I call depression “The Beast.” It is a savage condition to live with, one that is emotionally, mentally, and physically draining. Finding the best ways to cope with its impact on your life can be challenging.
Depression is something that has been with me most of my life, and while I feel that I am managing my depression well today, it has been incredibly difficult to get to this place. There were times when I felt like I was just existing, floating through life completely detached from myself. I was neither here nor there. I was barely present, and only because I had to be.
I attempted suicide twice — death seemed better because I wasn’t truly living. Even though today I can look back and realize that wasn’t true, at the time I did not want to live with those dark and ugly emotions constantly taunting me.
Finding new ways to cope
In the past, whenever a depressive episode would hit I would become mean and angry. I was frustrated and yelled a lot. I never meant to be that way but I was in so much emotional pain that it caused me to act out. I was not a very nice person to be around. If I wasn’t having an angry outburst, I was tucked away in my bed, sometimes for days at a time. I would remove myself from life as much as I could because I didn’t want to be a part of it.
Those coping mechanisms never truly helped me. If anything, it kept me in pain and detached. Having severe chronic migraine made coping with the depression that much harder. When you have a disease with no known cure that causes you to be in constant, daily pain, it’s hard to keep the depression at bay. Most of the time I would power through the physical and emotional pain because I had children and a home to take care of. But I realized that wasn’t very healthy either.
It wasn’t until after the second suicide attempt that I decided to change how I dealt with depression. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to better cope with depression and its effects on my life.
You are not your illness
The way that we talk about illness, and especially mental health, is important. I noticed that the language I was using was personifying my mental illness. Saying, “I am depressed” suggests that I am the depression, and not a person living with depression. You never hear anyone say, “I am cancer” or “I am diabetes.” By thinking and talking about myself in that way, I was removing my identity in a way — my depression was overshadowing the rest of my being.
I had to remove myself from what depression is. It was important for me to consciously choose to speak about it differently, so instead of saying that I am depressed, I say that I am experiencing a flare-up. Just like the symptom flares I experience with my arthritis or fibromyalgia, it comes and goes. Sometimes it lasts only a day while other times it may last a week or longer. Separating who I am from the illness helped to put it into perspective. I am not my mental illness.
Give yourself permission to not be okay
For me, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is the guilt that comes with my depression. In my experience, depression is the biggest guilt trip known to man — it makes me feel responsible for everyone else’s pain, stress, discomfort, and feelings. Being a wife and mother with major depressive disorder made it hard not to feel guilty when a flare-up would make it physically impossible to get out of bed. I would beat myself up for not being able to cook or clean, or for not spending enough time with my kids.
My husband always reassured me that it was okay if I couldn’t do any of those things, but the guilt would remain. Then one day, it clicked for me — if he says it is okay for me to not be okay, then I should be okay with it, too. He was consistently giving me permission to take care of myself. Why was it so hard to give myself that same permission? My kids were happy, fed, and safe. My husband still loved me. Nothing had fallen apart. Being sick with a flare-up is okay. I’m okay.
That was a huge lesson for me to learn, and it has helped me make the most significant changes to the way I manage depression.
Being kind to yourself
Navigating through the negative self-talk associated with depression is very hard. Sometimes, it’s not too bad. Other times, that voice inside is so loud that I can’t hear my own thoughts. I knew that I needed to find new coping mechanisms to deal with it — my old ones weren’t healthy, and they weren’t helping me or the situation.
Learning how to quiet that voice took a lot of practice, but over time I found that guided meditations were really helpful for coping with negative self-talk. I would listen to meditations that focused on self-love, kindness toward myself, and forgiveness. Instead of letting the depression take over how I felt about myself, I would divert my energy into something more positive.
Establishing this practice wasn’t easy, and it remains a challenge today — there are still times when flare-ups completely overwhelm me. But there are much fewer challenging days now than there were before, and I am grateful for it.
Taking the time for self-care is important. We are all worth the time and energy to be there for ourselves. As a wife and mother, I instinctively put my husband and children’s needs before my own — but often that meant I had nothing left to give to myself, and I would feel depleted. That was something I had to change. By prioritizing crucial self-care, I have become a much better wife and mother.
Learning to say no
At some point, I made peace with the fact that I am not Superwoman, although I used to believe that I had to be. There are going to be days when I just can’t be everything to everybody, and that is okay.
Saying no to things that just aren’t doable seems simple enough, but it’s harder than it looks. For me, learning this lesson was a revelation. I don’t have to feel guilty for having to say no to requests that I’m not physically, mentally, or emotionally capable of committing to — in fact, it’s healthy to set those boundaries. Saying yes to everything burns you out and makes you useless to yourself and others.
I am giving myself permission to not have to do it all. I owe it to myself. We all do.
These practices have helped me tremendously over the past five years, but it’s worth noting that none of this progress happened overnight. It took a lot of patience, practice, and hard work with my doctor and support team. But it is so worth it. I try to encourage anyone who lives with depression or any other mental illness to give it a try.
I have learned to empower and uplift myself and want to help others do the same. If you are struggling to find ways to overcome depression, remember: You are worth the time, energy, and effort to take care of yourself.
DEPR-US-NP-00030 AUGUST 2018