It’s more likely than not that you, a friend, or a family member struggles with depression — perhaps long-term or sometime during their life. But there are hopeful perspectives that may help you or someone you love.
Depression, although common in various forms, is also commonly, very misunderstood.
As someone who often struggles with depression, I’ve been forced to cope as best I can. When just “getting over it,” sunshine, diet, and exercise don’t do the trick, I think this:
1. Realize you’re in good company.
You are definitely not alone in your struggle with depression.
13 American Presidents, some of the most famous writers and musicians, and about a quarter of the celebrities you see at the Oscars had or have depression, too. Severely.
President Lincoln’s “melancholy dripped from him as he walked,” and he also claimed he was “the most miserable man living.” Winston Churchill’s “black dog” brought him suicidal thoughts. From great leaders to contemporary celebrities including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jim Carrey, and Billy Joel, depression and bipolar depression has almost been a hallmark for leadership, intelligence, and creativity.
Add to the list Beethoven, Sir Isaac Newton, Mark Twain, and 5-10% of America.
2. You are not your symptoms.
Too often people say “I’m depressed” or “I’m bipolar.” So am I diabetes? Am I cancer? Point is, you are not your symptoms. You deal with them. They influence your life, perhaps greatly, but they do not define who you are. You are far greater than your symptoms and your struggles.
3. Have hope. Research is coming at an increasingly faster rate.
Neuroscience and psychology are merging as the mind and the body are being treated more as one. Current research is suggesting severe depression, along with other symptoms including bipolar, is thought to have an inflammatory and autoimmune mechanism. Would you blame someone if they had arthritis? That may be oversimplifying it, but it’s a powerful idea to entertain.
Even now, medication is on the horizon that alleviates depression in hours, not weeks. Many efforts are pointing towards non-psychotropic medications for immune response that may help. We are lucky to be born in this era of research, and it will only improve as we come to understand it more. One day in the future, current severe cases may be looked upon as unnecessary, preventable burdens such as how contracting polio is viewed today.
4. Take advantage of your range of emotions.
When you do feel good, or even just “normal,” you can better appreciate it. You appreciate a sunny day more if it has been raining all the time. Take advantage of this time to pursue your passions even more and it will help. Having depression can give you greater awareness, perception, appreciation, and empathy as a person. Use this experience to reach out and help others like you, and during this time it will help you feel better about yourself too. (That is in fact partly why I write this, in hopes it will help others like myself.)
5. Identify triggers and develop personalized techniques. Empower yourself to help yourself.
I.D. what exacerbates your depression, whether it’s toxic relationships, stress, or isolation. Reaching out is hard, but it is most important when you feel like withdrawing.
There are also so many materials out there to help as well. I listen to meditation recordings on my playlist on iTunes when I’m depressed. There is also free online cognitive behavioral therapy.
Meditate, exercise, write, play an instrument. Do something to get out of your head in the worst of times. Find whatever works for you, even if it only helps a little. Exercise has been shown to be an effective antidepressant.
It is said that King Solomon was very depressed, so he had a ring made that said “This too shall pass.” Remember that. And remember, you are definitely not alone. You can also help yourself to some extent, help is coming, and it is all around you. Reach out. Have hope. I am right there with you, and so are millions of other people.