Ten years ago at the age of 24, I became severely depressed. There was no 'reason' for it, no devastating life event such as the loss of a loved one; it just crept up on me and took hold. Depression feels different for everyone. For me, it feels like a literal weight on my shoulders and a dark cloud over my head. It's heavy. It's oppressive. It's overpowering. Everything is an effort, even getting out of bed. I think the world would be better off without me; I'm such a burden, it'd be better for everyone if I was dead. I don't want to feel this way, but I can't allow myself to feel happy. I don't deserve to be happy. I'm a failure and I've let everyone down.
I could see no way out and had constant suicidal thoughts. I was crying all the time. As well as all that, I was having panic attacks almost every night. This lasted about a year, until I begged my mum to take me to see the doctor (I was too scared to go alone). That was the turning point for me. I felt he understood what I was going through - everyone else I had tried to talk to hadn't been able to understand and I was left feeling even more rejected, isolated and alone. To put it bluntly, I thought I was mental.
Even ten years ago, there was more of a stigma around mental health and fewer online outlets to talk about it. I had a blog but wouldn't have dreamed of admitting to my readers that I had depression. I'm so happy that we've come such a long way in the past decade and people can talk openly on platforms like Twitter about things like depression and anxiety without fear of being judged - and that's because brave people have opened up and started the conversation and helped others in the process.
Anyway, my GP - who I'm eternally grateful to; he quite possibly saved my life - put me on Fluoxetine and told me to come back to see him once a week to discuss how I was getting on. The drugs were helpful and I began to perk up slightly, enough to start doing everyday things again. Don't let anyone tell you that antidepressants are a bad thing - for some people, they're a life saver. I also looked forward to my weekly appointment with the doctor as I felt it was the only place I could talk about my emotions without feeling judged.
I stayed on the meds (on and off, with a higher and lower dosage as needed) for the next 3-4 years until I eventually felt I could cope without them.
Luckily I'm not in that dark place anymore, but occasionally I wake up feeling the same as I used to, or I'll happily be going about my day and all of a sudden the depression will hit me like a freight train. I refuse to return to my former state, so over the years I've learnt a few different coping mechanisms to help manage my depression and keep it at bay, before it consumes me again.
These may or may not work for you - as I said, everyone's depression is different - but please give them a try. I hope one or more of them helps you in some small way. It's also worth keeping in mind that they will only work for mild to moderate depression - if you're severely depressed, you need to seek medical help immediately. It was only by going on antidepressants first to stabilise my mood that I was able to start making positive changes to my life.
1. Refuse to let the depression win
This is the tactic I use most nowadays. It's not about pretending the depressive thoughts aren't there, but not allowing yourself to believe them. I tell myself that my feelings are just that: feelings. They're not the truth. I've heard emotions referred to as 'mind weather' which I feel is a wonderful analogy. They come and go, changing as often as the weather. Another thing I do when I catch an unhelpful thought entering my head (such as "you're worthless") is to laugh at it like it's the most ridiculous thing ever. That usually makes it run and hide for a while. I also know that the less I want to do something or go somewhere, the more important it is that I do it. I don't let the depression win anymore.
2. Talk to someone
Whether it's a medical professional, a family member, a support group or strangers on Twitter, talking about and having someone understand what you're going through makes the world of difference. You'll realise that you're not alone, you're not incurable, and you're definitely not crazy.
3. Write your feelings down
Journalling is another way to let your emotions out. If you're not ready to speak to a real person, sit down and write about everything that's troubling you. It can make you feel better just to get it out of your head. Sometimes I write out all the things I'm worrying about so I don't feel I have to 'remember' them. You could also go the other way and jot down a list of every single thing you're grateful for in your life. This will help you realise how much you still have going for you and just how lucky you are.
There are so many positives to working out; mental benefits as well as physical. Exercise releases endorphins, which puts you in a better frame of mind and gives you a more positive outlook. Even a ten minute walk around the block or lifting a few weights at home can do the trick for me.
5. Go outside
Sometimes just getting out of the house can make me feel so much better. I find that being inside, especially alone, can be stifling. That's when I start having dark thoughts so I remove myself from the situation.
6. Eat healthily
Junk food may be comforting and make you feel better momentarily, but in the long run, it's making you feel worse. The last thing you need when you're depressed is to feel even more sluggish and tired. Start eating lots of whole foods, including plenty of fruit and veg, and your energy levels and mood will both start to pick up.
7. Practise mindfulness
This is something I'm still not very good at. I'm constantly worrying about the future or thinking about the past instead of being in the moment. But I'm trying to get better at it, because it does make me feel calmer and I get to experience life as it happens. You can download a mindfulness or meditation app on your phone and use it whenever you need to.
8. Do something that makes you happy
When you have depression, nothing makes you happy anymore. But if you feel up to it, try rediscovering a hobby you used to enjoy or arrange to meet up with friends for a coffee. I love blogging because it gives me a purpose, I enjoy writing, I have something to do during my free time instead of sitting and stewing and I've met some lovely people because of it.
Disclaimer: None of these tips is a cure for depression. They are just strategies I have used to help me manage it. Once again, if you have severe depression or are having suicidal thoughts, seek professional help immediately.
Have you ever suffered from a mental illness? What coping mechanisms have you found work best for you?