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8 Depression Coping Strategies That Help Me

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This winter has been tough for me as far as my depression goes. It’s been so cloudy and dreary, and I do think the lack of sun has affected me. I’ve had to keep fighting to keep myself from sinking too low. I know I’ve shared my battle with depression in the past, so I want to continue to do that.

I suppose I’m one of the unlucky ones who has several chronic illnesses along with mental health problems. I have both depression and anxiety. My anxiety is under control with medication; however, my depression, while being treated, is not. Since I’ve been on medication, my depression is much better than it was when it was untreated. In fact, I can go a very long time and not feel depressed at all. But, I have flare ups of depression, and that is hard to handle. I’m learning what it is I need to help myself on those bad days. Here are a few things that have helped me:

1. Communicating with others. A tendency to isolate oneself is often part of depression, so it’s a struggle to reach out to others when I’m feeling down. There are certain people I do not call when I’m feeling low. I think we all have or have had friends or family members who are draining. A phone call with a request for help can sometimes turn into an hour-long monolog by said friend. For obvious reasons, this is not helpful. I try to call or text others when I’m doing well as to not “be that person.” You know, the one who only calls when they’re in crises. Find your person. The one who understands you and will be there for you when you need them. Of course, it goes without saying, you need to be there for them, too.

2. Getting out of the house. Being out in the fresh air, and sunshine if you’re lucky enough to have some, can be healing for me. Sometimes, just going out to walk the dog will help me feel a little bit better. I might see a neighbor and chat for a bit or see a few squirrels, which are my favorite wild animals. It’s fun to watch them chase each other around the yard and up the tree. While going shopping isn’t always my favorite thing to do, I have found I sometimes feel better being out and around others.

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3. Reading a good book. I’ve always loved to read. When I’m depressed, I find it hard to focus, though, so I try to keep my reading rather light at those times. There’s something to be said about escaping into a light-hearted fiction book. Along with my book, I might enjoy having a bit of candy or a cookie. I try to eat dark chocolate most of the time. Obviously, the sweets aren’t an everyday occurrence, but something I allow myself to have occasionally.
4. Having something to work on. I’m not talking about a huge project like painting a room but something small and more manageable to help me to “get out of my head.” If I’m too sick to get out of bed, I might pass the time planning our next family get-together, my future remodeling projects or next years’ vacation. If I’m able to be up and about, I may work on organizing family photos or paperwork or spend some time baking.

5. Surrounding myself with water. A long shower or a soak in the tub are always relaxing to me. In the summer, I’ll spend time in our pool. The sound of water has always soothed me, so listening to my sound app that has a variety of water sounds is healing. We are fortunate enough to live in a city on the river; walking along the walkway by the river is an enjoyable way to get exercise while viewing and hearing the water.

6. Listening to music. Music can be so therapeutic. I’ve always been a music lover; as a child, I remember spending most of my allowance on 45s (I’m giving my age away, aren’t I?). I enjoy a variety of music: jazz, oldies, country, rock, contemporary Christian, etc. I’m really not too picky. All I know is immersing myself in the sound of music does more to lift my mood than almost anything else.

7. Connecting with God. Prayer, reading scripture, listening to church service all help me. I’m not the most religious person, but I am a believer, and I do feel there’s a place for religion or some spiritual connection when dealing with my chronic illness. For me, having faith and hope help make the bad days not so bad.

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8. Keeping things in perspective. It’s so easy to let yourself ruminate about things, but that isn’t always conducive to good mental health. I find if I’m able to tell myself I’ve felt this way before and I made it through to the other side, those “what if” and “why me” thoughts occur much less. Looking through the foggy lenses of a depressed person is difficult; that’s why having the ability to remember the ups and downs of life is so helpful.

These coping strategies may or may not be helpful to you, but it certainly won’t hurt to try some of them. If you are clinically depressed or suicidal, you should see a professional. Here’s to having better days ahead for all of us!

