I believe that Depression is the most common mental illness. Almost everyone has had a day or two in their life when they just don’t feel right. Sometimes this feeling passes. Sometimes the days turn into weeks, then into months, then into years. That’s how it was for me.
Not that I was depressed every minute of every day. I had many good days. However, as I grew through my teens and into my twenties the good days became less and less. This is how my days went: I had difficulty sleeping at night. As soon as I put my head on the pillow I would start thinking about all the crap in my life that wasn’t working—churning it over and over until I was clenching my teeth so hard it gave me a headache. It wasn’t uncommon for me to stay awake until three or four in the morning.
Then, when it was time to get up I had trouble waking up. When I did finally wake my first thought was “Another crappy day”. Oddly enough, as I got up and went to work, my mood improved. This is probably due to what they call in DBT “opposite action”, or “act in spite of how you feel”.
I came to view depression as a big scary monster that wanted to kill me. It made me feel like doing nothing. If I did nothing, it got stronger. But if I made myself do something it would get weaker. It is ironic that research indicates that aerobic exercise is as effective as antidepressant medication in treating depression. The problem is getting a depressed person to exercise.
In addition to the mood issues, I had a crippling anxiety. I was anxious all the time. That’s what came to the surface when I tried to sleep at night. It prevented me from getting my social needs met. It pressured me to inaction, which made the depression stronger. It gave me stomach problems.
It is a fact that anxiety is often a component of depression. I used to call it “depression’s ugly twin”.
Here is another sad fact about depression: It can be fatal. It is estimated that over 20,000 people a year commit suicide in America each year due to depression. Not only that, but I believe that a person can become so depressed that they simply die. Also, depression can be a complicating factor in many physical ailments such as heart disease and cancer.
Clearly depression is a serious condition and not to be trifled with. So, what do we do about it?
Here’s what I did:
- Human beings are social animals and as such have social needs. One of those needs is the need to have at least one person in your life you can talk to about anything and have a reasonable expectation of being heard with unconditional acceptance. If you don’t have someone like that a paid professional like a therapist will work.
- Work on self-acceptance. Talking with someone who unconditionally accepts you is a start. Additionally, learn to recognize judgmental thoughts and practice dismissing them
- Learn and practice mindfulness. I started with Transcendental Meditation. The deep relaxation helped me to sleep better and combat anxiety.
- Recognize that recovery is a growth process. I used to tell my clients that recovery is the hardest, scariest thing a person can do.
- As you get better—however you measure it—learn to recognize the signs that your depression is trying to return. Take action immediately if you see the warning signs. Talk to that accepting person in item #1 above.
Recovery might be hard, scary work; but it is SO worth it. Don’t give up. It will get better.