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10 Tips for Managing Depression

 I’ve written about this topic before, but I decided to revisit it, since it’s one of the most popular things people search for on my blog.

Anyone who has suffered through a major depressive episode or clinical depression knows the feeling – a few things go badly, some misfortune piles up and you start to feel the dread.  Dark thoughts creep in and anxiety seems to hang around like an unwanted party guest.  You think to yourself, “Is this just a brief spell of mood swings, or will this snowball into a full-blown episode?”  I’ve struggled with mood problems my entire life, but after a difficult divorce I spiraled into a massive depression.  I never really understood how overwhelming the disease could be until I faced it myself.

Treating depression requires medical treatment in the form of therapy, medication or a combination of both.  A quick top 10 list is not going to cure a mental illness. But if you need something to help keep your demons at bay, these tips might help.  I know they’ve helped me prevent a few bad days from snowballing out of control.  They might seem like common sense, but it’s good to have a reminder.

1.  Reach out to Friends, Family or Loved ones – For some of us, our families might be the most toxic people in our lives.  If that’s true for you, then by all means just try to connect with someone who is loving and supportive.  Face time is a million times better than social media. Liking posts on Facebook and tweeting a buddy is not going to cut it.  Get up and leave your house, have lunch with a friend, or hang out with a buddy after work. If nothing else call a friend.  As much as we think we are alone, everyone has people who love and cherish them.  If it helps, make a list of those people and put it in a place where you can find it easily, complete with phone numbers, emails, and other contact information.  Avoid Isolation – When we’re alone we can control our environment, avoid negative people and focus on work.  The downside is we are social creatures who function best around other human beings.  Even if you can’t find a friend or loved one to hang out with, just sitting in a library or coffee shop with other people can help.

2.  Volunteer or Help Others – Helping others always helps get you out of your head and you’ll probably get to interact with more people, which is another way of avoiding isolation.  Again don’t just click a link on a website or sign a petition.  Get out of your house or apartment and physically get involved. Studies have shown that volunteering can actually reduce depression symptoms.

3.  Exercise – Physical exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise can help increase endorphins and other powerful chemicals in your brain.  It won’t even cost a cent if you just decide to go for a walk, or do some yoga by yourself at home.  Deep breathing can also help.

4.  Eat – I completely lose my appetite, others might eat to try to fill the void.  Know your tendencies and do what you can to try to stay on a healthy regime.  I literally will write “Eat Lunch” on my ‘To Do List’ because otherwise I might actually forget to have a meal.

5.  Hang out with a friendly animal – If you don’t have a pet, then find a friend who does.  If you are allergic to the furry variety, even watching fish swimming around in a tank at pet store can help calm your mind.   If you don’t like animals then go to a park, getting out and around nature can do wonders for your mood.

6.  Find a Creative Outlook – Draw, write, paint, craft, bake, cook, sew, knit, play an instrument, whatever you love to do or make – do it.  Musical instruments seem to help me more than anything, as does this blog.  Surfing the internet, watching television and playing video games are passive activities.  It’s really best to try to make something out of nothing.  Creativity is one of the best ways to boost your brain.  Some studies have shown links between creative people and higher rates of depression, but don’t let that discourage you.  Creating something will give you a sense of accomplishment.  Just be careful about how you spend that creative energy.  If you’re feeling especially low, you might want to avoid work on that memoir about your divorce.  Baking cupcakes might cheer you up instead.  🙂

7.  Avoid Crazy-makers – Sometimes negative and destructive people are impossible to remove from your life.  If your boss pushes you to the limit every day, there is little you can do about it.  But if you are struggling with an ex-partner or spouse, then by all means try to give yourself distance.

8.  Practice whatever therapy has worked for you in the past –  For me its Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT.   I write it all out, my fears, the deep voices of dread and doubt that live inside of me and then I have to cognitively and logically destroy those voices.  It’s not always easy, and it doesn’t work for everyone.  Others might use meditation, acupuncture, aromatheraphy, biofeedback, massage therapy, yoga or any number of other alternative methods to help manage their depression.  If something doesn’t work, then try something else.  Don’t give up.

9. Avoid self-destructive behavior – Your well-meaning friends might encourage drug or alcohol use when you’re down.  Substances are just a crutch that will exacerbate a depressed person’s symptoms.  Getting loaded might make you feel better momentarily, but if you’re suffering from depression, the high won’t last.   Other self-destructive behaviors could be gambling, binge eating, reckless behavior or a string of sexual encounters with virtual strangers.  None of these are inherently bad, but anything done to excess can ultimately slow recovery.

