Surviving a Depression, in a Handy List

January 26th, 2015

After I wrote my November post on being depressed, a lot of people reached out to me, so I wanted to give one last update.

No point in burying the lede: I feel much, much better. Turns out everyone was right–depression does lift, even if that feels impossible when you’re in the middle of it.

While I’m happy to wave goodbye to it (and, frankly, to 2014, which was Not My Favorite Year for a lot of reasons), I don’t want to blithely move ahead and act like it never happened, partially because I feel the peace is a fragile one that could easily fall apart, and partially because I feel like I learned some stuff that I don’t want to forget.

Which of course I’ll share with you all, in a nifty list format. (Everyone likes a list!)

1. When you’re so depressed you feel like life is a pointless, joyless cesspool of unrelenting disappointment . . . seek out help from a professional. Because you’re deep into feeling like life is a pointless, joyless cesspool of unrelenting disappointment, you may not see the point of getting better, but if there’s a single person (or animal) in your life who cares about you, tell yourself you’re doing it for that person (or animal) and make the appointment.

I don’t know if this is a universal experience, but I walked out of my very first appointment feeling a little less alone. I felt like someone was in the fight with me, someone who (unlike my family) wasn’t frustrated with me for feeling this way and desperate for me to just stop being like that, but was instead completely in it with me.

2. Exercising helps. The first thing my new-found therapist said was, “Start exercising today–get your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes.” I did it and felt better. IMMEDIATELY. That feeling slowly dissipated but still . . . it reminded me what it was like not to feel sad and anxious all the time and made me realize I wanted more of that. Plus there’s no downside to exercising–the side effects are kind of nice. (Except that my knee is twingeing today, damn it.)

3. Modern science is a wonderful thing. I’ve been on an SSRI for the last eight weeks or so and within a week of starting it, I realized I was perseverating much less about the things that were making me anxious. It was like I’d been carrying a backpack filled with crap around for months and suddenly I could just PUT THE BACKPACK DOWN AND WALK AWAY now and then. I knew the crap-filled backpack was still there where I’d left it; I just didn’t need to carry it around with me all the time. You don’t know how good that feels until you feel it. I was worried that meds might change me in other ways, but nope–my brain just stopped churning and churning about things that were unpleasant. Otherwise, I’m still me, for better or for worse.

I would marry my Zoloft if I could, but it seems content with our relationship and the fact that I swallow.

4. Don’t romanticize mental illness. Yeah, maybe some brilliant artists and writers suffered from depression, but that doesn’t mean it was their source of genius or creativity or a sign of YOURS. Depression and anxiety suck productivity out of you. Feeling like you’re isolated from the rest of humanity doesn’t make you special or elevated: it makes you sad and lonely. Do what you can to get better.

5. Reach out to other people. Tell them your story. Let them tell you theirs. I loved the friends who said to me, “I’ve been there and it took a while but I got through it.” It made me feel hopeful but also validated. I also adored the friend who went right to asking me if I wanted to hear a stupid funny joke. I did and it made me laugh and that felt good. The only response that mildly bummed me out was, “Oh, wow, that must be terrible for you. I’m so sorry.” There’s no empathy in that–just pity and a tiny bit of superiority. I didn’t need people to pity me; I needed them to crawl in the hole with me for a minute or two. But overall people were fantastic.

6. Even misery has its lessons and the occasional silver lining–I’m trying to hold onto those now that I’m feeling better. I was always rushing around before, impatient with delays, annoyed at chores, jealous of people who were more productive and successful than me. Then I stopped caring about anything other than getting through the next hour. Now I’m trying to hold onto the good side of slowing down and living in the moment. I take my time running errands, walking the dogs, cleaning the kitchen . . . even flossing my teeth. I can’t remember why I was always in such a hurry before, always so desperate to be somewhere else. I’d like to hang on to this feeling of being present in the actual moment, now that the original accompanying despair is gone. Maybe not permanently gone, but gone for the time being and, since I’m living in the moment, that’s enough for me right now.

Anyone have anything to add to this list?

  • Jen Connelly says:

    I love this list. It took me until I was almost 35, after 20+ years of suffering to finally get some help. It was like lifting 50lbs of weight from my shoulders and that was after just the fist appointment–because I knew things would get better.

    There have been a lot of ups and downs since then, mainly because I had been misdiagnosed most of my life. I actually have bipolar. Once I (and I mean “I” because I was the one that figured it out) figured it out and my meds were changed, I did become a different person–the person I knew I should be, that I always wanted to be. The person that could actually enjoy life and be happy.

    I think #4 is really important. Having bipolar, I see how it is romanticized–look at how many extremely creative and famous authors, artists, and actors have it. People seem to associate it with the manic highs that leave you feeling more creative. Everyone wants to be more creative and successful so having bipolar must be an awesome thing if you are a creative person.
    Hardly. Eventually you have to come down from that high, and like any high, you crash hard. I wish people would see it for what it is–a debilitating disease that screws with every aspect of your life.

    • Claire says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Jen. I think if you boil most mental illness down, you’re talking about a chemical imbalance–nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to romanticize. Just something to fix.

  • Peggy Eurman says:

    This was really spot-on and an excellent description. I completely agree with everything you’ve said!

  • I was disappointed by this article. Based on the title, I was expecting financial/economic advice.

  • Having been there and occasionally returning for “visits”, I want to thank you for your transparency and for providing very realistic suggestions for how to deal….

  • Sarah Emsley says:

    Great list, Claire. I’m so glad to hear you’re feeling better than you were in the fall. I wonder if it’s possible that some of the people who said “that must be terrible for you” just didn’t really know what to say, either because they don’t understand depression, or because they do, but aren’t comfortable talking openly about it. Just a thought.

  • Sabre says:

    Hi Claire. I noticed you haven’t been around in quite a while and I wanted to make sure all is well with you.

    • Claire says:

      It’s so incredibly sweet of you to check in on me. I’m doing fine, Sabre! Sometimes I just can’t think of anything to write a whole blog post about. But I do post a lot of short little things on my Facebook author page and I also instagram a fair amount so find me in those places!

  • Scott says:

    Depression feels like being homesick. Wanting to go home and not knowing how to get there. If you found your way home, nobody would be there to hug you. That is what Depression feels like for me.

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