Please don't ask me how I cured my depression.
For one, I'm not cured, I'm just learning to manage it better. And secondly, I couldn't tell you exactly when I came out of it, or whether it might befall me tomorrow.
What I can do is share ten changes I've made in my life to put myself back in control. Learned helplessness is the trap of depression. You try everything, and it doesn't work, so you give up. There is no feeling more powerless than lacking the hope of things getting better.
This list isn't a compilation of research, advice, or suggestions. It is simply 10 things that have worked for me. I hope that, a year from now, you've put together your own list of personal anti-depressants.
1. I downed herbs.
St. John's Wort to ward off depression's crying jags. Passion Flower to calm the jitters of anxiety. Bioavailable turmeric to simmer my body's inflammation. Omega-3 Fish Oil to regulate brain chemistry (now used by many hopsitals, by the way).
You may be skeptical of alternative medicicine, and that's fine. We each have to find what works - or doesn't - for ourselves.
I tried the medical route of managing depression for 12 years, and I was left with more problems than were fixed. It's not just the side effects like night sweats, or that fact that some pills actually GAVE me anxiety or paralyzed me. It's the fact that, in every single instance where I was suicidal, I was either taking an antidepressant or coming off of one. I learned to trust myself and my body more than I trust some "all-knowing" doctor. It took me almost a year to come out of the fog of my last antidepressant. There is a cost to everything. And let me just say, you will raaaaaaarely be told of those potential costs up-front.
2. I slept...and then I slept some more.
"Oh boy, I can do this one!" you are thinking, "I already sleep 14 hours a (day) night!" Well, I used to, too, and each day day I was more exhausted than the last. For the first time in my entire life, I finally feel rested when I wake up after 8 hours of sleep. The tough part was breaking the pattern of staying up till 2 or 3 in the morning, then sleeping away the whole next day. When I was depressed, that was preferable, because I could avoid both physical pain and a life I felt helpless to master. But I couldn't function.
The key for me was to lean into this change, because my inner rebel wants to stay up until all hours. My goal was to go to bed a little earlier each night, try to stick to a general waking and sleeping time, and not expect perfection.
Part of my issue is an aversion to actually going to bed. Maybe you also lay there for hours trying to finally drift off amidst a barrage of anxious thoughts. The only way around this is to be too tired to think. Here's what saved me:
- I got a Spoonk acupressure mat. I am not kidding you, this thing is effing awesome. All you have to do is lay on it for 30-40 minutes before bedtime to release endorphins and other feel-good chemicals that will relax you right into sleep. Yes, the points are sharp. Yes, it will scrape the crap out of you if you run your hand across it. That is why you sloooooowly ease yourself onto it, and quit being a whiny baby!
- I take two 350 mg capsules of Passionflower (not on an empty stomach!) to de-stress from the day and they usually put me right to sleep. I've never tried Melatonin myself, but many doctors are now prescribing this naturally occurring hormone that helps to regulate sleep cycles.
This is the tricky item on the list for me. In a way, finding my current job - which is moreso a place where I can contribute something meaningful - has been the foundation for everything else on this list. If I had done every other thing on here, but still wasn't working, I'm not so sure I would be writing this post. THAT is how important it is to be of value.
In no way whatsoever am I implying that our worth comes from our work. I can only say that being unemployed is so dehumanizing as to nullify many of the other self-care tools a person might try. I have never felt so useless in my life, and it sucked. Right or wrong, I honestly don't know where I would be if I didn't have the dignity afforded to me by returning to productive society. It is what it is.
4. I got quiet.
This one was a real stretch for me, being an introvert (well, actually it was, because I'm a neurotic introvert)!
For me, getting still takes one of two forms: a long bath in epsom salts - my personal form of meditation (given my lack of tolerance for all things slow) - and constructive rest. Constructive rest is my most recent discovery. Not only does it do wonders for my hip pain, it changes my ability to remember what calm is throughout the stressful workweek. If you can't seem to turn off the noise in your brain, this might be something to try.
Shutting down is next to impossible for me. I likely appear calm from the outside, but my mind is always racing, and my jaw is always clenching. You likely have your own anxiety holding pattern, the result of our fight-or-flight society. No one is going to give you permission to turn off the noise and stop pushing yourself past your limits. You are going to have to choose this for yourself...IF you want it badly enough.
5. I moved my ass.
The research on exercise and depression is so prevalent that I won't bother quoting it here. Suffice it to say: someone's already said it to you, and you've already been annoyed by it.
Here is what I know for me: exercise does not fix my depression. I have always exercised, even when I was depressed, and it wasn't enough to bring me out of it. However, I would be MORE depressed if I weren't exercising. I feel *better* afterwards. Brain chemistry, baby. It's one of those few things we have control over, and it doesn't cost a thing to get outside and go for a walk.
6. I stopped isolating myself.
Let's not get crazy here; I'm still an introvert, and I like my peace and quiet. I can't relax with a bunch of people around. I'll never love being in a big group of people. BUT. I've gone out and done things and made new friends....and I don't feel lonely when I'm alone. That's the difference.
It is only too easy for me to, not just pull away from people, but all the way into myself. I found out that living by myself is not good for me, and so I don't put myself in that position anymore.
The Suicide Epidemic talks more about loneliness as the real killer.
7. I put my health above all else.
I made health my absolute priority this year. If you don't feel good physically, you won't feel good mentally. And vice versa.
Now, it may well be the chicken and egg dilemma, but nothing is so fundamental as what we put into our bodies and how much we move (or don't). When I eat clean, I feel clean; it's as simple as that. Due to recent allergy discoveries, I am now borderline vegan. Giving up nearly every food I've ever loved has been crazy hard. But I feel better. And I'm even starting to like my physical therapy exercises; how nuts is that?
8. I changed my environment.
There are two things I know for sure don't work for me: one is living in chaos, the other is living in isolation.
I grew up in chaos - with a family always in crisis - and it overwhelms me. I can spot chaotic people a mile away, and I stay away from them.
To me, peace = home. I finally have that. There is no yelling, no mess, no constant negativty. I like being around low-key people who aren't trying to suck the life out of me. Is that too much to ask?
9. I went outside.
Nature heals. Sunshine heals. A chaise lounge reclined back far enough to examine the drifting clouds as they fall together, then apart, then away.....it heals.
I have a few favorite spots - a bench by my favorite lake; a trail tucked away from the rest of the city - where I can go to just exist for a while. We spend our days pretending we feel whatever way the situation calls for; there has to be a counterpoint where we can just be who we are and feel what we feel.
10. I self-cared the shit out of myself.
I no longer leave the house - or take phonecalls - on Sundays. I work out, I take a bath, I chop vegetables and cook for the week, then I sit on my blessed ass and do whatever the hell I want for the night. Actually, there are a couple of hours EVERY night where I allow myself to only do what I want. From my waking moment, every other hour of the day is a task to be done. Well, I finally decided that I haven't become a better person by accomplishing any more crap in a day.
I have now decided that I only like Sundays, and I want a whole week of them.
I experimented with different doctors, massage therapists, physical therapists, and even a Rolfer, until I found my own little circle of healers. The problem is that you may have to try 3 or 4 (or 10) idiots until you find the right ones for you. Just find your people.
The lesson here?
There is always one more counselor or herb or remedy to try. And if you try all of those and every single one them fails, there is still no telling what the next day will bring if you're alive to see it.
The other thing to remember is that this is MY list. I would have never guessed that half of these items would be on here. Ask any person on the street, and they may tell you 10 completely different things that worked for them.
Healing is a personal - and sometimes lifelong - journey, one that no one can take for us. I wish you well on yours.