10.  Ask for Help – Probably the hardest one on the list, because if you have recovered from depression, the last thing you want to admit is that it’s back.  But if you are having thoughts of self-harm, losing hope, or finding it difficult to simply feel joy, don’t be afraid to seek medical help. Depression is not a weakness of character, it’s a disease.  Triggers for depression vary from person to person and some struggle with it for most of their lives, while others will have one brief episode and then never go through it again.  You are NOT ALONE, and you are not a bad person because you are suffering.  The reasons behind your depression are complex but it’s not your fault.  If your first doctor or therapist doesn’t work out, keep searching.  If CBT doesn’t work for you, then try any number of alternative therapies.  If an anti-depressant doesn’t work out for you, then ask for a different prescription.  If you think you are being over medicated, then tell your doctor.  For many patients treating this disease involves a lot of trial and error.  NEVER GIVE UP!

As a person who has suffered through this myself, you have my empathy.  You’ll have times when you might lose hope, but so many of us have been there.  It will get better. No one is fortunate all of the time, and no one lives in misery all of the time.  We’ve all had our ups and downs and millions of us have also suffered from this horrible disease and recovered.  It’s going to be OK.  Hang in there.  🙂  I’ve included some other articles of mine on the subject and other links to use as resources.  There is a lot of help out there, don’t be afraid to ask for it. 🙂

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Dating After Divorce – Rebounds and Supernovas

English: Pleiades Star Cluster

Image via Wikipedia

I don’t know why they call them rebound relationships.  When I think of a rebound I think of a ball bouncing off of a wall, which is a fairly tame thing.  I now call the first major relationship after leaving my husband the supernova – a collection of stars exploding all at once vaporizing everything in their path, burning bright, hot and fast.  It was a force of nature – so much bigger than a rebound.

I left my husband when I discovered he was a closeted homosexual.  He had been lying to me and to himself for our entire nine-year relationship.   When I left him I was devastated, although the relationship had grown dysfunctional, I was still deeply in love and a dedicated wife.

My marriage had been celibate for a prolonged period of time, and I desperately longed for a relationship with a straight man.  I found it almost too easily and only four months after leaving my husband.  He was a man who I had known casually in my social group of friends.  He was handsome, charming, and we had a lot of the same interests.  We sort of discovered through mutual friends that we both had a crush on each other, so it seemed inevitable that we would end up together. He even remembered the moment we first met years earlier, which was fuzzy to me, but he could recall it in startling detail.  And he resembled a taller, younger version of my husband.  It was as if I had found the straight version of the man I had just left.

I knew it was a dangerous situation and I avoided getting involved at first.  I had so many fears–Was it too soon? Would this end up making my depression worse? Was it because he reminded me of my ex?

But it happened, the universe finally put us together, and for a brief period in my life it was pure magic.  I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world to have fallen from that complete and utter disaster that was my divorce into something that felt so perfect.  And he seemed just as excited as I was; it felt like the ideal love affair.  But the cracks started to form almost immediately.  I was deeply depressed, a depression that is almost too difficult to describe now.  I couldn’t sleep through the night, had difficulty eating, cried constantly, suffered panic attacks, general anxiety, overwhelming fears dominated my thoughts, and my moods would turn on a dime.  I lost 20 pounds and dropped two dress sizes in a few months, had frequent asthma attacks, and was constantly sick; physically, and emotionally I was falling apart.

I also wasn’t used to dating, I was used to being married.  Dating is not anywhere near being married.  I didn’t know how to make the transition; I was suffocating, smothering and desperate for his affection.  I will never know his motivations but I can’t blame him for walking away from an obvious train wreck.  He had his own problems as everyone does, and I was just a disaster of a human being. When it ended it felt like being dropped off an emotional cliff.  I was already so damaged from my divorce and now my first attempt at love was an implosion of epic proportions.

For months I tormented myself over the whole affair beating myself up for all of the mistakes I had made.  I tried to start another relationship only to have that blow up in my face almost the exact same way.  I kept blaming myself, what if I had waited?  What if I had been healthier?  Would either relationship have worked out differently?  Eventually I convinced myself that it didn’t matter.  I would never know that alternate reality and life doesn’t work with a reset button.  The damage was done; the trust was shattered on both sides and couldn’t be repaired.  Feelings were hurt, egos bruised, expectations destroyed and there was no way I could repair any of it.  And I needed to move forward anyway as the whole affair was just collateral damage of my state of mind at the time.  Being clinically depressed is not the best time to start a relationship.

