Depression is one of those things that can be hard to describe to someone who has never experienced it; rather like how it would be impossible to convey the experience of fatherhood or combat to someone who had never experienced them. People who haven’t gone through it are liable to conceive of depression as just feeling sad or down all the time, or needing to be cheered up. Some people describe it as “feeling sad for no apparent reason.”
This is what depression is really like:
Depression isn’t sadness or feeling down. It’s pain. Raw, emotional pain, like there’s a wound inside you that just won’t heal. And you know it’s never going to heal; it’s just going to keep on throbbing and festering for as long as you live.
Except, it’s worse than that, because along with the pain is a sense of isolation; the sense that you are cut off from the rest of humanity, not for any one cause or defect, but simply because that’s who you are. It’s the sense that you are and always will be totally alone, no matter how many people are around you.
A good description of depression I found online was that, “It’s like drowning, but you can see everyone around you breathing.”
Now, my depression is relatively mild. I generally can manage it enough to get through life, and I’ve never had suicidal thoughts. A lot of people have it far worse. That said, I have found a few strategies to be useful in managing my own depression. And though I’m not an expert in the subject by any stretch, I understand that many other people with far worse conditions have also found them to be helpful.
Here are some tips that may help manage depression:
First a caveat: when it comes to depression, there’s no surefire fix and no easy cure. I have found these things helpful in managing depression, not in curing it. They may work for you, they may not. Try them out and see for yourself.
1. Have Rules
Depression is not constant; it waxes and wanes like the moon, depending on things like circumstance, health, and even diet. Sometimes you feel almost normal, sometimes your life looks like a black hole of predestined failure. Managing it requires us to use the relative ‘high’ periods to prepare for the ‘depths.’
There’s a scene in C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet where the protagonist has to journey up onto the frozen, almost airless surface of Mars. Before he gets there, he fixes in his mind the resolution that he’ll keep going until he reaches his destination, because he knows perfectly well that, in the extreme misery of cold and lack of air, he won’t be able to think clearly enough to keep his goal in mind.
We who suffer depression are in a similar situation. However we feel right now, we know that, sooner or later, we’ll be back in the frozen wastes. While we’re still in the comparatively livable areas, we need to set rules to live by, because once we start our descent, we won’t be able to make healthy decisions.
Create healthy habits, such as daily prayer, periods of uplifting activity, and regular contact with others. Make them a part of your daily life, so that doing them is less a matter of choice than of routine. Then, when you start to descend into the depths, make sure to keep doing them. If nothing else, it will help keep your life together, which can be a big part of minimizing depression.
2. Pick Your Battles
One important rule is this: when you’re down in the depths, don’t try to do anything important if you can avoid it. If you can, put off any major life changes until you feel more normal. This includes dating.
If you’re still in the ‘looking’ phase, don’t look or try to initiate contact while you’re in the depths. For one thing, you won’t be able to put your best foot forward in that condition. So you’re more likely to have a positive reply when you’re more ‘sober.’ For another, the sad fact is that a lot of first contacts don’t end successfully, and the last thing you need when you’re in the depths is to be ignored or rejected.
When you’re in a state of deep depression, you have extremely limited energy. You should direct it into two things: one, the obligations that can’t be put off (i.e. your job) and two, whatever might help bring you outof your despair.
A lot of people find exercise helps to bring them out of depression. Others (like me) find satisfaction in being creative somehow. Or you may find that listening to music, doing manual labor, or even just spending a few hours playing video games helps. The point is, find something that makes your life feel worthwhile and do it.
3. Seek Human Contact
As I said, hold off looking for a date until you’re out of the depths of your depression. However, if you’ve already met someone, be sure to keep in contact with them, because nothing helps alleviate depression as much as human contact does, especially the feeling that you’ve improved someone’s life.
The trouble is that when you’re depressed, you feel like no one wants to talk to you; that you’d only be bothering them if you reached out. If you reach out and get no response, this fear appears to be confirmed (it doesn’t help that non-depressed people easily misinterpret their less-fortunate fellows).
Nevertheless, make sure you do something to keep contact with other human beings, whether in person or online. Even just sharing funny memes on Facebook and getting a few ‘likes’ can help, because you at least feel like you’ve had some positive impact on someone else’s life.
One of the hardest parts is taking the first step back into the light. But we must do it.
The thing to remember is that, when you’re in the depths of depression, the hardest part is taking that first step; making the effort to venture that first, tremulous effort to do something, anything to break out of it. The fear is that it will only make things worse, just when it seems you can’t stand them to be any worse.
Nevertheless, it’s the only way to make things any better. Again, that’s why having rules is so important; they take the decision out of our hands when we’re not in a position to make the right call.
Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. 1 Peter 4:12-13
Again, none of this will ‘cure’ depression, but it will, hopefully, make it a bit easier to live with. And the more we can manage our own demons, the better equipped we’ll be to find someone who, as we traverse the dark, cold peaks and valleys of depression, will give us a warm hand to hold.