dark cloud

4 Ways to 'Own' the Dark Cloud of Your Depression

Maybe it’s the Sunday “Scaries.” Or maybe it’s something deeper, something darker, like an innate dread or anxiety. Maybe it’s that big scary word that starts with the letter “D” — I’m talking about “depression” (why are we so scared of that word, anyways?) Maybe it’s a relentless case of the blues. Whatever you call it, it’s yours and it’s time to lean into it.

I call mine my “dark cloud.”

At first, I did so just to myself, because I didn’t dare talk to anyone else about the sneaking suspicion I might be experiencing depression. That sneaking suspicion derived from many sleepless nights spent staring at my iPhone beneath my bed sheets, Googling “symptoms of depression” and comparing the similarities to my own mental or emotional ailments.

At first, just to myself, because what would that say about me? Worse, what would my friends, my family or strangers on the internet say about me?

At first, just to myself, because how can a 27-year-old with the world in the palm of her hands be living with “depression?” Because what business does someone with a loving family, an amazing boyfriend and the job of her dreams have with depression?

No business at all, I assumed. (Which, to be honest, was part of the problem.)

Eventually, I couldn’t outsmart my “dark cloud” any longer. I couldn’t run away from it. I couldn’t keep my composure. I couldn’t stop myself from falling apart over spilled (coconut) milk, a stubbed toe, the right words in the wrong order, the wrong song at the right time, rain when the forecast was sun, or any other seemingly insignificant thing.

When I told my boyfriend about my “darkness,” I expected him to retreat, to run, to not believe me or not take me seriously. Not because he’s ever given me any reason to question his love and acceptance, his commitment or his loyalty to me, but because my dark cloud sometimes, well, “clouds” my better judgment.

Anyway, I told my boyfriend. And he listened. He asked questions so he could understand. And instead of trying to offer solutions to “fix me,” he acknowledged the darkness, and gave me the best advice I’ve received — better than anything else I had read on the internet in those wee hours of the night — advice so good that, here I am, passing it on to you: he told me to own it.

Because nothing should “cloud” your better judgment. You should own your darkness.

1. Externalize it.

Separate yourself from your darkness by giving it a name — not because we want to avoid or deny our darkness (I’ve tried, it doesn’t work), but because calling it out creates much-needed space and pivotal distance between you and your dark cloud so you can actually see it for what it is. Which, by the way, is nothing more than a messy metaphorical cloud of irrational thoughts swirling through your psyche. Recognizing this distinction is key.

You are not your darkness.

2. Tell someone.

If you’ve felt anything close to what I’ve been describing, then you know carrying the weight of your darkness on your own feels impossibly heavy. Free yourself (and your psyche) and tell someone. Anyone. Tell your mom, your BFF, your significant other, your therapist, your cat, your journal or the stranger you meet on the subway. Ideally, tell someone who’s willing to listen, and who you trust to not try to “fix” you.

I’m not promising rainbows and roses the second the words leave your mouth. I’m not even promising that telling someone will be easy. In fact, it probably won’t be. But, once you acknowledge your darkness, it begins to lose its power over you. Once you open up and talk about your darkness — even if only to your cat (at first) — you loosen its grip on your psyche.

3. Get to the bottom of it.

This might be slightly terrifying, but try to pinpoint exactly where the darkness is coming from. Be honest with yourself. Ask: Is it coming from real, external stressors or imaginary, internally created ones? If you’re able to identify where your darkness is coming from, it’s much easier to work with it and eventually, move through it.

Pro tip: Journaling this out helps tremendously. I discovered a lot of my mental, emotional, physical or spiritual angst was actually just me resisting life — me trying to control completely uncontrollable things — and bypassing my feelings.

Speaking of feelings…

4. Face it, head on.

My dark cloud is unpredictable. One minute I’m happy as a clam, the next, my cloud is storming. I’ll feel angry. Irritated. Anxious. Helpless. Alone. Sadder than sad. Madder than mad. Frustrated because it doesn’t make sense — because I can’t understand it and I can’t explain it. Sometimes it lasts for an hour, other times it hovers for days with no sign of lifting.

If you’re currently thinking “same,” you’re not going to like this part (nobody ever likes this part) but, in order to fully own your darkness and finally move beyond it, I’ve learned you have to move through it. Which means, you have to look at it without judgment and feel all the feels that come along with it. Including the hurt, the heartbreak, the doubt, the anger, the overwhelmingness, the frustration, the fear and all the other weird, unpleasant, painfully uncomfortable human feelings you’re desperately trying to avoid.

