I Have Depression. What Do I Do Now?
At least 16 million people ever year experience one episode of major depression.
That means that right now, either you or someone you know and love is significantly impacted by depression. If it's not you, it's your partner. Your colleague. Your friend. Your son. Your daughter. Your priest.
If it's you, then you know exactly what this feels like, even though it's hard to put into words. Language utterly fails as a vehicle for understanding the experience of depression. If you've never experienced it, then you may not know it when you see it. It's sneaky like that. In fact, one of depression's siblings is shame - convincing those afflicted with depression that they must keep it a secret.
So when you account for all those people whose depression isn't diagnosed or recognized for what it is, then the number of people who experience depression is staggering, beyond comprehension.
How will depression affect me?
If you've recently been diagnosed with depression, then you may just now be recognizing your symptoms as depression. It's hard to know exactly how depression impacts each person individually, but here are a few common experiences:
- Lack of interest
- Weight loss/gain
- Feeling worthless
Sound shitty? That's because it is. And keep in mind that this is not a willful diagnosis. What that means is that no one chooses to be depressed. Like all things, we choose how we respond to our physical and psychological afflictions, but even that's a different story when it comes to depression.
The problem with depression is that it's the kind of experience that steals motivation. So unlike some other diagnoses, the very things you need to do to compete with depression are the very things you don't want to do. Apathy is one of the most commonly reported symptoms associated with depression, so when a doctor tells you that you need a lifestyle change - eat a healthier diet, move more, be more social, etc. - these are all things you need and they're also the last things you want to do.
That's the struggle with depression. It doesn't just afflict, it steals away your desire to heal.
How will depression impact my family?
Depression is such a personal experience. We think about it and talk about it in such individual ways that not much attention is paid to how depression will affect the people you love. But for people who experience depression, this issue is vital. Depressed folks isolate themselves to protect the ones they love from depression, despite that their loved ones don't want to be protected, they want to be useful.
Depression usually makes everyone feel powerless. That's the most common consequence. Family members, friends, colleagues and other loved ones simply don't know what to do if they're not educated about depression. The most powerful response to someone who is depressed is usually to listen and offer gentle reminders that you remain there with them despite their suffering.
Depressed persons tend to believe that they're alone in the world. So when they get gentle reminders that the ones they love still love them, will still be there with them, for them, it contributes to an environment of recovery.
The most important thing to remember is that depression will not impact your family and friends more than it impacts you. Mostly, people just want to feel useful. That's hard when you don't know how to tell them how to help you, but most friends and family can endure anything as long as they feel like they're contributing in some way that helps.
So remind them that sometimes you're not going to know what you need. And in those moments, their simple presence is enough.
So what should I do if I'm depressed?
Ah, we get to the million dollar question. First, your response to depression doesn't actually start with action, but with acceptance. Accept that depression is what you're experiencing, that's it's okay, that it's not a sign of moral or personal failure, that lots of people experience it and that you'll get through it. In fact, you're getting through it.
Second, accept that one of the things you're going to struggle with is doing the very things you need to do to compete with the symptoms of depression. This is okay. It's normal. So set smaller growth expectations for yourself than you might usually. If you'd expect to feel more motivated in a month, give yourself two. Talk to people who know you that might help you set more realistic expectations for yourself.
Here's a list of common ways folks have lived well with depression:
- Psychotherapy & medication - the best outcome research on depression recovery demonstrates that the best one-two punch for depression is when you combine some kind of talk therapy with medication. We also recommend that you choose a medical intervention plan that suits your own worldview. Consult with a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner who can help you make the choice that feels the best.
- Move - I hate the term "exercise." A part of me believes that it was invented to get us to spend more money at the gym or on supplements we don't need. I don't meant to sound skeptical. Probably I don't like the term because it means I have to do it. But I digress. I much prefer to think of the concept of movement. I can move anywhere. I can only exercise in designated spaces. But whatever term you use, you need to move. Start small. Get up out of bed a little earlier. Move around your house in ways you normally wouldn't. Stand at your desk for 10 minutes of every hour. Your body needs endorphins and your endorphins need you to move in order for you them to kick in.
- Socialize - You need your people. Even when you don't want to. When depression is convincing you to stay in another night. Or another day. Be around people. A small goal you may set for yourself if you work from home, for example, is to work from a coffee shop one day a week. Or perhaps start working from one of those cool co-working environments that are popping up all over the place. If you're an introvert, and you're around people all day, consider one introvert trick that most people don't know about. It's not that introverts don't like people. Introverts can actually be quite social. It's actually the nature of social interactions that either drains or gives life to introverts. So if you've been in a working environment all day, you've been "on" all day. You still need to be social in a way that feeds you. Be careful not to generalize your social fatigue to all social situations. In other words, pick your one or two friends who feed you - with whom you can just let go. Plan to be with them.
- Education - There are innumerable resources for you to increase your knowledge and awareness about depression. NAMI is an organization that has plenty of information that will help. And education tends to happen in public spaces like groups or seminars. Maybe you'll meet someone who knows exactly what you're going through, which can accomplish two things at once. You're learning and you're being social.
- Mindfulness - Finally, there's some great recent research on the benefits of meditative practices like yoga or mindfulness breathing that can really help with depression because they ground you in the present moment. Depression has a way of keeping our thoughts and feelings rooted in past mistakes or future worries. It's like time travel. Meditative practices remind us that we are in the present. A quick google search for yoga studios or meditation practices can help you find resources in your area.
Depression impacts almost everyone. Whether you are depressed or know someone who is, no one escapes its impact. So consider yourself enlisted in your own or someone else's healing. It's an ongoing experience. It's never completed.