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How I Challenge the Lies Depression Tells Me

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

When you’re severely depressed, I think wanting darkness to consume you makes perfect sense. Pain, by its definition, is uncomfortable. As humans, we put forth as much effort as possible to avoid pain. This is easier when the source of the pain is both known and under our control. If we’re freezing cold, the source of our pain is the lack of heat, and the solution is wearing more clothing, turning up the heat or moving ourselves to a place where it is warmer. Done. Problem solved and pain gone.

Not so much with depression. With depression, our struggling and our pain come from within. Its cause is often unknown, and feels like it is “out of our control.” This often makes us feel helpless, and sometimes hopeless, seeing no way out of our current struggle. Thus, with no control over what seems to be incessant struggling, death sometimes appears as the only true escape from this misery. In this sense, suicidal ideations can actually be a very rational way to end this struggle.

The trick I’ve learned is a few of the assumptions mentioned above are not actually true.

First, I have learned the cause of my depression is actually known, even if at first it doesn’t appear to be so. Depression, for me, usually starts with a trigger. So, I’ll try to find the trigger. Often, it will be an alteration to my sleep. This could be a change to my sleep schedule, a decrease in the sheer quantity, a deterioration of the quality or an unpleasant dream/nightmare.

If it was my sleep, I then try to figure out what caused the problem. Did I drink alcohol the night before? Did I have a large, salty meal close to bedtime? Did I drink caffeine after noon? If it’s sleep, then I’m done, but it could be something else that triggered me. Work is a common trigger for me. Is there a big deadline coming up? Did I do something wrong I’m worried about being reprimanded for? Did I make a mistake I’m ruminating over? Do I simply loathe what I do, and feel like a phony every day I go to work? The possibilities are vast.

If not work, I examine any conversations I had with people, or any changes in my relationships I may have noticed. It could also be a show or movie that triggered me. What about meds, did I miss one of my medications? The reason I focus on finding the trigger, is because if I can isolate it and prevent the trigger from resurfacing, then I can gain better control over my depression in the future, and hopefully have fewer flare-ups.

Once I’ve identified the trigger, I feel better, because it means I’m learning what environmental stimuli influence my depression. With this knowledge, I can begin to avoid or control these triggers so I am not triggered in the future.

The second assumption that is actually not true is I have no control over my depression, and nothing I do can fix it. This feels so true when I’m depressed, but I’ve learned it is a delusion. Instead, what I’m feeling is helpless. In other words, I have convinced myself nothing I do matters, and there is no point in trying. But, this is a symptom of depression, and it is not true. There are many things I still have control over, and they can all influence my mood. Many of these things I still control can even bring me out of my depression.

For example, I have made lists of the things in my life over which I have full control. This list may be long, and will include any and all options, even if I don’t necessarily want to change them. For example, a brief list might include:

  • What I eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Whether and when I drink coffee or alcohol.
  • When I go to sleep, how much sleep I get.
  • Whether I stay at my job or quit.
  • Whether I change careers or stay in the same one.
  • Whether I reach out for help or stay isolated.
  • Whether I call my counselor or doctor.
  • Whether I try medications or ask for a med adjustment.
  • Whether I admit myself into an outpatient or inpatient unit for help.
  • Whether I call a suicide helpline.
  • Whether I cry to heal my past wounds.
  • What TV shows and movies I watch.
  • Whether I exercise or stay sedentary.
  • Whether I get sunshine or stay indoors.
  • Whether I have a pet to provide companionship.
  • Whether I try things that I used to like or do nothing.

Obviously, your list will be longer, but the point of such a list is to begin to notice that we actually have a lot of control in our lives, even if we feel helpless. Yes, we may feel helpless, and the disease called depression tries to make us believe we are helpless, but we are never without control over some aspect of our lives.

The last assumption is nothing will change our current situation. This is flat-out wrong. Many of our actions can and will improve our mood. These may include counseling, medication, exercise, talking with friends, reminding ourselves of our positive traits, prayers and positive affirmations, getting sunshine, petting a dog or cat, being around plants, dancing, laughing, singing, crying, journaling and on and on. All of these things can have a positive effect on our moods. Many people, including myself, have falsely believed nothing would ever improve, but I was wrong. Dead wrong. Because things did improve, and I hate how depression deceives us like that.

We are not “insane” or “wrong” for wanting our struggles to end. We are not “insane” or “wrong” to see death as a way out from this seemingly interminable struggling. The only thing is we have an illness called depression that deceives us and can make us believe:

1. We can never understand or figure out its causes.

2. We have no control over anything.

3. Nothing we do will have any impact on our mood.

All of these things are lies depression tells us. All of these things are absolutely not true. I guarantee you they are not true. Research, science and millions of other people in the world will confirm this. There are millions of people who wanted to die, only to have crawled out of their depression and are now fortunate enough to support others who are going through the same journey.

If you are experiencing suicidal ideations, please, take any action you wish. But it needs to be something. Thinking about depression will never get you out of depression. A sick mind can’t fix itself. Only through action can we affect change. And you are already taking two positive actions: You are joining a supportive community like The Mighty, and reading and researching information that will help you in your recovery. Thank you for doing this. It takes courage to reach out and gain information when our depression tries to make us isolate and give up. Please keep doing this, as it can only help you.

I absolutely believe everything I have written, because I have lived it, and I only wish that other people going through similarly terrible situations have a bit less struggling and misery in the process. Nobody deserves to struggle, and nobody deserves to feel like they want to die. It is awful. I hope each breath, and each moment becomes slightly less difficult and you can continue to take positive actions toward improving your situation and your mood. You can get out of this mood. I promise you. I feel a shift is right around the corner for you.

Unsplash image by Ashton Bingham

Originally published: May 4, 2021
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