For a long time, I thought I was healed from depression. That I’d overcome it for good and that it would never strike again. I was diagnosed with clinical depression when I was in my 20’s, though it had plagued me long before the diagnosis. And seeing as though I’ve been ‘breakdown-free’ and haven’t been on antidepressant medication in more than a decade, I really thought my depression was just a distant memory. I now know that’s not true.
It’s hard for me to admit that I’m not entirely done with it and that depression is something that I might have to deal with for the rest of my life. Depression looms like a thunderhead that can cause torrential downpour at any moment, even when you think you’re standing in the sun.
I know what triggered my most recent bout with it, and I think the ‘knowing’ fueled it. The self deprecating part of me said, “You know better. You shouldn’t have eaten that food, skipped the gym, had that extra drink. You shouldn’t have listened to that song, watched those videos, stayed in your pajamas. You allowed yourself to slip into this place, and it’s your fault.”
So, what is it? For me – it starts off with a feeling of inadequacy. Like I’m not good enough. In my history with depression, there’ve always been triggers. One thing happens, and it leads to a negative emotion. Then, I seek temporary distractions from my thoughts. But they make things worse. Like overeating. Or drinking a whole bottle of wine. Like putting on a song that brings up sad memories. Or watching videos on my phone of Nala – my dog of 14 years – who died in April. I can’t explain why I do these things when I’m already spiraling into the darkness. After all… I know better, right?
Depression isn’t one thing. It’s many. I think it began to rear its ugly head for me over the summer. I traveled a lot, and I ditched my diet. Eating clean isn’t just for my physical health and the desire to look good. It’s wildly important for my mental health, too. When I eat crappy food, it most definitely affects my mood. And everyone knows that alcohol is a depressant. But when you’re on vacation or out with friends “celebrating,” drinking is par for the course. I know it’s not good for my mental health, though. It never has been.
So yea – bad food plus alcohol = trigger. Sprinkle in some self-doubt and a few professional fails, and before you know it, I’m in that dark place again. The place I thought I’d left in my past.
With depression, all the little downward dips start to feel like quicksand…. until I’m sinking. When I feel this way, I don’t want to leave the house. I don’t want to get dressed, wear makeup, or exercise. I don’t even want to answer my phone or return messages from friends.
And in this ultra filtered world of social media perfection, where we have the ability to expertly curate the way we want to be seen, it seems as though there’s no place for depression. So, yea – I’m the bubbly hula hooping rainbow glitter girl. That’s how I want you to see me. I healed myself from depression by doing what I love in life. That’s the message I preach. I’ve left mental illness in the past because I’ve learned how to live in the present moment. Therefore, I can consciously choose sunshine over darkness. That’s what I want you to think.
But the reality is… dark days still come.
There’s one thing that’s always enabled me to feel a little better when depression consumes me. It’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Ironically, it’s the same thing that sometimes triggers my depression and leads me to believe I’m a failure. That thing is writing.
To be clear, I love writing – the act itself. Writing is how I make sense of the world. It’s the challenges that come with pursing my lifelong dream of becoming a published author that trigger me. Like the time I queried an agent who I thought would be the perfect match for me. I received an immediate rejection. It came the morning after I pitched her, while en route to New York City with my sister to celebrate my 40th birthday. It was a form rejection (not specific to my query), and I cried my eyes out when I read it.
I put a lot of pressure on myself, and intellectually, I know that it’s difficult to “make it” as a writer. ‘You’ve got to have thick skin,’ they say. ‘Rejection comes before every writer’s success story,’ I’m told. I’ve spent 15 years writing my book – which I now know doesn’t fall into a marketable genre within the traditional publishing world. The advice I’ve been given is this: Age your story down. Make it fiction. Write for a YA audience. You need a bigger platform.
But I want to be the face of my story. It’s important that I share my truth, the way it happened. Not the way the publishing world wants it to have happened. I become consumed by these thoughts, and I feel stuck.
I cried myself to sleep two nights ago, and I didn’t change out of my pajamas until 4 pm. Then I put on my workout clothes, and I dragged myself to the gym. And guess what? It made me feel a little better. It also gave me the energy to cook a healthy meal, which helped to elevate my mood a bit more. Then, I sat down to write this blog. And here I am… doing the thing that I have such a love/ hate relationship with at times. But I also know it’s part of my inherent nature, and even though the business of being a writer is hard, I have to stick with it.
So I guess my purpose for sharing this is simply to say… things aren’t always as they seem. Mental illness isn’t linear. It’s also nothing to be ashamed of. Over the years, I’ve learned what helps me when I start to spiral. Sure, I might dip down for a moment before I’m ready to rise up. But I will always rise up. And if I don’t – if I ever dip too low – I know to ask for help. Today is a new day, and yesterday’s depression has no place here. Today, I’m starting to feel like myself again.
I also want to share some tips for self-care. These are the things that help me when I’m in the throws of a depressive episode:
10 Tips for Managing Depression:
- Get some fresh air and sunshine. I know that going outside may sound like the last thing you want to do, but try to muster up the energy to take a walk, spend time in the garden, or go for a bike ride.
- Sip on herbal tea. Chamomile and green tea are my top picks during a depressive episode. It’s like a cozy hug that warms you from the inside out.
- Cuddle with your pet. Studies have shown that spending time with your fur baby can help increase oxytocin levels and reduce cortisol (the stress hormone).
- Do something you love. For me, it’s hoop dancing, reading, writing and making jewelry.
- Refrain from alcohol. Seriously. It will only make it worse.
- Hit the gym. If the depressive episode is really intense, then going to the gym probably sounds like a terrible idea. But it ALWAYS helps. In some cases, it’s even more effective than anti-depression medication. According to Harvard Medical School, “high-intensity exercise releases endorphins – the body’s feel-good chemicals – and it causes a natural high. But even very low-intensity exercise improves brain function and makes you feel better.” Read the full Harvard article about exercise and depression here.
- Get lost in a good book or movie. If you’re into thrillers/ suspense – save it for later. I’m talking feel-good shows like Modern Love on Netflix (I’m a fan).
- Dance. Just do it. Put on your favorite song and go crazy.
- Create something: Art, food, music. Being creative helps you get into the flow state. It occupies the mind and breaks the depressive feedback loop.
- Meditate. This is one of the best ways to calm the mind. And if you’re new to meditation or pressed for time, I highly recommend the Chopra Center’s Guided Meditations. You can successfully meditate in less than 10 minutes, for free. All you have to do is find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, and listen.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read. And I hope you’ve found my self-care tips for managing depression to be helpful.