I know from experience this is incredibly hard. I also know this (read: 1-4) definitely isn’t that quick fix you might have been hoping for. Reality check: when it comes to the head and the heart, there is no such thing as a “quick fix.”

But, here’s the thing:

It’s all OK.

I have succumbed to my dark cloud many times.

I’ve been a puddle on my bathroom floor, crying uncontrollably for reasons I can’t possibly understand and for seemingly no reason at all.

I’ve spent entire weeks in bed, silencing phone calls and ignoring texts because I just couldn’t deal.

I’ve ignored my work, turned my back on my calling, my passions and avoided my obligations, only to suffer the consequences (which, at the time, seemed completely inconsequential due to my mental state — they weren’t.)

All this to say: I get it. I’m not going to compare my mental illness to anyone else’s mental illness, but I know what it feels like to want to hurt yourself, to want to hide under the covers indefinitely, to wonder why you can’t just feel happy when everyone around you seems so happy.

And I want to tell you, it’s OK.

OK, so maybe you’re not OK right now, but you will be. And here’s what so many people don’t understand: It’s OK to not be OK. In fact, it’s more than OK; It’s human.

Part of being human means feeling a whole spectrum of human emotions. That means happy, sad and everything in between and beyond. If you were ambivalently happy all the time, well that wouldn’t be very human of you (and to be honest, sounds a little boring.)

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contributor artwork of baby in a flower

How Art Helps Me Evade the Darkness of Depression and Anxiety

Years ago, before illness and disability moved in, I formally studied art. During those days, I just wanted to please my professors and get high grades. While I developed a skill set and created some interesting works, I never created my own style or personal expression. Since leaving school, I don’t have the guidance of instructors, so I’ve had to become more self-reliant with my work, which has improved as result.

I regularly engage in art making. I feel art brings beauty and light into the darkness. For me, it is a necessary part of my life. Specifically, drawing. I’ve been drawing since I was a toddler and despite a few breaks in life along the way, I still pursue it. Though I am not part of any gallery or have a large following, I’ve learned to enjoy it for the sake of enjoying it without expectation of reward. Being able to take pencils and produce something representational and of substance feels like a gift when so many other aspects of my life have failed or detoured because of disability. Art has never turned its back on me. It is always patient and waits for me to pick up where I left off.

I like to draw different things in colored pencil, especially humans and architecture. I love works that require a lot of detail — even painstaking detail. Having to focus a great deal on a subject, takes my mind off of how I feel, it helps me evade the depression and anxiety that loom and threaten to swallow me on darker days. I encourage others to take up art making. It opens your mind and spirit to new possibilities and introspect.

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Photo via contributor.

tired woman in an office

What It Feels Like When Depression Comes Unexpectedly

It started at my desk at work.

At first, I didn’t notice it creep up on me. It started as those restless butterflies my anxiety has made me grow accustomed to, so naturally I ignored them and went about my day. Lunch passed and the butterflies were soon accompanied by a sort of gray fog.

By 3:30 I had to get out of there; I packed up my things and hurried to the elevator. As I stood in front of the elevator doors, I felt it hit me: that dark wave of numbness, mixed with a sharp pang of sadness. I got to my car and barely shut the door before I felt the tears begin to sting my eyes. I forced myself to calm down and drive home. I reminded myself I didn’t need to feel like this, that none of these feelings were real. I tried to listen to a funny podcast, but I could barely pay attention to what they were saying.

Soon I was home, and managed to go about my night for a while. Then a tiny argument with my boyfriend set me off all over again, but this time it came back with a vengeance. I couldn’t keep it together any longer. I started to cry, but not just a few tears. I started sobbing, the kind that makes my face go completely red and my nose drip. The kind that couldn’t just be wiped away after a few minutes, but the kind that demanded to be cried until my tear ducts were empty. By the time I settled down the argument I had been having with my boyfriend didn’t matter anymore, and all I could do was lie down for a while.

I try to be cheerful. I try to look to the better days. It works just enough to keep me going, but just going is not living, it’s just surviving. I soak in the dark burdensome clouds that hang over me. Sometimes, like today, they get so heavy that I can’t lift them off of me. So I must sit, crushed under their weight.

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a beautiful sunset on the river and A happy couple in love

Please Stop Romanticizing Depression

Girl is sad. Girl meets boy. Girl is sick. Her depression kicks in and has panic attacks and lashes out and the confused boy leaves, confirming her anxious thoughts that “she isn’t good enough” and that “everybody leaves.” But by some miracle, Boy realizes what it is. Boy finds Girl. Boy tells Girl he loves her and suddenly, she’s happy and cured. The power of love!