The real source of my anguish was my divorce, so either it would have been this one painful affair or a series of short meaningless flings, but the outcome would have been the same.  I was eventually going to hit rock-bottom.   After an agonizing eight-hour long anxiety attack and three days of very little sleep, I finally bottomed out, and then I got into therapy, briefly went on antidepressants and little by little, month by month, the horrible twisted vice of depression released its grip and I began to have my mind back.  It took nearly two years from the day I left my marriage to finally feel like myself again.   Friendships tarnished and other aspects of my personal and professional life have been negatively affected, but I try to live with a positive outlook and not look back.  Cognitive behavioral therapy is one tool that worked for me and I try to use its tips and tricks every day.

I say it all the time now to anyone newly divorced and I say it even if they are not listening.  Don’t do it.   Give yourself time to heal before you suck someone else into the personal torment that you are inevitably going to experience.  Of course not every divorced person goes through this, as some are happy to leave their spouse, and for them divorce is a new beginning.  But if a person is emotionally crushed, they should avoid getting involved in a serious intimate relationship for a while.

The most important thing that I learned from my supernova experience is that no one else could save me.  No one person has enough love or strength to pull another out of a free fall, especially in a brand new relationship.  I had to do it on my own.  I couldn’t really be available emotionally to another partner when I couldn’t even take care of myself.

Sometimes a person gets lucky and has a perfect love affair immediately after a divorce, but from my own, and most of my friend’s experiences this hasn’t been the case.  So fight the force of nature, hang out with your friends and work on yourself.  Things will get better, but the main thing that you need is time, not another lover.

Why I just can’t get over it and be happy — Depression is an illness

Rethink Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post is originally from July 2010.  I am moving this from my other blog.  It got tremendous feedback and I am sad that I can’t move the comments over as well, but I am very proud of this post.  Depression is a mental illness and should be treated as a serious medical problem, not something that can be easily brushed off as the blues.

My last blog post was so positive!  Well here comes the ANGRY part of my little Miss Angry Girl blog.  The other day had such a beautiful interaction with another human being and then last night……..ARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHHH (pirate growl)

Someone gave me yet more unsolicited advice tonight.  Boy, do I hate unsolicited advice!!!

“Why don’t you try looking on the positive side of things for a change?”

Really, I hadn’t thought of that.   Now I am sure that this person had the best of intentions.  They thought they were helping me out, but let me break it down for why it is not so easy to simply “Think positively”

Would you tell an anorexic to just eat some food?  An alcoholic to simply stop drinking?  A drug addict to simply stop using?  A person with ADHD to simply focus?  A person with schizophrenia to simply stop hearing voices?  Or would you even dream of telling a person who is physically handicapped to simply start moving?  Yes stopping the negative behavior is part of the problem, but there’s a reason telling a person suffering from mental illness to THINK BETTER is absolute nonsense.

Just as a physically handicapped person can not suddenly become fully functional after thinking positively, the same cna be said about a person suffering from depression.  I’m suffering from reactive depression.  To quote Psychology.suite101.com

This form of depression is a direct result or responses to a painful or difficult circumstance or event in a person’s life. In reactive depression there is a specific and recognized reason found to be the source of the condition.  Examples of situations which may result in a person suffering from reactive depression include: redundancy, work stress, marital problems, bereavement, loss, problems with one’s children, retirement, moving house, DIVORCE or changing job.

Sometimes it takes longer than perhaps casual acquaintances think is necessary to work through a major life changing event.  I was clinically depressed just a few months ago, so I’m actually doing better off now.  Clinical depression is depression that gets so bad a person cannot normally function.  That is eat, drink, bathe, sleep, get out of bed…..FUNCTION.

Not to mention that I lost not just the primary relationship that I had for nine years. I had to move.  My income has severely dropped as has my ability to find work.  All thanks to a number of circumstances surrounding my divorce.  Even the loss of a regular source of income could lead to depression never mind, the loss of my husband, sense of betrayal, loss of trust in other human beings, damaged sexuality, and destroyed self esteem.

If you are reading this and don’t know me, I found out my marriage was a complete fraud.  My husband has been living a secret life, and has lied to me from day one of our marriage.  It’s been a rough 13 months.

All of this doesn’t even  take into consideration my childhood, my life history or any trauma’s besides my divorce that might also be contributing to my depression.  Trust me, you could sit down with my therapist and we could go over some things in my past that might make your hair turn white.  I’d rather not rehash them here.  :

Depression is an illness.  Depression is an illness.  DEPRESSION IS AN ILLNESS!

It’s not to say that I won’t overcome it, but my brain is sick right now.  Chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, nor-epinephrine all play a role, and they are real.  It is not simply  a question of “thinking positively”.    I’m not being self-destructive sexually or with drugs and alcohol, and I’m in regular therapy with both a therapist and a psychiatrist.  So I think I’m doing everything that I can to overcome this.

