‘THE D WORD’: WAY AHEAD
In my previous post (https://www.thewholesomeliving.in/post/the-d-word), I had written on the reasons for depression, the manifestations of depression and the common misconceptions about depression. Even though, it had a small section on how to deal with depression, I wanted to dedicate a post to explain in detail the measures that I had taken. I also wanted to elaborate on the steps I take now to help me maintain the balance, after a depressive or manic episode.
As you would be aware, there is no one size fits all mechanism, and each person will have different ways that would have worked for them. However, there are some steps mentioned below, that I believe will help everyone, irrespective of the reasons and the type of depression.
Riding the Wave
I heard the term “riding the wave” for the first time, when my therapist used it. He said, at times, it is important to just let the disturbed feeling sink in, and let it pass along with time. It is important that one does not question why the depression or low is setting in, and not panic or be anxious. At the same time, it is also important to be aware of the change that is happening, and take steps to feel better (which I have discussed below). These steps should be paced out and done at one’s own terms. Further, it is important to realise that recovery from depression is not an instant process, and will take time.
For instance, in my case, I was not able to come to terms with my depression and constantly blamed myself. I was never patient for the process to run its course, and show the results. However, with therapy (which I have discussed later), I slowly became nicer to myself, and accepted that patience is important in the process of recovery.
I think exercise is something which is being recommended as a must do for all of us, irrespective of suffering from any ailment. Exercise is very important for a healthy body and a healthy mind. For someone suffering from depression, engaging in intense exercise won’t be an easy and achievable option. However, from my experience, walking for as less as 15 minutes outdoors, refreshes the mind immensely. Exercise generates and balances ‘feel good’ hormones like endorphins and serotonin that helps you elevate your mood levels. It is easier said than done to expect a person in depression to get out, wear their walking shoes and step outdoor. However, I believe that it is human instinct to get better, and we must let that desire motivate us to take steps towards path of recovery. During my initial days of depression, I used to walk around the building of my flat for just 10 minutes. Therefore, don’t look for a perfect scenery or a park for this, just step out and physically exert yourself (even if it is to the minimum extent) for some time.
Outdoor Activities and Food
Staying indoors and lying in your bed or couch is the most common option used by people suffering from depression to deal with their condition. It is reality that a person suffering from depression does not feel like doing anything, and will mostly resort to this option. However, as I said before, our instinct to get better should push us to step out and go for a drive, catch a movie or go for shopping. While I am recommending these options, personally, there have been more than once that I wanted to do these and have failed. So, I know it is easier said than done.
In Chennai, when I faced my first experience with depression (it was one of the worst), there were times where I used to sit up on the bed and start crying for no reason. At that time, Srini (my husband) and his mother used to ask me to go out with them for a drive. I used to refuse and continue crying. Then they had to persuade me a lot and eventually I used to step out in my home clothes as I would not have any will to change. After that drive, I always used to feel a lot better. Movies and shopping started happening a lot later; maybe after a month or so. Even then, I used to stop midway and come back home. But for whatever it is worth, it did make me feel better.
Being a foodie, food has always been my first go to option when I feel low. This was even before depression kicked in. During my depression days, I used to eat a lot more than normal. Food used to always make me feel better. It was a quick fix to help me elevate my mood. However, it is only a quick fix and not a long lasting fix. I believe that when we are looking at ways to address depression, we should have a mixed bag of options, both short term and long term. So, if it works for you, I would say go for that ice cream or pizza, if it can make you feel better.
Open Up and Reach Out
I am blessed to have a supportive family and friends who have helped me overcome my mental health hurdles. However, there have been a lot of times, where I have shut all of them out and stayed in my shell because I did not want any human interaction. That has never done me any good, and I used to sink deeper. But my husband and family never gave up on me. So if your family and friends are trying to help you, let them in and take the helping hand.
Also, reach out, if you feel that your near and dear ones do not know what you are going through. Depression, unless it becomes extreme, is an invisible illness. So before you slip into the hole, send that WhatsApp to your friend or give a call to your parents and tell them that you are not feeling well. You must believe that they will not judge you or make any assumptions. You must have your interest in mind, and seek help.
As I said in the beginning, this post is not just about what has helped me deal with depression, but also what is helping me stay stable. Even after my recovery from depression, whenever I feel slightly low or lost I always reach out to Srini, my family or my close friends. I have a list of my close circle who have been there for me in the past, and I believe that they will be able to help me get through the phase.
You will never realise how much “your people” can make an impact on you. During a depressive crisis, their perspectives and suggestions will not make any sense to you in the beginning, but they will definitely help you sail through the crisis. Only when your reach out, you will realise that there are so many people out there willing to help you.
Once in a while, my therapist gives me these exercises, to get perspectives from my friends on different scenarios. Both my family and friends have been more than willing to answer my questions. Through these exercises, I have found so many interesting and helpful ways of looking at things. Therefore, never underestimate the value of your friends and family, and make them a part of your journey to recovery and stability.
I cannot stress the importance of the role played by a psychologist/ therapist in my life. My therapist is transforming my thinking and my approach towards life. During depression, it is easy to feel that everything around us is doomed and there is no meaning in anything. A therapist guides you and slowly helps you to lift you out of the low.
