By Richard Bleil
A recent post on my social network suggests four steps for fighting depression. As luck would have it, I’m going to be relocating in about a week, which is often a major trigger for depression, so it seems an appropriate topic for today’s post. Now, I need to state this for the record; I am not trained in depression, and although I’m a doctor, it’s not a doctorate in medicine or psychology, so all I am offering is opinion based on experience.
While I agree with many components of this new meme, I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but I’ll walk through it step by step and, as usual, will strive to explain my thinking.
Step one, according to the meme, is to acknowledge the depression. Absolutely, but it should go further than that. Acknowledging depression allows you to be able to deal with the depression, but I recommend two additional sub components of acknowledgment. First, be okay with it. Depression is a natural part of our makeup, and for some of us, it’s a medical condition. My serotonin levels are naturally low, so even on my best days, my psychiatrist tells me, I’m only feeling as good as most people do on most days. It’s OKAY to be depressed, and being okay with that makes it easier to mitigate depression. Secondly, think about your past for a moment. Often (but not always), there are historical reasons for depression. For example, I was engaged, married, and divorced over just a few months in the summer, and frequently, I suffer from major depression in the summer. When I think about it and realize that it may be a leftover emotion from these events, I am better able to do something about it. For example, I often “celebrate” my divorce, treating myself to a nice anniversary dinner and reminding myself of what a terrible mistake the marriage was.
Step two, the meme said, is to recognize that depression distorts reality. Maybe you’ve noticed in past depressive episodes that you’re dwelling on something from your past, something that, when you think about it, might be trivial or even silly. It’s common to believe that we are alone with nobody who cares, or that everybody is against you, or that things will never get better. Our weaknesses are amplified in our minds, while our strengths are dismissed. There is not much we can do when our depression feeds us these stories, but, it might help to at least use our minds, and use logic to remind ourselves that this is not a reflection of reality.
Step three, “fight”. The meme suggests using “self-love” and “gratitude”. This has never worked for me. “I have a roof” or “at least I’m not…” really never did much for me. Yes you can try to fight it. Like I said above, treating myself to a divorce celebration often helps defeat the summer blues for me. Another thing that I like to do is something good for somebody else, preferably a stranger. This can be as easy as reminding myself to back off to let somebody merge in traffic (which I routinely do anyway but when I do it during a depressive episode it is a nice reminder that I’m the kind of person that does that), or buying for the person behind you at the drive-through, or just being there for somebody else. I also ask my friends on my social network to do something nice for somebody else, and post what they did and the results. But, the reason I don’t completely agree with this is because, frankly, sometimes you just have to let your heart take the journey. There really is nothing wrong with actually being depressed. But, recognize that you are going through the depression, reach out to friends to let them know that you are fragile and may be a little “off”, but don’t let it go for too long. Remember, reaching out for help is a strength, not a weakness.
Fourth, according to the meme, if this hasn’t worked, repeat a mantra that says, basically, “at least it won’t last forever”. Okay, I’m paraphrasing, but this isn’t bad. I don’t do “mantras” (not even “please date me please date me please date me”), but it is true that it won’t last forever. When depressed, I often like to read my favorite “inspirational book” (at least I see it as inspirational) the Tao te Ching. The Tao does speak of the cycle of life. In one passage, it compares this cycle to a wagon wheel (although the Tao argues that one should try to be like the axle to avoid the ups and downs, but this sounds like a bland life to me). On the edge, you are constantly in motion, from high highs to low lows, but this knowledge helps to temper these extremes. For example, when you’ve very high, it helps to remember that it is temporary, and you will be on a down slide in the future. This truly helps to prepare for, and therefore deal with, the fall. It also works for the lowest lows. Yes, things are bad now, but they will get better.
Yes, they WILL get better.