6 Nov 2017

VOICES: DEPRESSION – 6 THINGS THAT HELPED ME

WORDS x Danielle Baker & Edited by Erin Reid
PHOTOS x Tree Frendo

Two years ago I was trapped inside an emotional vacuum – neck deep, arms pinned relentlessly by my sides – that left me feeling detached from my body and adrift in my own misery. I was both consumed with grief and frantically attempting to outrun it; desperate for joy again in life but guilt ridden at every brief moment I experienced it. And though I was in a place relatable to so many, my internal world left me feeling hopeless and alone.

Finally acknowledging that I was deeply depressed and having no idea how to get myself out of it, is what saved me. And today my world has less pain and more happiness.

Much like the journey to eventually acknowledging my state, the path beyond towards healing has been neither linear nor painless. There are still bad days, and learning that not every negative feeling is a precursor to an all-consuming bout of depression has taken time. I was lucky to have the support of a sage doctor and select, steadfast loved ones, and I was fortunate that there were enough small victories along the way to keep me going. I don’t take these things for granted in my healing. Getting out of my own personal hell has been hard work, and though I’m in a different place today, I will never look back on surviving that lightly – or without gratitude. I expected that dark time in my life to always hold regret and self-loathing but instead I am thankful that it gave me a stronger sense of self. When I feel pure joy now, I know I have both created it and deserve it. Joy is no longer a fleeting emotion beyond my control.

As everyone who has experienced it knows, at its worst, at its absolute depths, depression can make the word empty seem trite. I so wish there were a one-size-fits-all prescription that could be dispensed to anyone in need; a clear, universal way to get to acknowledgement and a direct path to get beyond it. But just as we all arrive at this place individually, ultimately we must make our way through it the same way.

Through my journey, what I have learned is universal however – beyond the admission and acceptance imperative to healing – are the things we can do to keep our head above water and move, albeit imperceptibly at times, towards our future. With time and repetition things that felt empty for me at first eventually regained their meaning, and the feeling I got from managing a walk around my neighbourhood block I now feel in spades when I stand on an alpine ridge and take stock of how far I’ve come.

Get outside – Connecting our brains to our bodies and spending time under the open sky – experiencing the weather, breathing fresh air, connecting to whatever is around us in the natural world. In our social media world it can feel like if our efforts aren’t epic, they aren’t worthwhile. We need to remember most days won’t be epic nor should they be. There is still great value in the shorter, less adventurous journeys, and in simply being out there.

Sleep – The relationship between sleep and depressive illness is complex – and it’s not clearly known if depression causes sleep problems or sleep problems contribute to depression. In either case sleep is important. Without it, our ability to manage stress and process our emotions is compromised. At the very least, not getting enough sleep adds a layer of complexity to our existing emotional struggles. If you are struggling with not getting enough sleep, do whatever you need to do to make it happen. Turn off screens, create a bedtime ritual to help you relax, talk to your doctor about non-habit forming sleeping aides, etc.

Meditation – Just ten minutes a day will change your brain and how you interact with your emotions. The app ‘Headspace’ has a great analogy about our feelings being like passing cars and how meditation allows us to watch the traffic of our minds without jumping in and riding away with each one. Meditation also allows our usually overactive brains a much-deserved rest.

Talk to a Professional – Be patient, this one can take time. It is important to find someone you feel comfortable with and trust. Finances can also be challenging when it comes to professional help, however many places in the world offer some sort of psychiatric, psychological, or counselling help on a sliding scale rate system – or even for free in some cases. Ask your doctor for information.

Accountability and Routine – When I felt my worst, my mom would remind me to go outside and take one photo. By setting this goal for me she not only made me accountable for something, but also gave me a way that I could feel accomplished. Her simple request would get me out the door, into nature, and doing something that I had once been passionate about. It also initiated a sense of routine for me and quickly became the first thing I would do when I got up in the morning.

Write – It needn’t be eloquent or even always coherent, but simply getting the thoughts that are playing on loop in our brains down on paper can give us perspective. It allows us to put all of our worries, or anger, or sadness in a safe place where we can come back to it – and it clears room for other thoughts. I would often get stuck in a loop of negative thoughts because I was afraid I would forget something, but writing it down allowed me to move on and come back to it when I wanted. Not surprisingly, I never went back to read those pages.

Robert Frost wrote ‘The best way out is always through’, and now that I am on the other end of this thing I can truly see the wisdom in that. This pain is a bitch. But it can also be a teacher if we let it. It can illuminate internal places that need our attention. It can help us with acceptance of our reality and rid us of the futile desire to control everything around us. It can teach us to listen to our own internal noise differently – and more accurately. It can demand that we slow down and be more attentive, and expose those places where we are stuck; the places where the lessons still need to be learned. It can show us the sticky places in our thought patterns, exposing the ones that no longer serve us and only keep us pinned in one place. This pain can be useful; this pain can lead us to something better. But first, we must acknowledge what it is we are experiencing, and accept that it has decided to rest here for a while, while we learn and heal. And no matter what it is we need to heal – because sometimes our brains need to mend much like a broken bone – we are best served when we approach our healing with patience and determination.

 

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