make friends with your depression

Make Friends With Your Depression

I haven’t always been friends with my depression, but we have been on a first-name basis for quite some time.

All those years ago, when I finally realized the enemy I had been battling was depression, I fought every hour of every day — tooth and nail. The brutality was hard on my psyche, but given a choice between fighting or giving up, I would fight every time.

But soon, fighting became too much, because I wasn’t wrestling with depression one-on-one, it brought some old friends: anxiety and psychosis. I had been diagnosed with depressive-type schizoaffective disorder much later when I finally admitted to my family and the doctors that I had been having auditory hallucinations. But, early on, the only thing I was sure of was that I was overthinking and worrying about my depression, and the constant screeching of the voices in my head only made it worse.

I battled for years on my own before I finally allowed myself to get some help. After a two-week stay in a mental hospital, my doctors and therapists helped me cope with a combination of medication, education, and therapy.

I also started reading everything I could get in my hands: books, papers, medical journals, and the pamphlets they insert in your boxes of medication.

I read about how other people dealt with their depression in weblogs before there was a WordPress. I networked with others in the mental health community through my own blog, Schizo Incognito. I wrote about alternative therapies and strategies for not only dealing with depression but other issues as well.

I knew how to deal with depression, but the final pieces of the puzzle didn’t click into place until I made one fundamental shift: I changed my attitude and how I looked at my illness.

The One Thing You Should Do Before Anything Else

I eventually started calling myself an advocate and writing about ways a person could aid their recovery from depression and other mental illnesses. I knew I couldn’t only rely on medicine and therapy.

But it took me years before I figured out that my attitude is what dictated everything. All the self-help books and affirmations meant nothing if I never changed my frame of reference. I could smile and think positive thoughts until I was blue in the face, but if I didn’t change the preconceived notions in my head, nothing would work.

What I learned was that instead of panicking or losing hope when a depressive episode came on, or getting angry and trying to force the depression away, I needed to start looking at depression as a friend that was trying to tell me that my mind or body was missing something and it needed help.

Did he say that you should treat depression as a friend?

That is exactly what I am saying.

All those years, I would tense up for battle when the depression came calling. I would get angry and try to force it away, instead of finding out what it was attempting to tell me.

I have found, at least in my case, that there is always a reason for my depression. It could be as simple as a rift between my wife and me, or an argument unsettled. It could be that I was not eating healthily, and my body was lacking in vitamins, fat, and carbs for fuel. It could even mean that I was lying about too much, and my body needed to get moving.

Instead of looking at each hint of angst with dread, I started looking at it as an opportunity to change whatever it was in my mind and body that was making me ill.

I know what you are saying right now because I once said the same things myself:

  • “I can’t do anything when I am depressed, even eating and showering is a battle!”
  • “I don’t have the strength!”
  • “How can I help myself if I feel so hopeless?”

I get it. Depression is terrible, and the simplest of tasks seem to be the most difficult. Things you would typically do that were easy and pleasurable are now impossible tasks.

But — and this is tough love talking now — if you ever want to recover, even a little bit, you are going to have to do hard things. Helping yourself when depressed is hard work, but you must do it if you ever want to feel better.

So, if you are like me and can usually feel a depressive episode coming on — fatigue, sadness, hopelessness, loss of motivation — start looking for the reasons why you are feeling this way and do what you can to stop the flow of depression before it’s too late.

Usually, for me, it is one of a small list of things that are causing me to spiral into depression, and I have come up with quite a few ways to solve these little problems before they turn into big ones.

I hope they help you.

If I Have Not Been Eating Well

I learned a long time ago that my moods dictated what I put in my body. If I’ve either been so busy that I haven’t been eating or I am eating too many greasy, sugary, or processed foods, I know it’s time that I put something healthy in my stomach.

Our bodies need protein, good carbs, good fat, and vitamins to operate correctly, and if it isn’t working well, your mind will start to break down. Our brains need vast amounts of energy, especially if you have a brain-intensive job like mine. I spend much of the day, either writing or preparing to write, and I can feel it when I have not eaten good food.

I start to feel lethargic and moody, and the words don’t flow. I know if I push my body and mind too hard when I am in this state, I will soon find myself down a deep, dark hole.

Eat good carbs like vegetables, whole fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and consume good fats, like monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats you will find in avocadoes, olive oil, nuts, and some fish. Put some protein in your diet, like some meats, fish, eggs, dairy, or tofu.

“…there is overwhelming evidence supporting the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle for, oh, just about everything: preventing cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, and mental health disorders, including depression.” — Monique Tello, MD, MPH

There have been multiple studies that support the link between what one eats and our risk of depression. One analysis concluded that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy, and antioxidants and a lower intake of animal foods was associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern “characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes, and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.”

So if you are not feeling well in mind and body, the main reason may be nutrition.

Now, I can’t say that my diet is the best there is because when you have a mental illness, it’s either you don’t have the stomach to eat at all, or you want to eat the most fattening and unhealthy junk food you can get your hands on. Still, I try very hard to make sure my body gets the right amount of the things it needs, even going as far as taking vitamins and supplements every morning.

I don’t practice nutritional psychiatry, but actual doctors will tell you that supplementing certain vitamins may help. Specifically, Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D. from the Mayo Clinic, says, “Vitamin B-12 and other B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions.”