What I am currently dealing with is trying to get off an SSRI (Zolfot) while still trying to figure out how to survive in a ravaged economy with high unemployment.  My life hasn’t exactly stabilized since leaving my husband, especially financially speaking.

Not to say that positive thinking won’t help, of course it will, but I’m dealing with a chemical withdrawal of a drug that altered my natural levels of serotonin.  Just sitting back and trying to think happy thoughts, is not really going to cut it.  What might help is some respect for this MENTAL ILLNESS called depression, and some compassion. for not just me but the millions of other Americans who are currently battling this disease.  Just as a handicapped person cannot simply will themselves to walk, a person suffering from a mental illness needs a little bit more than positive thinking to pull themselves up.    I am not weak because I can’t get over this, I am NOT being self-destructive, I am doing the best I can.

And solidarity to my fellow sufferers of depression, we will get through this and we will be stronger for it.  One day people will understand that we can’t just simply “be happy”.

Read more at Suite101: What is Reactive Depression?: Understanding Common Mental Health Conditions http://psychology.suite101.com/article.cfm/what-is-reactive-depression#ixzz0uCm4pTxr

4/23/11

I wanted to add an an epilogue as it were to this post.  I left my husband nearly two years ago, because he was gay and every aspect of my life much completely collapsed immediately afterward.  Emotionally and financially I was a mess.  If my financial life had been in order, or if I had steady employment that was not tied into what my husband did for a living I would have been much better off.  That being said, I can honestly say that I’m much better off now.  It takes serious time to get over something like a divorce.  I have never gone through anything as torturous in my life, and I really hope I never have to go through it again.   There is hope on the other end of whatever hell is causing your reactive depression.  If you’re suffering from clinical depression due to a recent crisis, please seek help if you feel you need it.  There are so many resources out there, and if you feel like your life isn’t worth living anymore, that’s the biggest warning sign.  Get help.  Depression is not just feeling blue.  I had no idea until I went through it myself, but it’s an actual mental illness that will take over your life.  If you’re experiencing most or a a few of these symptoms seek professional help.

  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of desire to do anything, get out of bed, shower, eat, drink,
  • Isolation – Refusal to go outside, see friends, etc.
  • Suicidal thoughts – This is not a joke, get help as soon as possible.
  • Waking frequently at night, not able to sleep for more than a couple hours in a stretch
  • Sleeping way too much
  • Poor concentration
  • Overwhelming feelings of guilt and despair
  • Crying ALL the time

Clinical depression is often coupled with anxiety.  And in my case the anxiety was so bad, that is why I knew I had a serious problem I had never had anything like it before in my life.

  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety attacks – Panic attacks that go on for hours, my worst was 8 hours long and absolutely terrifying.
  • Overwhelming panic and fear
  • Waves of depression followed by waves of anxiety – this is actual textbook depression, and not at all unusual.
  • Inability to sleep that goes on for days.

I’m not here to sell any drug.  Medication doesn’t work for everyone and isn’t always the best option.  I was only on meds for a short period of time, but I believe strongly they saved my life.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help and please get help if you need it.  There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, don’t give up.  🙂  If your first therapist or doctor isn’t working for you, find another one.  Keep looking until you can get the help you need.  Cognitive behavioral therapy is a great resource that I’ve tried and highly recommend.

Also try to find distance from anyone who doesn’t take your illness seriously.  They probably are trying to help, but some well-meaning friends or relatives can actually cause more problems.  As much as the lover or friend will also help you out, there is a limit to what they can do.  Having someone around who is objective and doesn’t know you or want anything from you will really help you in finding the right course to help you with your healing.

Try as much as you can to not self-medicate with alcohol or recreational drugs, they will just make things worse, and could kill you.  Substances are just stretching out the process.  They numb you temporarily, but in the long run they will just make things harder.  The same thing goes for sex, or food, anything that can be used in a self-destructive manner should be avoided.   No one is perfect and you will make mistakes, just try to pick yourself afterward and not beat yourself up too much.

Just my two cents of course, you don’t have to agree with me on any of it.  I just know what helped me.  Good luck to anyone finding this blog, may you get stronger and healthier each day.

I wanted to add this brilliant Lecture by Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University.  The first time I listened to this it blew my mind, I found out I was suffering from a textbook case of clinical depression.  His explanation of the inability to sleep through the night and weight loss was EXACTLY what I was going through.  It was a PHYSICAL manifestation of my depression, it wasn’t something I could control.

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