As recently as a week ago, I was slowly slipping into a depressive episode. Srini and I identified it early and we reached out to our therapist. He asked me to make a bare minimum schedule with the simplest of things that I can achieve. He said it is not about making oneself feel better, but rather completing a task. This completion of task will give confidence. We implemented his method, and slowly started ticking off small small tasks like a walk, a prayer, watching TV etc., and felt confident that I am able to do these things. Finally, I got back to my optimum level of functionality.
What I have learned from therapy is that it equips you with various tools to deal with a mental issue. In case of depression, it made me aware that I need to continue doing something in order to stay afloat. It is not the magnitude of the task that matters, but the completion of the task.
There are various kinds of therapy, and the one that I have been doing is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I had briefly touched upon it in my earlier post. CBT helps one change their behaviour, basis the thoughts that one has. My therapist always says that you can never change your thoughts, but what you can change is how you act in response to the thoughts. For example, if the thought is that life is worthless and I don’t want to step out and take that walk, we should be aware of that thought and step out and take a few steps and walk. It is easier said than done, and I used the exact same words to my therapist as well. But then to get out of the low, there is no other way. While doing this, we need to be aware that there should be a balance. We should not push ourselves too much, and blame ourselves for not doing or completing a task. Therefore, set small achievable targets.
If anyone reading this post, needs a therapist, I am happy to share the details of my therapist. He also does online consultations, and I would strongly recommend him if you need one.
Writing is one of the most powerful tools to reflect one’s emotions. Whenever I feel low or lost, I pen down my thoughts and I find it is extremely therapeutic. Journaling need not be just when one is feeling low, it can also be done when a person is happy and stable. Writing gives me more clarity and structure to my thoughts. When I feel depressed my thoughts get very cloudy, and writing gives me direction. When I put down my thoughts, then I am able to make more sense of my thoughts. While I want to journal on an everyday basis, I don’t end up doing that. However, I would strongly recommend picking that habit as it helps clear your head at the end of the day.
This tool is something that has helped me maintain my stability. I was workaholic and had very less time for self-care and hobbies. Post my diagnosis, work only started becoming a part of my life, and not my life. Consequently, I started investing time in my hobbies and discovering new hobbies. I learn dancing and also dance often (as a few of you may know). Further, I do mandala art work, read and also love cooking. I am putting this section out here to remind and bring to your attention that it is important to dedicate time in your life for things apart from work. The balance helps you remain stable. In my case, I was forced to look at things apart from work due to my circumstance. I am happy that I was led to that path, but maybe not the cause. Similar to exercise, hobbies and spending time on them, is a healthy habit to maintain the balance.
I have always been a spiritual person. However, after my manic episode in 2017, I resorted to the spiritual route more than earlier. This was also heavily influenced by my mother-in-law who is a very religious and spiritual person. During my extreme phases of depression, spirituality was a huge anchor for me. I used to seek answers and relief in God. Beyond dealing with depression, spirituality has brought a lot of discipline in my life and thinking. My everyday ritual of lighting the lamp and chanting my prayers really helps maintain the balance. Separately, spirituality has made me look at things in a very different perspective. I am still grappling with answers to why I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and why my life had to fall apart before it is being set back into shape. While I know there are no black and white answers to these, spirituality, in my case, has helped me show the directions for these answers.
Meditation is another tool that has helped me maintain my stability. There are different kinds of meditation including mindfulness, breathing meditation etc. I feel a sense of calm and serenity after spending that 5 minutes meditating. It invigorates your mind and body. As my therapist says, it is normal that there will be multiple thoughts in your head while you are meditating, but the important part is to let that thoughts move, and focus on the breathing. This is one kind of meditation. I try to be as regular as I can, but would love to do it on a daily basis. I would strongly recommend to make meditation a part of your daily routine.
Be Nice to yourself
“Be nice to yourself”, this is the most important step in my opinion, and the most important lesson that I am learning in the last one year. This mantra is against how I used to approach things in my life. A go getter and perfectionist, I always believed in pushing myself. I used to feel extremely disappointed when I did not perform to my expectations. My therapist and my husband and his family, made me realise that it is important to be nice to oneself. It is important to cut yourself that slack. This mantra is even more important when you are in depression or facing a low. It is at that time, where you will not be performing as you are expecting, or rather not performing at all. It is important that at that stage, we realise that it is ok to be not ok and be nice to yourself.
To be honest, I do not know what is being nice to myself because I have never done that. Therefore, I ask Srini and my therapist, am I on the right track? I think I used it most recently when I was down with a severe throat infection. The infection impaired my speaking and also my functionality. In the normal scenario, I would have beaten myself up about it, and pulled myself lower. But this time, I consciously told myself that it is ok to do things slowly because you are unwell.
Similarly, when there is a mental illness like depression, it is imperative to be gentle upon yourself. You may not be able to do any of the steps I have mentioned in the post, but what is most critical is that you need to tell yourself that it is ok and you will be able to. That approach of being gentle and nice to oneself is crucial.
Depression is not the end of the road, it is a small bump in the road. A thing that my therapist told me during my most recent blip is that, be confident that it will get better. I think that belief is very important. In my case, I have come out of it around three to four times. In such a scenario, it is more appropriate because there is evidence that things have gotten better. Even if it is not, please remember that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. It is not going to be dark forever. However, we cannot just be lying there in the dark hoping that there will be light. We will need to slowly pick ourselves up and walk towards the light.
I hope through this post, I was able to shed some light and guide you towards the end of the tunnel.