In my experience, a depressive episode is just like midterms week except you don’t get a syllabus documenting exactly when and where it will come. You know it will eventually arrive and you hope to be prepared so it’s as painless as possible, but once it arrives you still feel overwhelmed. During midterms week, I always felt like I was walking around in a haze that I couldn’t wait to get out of. I had a one-track mind: midterms, midterms, midterms. There was no room for anything else in my mind.
A depressive episode is kind of like that. It infects your every thought and makes it difficult to concentrate on anything else. It’s the first thing you feel when you wake up and it’s the last thing you feel when you’re trying to sleep. You feel pessimistic when you want more than anything to be optimistic. You worry endlessly about things that don’t necessitate worrying and you feel like there’s some type of impending doom that isn’t really there. That’s what mine feels like, anyway.
Full disclosure: this article is for people who have already talked to their primary care physician and are on (or seeking) a treatment plan that works best for them. It is in no way meant to substitute for medication or therapy, and it is based on my personal experiences only.
Although I’m on medication that works great for me most of the time, I still have some days when I feel a deluge of depression washing over me. These are a few of the ways I continue to be my happy, productive self through some of my worst days days.
First and foremost (and sorry in advance for the cliches), I remind myself that this too shall pass and that I am not alone. Everyone with depression has good and bad days, and hopefully the good far outweigh the bad for you. In my case, fortunately bad days are few and far between. During the worst times, remind yourself that the feeling will pass eventually and that things really aren’t as bad as they feel.
Further, you have to remember that about ten percent of Americans are affected by depression at some point in their lives. Having depression doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or that you can’t accomplish your goals.
You also have to be completely honest with yourself. If you’re on medication, are you taking it as prescribed? Are you taking care of yourself in other ways, like eating nutritious meals, exercising a few times a week, and getting enough quality sleep? Often, a depressive episode is caused or exacerbated by these factors. It doesn’t mean you should blame yourself – depression is not your fault, after all – but it does mean you should pay attention to what your body and mind need. If your depression is making it difficult to sleep well, eat healthy, or exercise, then I encourage you to talk with a physician to discuss that.
When I find myself in a depressive haze, I also allow myself to wallow… a little bit. I don’t mean you should throw a pity party, but I think it’s healthy to take care of yourself in a way that feels most comfortable for you. When I’m at my most depressed, all I feel like doing is staying inside and marathoning a good show for a few hours. I guiltlessly allow myself to do that because it allows me to decompress. After sitting on my couch for a few hours, I start to get restless and finally feel like doing something else, which is perfect because the next step is to….
Take action. This could mean anything, and it even means different things for me depending on the day. Sometimes it means getting outside for some exercise to take advantage of an endorphin boost. Other days, it means writing. Recently, I’ve taken action by planning the next step in my education and expanding my professional network. It feels good to accomplish something on my to-do list and it helps to keep me focused on my goals. The first step is often the hardest, and sometimes you just have to convince yourself that you can do it.
Sometimes, none of that works. In fact, I end up feeling even worse because I failed at getting myself “together.” It may not be right, but it’s the truth. In those cases, I talk to someone about what’s going on.
This is for a couple reasons: it helps me get it off my chest so I no longer feel obligated to hide my feelings, and it can help open a dialogue with other people who are feeling the same way. I find that when I share my feelings honestly, it doesn’t come off like I’m asking for sympathy (which is the fear I used to have). Instead, people appreciate the opportunity to learn more about it or to share their own feelings. Strangely, most of the conversations I’ve had about depression turn out to be positive and uplifting.
Depression is not one-size-fits-all, so it impacts everyone’s lives differently. This is how I approach my depressive episodes and it tends to work for me. If your depression is more serious, I encourage you to see your doctor or contact one of these hotlines. Everyone deserves a chance to feel like their best self, even if it takes a little more effort for some than others.