We all, at some level, have experienced depression.
The reasons why may vary: maybe you lost a family member or friend to cancer.
Maybe you experienced a devastating heartbreak. Or, as someone living with bipolar II disorder, maybe there is no reason at all for the despair and grief you feel.
Regardless of your reason, depression hovers over you like a threatening, unmoving storm cloud. It feels impossible to escape.
I’ve had major depression for most of my teenage and adult life, which has given me more experience in dealing with depression than I ever wanted.
Here are seven lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1. To make it through, you have to be willing to try.
In my own journey through depression and recovery, I realized I was never going to make progress until I started wanting to get better for myself.
No one could walk my path to recovery except me. The thing that helped me the most was concentrating on the present day instead of getting bogged down about where I wanted to be in the future, or what happened in the past to make me feel depressed.
I did small things every day to make myself feel better. I resolved that even if I did spend all day in bed underneath the covers, I would at least take a shower and go outside, whether it was for a short walk or just to sit on my porch.
I found that small accomplishments went a long way. As time wore on, I began doing a little bit more.
Recovery doesn’t happen overnight, but baby steps got me there a lot quicker.
Even though at times you may feel like everything is hopeless, know there is light at the end of the tunnel. Things do get better. You get better.
2. Sex, drugs, and alcohol are only temporary relievers.
Depression can often leave you feeling emotionally empty and unable to feel anything.
At times, the numbness and silence is so deep that your desire to feel something, anything really, leads you to engage in behaviors that make you feel, at the most basic level, alive.
When you feel numb and empty, you will do anything to fill the void despair and loneliness sparks.
Though meaningless sex, drugs and alcohol create a sense of euphoria, they only temporarily relieve the pain.
Eventually the high ends, which makes room for depression to reemerge. Often this leaves you feeling emptier than you did before.
Perhaps that is why we continue engaging in those behaviors: to prevent the lower than lows from coming out of their hiding places.
While our instincts are to protect ourselves and to numb the pain with sex, drugs and alcohol, these self-destructive behaviors are never your friends.
The truth is, there is no magical pill to fix the pain. When those behaviors extend beyond natural experimentation, quit while you’re ahead.
3. Depression is profoundly relatable.
When I first started publishing articles and personal essays regarding my mental illness and recovery, I was amazed by how many people reached out to tell me they, too, have fought similar battles.
I spent the last 13 years of my life presenting a face to the world that bared little resemblance to my true self.
To anyone looking in from the outside, my life seemed good, almost ideal.
To them I was a beautiful, successful, talented young woman. I was a world traveler, community volunteer and published freelance writer.
I was the girl who had it all. In reality, I was living inside my own self-created hell, believing no one could possibly relate to what I was going through on the inside.
I was so wrong. Opening up about my depression made me realize I wasn’t alone in my journey, and that my support system extended beyond my family and friends.
It also made me realize I could offer up support, compassion and understanding to someone else, too. I don’t regret opening up at all.
4. Yet, everyone’s experience is different.
Depression looks different on everyone. There are aspects of your experience that are relatable to others, but your journey, especially your recovery, will be different than everyone else’s.
There is no place I learned this lesson better than in the support group I attend for women with depression and anxiety.
Every week, I listen to women who have been diagnosed with the same disorder I have.
I listen to their stories, struggles and triumphs, and our stories never perfectly align.
When people share such intimate details of a painful time in their lives, that takes courage.
Recognize that everyone’s experience is relevant. When people read the articles I publish about my experience and recovery through depression, there is nothing more hurtful than to read comments like, “I call bullsh*t,” and, “there are many flaws in this story, she is making it up.”
Do not discredit another person’s story because it doesn’t match your own.
Applaud those who speak out to bring awareness and attention to the issue; don't condemn them for showing their insecurities.
To do so is unkind and shows little compassion for the human condition.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
In today’s society, it seems as if depression is synonymous with weakness.
So, when we feel down, our first instinct is to mask the pain and pretend like we are okay.
We think, “I shouldn’t be depressed. Perk up already.” This mentality will only serve to increase your feelings of helplessness, though.
When I took off the mask I wore to hide my pain, I found it was easier to be kind to myself.
I wasn’t afraid to ask for help. There were countless options available to me: antidepressants, mindfulness workshops, therapists and psychiatrists, acupuncture, help from family and friends.
When I started asking for help, I began making more progress in my recovery. I also found there were compassionate and caring people in my life to help pull me out of the darkness.
6. Depression is mental health and mental health is physical health.
Despite all the science out there that shows the link between physical health and mental health, the two are still treated separately.
Although we know the emotional symptoms of depression, we often forget it can cause real changes in our bodies.
There is chronic fatigue and exhaustion, sleeping issues, digestive issues and changes in appetite, to name a few.
In major depression, I go days without sleeping and I find comfort in food, where I binge eat to the point it borders on an eating disorder.
If we had diabetes, cancer or a broken leg, we wouldn’t hesitate to seek treatment.
What is the difference between that and seeking treatment for our brains? There is none.
When we start treating mental health as we do physical health, we will get more people the treatment they need.
We will break down the walls that stigma has built even further.
7. Depression will lie to you.
Depression creates the breeding ground for a distorted sense of self. It will sit there, constantly humming in your ear, telling you lies.
It will tell you that you are worthless, unlovable and that everything you do is a colossal failure.
When your brain turns on you, put your hands over your ears and repeat after me, “It’s not true. It’s not true. It’s not true.”
Because it isn’t.
Depression is a gremlin constantly chomping at your feet, and you have to have the wherewithal to kick it over and over until you break free.
You are worthy. People love you. You are successful and talented and have many achievements.
No matter where your mind is in the depths of depression, your life matters. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
This list is far from exhaustive, but for those who struggle with depression, know there is light at the end of the tunnel. Cling to it like a totem pole. You will make it, I promise.