As someone who struggles with chronic depression, I have had to develop a number of techniques to fight it. Before I share some of them with you there is one thing that must be said: In order to fight depression you must first believe that you can fight it. You have to shed the idea that “it’s hopeless,” or “I can’t do this,” or “I’m stuck.” You cannot fight something if you’ve already accepted defeat. I can’t give you advice if you already believe that nothing can help you. As author James A. Owen says, “If you really want to do something, no one can stop you – but if you really don’t want to do something, no one can help you.”
That being said, I will repeat the fact that I have chronic, genetic depression. It would be easy (and acceptable) for me to say that I am a victim of my circumstances, but I refuse to do that. I did it for a few years and they were the most miserable years of my life—because I believed I was a prisoner to my circumstances. I have since learned that while I can’t always choose what happens to me, I can always choose how I react.
And I choose to actively fight my depression.
Right now, I want you to decide that you can fight your depression. As soon as you decide that—and believe it—I promise you that you will be given the strength to do so. Now, here are five things that you can do to fight your depression. I hope you find them helpful.
1. Speak With a Trusted Friend (or Two, or Three) – When you have depression, your instinct might be to hide your thoughts and feelings from everyone else. Depression thrives in darkness and isolation. The best way to see and understand your depression is to “shine the light on it” and communicate how you’re feeling. I know that it seems absolutely terrifying to open up to someone about your depression and share with them some of your dark and morbid thoughts, but you need a mental mirror. You need another person to know what’s going on inside of your head. Find someone whom you trust, someone who is understanding, and share with them what is going on. You’d be surprised how many other people have gone through similar things. I promise you that while depression thrives in secrecy it shrinks in empathy.
2. Seek Professional Help – Once you’ve opened up about your depression, I strongly encourage you to seek professional help. Treat your struggle like it’s a broken bone. You wouldn’t hide your broken bone from a doctor, you would rush to a hospital to get the proper treatment. Doctors and counselors are trained to handle all kinds of things. They have profound wisdom and experience in working with mental health issues. You have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to gain by working with them. Please use every resource available to you.
3. Look for Humor – Despite what you might be tempted to think, there’s a lot of humor to be found in everyday life—even depression. I think Allie Brosch of Hyperbole and a Half does a awesome job at illustrating the depth of depression, while also pointing out the humor (check out Adventures in Depression, and Depression Part 2—fair warning, she makes use of a few choice words). Shortly after my suicide attempt, my brother Sean and I watched Better Off Dead, a quirky comedy about a guy who unsuccessfully tries to kill himself multiple times. Believe it or not, the movie actually helped me find the humor in my own situation—and laughter can be a real game-changer.
4. Boost Your Moods – Whenever I’m feeling low, I tend to gravitate toward things that will drag me down even lower: sad music, depressing television shows, or real-life drama. Since my suicide attempt, I’ve realized that I simply can’t afford to feed my sadness. So, I boost my moods—I feed the positive side of my nature. As a general rule of thumb, I try to listen to upbeat music, watch comedies, participate in constructive activities, and stay in the sunlight. While it doesn’t always work, actively feeding the kind of moods I want to have certainly decreases the chance of another relapse. Put another way, I try to avoid stepping in manure by staying out of the cow pasture. 🙂
5. Diet and Exercise – Yup. This stuff works, guys. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Whether you believe in evolution (survival of the fittest) or Creationism (“by the sweat of your brow”), mankind was designed to labor and find fulfillment in work. But we simply don’t use our bodies like the generations that came before us—and it’s making us depressed. To quote Professor Matthew Whoolery: “Did you know what the best antidepressant is—for real? Exercise. A study done at Duke University Medical School found that 30 minutes of brisk exercise, three days a week, was as effective as taking an antidepressant. And the relapse rate for the exercisers was just 7%, while the relapse rate for the drug-takers was over 30% (see the study here).” Trust me, I know that depression saps the energy out of you, but just try going for a thirty minute walk in the sunlight (and listen to some upbeat music while doing it). It couldn’t hurt.
BONUS – Realize You Will Always Have to Pull Weeds – This one is SO important! Please understand that life is about growth, not perfection. If perfection is your aim, then you will always be depressed—because none of us are perfect. We all need to constantly work at and improve our lives. Our lives are like a garden: we have to perpetually care for, cultivate, and weed our gardens. There will never be a time when the weeding is forever done. Depression is like that—there will never be a time when we are forever done with feelings of sadness, loneliness, or despair; they will always try to surface into our lives. The trick is to keep weeding. Don’t let those feelings overrun your garden. Nurture and care for the fruits and flowers of your life and I promise you that you will reap a bountiful harvest.
I hope these things have helped you. Below is a great video on understanding depression. Keep moving forward!