The Mighty Logo

What Helps Me Find Color When Depression Makes My World Gray

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you’re looking for creative inspiration, check out the Daily Inspirations group on The Mighty.

If I could describe myself using one color, it would be gray. It’s always been gray, at least for as long as I can remember. Whenever doctors or therapists would ask me how I was feeling, my answer was always the same: “blah,” which to me equates to gray. Years and years of sadness, confusion, lack of interest and no motivation will do that to you — make you feel gray.

My favorite band, Dave Matthews Band, has a song called “Grey Street,” with the following notable lyrics:

“There’s an emptiness inside her
and she’d do anything to fill it in.
And though its red blood bleeding from her now
it feels like cold blue ice in her heart.
She feels like kicking out all the windows
and setting fire to this life, she would change everything about her, using colors bold and bright.
But all the colors mix together, to grey.
And it breaks her heart.”

I always felt a connection to this song, as it perfectly depicts how I normally feel, how I want to feel and the disappointment when everything ends up back the way it always is. There are so many difficult aspects of having a chronic illness. What causes it? How long will it last? I feel like all I’ve ever known is “blah,” so how do I know if I’m depressed or in remission? Why do I not care about my interests, or some days, anything at all? What are my triggers and what can I do to help myself when I’m down? The questions are endless.

One of the many difficult parts for me has been the fact that nothing I seem to do brings me any feeling, hope or emotion. There have been extremely long stretches of time between feeling even the slightest flicker of hope and interest, to the point that I feel like there’s nothing that can or will help me. This is an incredible despair that many of us face. We go through the motions of each day, knowing that it’s pretty much guaranteed we’ll feel the same, low, unenergized, uninterested feelings as the day and weeks and months and years before. We forget and almost accept that there were once things that brought us joy (and what were those things, anyway?) and believe we likely won’t ever find them again.

To us, one of the biggest wins we can encounter is finding something that sparks even the tiniest of feelings. And it’s usually something small and trivial, something that our families and friends and peers may question as to why this small thing is so important, meaningful and ultimately, represents hope.

My thing, that I feel so lucky to have found, is coloring. Right before the big “adult coloring book” boom, I was in a gift shop. I’m known for buying random “knick-knacks” (as my husband calls them) and self-help tools, and with no prior plans to find one, I picked up a coloring book thinking it could be cool to try. But with almost everything else I’ve ever bought, I had no hopes or expectations that I’d use it or that it would help in any way. I brought it on vacation the following week, and it never made it out of my bag. But on the four hour drive home, something compelled me to give it a try. I started coloring early afternoon, and didn’t stop until I went to bed that night. It felt like a release, a distraction, a way of being creative and in the end, it lifted my spirits.

That was a few years back, and although I don’t color as much or as consistently as I’d like, I know there is something there I can lean on, and nine times out of 10, it will make me feel a little better. And I found that the more I did it, the more vibrant, amazing and beautiful (or “bold and bright,” per DMB) colors were being used. I like to think that the color was already in there, deep down and underneath my gray, and I found a way to release it. Here are the many things about coloring that I love.

It’s forgiving.

  • Think you did a bad job or made a mistake? (We’re always our worst critics….) No one ever has to see it.
  • No one is there to critique, judge, grade, measure or determine your performance. And if you do share it (I post mine on my Instagram account) — still, no one points out flaws or how it could be better. In fact, many people like it, and those who know it brings you peace love it.
  • You can start a page and not feel bad about not finishing it (if you tend to feel bad about that kind of thing, which I sometimes do, but, I have several pages incomplete and don’t care!)
  • You can have multiple pages going at once.

It’s creative.

  • Technique is totally up to you. I prefer filling in each cell with a solid color. Sometimes I catch myself feeling bad that I’m not shading when I color, then quickly snap out of it when I realize there are no rules.
  • They make great gifts! Frame one and give it as a baby gift, put it on a thank you card, use it as wrapping paper or simply a way to show someone you’re thinking about them.

It’s all yours.

  • You can choose your level of detail/effort. I gravitate toward the complex pieces with thousands of tiny cells to fill, but there are also books out there with way less detail.
  • It’s a great distraction from whatever it is that brings you down. Sometimes it’s a really nice break, even if only a few minutes.
  • It’s on your own time. You decide and control all aspects of it.

Things that might make you feel better are sometimes staring you right in the face, and if you’re like me, you have no idea. So my advice would be to always do small things for yourself on a whim. It may not work, you may not connect with it and it may not make you feel even slightly better. But maybe it will.

Like much of our lives, this is trial and error, and certainly worth the try.

Getty image via Betul Aktas

Originally published: May 20, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home