The day I took my first antidepressant was not a momentous occasion. It was the day I finally accepted that I couldn’t do this on my own anymore.
Faced with the prospect of binge eating everyday, stuffing cakes, cookies and chocolates into my mouth despite being filled, I still thought I could manage on my own.
I thought all I needed was another self-help book, another technique, another therapist, to help myself.
When the psychiatrist first prescribed antidepressants to me, I told him,
No thank you, I think I can manage on my own.
Oh, the folly of those times!
But my therapist finally convinced me that I needed help.
The day I took my first antidepressant, was the day I finally gave up control. I popped this small, green pill in my mouth. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.
Was the opposite of depression insane laughter? Would I suddenly burst out laughing?
Nothing seemed to happen.
All I knew was that I was tired. The lethargy set in at work, as I sat at my desk, slowly dozing off.
The day I stopped taking antidepressants, was not a momentous occasion too.
There were no cheers, no balloons, no festivities. It was the day I felt okay.
It’s hard to describe what ‘okay’ feels like. If you say it’s feeling normal, it’s not exactly that.
But there were definitely physical improvements. For one, I was no longer binging on food. Emotionally, I felt better too. A week ago, I burst out into unstoppable laughter, after hearing a funny speech. It was when I felt ‘okay’ again.
You want to be okay again, whatever that means for you.
You want to laugh. You want to look at the bright side of life. You want to feel excited and full of energy. You want to enjoy life again.
You want to live. Fully. Joyously. Wholeheartedly.
Here are 5 principles that can help.
Create meaningful connection daily.
I lay in bed. As I looked back at the great meal that we had as a family hours ago, it struck me.
This wouldn’t last forever.
One day, my sister would move out, I would move out, and then these spontaneous connections, wouldn’t happen as often.
I admit. I don’t spend much time with my family. Growing up, it was much easier to spend time with friends, than with family. After all, I saw them everyday. It wasn’t so special to meet them.
But then COVID happened. And there was suddenly this chance to connect with them daily. As I connected with them, I found life and laughter again.
Getting your life back on track after depression is seeing that life is not about you. It’s easy to get caught up in how you feel. But look past that.
Connect with people around you.
You might wonder – how do I do that amidst COVID, with all the restrictions?
Some things that have been helpful for me are:
- Arrange calls with friends.
- Writing letters to them.
- Personally, this has helped me a lot because it gives an outlet for my emotions, and helps me to feel connected in difficult times. I also do not need to arrange anything. I just need to take out paper, and write!
- Explore a new place with a friend.
Battle depression daily.
In the video series Wild At Heart (session 4), a man is sharing his journey through depression. The point of transformation came when he reframed his journey.
I started telling myself:
I am battling depression.
Not “I’m depressed”.
Facing down the big black dog of depression daily, is never easy. It’s even more difficult when you identify it as a part of you, rather than something you’re actively battling.
There’s a difference. There’s a difference between your identity being entwined with depression, and you doing battle with depression.
The former concerns your being, the latter concerns your doing.
Reframing your journey through depression as something that you’re battling, rather than something you’re stricken with, gives you a greater sense of control.
There are active steps you can take to do battle with depression.
Over time, you will be familiar with the voice of depression.
Use the Self-Esteem Raising Tool
On paper, I want you to write down all the things that depression usually says to you. On the other side, write down the counterarguments to fight against depression.
With this, you remind yourself of the good within yourself. Whenever the big black dog of depression barks, you can silence its bark by reminding yourself of the goodness within you.
Build mental hygiene routines
Do you keep yourself clean physically by bathing, brushing your teeth, and flossing daily? Okay, maybe you don’t floss daily. You don’t have to admit that to me. I don’t want to know.
I’m also not going to be your dentist and scold you for that.
But how about your mental hygiene?
Battling the disease of depression is also about building and keeping to a mental hygiene routine.
For example, that can involve:
- Walking in the park with nature
- Eating healthily.
- Surround yourself with affirmative messages and motivational quotes.
Do what works for you. What matters more is that you do it daily, rather than leaving it to chance. Doing these mental hygiene habits daily, without fail, keeps the depression at bay. Whether or not you like it, you do it.
Be gentle with yourself
When you’re on social media and see all the great things that people are doing, its easy to fall into comparison.
You’re desperate to regain your passion and zest for life, and racing ahead with life! Who cares about waiting for depression to finish its course?
