From therapy to the creative arts, Bryce Evans shares 5 things that help him explore his depression and find paths to healing.
Over the years, my experience of depression has been marked with various "lightbulb!" moments. Introspection, patience, and understanding helped me learn more about how my mind and body worked. In time, I managed to puzzle out my strengths, weaknesses, ingrained habits, triggers. What my values are. Why I feel all the ways I do on any given day, week, or month.
As for figuring out how my depression connected with all these things, doing all this work turned out to be enlightening.
But, as you probably guessed, these insights didn't just fall out of the sky and into my anxious mind.
It's taken a lot of sustained effort to wade through the haziness of mental health challenges over the years to work it all out. But, compared to how I was feeling and living previously, the life that comes with all that exertion is worth it.
Now that I've had quite a bit of experience trying various things, I want to share what worked best to better manage my depression. As always, it's important to discuss these options and tools with your doctor and/or mental health professional. They can help provide more insight into the activities and tailor them to suit your individual needs.
So, without further ado, here are five tools I've used alongside my treatment plan to help me understand and cope with depression.
Experimenting with prose, poetry, or journaling to express myself
Ever felt like bottling up your feelings and not unleashing them into the outside world? Same here. But, thanks to the treatment plan and these tools, I've learned how crucial it is to express myself and allow my innermost thoughts and feelings out of my head.
I stayed silent for so long - years - and it took a massive toll on my mental health. Not letting out those thoughts and worries just made them grow bigger and bigger until they became overwhelming.
I've tinkered with many different writing styles, from journaling to poetry and prose. For me, any form I choose is a great way to let out everything that's living "rent-free" in my head. Journaling, poetry, and prose also force me to process and reflect on my thoughts in real-time as I put pen to paper.
I have a whole stack of journals I've written in for years, usually daily. It's an enormous help to privately let out my worries, vent, then start the next day fresh.
Plus, it's a quick and straightforward way to express yourself. Even one small page a day can make a massive difference when done consistently over time. Don't think, just write. All entries are for your eyes only (unless you want other people to read your work!). They don't have to be Shakespeare. Just allow yourself to feel without worrying over spelling, grammar, or structure.
Sometimes, I write down all the negative feelings I've felt that day, then burn the pages as a cathartic process. If that sounds appealing to you, please do it safely! Preferably outside and with water on hand.
The biggest benefit of poetry or journaling (if you're not planning to burn it) is referring back to your entries weeks, months, or years in the future. How does that entry read, now that you've had time to reflect and gained a new perspective? How far have you come since then?
Trying out therapy
I went for counseling sessions during a particularly chaotic point in my life. My relationships, finances, and working life were whirling around in my head like a tornado of destruction, anxiety, and confusion. Trust me, it wasn't a fun time.
I was nervous about pouring my heart out to a stranger - professional or not - but the experience turned out to be invaluable. The counselor asked the right questions, and each session gave me a safe, confidential space to figure out my next steps and what was holding me back.
Sometimes - just like with writing - airing out your thoughts and worries can help you gain new insights and perspectives on what you're struggling with. A therapist isn't there to judge or make you feel worse; they're there to guide you.
And trained therapists and/or mental health professionals aren't merely sounding boards. They're trained to provide you with tools and exercises to work through major life challenges. I will never regret going to therapy during one of the most difficult times in my life.
Exploring photography to express the feelings I can’t put into words
Sometimes we want to speak up about depression or anxiety, but we can't find the words. Or, the words we use don't do our feelings justice. I struggled with this a fair amount on my journey.
As I said before, part of the reason was being unable to find the "right" words to describe my feelings of depression and anxiety. But part of it was also the stigma that's still attached to mental health issues. I didn't want someone to judge me or shut me down! But the stigma, and the fear of the stigma, made it incredibly difficult to voice my inner-narrative out loud.
That's where photography comes in. For me, photography is the perfect way to non-verbally communicate how I feel and what I'm going through.
Focusing on photography to express myself, my creative way of telling my story eventually evolved into something called The One Project.
Laying your mind bare in a photo can be very cathartic, especially when someone immediately connects with it or praises your work. What is it that people say? "A picture's worth a thousand words." In some cases, like expressing myself through photography, I think that can be true.
Sharing through this medium gives an "extra layer" between myself and the story I'm trying to tell, as in that people can interpret my photographs in their own way. And, like writing, my photos capture moments I can look back at and reflect on later.
The best part is that your photos don't need to be "technically accurate" or even beautiful. You don't need to splash out on a professional camera or have any photography training. Just you, as you are, armed with your camera phone and as many ideas as you want to explore.
It's all about practice.
Using sketching and visual arts to process trauma
I find that processing emotions and/or trauma can be complicated. From my experience, it requires activating different parts of my body and mind. That's where more visual or physical activities like sketching, painting, or even acting can be helpful.
Try drawing or sketching what depression feels like to you. Who are you when you're depressed? What were you like before depression?
Quick sketches or sitting down to make a complete, detailed picture have helped me dig deep into insights or pieces of myself I wasn't even aware existed. And, not to sound like I'm parroting clichés, but often the journey leads to more self-discovery than the destination - the finished product.
You don't have to worry about it looking professional with painting, drawing, writing, photography, or any creative way of expressing yourself. Just make art. These tools are about helping you.
Joining a support group that understands
I believe that a bit of understanding can go a long way. I know - no one's whole story is available from a quick glance or a short conversation. Anyone who "has it together" at work or in their social lives may be struggling with something we know nothing about.
But when everyone appears to have it together, and you feel like you're struggling with that, it's validating to be in a safe space with other people who allow themselves to be vulnerable. A support group can help you:
- Realize you're not alone
- Find your next steps and empathize with your peers
- Establish a structure that's easily added to your weekly/monthly routine
I've been part of a few different groups that meet weekly during various points in my life. When I struggled with depression, being connected to those groups was a game-changer.
Whatever happened during the week, I knew I could bring it to the group and get fresh perspectives and advice, or just have someone listen with their full attention. Hearing the stories from other members of the group proved valuable too. Helping others pushed me into gaining insights into my own issues.
All groups operate differently, and you don't have to settle for the first one you find. Shop around, so to speak, and find one that fits your needs. Talk to your doctor or mental health provider about the qualities you want from a group - they may suggest a few suitable options in or near your area.
Wherever you are on your mental health journey, there are always ways to better understand and cope with what's affecting you. Maybe you've toyed with therapy, art, and support groups before but haven't given them a try. That's OK! Take the time now and start off "small," then branch out as your confidence increases.
Or, you may have tried these things before and didn't feel like they worked. That's OK too! Art, photography, and group therapy aren't for everybody. How about taking that carpentry course you wanted? Or learning how to make furniture from the comfort of your own garden? Or even taking time to reflect on your journey as you fix up your dream car, go for a hike, or research your family tree.
You are the most valuable project in your life. The investment is worth it.
The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.
NPS-ALL-NP-00546 MARCH 2022