Coping With Depression
Updated: 2 days ago
Over the years, I have been in therapy for my depression, and been told that I was "high functioning" for as much as I had been through. I think the people telling me that meant it as a compliment, but honestly, it irritated me. I was looking for help through my inner darkness, and here were professionals telling me that the darkness was invisible from the outside. I felt opaque, and unheard.
Other friends of mine have suffered from depression too, and asked me for advice when they were in crisis and considering suicide. I told them, no matter how bad you feel, get up and do the things that need to be done anyway. Being out in the world is the only place that you are going to find hope.
Since I have spent most of my life coping with depression, for the most part in silence, I have often asked myself what qualities that I posses that keep me going even in the face of extreme adversity.
When I was in my teens and early 20's, I had some extremely unhealthy coping strategies. I turned to pot and alcohol to numb the pain. I would drink until I cried, and cry until I could sleep. Then in the morning I would get up and do what needed to be done. Not a very healthy way to live.
Through it all, the thing that kept me going was the vague hope (which I sometimes wished would die) that there was something better out there.
Finally, around the time I turned 30, I started to get free of all the people in my life that made me feel so bad about myself. I started learning to set boundaries, to tell people NO, and to make my own happiness a priority. It was a radical shift in my thinking, because before that I had thought of myself primarily in a functional capacity; I thought I only had value for the things that I did, not for the person I was.
But that was wrong. Everyone has value for who they are.
YOU have value for who you are.
If you are like me, sad and struggling, read that sentence again. If it feels hard to say to yourself, that means it is the message that you need today. It means that, like me, you can find hope. You can find a better life.
There is that popular quote that says, "Before you go diagnosing yourself with a mental illness, make sure that you are not just, in fact, surrounded by assholes."
That isn't wrong. Sure, mental illness is partially caused by a genetic predisposition, but it is also partially caused by being in a stressful environment that brings that predisposition to light. Your genes are only half the story. Your environment is the other half.
You Can't Get Well in the Same Environment Where You Got Sick
In order to start recovering from my depression, I had to get out of an abusive marriage. No matter how much I meditated and said affirmations, or how much personal therapy I went to, I was never going to get better while I was living with someone who was screaming horrible things at me every day.
Just like the people in Flint, Michigan aren't going to get better while they keep drinking the tainted water, you can't recover from a mental illness if you are around people who don't support your recovery.
Originally, I started marriage counseling with my ex because I thought the problem was that I was crazy, or that I was just incapable of being happy.
The problem with that? No One is incapable of being happy.
I was so out of touch with my feelings at that point that when my counselor asked how I felt about something, I told him, "I think that I feel..." I didn't even know what I felt. I was thinking about what I should feel, then repeating that back.
I grew up in a family that constantly invalidated my feelings, so I learned that feelings were bad and to be avoided. I learned to make my face a blank, expressionless mask. I learned how to cover my mouth when I cried, so that no one would hear it. All this, probably by the time I started elementary school.
Recovering from years of trauma has been slow. In addition to depression, I also have anxiety and PTSD. So that is the lens that I view the world through.
After leaving my ex-husband, I also cut off several other toxic relationships. I told myself, if I had gone through all that trouble to get out of a relationship that made me hate myself, I wasn't going to get into other relationships where I was treated the same. I was learning to set boundaries, and to tell people that I deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect.
I told my mom that, when I was trying to work on my relationship with her, and she told me that I didn't deserve to have boundaries.
Several years later, after a lot of inner struggle, I stopped talking to my mom too. It still hurts inside, and I am still working on this in therapy, but especially as a mom myself, I had to put my own well being, and that of my kids, first.
I don't want my kids to grow up feeling sad and broken the way that I did. Putting their needs first has been a big motivation for me to take control over my mental health, and try to get better. I want to be the best mom I can be, and I can't do that when I am stuck in relationships that are constantly hurting me.
Things I have Learned from Feeling Sad
Since I have been coping with depression for a long time, here are some things that I have learned, and that have helped me to move forward:
Asking the RIGHT people for help
It might feel easy to give up when you feel sad, and I have sometimes actually envied people who just helplessly gave up and expected other people to take care of them. For most of my life, I didn't have anyone to take care of me, so I couldn't give up. I kept going because there was no other way.
As a mom, I always put my kids and their needs first. That has kept me going for a long time too. The desire to be a better mom has pushed me to be a better person for my kids. They deserve to have a better life than what I had, and I need to be at my best to be able to provide that.
Is it easy? Never.
But it is worth it. After years of struggle alone in my inner darkness, I have finally found a partner who supports me, in both good times and bad. He listens to me, and picks up the slack when I am struggling.
I have also finally found a good counseling center that provides wrap around services. I cannot stress enough how important that is. I have a team of professionals that work together to help me. I go to two counselors, and a medication provider. My center also offers case management. A case manager can help with setting appointments, applying for disability, and finding additional services to help in other areas of your life.
All in all, I am in a better place now. A place where, day by day, I am getting well.
I have also made a video about what depression feels like if you would like some more information.
Please know that there IS help out there if you are struggling with depression like I do!
If you, or someone that you know, is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: (800) 273-8255.
For more information and resources about National Mental Health Awareness Month please visit: https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Mental-Health-Awareness-Month
If you are seeking services, The Recovery Village has treatment centers for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery in Florida, Colorado, Ohio, Washington and New Jersey:
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, or if there are other coping strategies that you would like to share!
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