Since battling depression since the age of 12, I have devised a few sure-proof (for-me) ways to stop or pause the downward spiral that is so commonly associated with depression or mental anguish. I would like to share them with you in the hopes that maybe you will find something that can help you out today wherever you are at mentally and emotionally.
At university In 1995, I was referred to the campus doctor for crippling depression, then released with no support network. From there, making today better for myself was all I focused on for years into my recovery. Sometimes I’d forget to do that. 24 years on and some days I struggle to get out of bed until I remind myself of my little mantra: “You can make today better”. Sometimes that means going out for coffee with a friend. Other days it means just getting out of bed, having a shower and getting dressed. For quite a while, I could only focus on how to make the day bearable for my children, protecting them from my depression because doing even that took a huge amount of effort.
It may come as no surprise that one of the things I ended up doing to make every day better for myself was focusing on art and creativity. Especially teaching and encouraging creativity in others. As I got into my new work, I realized everything started feeling a little easier; I didn’t have to try so hard to do the things that used to require so much energy. Helping people helped me– I am very passionate about breaking down the stigma of depression and releasing creativity as a healing balm.
Knowing what you are dealing with and recognizing your triggers is an important key to stopping, or putting the brakes on, a downward spiral.
One big trigger for me is overtiredness. I often mistake being overtired for the dreaded feeling of the ‘return of depression’. Treat yourself as you would a child. Drink lots of water (read a story), go to bed early and be kind to yourself!
Give yourself ‘check-in points’ throughout the week. Are you ok when out with friends? Are you ok when you awake? Are you ok after you’ve been for a walk? If these check-ins are not giving a good result then perhaps it’s time for an emotional MOT service.
( Meltdown Or Therapy service!) 😉
Let us start by outlining what depression is and is not.
Depression is something that can affect anyone of us at any given time. I believe statistics state that 1 in 5 people will battle against it within their lifetime. Since when it hits it is such an isolating illness it is good to know that you are not alone in this.
Depression is not just feeling a bit sad, unhappy or bored. It is not being overwhelmed by heartbreak. That is something entirely different. It is a heaviness that comes upon a person that they just cannot shake. It can last a few days, weeks, months – even years. There is medical advice, assistance and medication that can aid and help heal this issue. It is important to know that there is a viable, helpful medical solution that has no stigma or shame attached to it.
When you are depressed your whole life can be affected. Your physical health can suffer along with your mental health. Just getting up in the morning can seem overwhelming – as can performing the simplest of tasks.
I like to share this animation that I discovered many years ago. It really helps people who are struggling – and those that do not understand the complexities of living with and through depression:
“I had a black dog, his name was depression”
“Living with a black dog”
is a guide for partners, carers and sufferers of depression. It advises those living with and caring for people with depression on what to do, what not to do, and where to go for help.
Both videos were produced by writer and illustrator Matthew Johnstone, in collaboration with WHO, and were based on books of the same name.
In my experience, it is a very good idea to recognize your own personal symptoms of depression. And then stay alert to them in your life – enough to recognize them for what they are. Many years I wracked my brains trying to work out;
“What is wrong with me?”
“Am I broken?”
“Why does it seem like I am the only one?”
Only to finally realize that these are the words that pre-empt a bout of depression for me.
Words that isolate and separate me from the rest of my life.
Some other symptoms can include –
Once I have spent some time really getting to know my triggers or personal signs of the onset of depression I activate the ‘Life Rafts’.
These are my own, personally curated activities that can often halt the depression and make it recede to a more manageable distance. If you have recognized some of your symptoms already in this article, or have realised some of your own then you are already halfway there!
No one is the same. What triggers one person may not even rank on the Richter scale of someones else’s triggering emotions. You know yourself best.
Take note of your triggers and study them. What starts them? Have you been consuming more alcohol than usual? Getting less sleep? I ask these questions as an example of how you can find your ‘Life Raft”, or answer, within the problem itself. For example; A loved one can get very low and really question his ability to connect with others and make solid relationships. These thoughts can grow and grow in his mind until they tip him into depression. What he has learned to do is recognize the onset of these thoughts and look at his lifestyle at the time. In his experience, these thoughts and patterns only come up when he has been drinking a lot and sleeping little at night and a lot in the day. His body is exhausted and really needs nutrition and sunlight.
That is his life raft. The problem came disguised as something else. But the answer here is self-care. When he has done a week of that he becomes himself again. A confident and exuberant young man.
So, what is your life raft? If you can, write down your triggers and look for the answers within them. Write down all of your thoughts and find ways that you can alleviate the problems.
A few examples:
On occasion, within the last 24 years, my ‘life rafts’ were not strong enough to carry me through life so I have sought out medical help. It has always been the best answer if I have ‘ passed the point of no return’ into depression and has helped me immensely. When I do make this choice I can do so confidently. So, go into seeking medical help knowing that perhaps you didn’t win this round against depression but you are strong, in charge and still in the fight.
Please, if you know a loved one is struggling, help them through this list. And if it does not help? Help them seek medical advice. It is the kindest thing you can do.
Here is a short snippet of my life and thoughts as I brace myself each day to the daily news of more turmoil and anguish: How To Find the Rhythm When All You Can Hear is the Rain
All the words within this blog are my thoughts from being a depression survivor. I am not medically trained.