So, eating a proper diet is an excellent preventive measure for dealing with depression, and I would even go so far to say that when I feel out of sorts if I eat a piece of fruit or another healthy snack, I immediately feel better.

Try it next time you feel depression coming on.

If You Have Not Been Moving Your Body

I was the last one to come to the party about exercise and mental health. I am not a big fan of working out, instead preferring to lie about and scroll on my phone. But, I saw so many studies about the link between exercise and good mental health, and I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

“Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.” — Ashish Sharma, M.D., Vishal Madaan, M.D., and Frederick D. Petty, M.D., Ph.D.

The secret is to find an activity that you enjoy doing because you don’t want the exercise to feel like work. Try to make it fun.

For me, it was walking. I love to walk my neighborhood, saying hello to everyone, and admiring the gardens and flowers. I usually walk in the early morning, just after I wake, and again in the late afternoon, when it cools off here in the Philippines.

If I am depressed, I try to walk. Even if it is only around the block, the fresh air and the blood pumping through my veins make me feel better.

Whatever you choose to do, make it a habit, so you are more likely to do it even if you are feeling poorly.

Exercise before, during, and after you have a depressive episode, and you will feel better.

If You Are Spending Too Much Time On Social Media

One of the easiest ways for me to spiral into oblivion is by spending too much time outraged by social media. How can you look at what is going on in the world right now and not be depressed?

The original paper, Social Media Use and Mental Health among Young Adults says, “…studies have indicated that social media use may be tied to negative mental health outcomes, including suicidality, loneliness and decreased empathy.”

You can imagine that a constant diet of political memes, news stories, and pop culture gossip is not a good idea if you are trying to keep your depressive mood under control.

I am somewhat of a Facebook activist, so I am continually scrolling, liking, and sharing, but I am careful to pay attention to my mood and put away my phone and close the social media tabs on my browsers when I start to feel compromised.

Usually, if I read a bit of fiction or a few stories on Medium for the fun of it, I can steer my mind away from the rabbit hole. Writing is also an enjoyable activity for me because when I put my focus on creation, it has little time for angst or outrage.

Even putting on Netflix and zoning out for a few hours can help you avoid another depressive episode.

It’s okay to stay abreast of current events, just don’t let them ruin your life.

If Your Relationships Are Causing You Stress

I love my wife, but more than anyone else, she tends to be the cause of my issues. In addition to being passionate, my wife has her own mental health problems, and there are times when she doesn’t show her best self.

I can’t blame her because no one is perfect. Especially not me.

But, I am highly sensitive and empathic, and as such, am much like a sponge, absorbing the feelings and moods of others. So when my wife is angry, I am mad; when she is anxious, I am too.

A lot of the times I find myself in a terrible depression have been after arguments between us that don’t get resolved right away. My mind always makes me think the very worst of the situation, and I tend to get suicidal.

So my wife and I actively try to keep the drama away. We are very much homebodies and work, play, and eat at home. Not having a lot of outside stimuli is beneficial to make sure we don’t have reason to get upset with one another very often.

We did well during the lockdown because we worked so hard to get along and not nag or bully. Even with the stress of the new baby in the house, and one of us having to go outside and possibly get infected once a week, we came out the other side as better partners and friends.

So, if your relationships are the cause of your stress and you are not doing anything to fix it, you may want to see what you can do to mend fences and get along with whoever is in your life right now.

If You Stress Out Because of Your Job

I work from home as a writer. Because of my illnesses, it has proven to be the only job I can keep. I am terrible with deadlines, and will often have to take a week or so off to take care of myself.

But, if you work from home, you know that you don’t usually have a set schedule, and if you are like me, tend to work all the time. I will get so focused on creating and hustling that I end up working 12-hour days in addition to being a full-time caregiver for my children.

I start feeling like I should work more while I am feeling good because I never know when I will disappear down the rabbit hole. If I keep it up for weeks at a time, I can assure myself a place in bed, hiding from the voices, anxiety, and depression under the blankets in the dark.

So, lately, I’ve been careful not to push myself too hard. I don’t stress myself out trying to get my butt in the chair in front of my laptop at a particular time every morning, and I take breaks when I am fatigued. I quit working at a decent time that still allows me to get everything done.

It doesn’t matter if you work from home or have a traditional career, try to have a good, healthy attitude toward work, and if you are feeling at odds or depressed, go easy on the hustling for a while.

I realize everyone has to earn money to live somehow, but your attitude toward that work is what makes a huge difference.

Depression is Your Friend; Not Your Enemy

If we change our attitude about our illnesses and start treating our depression as a friend who is trying to warn us that something is wrong, we will have a much healthier attitude that will only help us deal with depression in the long run.

Depression can warn you if there is an imbalance or an issue with your:

  1. Diet
  2. Activity
  3. Social media usage
  4. Relationships
  5. Career

If you know what depression is trying to tell you, it’s much easier to remedy the problem or make habits that will help you in the future.

I didn’t come up with this advice off the top of my head; I have been experimenting with what works and what doesn’t, when it comes to mental illness, for decades. I have the benefit of years of experience that tell me what and how to change the things that are causing my depression.

Now you have a friend you can listen to.

You’ve heard the saying, “Change your mind; change your life?” When it comes to depression and its causes, it has never been more accurate than right this minute.

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