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Depression in Relationships: You Don't Have to Fight Your Demons Alone

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My partner Kevin doesn’t have depression. His knowledge of depression — first-, second- or eleventh-hand — is limited. Sixth months into our life together, he’s spent time with depressed me at least half the time. I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression for about three of the past six months. The struggle I’ve been grappling with and have held onto as a “my” struggle for the better part of my 37 years has, in six months, become a “we” struggle.

Every now and then, when I emerge from the dark, dizzying, sticky slumber of depression, I ask Kevin, “Are you sure you want to move forward in this relationship? This is how it’s going to be the rest of our lives. I will always fall into depressive ruts.” I feel like I need to regularly give him an out, let him know I get it if he decides it’s too much for him to manage. I would understand if nurturing a relationship with someone who cycles through depression as often as I do is too overwhelming for him, for anyone.

Each time, Kevin squares his shoulders and steadies his eyes to mine as if to convey, if you don’t hear my words, feel the conviction of my presence. “Yes. I’m sure,” he says. “I want to be with you.”

I feel as though I’m using up the majority of the relationship resources. On top of the other depressive symptoms, I feel selfish and self-absorbed. I feel small, alone, a failure, like I don’t belong in this world. For years, depression has tricked me into believing no one wants to hear the “ridiculous” thoughts tapping my brain and to (shh) keep my thoughts where they belong – hidden.

This is one of the ways depression keeps a stronghold on you. It’s hypnotic trickery can suspend your ability to trust people who care for you, who want to hear your fears — as many times as you need to speak them. But you must share these thoughts, you must share what frightens you when depression has you by the tongue – whether you believe the thoughts or not. Especially in a relationship.

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As Kevin said to me one night, holding me as I cried into his warm chest, “Your demons are not yours to fight alone.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

Follow this journey on xo, O.

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In the Moments Depression Feels Like a Vortex of Doom

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You know when you go to the DMV and have to sit there in the little waiting area for about a million years? You’re just sitting there in a trance, staring mindlessly at those letters and numbers. Waiting. You’ve been there so long that cars have now become obsolete, people commute with flying dinosaur clones, and Kanye West is the Supreme Overlord of the United States. You go to the lady at the desk and yell because all you want is to just move on with your life. You’re yelling, but no sound is coming from your mouth. Finally you’re number is called, and it is the best thing in the world! You’re led out of the waiting room, only to be forced to sit in yet another waiting room. The whole process starts all over again, and you’re left in this funky DMV vortex of doom.

Well, this is sort of what depression feels like.

It’s constantly feeling a weird mix of sadness, frustration, worthlessness, self-loathing, and overall emptiness. It’s constantly waiting for all these feelings to pass. Then when they finally sort of do, and you think you’re OK, they come back. It is terrible.

I don’t really talk about my depressive tendencies with very many people, partly because of the stigma, partly because of the anxiety that accompanies it, and partly because it’s just a difficult thing to explain to a person who hasn’t gone through it.

I’ve only learned somewhat recently that it’s actually not normal for a person to feel constantly sad and frustrated with oneself. It sounds kind of messed up, but this was how I’ve always felt about myself. It became the norm for me.

It never even occurred to me that I may have a depression or anxiety problem until a little over a year ago when I was wandering around Pinterest and stumbled upon a Buzzfeed graphic depicting depression. I thought to myself, “Huh, that’s funny. That is exactly how I’ve felt on a daily basis since forever.”

I clicked the link and read through other articles about mental health.

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And then I panicked.

Sure, it explained a lot, but I wasn’t supposed to be depressed. I knew a couple people who’ve had mental health issues, but how could I be one of them? I didn’t feel like I had a reason to be depressed. People have told me all throughout my life that I’ve been through so much, but it never seemed like a big deal to me.

The thing is though, none of that stuff matters.

Even if you’re in denial and feel like you don’t deserve to feel depressed, you can still be depressed. There’s not some guy in a dark cloak named Depression who hand-selects those who have the most complicated lives and curses them to a life of utter misery. It’s up for grabs. Anyone can get it. Sometimes there might not be a clear rhyme or reason to it. Other times you just don’t realize how things in your life affect you until you’ve already reached the dark side. It just happens.

