Lifehacking Depression

“Depression is melancholy minus its charms.”
Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor

Most of the writers and artists I admired were drunks, depressives, and depraved in some capacity or another. To be great in such a creative field one would have to be eccentric and tortured, as good art comes from the pain of heartache or the melancholy of isolation. Some of my favorites growing up include: Dickinson (recluse), Plath (suicide), and Hemingway (suicide). Perhaps morbid curiosity is a part of adolescence and the overwhelming feelings of puberty, but I obsessed over poetry, music, and art. I was a sponge for literary darkness.

At thirteen I tried to kill myself. I learned that I was clinically depressed and should be put on medication to regulate my moods along with monthly visits to a therapist. This wasn’t the first time I tried to end it all. Sadly, I tired three more times over the past twenty years.

Why confess this messiness on some stupid blog?

First off, this blog is not stupid, thankyouverymuch! Secondly, depression is not just a short period of time where you feel bummed out over some small thing – it’s a serious illness were your brain betrays you on every turn. Every little thought is a cruel self-mocking dagger ready to repeatedly stab you in the heart. Suddenly, I was unlovable and alone with a rotting mind. No one could possibly understand the physical and emotional agony I was in because I didn’t understand my disease and lacked the fundamental tools to communicate my true feelings without shame. SSRIs helped me get through the worst of it, but left me numb, artificial, and awkward. I was constantly in a fog and isolated myself from everyone I loved. I lost my two best friends over my illness and slow recovery. I don’t blame them. I was doing everything I could to stay in one piece and maintaining relationships were not a priority- my mental health took that top spot. In order to be a better person, friend, sister, daughter, and partner – I had to take a good hard look at myself and come up with strategy to keep my darkness in check.

I finally quit taking medication for depression in late 2009 and have been free of such prescriptions since, and I’ve never felt better and actually live my life instead of trying to end it. (Not that there is anything wrong with proper medication. Some illnesses cannot be beat in nontraditional forms and must be tended to with drugs, therapy, etc. I support anyone who is striving to get better – with or without assistance from medication.) I went back to school to finish my Bachelors degree and plan on attending graduate school in the spring. It took a long time to get to this point of recovery.  After several years of trial and error, I have complied a list of ways I manage my depression:

  1. Indulge in the sadness. Really wallow in it, soaking up all the self-pity you can handle like a bloated tick. The key is let the mental madness settle for a day or two (maybe more depending on the situation) and really marinate.
  2. Get over it. Easier said than done, I know! Whatever person, place or thing brought you to this point put it behind you. Accept the past for what it is and stop beating yourself up for it.
  3. Move, exercise, clean, etc. After a few days of solitary saturation, you’ll be more willing to get up and out. Mainly out of sheer boredom. There is only so much mental abuse, Twilight movies, and pjs one can take before a walk sounds like a good idea. When you are active, you tend to stay that way and working up a good sweat is cause for a nice shower and good nights rest. Odds are that you will wake up feeling much better.
  4. Start a routine and stick to it. Personally, I need structure in my day or I will do nothing but Google cat videos. If I don’t work my routine, I can feel the difference in my mood. Everyday I strive to workout for an hour, meditate once a day, drink plenty of water, and eat good whole foods. Work, writing, and social events are to be treated equal and be in balance with each other. My main problem is that one area can overrule the others fairly easy.
  5. Abstain from drugs and alcohol. This is a tough one for those who are social and find themselves out at a bar, club, or whatever the kids do these days. For me, I had a bit of a problem with alcohol in my early twenties. Luckily, I was able to dry out for a number of years and am able to have a couple beers without incident. I have learned to pace myself and allow for a buzz without going over the edge of ugly drunk. It’s a fine line I walk.
  6. Find a focus point. I knew that I wanted to finish my BA after dropping out from my first time in college due to a deep depressive episode. Luckily, I found a suitable program at my local university. Some of the best professors I’ve ever had worked and lived in St. Petersburg. A new world opened up and I found a renewed passion for writing and research.  Sure, I’m about ten years behind schedule, but at least, I know what I want to do for a career without fear of another uncontrollable mental breakdown.
  7. Get absorbed in something. A TV show (Netflix a BBC series, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, etc.), books (or series of novels from the fun to the serious), or the myriad of entertaining podcasts out there. I found myself behind on more films, books, and TV than I could fathom – so I had a strong interest in catching up. My love of pop culture mixed with an obsession with literature has made for some of the most creative academic papers I have ever written.
  8. Talk it out. After some time alone and on the road to recovery, talking to your friends and family is helpful to keep your depression at bay. My disease has opened up a dialog that I couldn’t have ten-plus years ago. Thankfully, my friends and family have been very supportive and are starting to see what my mental illness does to me. Being able to discuss my feelings without shame and judgment has truly helped both parties.
  9. Hang out with the right people. I have lost and gained friendships over this rocky road. I have learned boundaries and accepting others for their quirks. Going out and having a good time is important to recovery. Avoid the toxic people and negativity like the plague. Again, easier said than done, as it’s easy to get sucked into the rabbit hole of gossip and nonsense.
  10. Realize that depression comes and goes, and that’s fine. Now that you have the tools and ability to manage your mental health issues, you don’t have to live in fear. Tomorrow will be better, truly.
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