Thursday, September 21, 2006

How to survive depression

From the time I was eight years old, I knew there was something "wrong" with me. Other kids seemed to be able to do things without worrying or feeling like the world was going to end every day -- I could see them laughing and playing and well, not THINKING as much as I was, tucked away in a corner, immersed in my book.

The thing with any mental illness is that it's never really cured. Like any other incurable disease, you have your times when all's quiet and times when all hell breaks loose and you have to batten down the hatches and get through it. Winston Churchill called depression the "black dog" that bit him from time to time. You just have to learn to distract the dog as long as you can to keep it away from you.

Here are my tips on surviving bouts of depression:

1) Realize it's an extremely common issue -- psychiatrists call it the common cold of mental illness. Other people -- including wealthy, famous and extremely successful ones -- have survived and even thrived, and so can you.

2) Get a good doctor who you can talk to. I cannot stress this enough. This is one of the major determining factors as to whether you get better or not. Don't be afraid to dump a bad doctor -- I just did, and it was extremely empowering -- and ask questions of any new doc you start seeing.

3) Ask for support. When you're in the middle of a depressive episode, you feel completely alone and like no one cares. Someone always does. Reach out. Be honest. You'd be surprised how many people feel or have felt as you do.

4) Medication can be incredibly helpful, even life-saving, but it cannot be the cure-all. I've had to learn this one the hard way. You have to eat well, get enough sleep and exercise. You have to. It's not a "nice to have" when you have this disease. The exercise part's been difficult for me, since I was a very sedentary child, but my doctor says it's essential, and that it takes a good year to really get into an exercise program and have it feel good.

5) Learn when you should push through the wall of inertia depression creates and when you should take a rest. I'm not talking about the dreaded "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" -- depression is an illness and just cannot be cured that way. At the same time, you can do a lot to make yourself feel less damn helpless and more in control. Get out and be around people. Push yourself to clean your house -- you'll feel so much better when it's done. Don't lay on the couch for hours wallowing and watching TV. At the same time, be good to yourself -- you're going through a lot. Do something you enjoy, and tell yourself you're worth it.

6) Pray. My faith in God is unshakable -- and it's helped me through the rough times. Put your life in the hands of some sort of higher power.
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