The stigma doesn’t make it any better either. Talking about my mental health is awkward for me, and it really shouldn’t be. But when someone complains that I’m “too sensitive,” it makes me think I’m being too much of a Negative Nancy and nobody cares. When someone tells me I’m “bringing the party down,” it makes me not want to burden other people with my pointless problems. And when someone asks about the Band-Aid on my arm and then another oblivious person jokes and says, “Relax! It’s not like she’s cutting herself,” it makes me mortified and embarrassed and want to crawl in a ditch and never come out.

I could probably go on and on with some inspirational, uplifting words of wisdom. I could talk about hopes and dreams and trudging through the dark times because the light at the end of the tunnel will surely come and all that junk. However, those would be lies coming from me. This is a thing I am actively dealing with. How the hell am I supposed to know everything will be OK in the end? What authority do I have to say that? Who I am to attempt to make such a life-altering prediction?

Obviously from the looks of it, I tend to have a rather grim outlook on life. The back of my mind mainly consists of one of those huge LED neon signs that says, “Life sucks and then you die” surrounded by a big rainbow and several butterflies. (But that could also be the depression talking; I’m not quite sure.)

My whole point in all of this is I may be actively going through this garbage called depression, but I’m still here. I’m still trying. It’s weird because there’s part of me, the part where the anxiety lives, that is terrified I’ll always feel miserable, that it’ll never end. Then there’s the depressed side of me that soaks in it like a bubble bath. But there’s another teeny, tiny part of me that still has hope. That’s why I go to counseling. That’s why I started taking medication. That’s why I haven’t killed myself. Because for some reason, deep beneath the million tons of garbage, I feel like maybe it will get better.

So many people deal with this stuff on a daily basis. The stigma is just ridiculous, and the only way to end the stigma of anything is to educate people. If something someone says is triggering and makes you feel like ball of nothingness, say something. If you see someone acting ignorant towards someone else struggling with their mental health, say something. And if you know someone struggling and genuinely want to help them, you need to say something because there could be a million things preventing them from asking for your help, but just letting them know you’re there and asking them what you can do to help them has the potential to make a massive difference.

And maybe, just maybe, more of us can successfully escape this vortex of doom.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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The Venomous Sadness of Depression

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I am sitting in my balcony under the soothing winter sun, and I want to write about sadness. Not the “someone ate my cookie” kind — more like “someone ate my cookie because I am a bad person and I don’t deserve anything sweet ever” kind. The harrowing kind. The draining kind. The kind that lingers on at the back of your head even in the happiest of your moments, like a little vicious leech that got into your head through the ears in the dark of the night. A creature that keeps crawling in between all your nerve endings to constantly remind you of its existence — all its tentacles scratching through your brain till your head is abuzz with the shrieking noises of its presence. And sometimes, it hibernates and you sigh in relief — but not too soon, for it keeps dripping the viscous bile of fear in your mind, a drop at a time. Drip. Drip. It’s not gone yet. It will wake up. Shh, be careful. Don’t laugh too loud. Don’t swirl too fast. What if your thumping, crackling joy wakes it up? Shh. Don’t be so happy, don’t be so reckless. The beast that rules your head is there and will always be there — coming back, again and again to remind you it owns your very being. And what if it breeds? Oh! What if it breeds? The horror of horrors, the most terrible of things — the thought never leaves you be, does it?

As morose as it may sound, this is the kind of sadness I want to talk about. Not because it’s that time of the month, not because I am a sadist and love imagining you cringe in your seat reading about leeches inside my head but simply because this is the only kind of sadness I know. The omnipotent, all-consuming kind. The “sucks your blood and leaves you for dead” kind. The “why are you roaming around the house like a zombie?” kind. The “I’ve been crying for an hour because my room is not clean” kind. The “can I please stay in this cuddle forever and not do anything ever?” kind. The “I don’t want to move and in all honesty, I don’t even want to exist” kind.

