In view of the high-profile suicides of high profile celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I wanted to write about my past struggle with depression.
In the early 1990’s I entered a severe dark period that lasted well over three years. I triggered it when I accepted a job promotion that caused me to be separated from my family. The details of what caused this period of depression, often referred to as the night of the soul, are not important. Someone else may have handled a similar situation in their lives with little worry and concern. I mentioned it to illustrate that normal life events can trigger such a difficult emotional period in anyone. The trigger depends on the individual’s makeup.
Our culture has a tendency to label someone who suffers depression as some weirdo suffering mental illness. This is wrong, for it is a lot more normal than you realize and can affect anyone. This labeling can discourage anyone facing depression from seeking the external help they need.
An inability to reach out, especially when gripped by suicidal thoughts, is the gravest mistake people who suffer this condition often make. I venture to guess that Mr. Bourdain and Ms. Spade took their lives because they feared the judgement of others and became isolated by their refusal to seek out help.
As I was growing up, my parents taught me to believe normal people did not go to a psychologist/psychiatrist. That was for crazy people who couldn’t cope with normal life.
I didn’t want to be one of “those people” so I didn’t seek professional help when the depression closed in on me like an ominous fog. My beliefs were reinforced when, after months of suffering from a worsening condition, I approached my father for help. His response was,
“Be a man! Look at me, I have not allowed myself the luxury of wallowing in dark feelings. A man has to buck up and forge ahead.”
I didn’t want to be a mealy mouthed weakling in the eyes of my father, so I tried bucking up on my own. The decision to not seek help almost proved deadly.
What does depression feel like
I’m sure there are differences in every case, but I thought describing my symptoms might help others identify similar ones.
The first and most ominous experience was the overwhelming feeling of darkness. It was as though someone flipped a switch and the light inside me disappeared. Without light, I felt no joy, love and serenity. All that remained was dread and a lack of enthusiasm for everything. The darkness is relentless, it feels as though you are falling in a pitch dark bottomless hole.
Then came the desire to be alone. Wanting alone time to brood, I avoided people. I couldn’t even stand to be around the people whom I loved the most.
Third came the lack of enjoyment for the things that had once been a source of fun and pleasure. Playing basketball, my favorite pastime, became just another dreary chore.
This was followed by my nightly obsession to remake the past. Fearing I had made a mistake with my decision to take the job, I tried to think of alternatives that would undo my action and return me to the past. I would “what if” options all night long and, after many hours, reach no answers.
Next came a desire to escape. Maybe if I ran off to a place where no one knew me, I could start over. Maybe the answer was to work for another company. This also caused the circular thinking of “what iffing” alternatives to last all night long.
With little or no sleep, exhaustion complicated matters. I have experienced nothing as disorienting as sleep deprivation. Exhausted and with no answers, you begin to have suicidal thoughts.
Accepting suicide begins when you start believing that your loved ones would be better off if you weren’t around anymore. I reached this phase but realized I needed to reach out and get help before I took any self destructive action. Some are not so lucky.
Effective things I learned that can help you handle your depression
One lesson I learned from my experience is that depression is a call to change. It is your soul’s way of telling you that you have been living according to what others wanted for you and the decisions you made led you to a point where that life no longer works for you. The problem is that you have been leading this false life so unconsciously that you cannot fathom where to make changes. So you panic.
Seek professional help.
It is imperative to seek the help of a person who is trained to remain neutral about your outcomes and can help you find your own answers. The most loving friends and family members cannot provide this help. Although they can provide loving support, they are too invested in the person they know and not in the person you are becoming.
Limit the time you speak to about your condition and the number of people you talk to about it.
Depression can hurt so much that it will become easy to obsess about an immediate fix. This is why it is important that you limit the time you think or process your issues. If you let this obsession take over every minute of your life, it can affect other important things, like your marriage or your career. You will also be tempted to talk about things to anyone, even to stranger who enters your sphere. You need to trust your sources. Telling your story to acquaintances or a colleague can confuse or become detrimental to your condition. People who don’t know you well will project their values and issues onto you. This can only confuse you.
If your doctor prescribes medication, take it.
Medication, like antidepressants, will not solve your problems, but on the short term can get you something you desperately need, rest and clarity.
Do the little things.
Doing the little things, like picking up after yourself, washing dishes, or making the bed is an important step to feeling better. This gives you a sense you still have some control. It also teaches you a necessary aspect of overcoming depression, do what is in front of you and let the future take care of itself. This also applies to daily care of your personal hygiene.
Read uplifting stories of people who have overcome difficult odds.
This is important because it is proof you can get to the other side of your challenges.
Read books that encourage you to look inside for your answer.
There are many great authors who can teach how to follow your inner guide. Wayne Dyer is one of my favorites, but there are many others.
Learn to meditate.
At a minimum, a meditation practice can help quiet the mind and give you a respite from the circular thinking of depression. I meditate twice a day for twenty minutes and I know my practice brings me a great deal of serenity, gratitude and acceptance of my life just as it is.
Incorporate exercise into your life.
Exercise releases endorphins similar to those of antidepressants. Exercise can also provide a break from thinking about your problem. It can also make you feel good about yourself.
Stay away from drugs and alcohol.
Self-medicating with these substances to numb your pain only delays your depression further. A healthy diet is also extremely helpful.
Dealing with depression is a normal part of the human condition. It is a period of reflection that can help you make changes that will bring forth a more satisfying life, but it can be very challenging to overcome. The best thing one can do is to stop worrying about pleasing others, you are the one who needs help now. Remember, those who back away from you during times like these are not worth keeping around you.
You can get through this. Remember that many people love you just as you are. Know you are not a failure because you had a setback. We need you around to help us create a better world.
May peace always reign in your heart.
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