The subtitle for this post should be: “That is, at least if your depression is anything like mine, and maybe it’s not.” I’ve written before about what my depression and anxiety can be like, but this fall has been harder than previous years. Maybe it’s because of all this dreary weather we’ve been having, or maybe it’s the drastic changes in my schedule since taking up roller derby, or maybe I’m just getting older. Whatever the case, this year has really taken it out of me, and I’ve had to re-evaluate a few things. Last night, I came up with a handy-dandy list to help me notice my own symptoms of depression and made a second list to go with it. In the course of writing the list for my own benefit, it occurred to me that a few of you might also find this helpful, so here you go.
Part 1: How to Know You are Depressed
- You hate everyone. Like, literally? You think of yourself as a generally kind person, you don’t have ill will toward anyone, yet you pretty much wish everyone in the world would shut the fuck up. You’re kindof overwhelmed with life, and as much as you want to care about the world and be a good person, you’re straight up out of fucks to give. This realization makes you feel even more sad.
- You’re mean to the people you love. You can’t figure out what’s really bothering you, so you just act like an asshole to everyone figuring if you could just get everyone to leave you alone you could get maybe pinpoint the one person or thing to be blamed for your inexplicable state of constant irritation.
- You don’t know why you’re sad. There’s no immediate rational cause for you to feel this way, a fact which confuses you and seems to make it feel worse. Sometimes you just wish someone would tell you what’s wrong with you so you could fix it.
- Nothing is very fun. Everything is annoying. Life tastes like cardboard.
- All you want to eat is junk. It is both a cause and a symptom. You get the rush, then you get the crash. The temporary fix sends you deeper in the hole every time you come down. Hello, addiction. Be it food, booze, TV, sex, or even your work out routine. Everyone’s got crutches, but no one wants to be on those sonsabitches forever. Moderate your use of these things to avoid dependence. If you think you’ve become dependent on any substance or habit, seek professional guidance in breaking the habit.
- You always want to sigh or cry. You persistently feel a lump in your throat, a weight on your chest, tightness around the eyes and jaw, shallow breath and/or a constant need to rub your eyes. In fact, if this is true for you, stop right this second and drink a big glass of water because just imagining how you feel right now is stressing me out. Then just take a few deep breaths and maybe go for a walk outside.
- You feel “tired” even when you’re not sleepy. You are suffering from a general sense of overwhelm, and you’re probably looking for ways to disconnect from the world. You may actually sleep more or find yourself complaining a lot. Sometimes this also feels like a general sense of sickness or malaise, like something is just off-kilter and it’s not clear what.
- You are hyper critical of yourself. All you can see are your flaws. You replay conversations in your head and pick apart everything you said. Your decision-making ability has been brought to a halt by the belief that whatever you do will be the wrong thing.
Part 2: How to Get Help for Depression (and how to help yourself)
- Tell a friend. Do not isolate yourself. If no one knows something is bugging you, you don’t have anyone on your side. If you feel like the world is your enemy, you need allies. So tell your friends, “Hey, I’m having a rough time.” No one is going to judge you for asking for help.
- Tell your doctor. And accept that medicine is an option. This is different from telling a friend. Your doctor’s job is to give you advice about how to take care of yourself, and she probably has some really good resources for you. If prescription medication is an option for you, educate yourself about it, and have frequent conversations with your doctor about how it’s going.
- Don’t wait till you’re suicidal. You deserve help now.
- Be patient with yourself. Life is not going to become perfect suddenly. There will be days when everything seems great followed by days that feel as long as winter. Recognize your own suffering, and treat it with compassion.
- Do not hide from feelings of sadness, but do your best not to wallow. Go ahead and feel your feelings because running away from them just adds to your unhappiness by creating an anxiety response. Acknowledge the fear, sadness, or whatever you’re feeling, but don’t cling to it. It is not your new identity.
- Meditate, don’t ruminate. Meditation is literally the practice of stilling the mind. So all those thoughts in your head telling you hateful things about yourself? In meditation, we look those demons in the eye and say, “I see you.” And it’s funny what they do when you see them. They stop for a second. With practice, you get better at staring them down so you can choose a nicer thought.
- Be kind to yourself. Seriously, you have to be your own best friend. No one knows you and understands you like you do. Your friends care a ton, but only you know what it’s really like on your battlefield. If you don’t have your own back, you’re gonna have a real hard time no matter how much others try to help.
- Practice gratitude. Practice seeing the good in your life because sometimes those things will be your lifeline. They can remind you that the world is a beautiful place and you’re lucky to be in it. They can give you a reason to try. They can make you feel happy just by remembering they exist.
Oh, and don’t forget to take PRACTICAL STEPS. Little things — take your vitamins, get some exercise, eat healthy foods, get on a regular sleep schedule, and consider investing in a happy light (I just ordered one myself). Any little thing you can do for yourself might just make the difference you’re looking for. As a bonus, I often find that my mood is boosted just by knowing that I’m doing something healthy for myself.
Finally, remember that depression is a condition you deal with, not the definition of who you are.