Depression is a beast. Even treated depression. It’s a hunter, really; it hides in the underbrush, creeping closer while you live unawares, until it’s so close you can feel it, but by then it’s too late. It attacks, and you’ve had it. You’re pinned under the claws of the monster.
I’ve been hunted by depression for half of my life now. There have been a few close shaves, narrow escapes from near-fatal encounters. But I’m still here, which is something to be proud of, the kind of pride that it’s hard for people without depression to understand sometimes.
I’ve mostly learned how to tell when the beast is close. There are all the classic symptoms, of course. Excessive tiredness. Difficulty sleeping or getting up in the morning or both. Consistent low energy and difficulty caring about both personal hygiene and environmental hygiene. Obsessive behaviors as escapism–playing video games for hours on end, watching youtube incessantly, refreshing social media websites again and again without even really reading what’s there. It circles, and sometimes I sense it soon enough to put up my defenses. It’s hard, sometimes impossible to escape before it strikes, but I can at least defend myself when it does.
It would be nice if the world came to a halt when depression hits. The mind certainly tries to come to a halt. Unfortunately, as with grief, the world doesn’t stop moving just because we feel like it should.
So I do what I must to try and escape the worst of it. I block youtube and social media. I unplug my gaming consoles and leave my games in a drawer at work. When I’m tempted to sit and stare at nothing, I read. Sometimes something new, but mostly things I know I love. Literary comfort food. I write, pouring out my feelings into bad poetry or short stories that will never see the light of day. Or, lately, blog posts. (Including this one. Shocking, I know.) I go to the gym, though that is occasionally beyond me. It helps, it always helps, but the effort of getting dressed and getting out the door is sometimes herculean.
Depression is a beast, but there are always tricks to help you escape it. I’ve had sixteen years now to figure out mine. Keep track of the behaviors that start when the shadow of depression falls over you and make plans to combat them. Take the time you need away from politics (god, politics, one of my worst enemies, even as I try to stay active and engaged). Take the time away from social media. Find the things that lift your spirits. I don’t want to say “make you happy” because I know all too well that sometimes “happy” is completely out of reach.
Don’t mistake obsessive behaviors for feeling better. It’s a way to sink out of existence. You want to engage with the world in spite of how hard it is, because it does get easier. No, don’t close the window. I know, I hate that phrase too. “It gets better” doesn’t fix how things are now, even if it’s true that depression at its worst can only last so long.
Tell people how you feel. I know the instinct is to try and hide it. Believe me, I’ve been there. I was there yesterday, when I struggled to admit to my two best friends that I felt depression creeping up on me. When I admitted to them (the first time I’ve told anybody) that I have obsessive tendencies when I’m genuinely depressed. That I still struggle to channel those obsessive tendencies into healthy avenues. They, in turn, admitted that they were both feeling the same way. They both did the same thing. And we sat down together and agreed on a way to combat our respective monsters, to help each other fight.
If you’ve never done so, talk to a professional. It’s scary, sometimes it feels like failure, but it’s not. My mom once called depression “the rash of mental health” because it’s so common and so widespread.
Psychiatrist is not a dirty word. Mine is a gentle, caring person who is genuinely interested in my wellbeing. She helps me, medication helps me, and there’s nothing shameful about that. It might take time to find the right medications for you–mine have to change about once a year because they start to lose their effectiveness, but I’m on the extreme end of things. If you can afford it, talk to a professional. I can’t repeat that enough.
Perhaps most importantly, remember that self-care is not the same as self-indulgence. While it’s easy to sit on the couch and binge-watch television while eating garbage, it’s not healthy. It’s not taking care of yourself, it’s letting yourself languish. Going to the gym is self-care. Taking a long, hot bath is self-care. Paint your nails. Give yourself a facial. If that’s too much, just shower. Eat something that’s good for you. Get dressed, even if you don’t plan to leave the house. Tend to your surroundings in some small way. I find Unf*ck Your Habitat works well for me when I’m floundering, when I have no idea where to even start cleaning because it all seems too much and too hard.
If you have thoughts of suicide, consider contacting the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, either via phone or, for those of us who hate talking on the phone, their online chat feature. First and foremost, tell yourself those thoughts will pass. Find things to keep you alive. Mine are my family, my cats, my job. I repeat those things to myself, sometimes literally listing out the reasons that I can’t die. I make them a mantra if I have to.
Depression is a beast, but it’s not as insurmountable as it feels. It can seem immortal–for some of us, it is immortal–but it can be injured. If not injured, escaped. Outrun for a while. Combatted when it catches up again. And you never, never have to fight it alone.