Oh depression. Would it be weird to say that I am actually profoundly grateful to my depression? I suppose it would be without context. When I experience depression, I feel it not just in my thoughts, but deep within my bones, my emotions, and the way I hear, see, and visualize my surroundings. It’s an entire taking over that happens, and I’ve learned over the years to have a sort of “evacuation plan”, if you will, for when it hits.
Much like a storm, I can often see it coming ahead of time. Suddenly, as if a switch was flipped, I notice the tides changing, experience myself going inward and away from others, and feel my energy implode on itself. The me that would go through this several years ago would simply sink into the swamp of sadness, wallow in its despair, and slowly decompensate until it was over.
THE MIDDLE PATH
What I’ve learned over time is that fighting it through sheer willpower and succumbing to it willingly are not the best courses of action. Both encourage some form of extreme behavior and only end in disappointment (not the greatest outcome for a depressive episode). The middle path, which is a mixture of doing what you can to support yourself and gently allowing depression to speak to you, seems to be the most self-compassionate response a person can take.
Karla McLaren, a revolutionary in the realm of emotion study, considers depression to be “the stop sign of the soul”. What she means by this is that depression is an organic manifestation of something happening within our minds and bodies. It could be that we are over working, committing to too many tasks at once, having unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others, or simply taking in too much without a healthy amount of rest or output. When these experiences occur, it’s natural for our entire being to say STOP and feel a sort of disconnection to everything. It’s as if depression steps in and makes an executive decision to shut the whole thing down, close up shop, and asks us to re-evaluate what’s working and what’s not.
Although depression is often not a pleasant experience for most people, it can be helpful to form a new relationship with it. I find that when I tune into the message it’s sending me: to slow down, take inventory, and rest up, that I allow it to do its job and it recedes shortly after.
DEPRESSION IS ON A SPECTRUM
Now, a little disclaimer: There are different levels of severity to depression. The level that I’m referring to is a mild to moderate form; something that takes you out of commission for a few days. The more severe forms of depression require a deeper level of intervention and treatment and can often include hospitalization and medication management, and there is absolutely no shame in that. If that’s where you find yourself residing, I would highly recommend looking into therapy and medication (if that’s what feels right). However, that’s not to say this information won’t be helpful, it might, but use it as an addition to your existing treatment.
Some ways of coping with depression that I've found takes a middle path approach are:
LET PEOPLE KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON:
Whether it’s friends, family, or coworkers, it’s good to let someone in each group (or whomever you feel comfortable sharing with) know that you need alone time, might not be very responsive via text/email, and that you’ll touch base when you’re ready. I think, as someone who’s been on both sides of the fence, it can be really beneficial to your own self-care and to the people who care about you to know what's going on. Stating what it is you need not only lets others know what’s up, it is an act of honoring yourself and seting healthy boundaries that keep you in the drivers seat.
HONOR YOUR NEED TO REST:
This will look different for everyone, but typically it will involve slowing down, going to bed earlier, and letting yourself curl up on the couch for hours at a time. It can also mean doing gentle exercise like yoga or taking a mindful walk in nature. Resting is a wonderful way to let your mind and body recover from the many hats we wear throughout the day.
TAKE TIME OFF IF NECESSARY
If your job is flexible and accommodating, reach out to your boss or supervisor and let them know that you will need to take some time off to focus on self-care. Most employment sites are aware that you are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and will provide reasonable accommodation to support your wellbeing. Obviously this doesn't mean that you can take as much time off as you want anytime you want it, rather it's about taking a look at what you reasonably need during a depressive episode and requesting it.
If taking time off is not something you can afford to do, find ways of building in "time off" during your hours of work. That might look like taking 10 minutes every hour to simply zone off, distract yourself, or walk around the block. It might also look like brining something with you that is grounding, i.e. a "worry stone", lavender essential oil, or even visualizing a safe boundary around you that protects you from external pressures.
This doesn't need a whole lot of explanation, but it does warrant to say that going outside can act as a gentle reminder that life exists outside of you, that nature is constant yet ever changing, and that you exist in the world. If you have a backyard, go there! Take your bare feet and press them into the earth and feel the support of the ground below you. If a park is nearby, take a small trip to that place and let all 5 of your senses do their thing and bring you into the present moment.
UNPLUG FROM SOCIAL MEDIA:
I always find that I feel a little better when I take time away from social media (which includes mindlessly scrolling through the internet, watching Netflix for hours at a time, and browsing FB and Instagram), and usually it is because I've stopped vicariously living other people's lives and have stepped into my own. There's a sort of pressure that we unknowingly place on ourselves to show the world the best version of ourselves and that can become rather exhausting, especially when you feel far from your best.
I know there are some people out there (I've been one of them), who proudly proclaim to everyone they meet that they're "done" with social media and semi-want you to acknowledge their greatness and beautiful willpower. You don't need to be one of those people (not that they're bad, it's just coming from a place of ego), but you can be the person who unplugs after a certain time of day, for a weekend, for weeks, months, however long you feel comfortable doing so. Just as long as you provide some space for yourself to unwind and digitally detox for a little while.
JOURNAL, MEDITATE, FIND A THERAPIST:
If depression is considered the stop sign of the soul, it can be really useful to get introspective and let the feelings, thoughts, images flow from your mind so that you can observe them either through written word, meditation, or by talking about them with a therapist. This is a time of growth, healing, and of letting the things that aren't serving you go for a little while or permanently. Growth is not something for the faint of heart, so take stock in the fact that you are doing something that requires a tremendous amount of strength.
Take time to listen to your mind, body, and intuition and feel into the experience of depression. Again, you don't have to let it control you and you certainly don't want to try to control it. Your goal is to take a middle approach that encourages self-efficacy, rest, and mindfully moving through the emotion with gentle awareness of what it's asking you to do, which is to slow down, re-evaluate, and recover.