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I know not when the leech entered my head and carved its way through my tiny ears (or was it my nose? Yuck!). All I know is it’s been there for as long as I remember. Making me writhe and wriggle of pain and helpless anger, which for a long time, nobody understood. I didn’t either.

And now, the scariest moments of the month for me are when my doctor reassures me he can make it all go. I wince every time he says, “with the medicines, we can control these bouts completely or at least reduce them to a level where they don’t bother you anymore.” No! What are you talking about, doctor? Are saying you will take from me my only constant companion? The being that has seen me grow all these years with and despite of it. That, which like a twin-spirit has clung on to my heart for the longest of time. Who will I go home to if I don’t have the horrid numbness and panic waiting for me under my blankets? What use will the cold marble floor in frigid winters be, if not to remind my naked body that it can still feel pain? “No,” I want to scream, “you can’t take away my heart, my home, a part of my soul!” And yet, every morning, I pop the blue pill. On nights when sadness and panic lure me into bed with them, I pop two smaller nondescript ones which are the color of flesh. The doctor repeats, “They will make you better,” and so I too chant, “This will make me better,” and swallow.

I speak, most days, in a loud ringing voice. Drip. I jump and dance around. Drip. I talk in gibberish and I twirl in shopping mall aisles. Drip. I crack bad jokes and make puns that reek of innuendo. Drip. Drip. I love with abundance and hug like the earth. Drip. I laugh! I shriek in joy! Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. The viscous bile of fear never stops dripping. Calling me back, one drop at a time. No amounts of blue pills will make my joy permanent, it tells me. But the doctor still hopes and I do too because hope is the beast’s lullaby. The hope of sunlit winter afternoons spent lying next to a loved one, with a book and a slice of last night’s pizza. The hope of surviving a night by yourself, not succumbing to darkness. The hope of words well written, songs well sung and blood red pomegranate seeds in your palm.

Hope, will keep the beast sleeping.

Till then, Sylvia Plath.

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart; I am, I am, I am.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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The Hard Reality of Having Depression in a World That Equates It to Sadness

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There is no Oscar for acting like nothing is wrong when you’re torn up inside. I remember the way my heart pounded in my chest and my throat closed up as I prepared to tell those I loved I have depression. The stigma. The connotations. Not an illness, but a weakness.

My voice cracks. The words flow off my tongue. But the gripping panic in my chest doesn’t let go. I can see the pain in my parents’ eyes. I know what they’re thinking: “What did I do wrong” “Why isn’t she happy?” It’s those questions, a natural response, that makes this so difficult. The confusion of the words “depressed” and “sad.”

The last thing I ever want to do is hurt my loved ones. It’s probably why I kept my emotional turmoil bottled up for so long. But it was all a front. Not depressed, but focused. Not anxious, but driven to achieve. Full ride to school, job lined up for the end. But I wasn’t fulfilled. Surrounded with great friends, but completely alone. When I found myself crying out, “I quit!” I realized my act wasn’t sustainable. Time to face a tough reality: sharing my struggle may hurt those around me. But the initial self-blame my loved ones felt pails in comparison to the pain they’d feel if I had “just quit.”

After the shock and confusion came the inevitable need to help. “You shouldn’t go on medication, it’ll leave you as a shell of a person.” Or “you need to try meditation, my colleague cured herself that way.” And the ever so popular, “Why don’t you focus on the happy things in your life rather than focusing on the negative so much?”

I wanted to scream. They all meant well. And it’s not their fault they don’t know what to say. There is no manual for this. But that’s the hard reality of having depression in a world that equates it to sadness and pessimism. The onus was on me not only to stand up for what I needed, medication and therapy, but to educate those around me on the illness.

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Six months have passed. I’ve never been happier. I still have depression. But I am not depressed. I won’t lie, it got worse before it got better. But the better is worth it. To anyone out there on the edge, wanting to just quit — quit the act, not the show!