Be gentle with yourself. When I was taking antidepressants, the first question I had for the psychiatrist was,
How long do I need to take this for?
When can I stop?
I wanted to get depression over and done with.
But don’t impose strict datelines on yourself, thinking that you need to get well by a certain time.
Cut yourself some slack.
Write a letter of self-forgiveness to yourself.
You may find yourself blaming yourself for depression. Please, forgive yourself.
The antidote to self-flagellation is self-forgiveness. Forgive yourself for having depression.
Be specific about what you’re forgiving yourself for.
I forgive you for having depression. I know that this time is frustrating because you feel that you’re not moving forward with any of your goals, and that you’re being pushed back instead!
But I forgive you.
Be friends with depression
Wait wait…I was telling you to battle depression just now, and now I’m telling you to be friends with it?
Here’s what I mean.
Being friends with depression is about two things.
Recognise depression’s place in your life.
Firstly, its recognising that there is a place for depression in your life.
Without the valleys of depression, you would never fully know the peaks of joy you can attain.
What if depression was a gift to help you to see the good in your life more clearly?
When I battled depression, there were many days that I wanted to get over it and move on with my life. But it was also during this battle that I began to see the place for rest. To slow down. To see that life didn’t have to be an endless chase to move from goal to goal, glory to glory, achievement to achievement.
Depression is telling you something about your life. You may want to anxiously regain your passion when you’re depressed.
But pause. Ask yourself a question.
Are you tuning into what depression is saying?
Take this time as a time to understand yourself better. Don’t race through depression, and end up missing the lessons it has for you.
Accept what depression says.
Depression is a radio station. It’s like any other radio station.
It’s not the radio station that you have to be scared of, anxiously switching it off whenever it plays.
It’s a radio station.
At Depression.fm, you hear things that you may not like.
- You’re useless.
- No one likes you.
- No one wants you.
- You don’t belong anywhere.
- You’ll never succeed.
It’s a radio station. That means that you can adjust its volume. Rather than shutting it off, be friends with what it’s saying.
In Russ Harriss’ book, The Happiness Trap, he introduces the idea of acceptance and commitment therapy.
He suggests that whenever we hear depression.fm playing, you can say,
Oh! There’s depression.fm again!
It’s saying, “I’m useless.”
Doing this is about putting space between yourself and the thought. Rather than getting caught up in it, you detach from it.
You defuse its power.
Being friends with depression is about recognising that it has a place, however much you wish to be rid of it. It’s also recognising that you have the power to put space between yourself and the thought. You don’t have to identify with everything it says.
Celebrate yourself daily.
You’re not going to be racing out of the stands like a racehorse after depression. You’re more likely going to take time to recover to your usual levels of productivity and confidence.
Celebrate the small steps you take. When you find yourself unable to complete work as quickly as before, celebrate yourself still. Recovery doesn’t happen in a day.
There’s so much worth celebrating.
Sent an email? Celebrate it.
Wrote a paper? Celebrate that.
Don’t look for the big point of success where you say,
“YES! FINALLY I got there!”
Rather than celebrate the small milestones along the way.
See progress, not perfection.
Each day, write down two things you’re proud of doing, and one thing you can improve on. This keeps you focused on what you’ve done, rather than what you haven’t.
It gives you motivation to continue working, even when progress seems painfully slow, or even negligible.
If you go looking for perfection, you will never find it.
Search for progress instead.
Write a letter of love to yourself.
When I first started therapy, my therapist told me to write a letter of love to myself.
What’s worth celebrating about John? When has John demonstrated those qualities?
I thought he was going gaga.
What?! Me? What was worth celebrating about me?
But as I did it, I found the wisdom in what he told me. It helped me to see the good in myself. Even today, I do that every time I feel down and out.
Read it out loud to yourself.
You will be amazed at what you find, in yourself.
In your journey through depression, there are days where you will lose motivation. Where you will feel down, out, and not wanting to do anything.
But depression is a battle. It’s a daily battle.
It’s about being on guard against the words depression whispers in your ear, telling you’re not enough.
Not good, not strong, not worthy.
It’s about reaching out to those around you, and seeing that you’re not alone on your journey. You’re not alone on this journey. You don’t have to fight this alone.
Yes, this is your journey, your battle, your depression.
No one can go through it but you. But when you fall, someone can pick you up. When you stumble, someone can push you along. When you fail, someone can persevere with you.
And reach in.
You have what it takes.