7 Strategies I’m Learning to Use in Fighting My Depression
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.
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.
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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.