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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7 Strategies I’m Learning to Use in Fighting My Depression

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I’ve always objected to the idea that mental illness was something you could fight. Even though I knew people meant well when they said, “keep fighting” or “you can win this battle,” comments like this made my hackles rise. Why should my recovery be dependent on how hard I fight?

But today, looking down the barrel of what seems to be another looming depressive episode, I’m beginning to change my thinking. I’m beginning to learn mental illness is something I can fight.

Fighting it won’t necessarily make it go away. It won’t make this episode any shorter or less intense. But it might help me to get through it in better shape than I have before. Less scarred, less damaged, less broken.

These are the ways I’m learning to fight against depression:

1. I’m seeking help.

I didn’t have a psychology appointment scheduled for this week. But yesterday, after several days spent trying to pluck up the courage, I picked up the phone to my therapist and asked if I could see her. It was a hard thing to do, but the right thing to do. Being able to say, “I’m sinking, please help me” lifted the crushing weight a little. Hearing her say, ‘This is not your fault” helped a little more.

I’m learning to fight by learning it’s OK to ask for help.

2. I’m not self-medicating.

When my depression is at its worst, it’s oh so tempting to blot it out. In the past, I’ve self-medicated with alcohol, because it stops my feelings for a while. But when it wears off, I feel even worse. It exaggerates my symptoms and makes me feel shame and remorse. This time, I’m making a conscious effort not to drink at all. It means going to bed early, but it also means I don’t wake the next day wracked with self-loathing.

I’m learning to fight by choosing not to self-medicate.

3. I’m recognizing my limits.

I was supposed to have friends over for dinner the other evening. But when it came to it, I just couldn’t face it. It had been a long and emotionally exhausting day already and playing hostess felt like one thing more than I could cope with. So I cancelled. Did I feel guilty? Hell yes. But I also knew my friends would understand.

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I’m learning to fight by knowing when to pace myself.

4. I’m not self-harming.

The urges are there, just as strong as ever. But just like self-medicating, self-harming is something that helps in the short-term but just leaves me feeling even more desolate after. My body is already covered in scars that make me ashamed to wear short sleeves or go swimming. Adding to them will make me feel worse. So I’m resisting those urges.

I’m learning to fight by not hurting myself.

5. I’m reaching out.

I find it really difficult to admit I’m struggling. I feel like a burden to my friends and family and I often try to put on a brave face. But the truth is, when I’m in a depressive episode, I need support. I need that proverbial shoulder to cry on and hand to hold. I’m not good at asking for it, but this time I’m trying to be honest and say, “I’m not doing so well. Can you come over for a chat?”

I’m learning to fight by asking others to stand with me.

6. I’m practicing self-care.

I hate the term “self-care.” The idea I can make myself better by having a bath and reading a self-help book seems, frankly, ridiculous to me. But actually, I need to recognize I am unwell, and I do need to look after myself more than usual. Going to bed early, trying to eat regularly even when I’ve got no appetite, taking a daytime nap. These are all things I’d do if I wasn’t doing well physically, so I’m trying to do the same for my mental illness, too.

I’m learning to fight by taking care of myself.

7. I’m being kind to myself.

This is the hardest thing for me. Despite the fact that I know my mental illness is as real as any physical one, I still struggle with feeling like I should be able to control it. My default is to blame and judge myself for being “weak enough” to succumb to it yet again. But as my psychologist tells me, this is real and it’s hard. I didn’t ask for this and I shouldn’t punish myself for it. I need to show myself compassion, in the same way I would to a friend who was struggling in the same way. Would I tell them they were to blame or that it was all in their head? Of course not! So I owe it to myself to treat myself with the same kindness.

I’m learning to fight by telling myself this is not my fault. It’s not my fault.

A lot of this is still alien to me and it’s taking a lot of effort at a time when I don’t feel like I have much energy to spare. And I know “fighting” isn’t a miracle cure. I can’t will myself out of depression through sheer mental grit.

But maybe fighting will help put the brakes on even a little and get through this episode and future ones without it wreaking as much devastation as it has before. It’s not easy, but I’m giving it my best shot.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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