surroundings make a huge difference. Growing up, my mom was a super depressed hoarder and so was I, and our apartment was constantly in chaos. As an adult, I learned just how great of an impact that keeping a maintained space can have. It also helps lend a sense of control to your life. If you have a wildly unscheduled life, try devoting a portion of your time to a personal ritual, whatever that may be, at the same time every day/week/month, whatever works for you. If your life is unyeildingly rigid, find a way to break up the monotony, even if you can only dedicate a small amount of time to whatever that may be.
-Life has the purpose that you choose to give it.
*After that two year long existential crisis, this is the conclusion I came to. I view existence as a very neutral thing, something that just is with no real rhyme or reason to it. Though that sounds depressing on the outside looking in, I believe that it offers a canvas in which you are free to paint whatever you’d like. You cannot change the entirety of the world, you cannot change things that are ultimately out of your control, but there ARE things that you do have control over and it is your duty to yourself to create beauty in your life, especially if you feel there is no beauty to be found around you. The only way to turn a dying patch of grass into a beautiful garden is to plant seeds and then water them. It is not an overnight process, but most things worth having are not. You might not be able to renovate the whole neighborhood, but taking care of your own lawn is certainly a start.
-Don’t run from your trauma.
*As I mentioned earlier, the only way to defeat your demons is to face them. I would argue that constantly living in your trauma is just as damaging as ignoring it, and that it’s perfectly fine to take a step back and distract yourself here and there, but don’t repress these things. They will always find a way to rear their heads, and if it’s not in a controlled situation, it can be really volatile and ultimately detrimental. It’s like when you get food poisioning and have to throw up- vomiting is an incredibly unpleasant experience but it is what needs to be done in order for your body to purge and begin the healing process.
-You are not your mental illness.
*Your mental illness is a part of you, but at the end of it all, you are a whole person who is deserving of peace, happiness, and love. You are not defined solely by your trauma or your pain, it is just a part of the bigger picture that is your human experience.
-There is no such thing as an overnight fix.
*Healing is a journey, not an event. You have to work at it, and I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy, but that it does get easier. I would say that as of right now, I’m the most emotionally balanced that I’ve ever been, but setbacks are not unusual nor are they something to be ashamed of. Acknowledge what’s happening, try to find the indicators of when you’re starting to spiral and create a sort of checklist to help yourself and your loved ones know that something’s up. For me, the biggest indicators that I’m falling into a depressive episode are a lack of interest in writing/research, being irritable/on edge, and appearing mentally vacant in my interactions with other people. During my postpartum depression, my husband mentioned these things to me and it was the wake-up call I needed to try to pull myself out for the sake of my daughter, my marriage, and my mental health.
This is all the advice that I can think of to give. I may come back to this post later and add something, but that is no guarantee. Either way, I hope this helps and wish you the best.