After all the recent celebrities committing suicide in the last few months, I’ve been thinking of my personal battles with depression and anxiety. I never suffered from depression growing up. An introvert? Definitely, but my bouts of depression and anxiety only occurred in the last few years. I consider myself lucky as I’ve never been diagnosed with anything worse than moderate clinical depression. Personally I categorize my episodes as “melancholy”, a persistent sense of sadness or mourning without an obvious reason. But knowing what that feels like makes me empathize who suffer from severe depression or anxiety. To imagine what depths of despair severe depression sufferers must sink to consider death a preferable alternative frightens me to remain vigilant against this problem. I’ve developed a few “home” remedies to help keep my head above water. These do not replace known solutions (therapy, medication, etc.) but for me form a daily routine to keep my personal melancholy “demons” at bay. If you find yourself with your own set of devils on your shoulder, maybe something here will work for you.
Get Up Early
A well-known symptom of depression is the daily struggle to get out of bed. To combat this issue I give myself a reason to want to get out of bed and start my day. For me, I enjoy an early morning walk with my dogs to catch the sunrise. Sunrise energizes me. The birth of a new day is my physical evidence of the old adage that, no matter what, the sun will rise the next day. By getting up early I’m not rushing through my morning, already adding to my daily stress. The morning calm before the trials of the day is my mediation. If the morning sun does not interest you that’s fine. Then find a reason that will. Read; write; eat ice cream; doesn’t matter. Give yourself a good reason to get up in the morning, FOR YOU, and you find it easier to have your feet hit the floor next to your bed.
Nothing keeps me grounded more than the adoring attention of my dogs, and that includes my wife and family. Having creatures in my house that don’t care how I look, what my income is, what kind of car I drive is the perfect antidote to my depression. Their needs are simple; feed them, take them out and show them affection, and that’s it. In times of my worst depression, the well-being of my dogs always kept me from sliding further down. Don’t like dogs? That’s OK. This list is personal to me, but if you like cats, snakes or pot-bellied pigs it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to have a pet that likes to give and receive affection.
Along with my daily morning walk with my dogs, I always try to get 30-minute walk outside. Barring hurricane weather, I’ll walk in rain, snow, wind and cold. It is simply a matter of dressing appropriate to the conditions, and getting a little exercise, and noticing your surroundings. Like pets, nature doesn’t judge. It provides us with a canvas that changes every day. The little miracles of nature (like sunrises for me), allow us to put our daily trials in perspective. Exercise is a suitable substitute if you prefer it, but I haven’t missed my 10,000 daily step goal in 9 months, so walking and day hikes work for me.
Joy of Missing Out
As a techie, I embraced all the social media platforms when they came out. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr; you name it, I had an account. But over time I realized that the connections I had with others on these platforms were a poor substitute for personal interaction, and the bias, political grandstanding and “keeping up the Joneses” often formed the triggers for my depression and anxiety. In addition, news platforms shrieking the latest political scandal, natural disaster or terrorist attack on a 24 hour news cycle only makes us feel more helpless and despondent. While I don’t advocate sticking your head in the sand, I think it is important to realize the distinction between staying informed and information overload. I limit myself to one form of social media now, and I limit my time watching/reading news to twice a day. Anything more is just overkill. I’ve replaced the Fear of Missing Out with the Joy of Missing Out. I’m not any less informed of the topics of the day, and my social media interactions involve topics I’m interested in normally (dining, wine, travel, gaming). This leaves me more time to ENJOY the experiences of dining, wine, travel and gaming. Duh.
I don’t write well (as you can probably tell by now), but I enjoy the challenge of it. Journaling is writing, but for an audience of one; yourself. You can journal about what happened during your day, struggles at work or home, personal thoughts, goals or plans; maybe just a little fiction. I journal almost every day. For me, it is any of the above. I use a fountain pen and paper and just go with the flow. I don’t care about penmanship, misspellings or run-on sentences. It is a time when I can just be myself, mistakes and all. When my thoughts become sentences on a page, they seem to take up a little less of my conscious brain. I like to think of Journaling as meditation with a pen and paper.
There are several other parts of my daily routine I used to keep my melancholy at bay. I meditate (poorly); exercise (occasionally) and write (abysmally). Perhaps none of the solutions I listed above are helpful as you battle your depression. What matters is that you keep battling. And if you lose a battle, you try something new and battle again tomorrow. Depression and anxiety is like alcoholism in that is a day-to-day fight. A person doesn’t succumb to suicide because of weakness, they do it because they feel alone and lose the will to fight. I’m a private person and struggle to share my personal battles. But I want people to know there are plenty of people fighting this illness. You are not alone.