But for most of us with mental illness, this is not the case. I’m lucky enough to have found someone who is so understanding and so patient with my depression and chronic anxiety. He doesn’t get annoyed when I text incessantly and he lets me have my space but still takes care of me and knows when I’m lying on the bed, unresponsive, staring at the ceiling, I’m still me. I’m just filled with nothingness.

There is nothing romantic about my depression. It’s not the kissing of scars. It’s not holding me while I cry. It’s not any of the posts that you on Tumblr or in movies. It’s not beautiful. It’s not delicate or dainty. It’s not the hero saving the damsel.

To me, depression is not romantic. Depression is pain. And it’s numbness. And it’s at the same time. Depression is an illness and it can be chronic and long-lasting and it’s not something a kiss on the forehead can fix.

I’m not denying love and support do not play a role. They definitely do, but depression is a mental illness. And as much as we may want to, we can’t always “love” a person back to health.

To me, depression isn’t the romantic things you see in movies. Depression is not being able to get out of bed for four days. Depression is not showering for a week. Depression is living in a room full of empty water bottles and half eaten bags of chips because you can barely get yourself out of bed, let alone cook a meal.

Depression is a serious mental illness that affects millions of people and it’s not something “the one” can fix by holding your hand. Stop romanticizing depression and instead, help us get real help. Bring us water. Get us into the bath. Make sure we eat something with nutritional value.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Serious, uncertain woman posing for portrait

How to Help a Loved One With Depression

Helping a loved one with depression doesn’t have to be scary or hard. It just takes a little understanding, patience, and empathy.

What it’s like

One of the most challenging things about my depression is sometimes it can happen with no warning. Life is going great and then wham! When it hits, every. little. thing. seems difficult beyond belief. Getting out of bed takes great strength. Holding even the most simple conversation with someone is draining. Replying to a work email feels more difficult than running a marathon. Everything is hard.

Also, when depression rears its ugly head, it feels like it is feeding on every positive thought I’ve ever had. Suddenly, life has a negativity filter on it and everything that happens to me feels like worst case scenario times 1,000. I’ve lost all hope for anything. No matter how hard I try to be positive about something, my brain clouds over, bringing with it a rainstorm that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. Because a mental health condition directly affects how the brain functions and because the brain is essentially our body’s command center, everything gets off kilter.

This is just a small glimpse into what is going on when I’m in the throes of depression.

How to help

We can’t help our mental health condition, and we want you to know that. You can’t tell us to just stop being depressed or to “buck up.” It’s going to take time for us to get through this, and we need you to be patient.

While we’re going through a depressive episode, we need kindness and sensitivity. You don’t have to “baby” us, but just know we may need a little extra help to accomplish tasks. It may take a little bit of work on your part, but anything you can do to make things easier on us like making dinner, or running errands on our behalf, will help out. Remember the part where I said everything seems difficult? I meant everything. And because things are hard, all the plates I’m spinning start to drop. Then I feel even more depressed because I’m having a hard time doing even the most simple things. Know that whenever you can lend a hand, you’re helping to stop that negative cyclical thought process.

Another thing is, please let me sleep or rest but not for too long. When I’m depressed, these activities are a great escape. It gives my mind a break from all the worry and negativity and gives me a chance to recharge. Having said that, though, don’t let me do this for too many days in a row.

Sometimes hiding from the world becomes too enticing of an escape and I can get stuck. This is where you gently need to force me to do something good for myself, like take a walk, go for a run, or ride a bike. Offer to go with me, but don’t expect me to talk much. It’s not because I don’t want to; it’s just that it just takes too much strength. Still, I want you there because it’s just nice to know I’m not alone.

Encourage us. Encourage us to see our therapist or counselor. I know I just said talking can sometimes take too much effort when depressed, but mental health professionals can help us through that. That’s what they’re there for — to help redirect our negative thoughts and talk through ways to get out of the valley we’re currently in.

Also encourage us in general. Positive affirmation is so powerful and really can affect the dynamics of the brain. My mind is so clouded over when I’m depressed; I just can’t see the positive. It’s not that I don’t want to; it’s because I can’t. You can help though with your encouragement.

If you’ve never experienced depression before, I know everything I just talked about might seem difficult to grasp. That’s OK. It’s all right for you to admit you don’t know what we’re going through. You can just say, “I’m here for you if you need anything, and I love you.” That right there is one of the biggest things you can do for us… Just let us know we’re not alone and that you see and hear 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.

Follow this journey on Still I Run.

Thinkstock photo by FogStock/Vico Images/Alin Dragulin

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