Some of my Facebook friends recently got into a comment war over a tweet. A TV personality or talk show host (a half-famous celebrity type) said that depressed people just need a good pair of running shoes and a long run. And poof! No more depression. Like my friends, I felt my blood boil. It was the same nonsense advice I have seen for years – go for a run, listen to upbeat music, “choose happiness.” There is perhaps nothing less helpful than telling someone with depression to choose happiness. And yet, as I was reading my friends’ comments, I was lacing up my own sneakers to battle my own depression.
When I was diagnosed with clinical depression my sophomore year of college, it was no surprise – I had spent the night before in the psychiatric ward of a central Illinois hospital after taking ten of my migraine pills (they lowered blood pressure). Part of my release involved a prescription of Prozac and required therapy through my university. This type of treatment works for many people, but for others (like myself), it didn’t do anything but make me feel inadequate for being unable to manage it myself. When I graduated and the prescription ran out, I ditched the pills and therapy and searched for my own way out.
But the problem is that there isn’t a way out of depression, and depression isn’t just sad music and crying. Don’t get me wrong, it has involved plenty of nights of crying for hours on the couch, but depression is much more boring than that. It’s complete apathy and fatigue. It’s lying in bed all day not because you want to, but because you can’t get up. It’s letting the dishes and the garbage pile up and wearing the same dirty clothes because you can’t get yourself to wash them. Depression is a terribly mundane monster that sinks its fangs into your back until you’re numb. You sit and watch your life pass you by, unable to reach out and grab it.
One afternoon last summer, I decided that I should go for a run outside. I hadn’t run outside before, but I threw on my dusty sneakers and just started running. Two miles later, gasping for breath outside my apartment, I felt a rush of joy that was so overwhelming, I wasn’t sure what to do. I kept running, going further and further every week through Chicago’s warm summer light. Running became the very thing that cleared my mind and gave it back to me, unlike therapy or medication. Running became my treatment, my attempt to remove the monster from my back. I’ve turned it into a practice, and when I go a while without running, I feel its effects.
You can’t outrun depression, and you can’t just start listening to happy music and change your life, but you can find a treatment that works best for you. My self-love is running, but that is not a cure-all for everyone dealing with depression on a daily basis. People who have never been clinically depressed have a lot of advice for those who have, and pretty much none of it is helpful. In fact, it’s dangerous and causes even more confusion. But, if you can sift through the garbage and find one nugget of wisdom that is true for you, treat it like the precious gift it is. You can’t choose happiness, but you can choose to find your peace.