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I shared about my "Journey Through Clinical Depression" before but realized I hadn't given any details about how actually I coped with it (at least not on a practical/tangible level). A friend of mine interviewed me about it for a class project, inspiring me to share my answers here; hopefully it will help anyone who needs practical advice. Keep in mind that every person is different; what worked for me might not necessarily work for you--but nonetheless, here it is!
QUESTION #1: WHAT DID YOU DO TO COPE?
There were generally 3 levels to my coping: physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual.
Physical – The doctor gave me a goal to do physical activity several times per week. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, it gave me a sense of accomplishment for completing a goal (particularly one where improvements could be tangibly measured). Secondly, endorphins produced during physical activity boosted my mood and stabilized it. Thirdly, exercise improved my energy and alertness, combatting depression symptoms of fatigue and lethargy. Forth, a healthy body-image improved self-confidence overall.
Mental/Emotional – A key thing that the doctor gave me were thought-replacement exercises. I realized that much of my depressed feelings came not from external circumstances but from self-accusatory/negative thoughts. So I worked on changing my thoughts, on how I perceived things, in order to alter my mood. Basically the steps were:
1.To record the situation
2.To record my thoughts surrounding the situation
3.To record my feelings resulting from those thoughts (rate the level of intensity)
4.To record evidence that confirmed my feelings
5.To record evidence that contradicted my feelings
6.To record new replacement thoughts (based on the evidence)
7.To re-rate the intensity levels of my original feelings
By doing this, I usually realized that my negative thoughts weren’t actually confirmed by tangible evidence, leading me to create new positive thoughts which boosted my mood. At first it felt difficult and artificial, but eventually it became habitual. I found myself able to notice emotions and thinking twice before succumbing to them. It improved my ability to combat negative thoughts and made a huge difference!
The cycle of negativity involves ‘thoughts’ which influence ‘feelings’ which influence ‘behavior’ – the key to breaking the cycle is to change any one of those. The easiest for me was to alter ‘thoughts’.
Spiritual – This was perhaps the most impactful factor to my coping/healing process. It is summarized by this: The conviction that despite my negative circumstances, there had to be a greater reason for this that would eventually serve the greater good; that God was with me every step of the way, even if he felt absent; and that God wouldn’t give me something I couldn’t handle (with his help). I clung desperately to the hope that all of this wouldn’t be in vain; that something good was going to come out of it, more than what I was capable of imagining. I let go of the self-accusation towards myself for falling into depression, embracing it, instead, as a privilege that God wanted me to endure because he specifically chose me to do so.
I emerged with a fresh determination. I told myself that I had to go through with this, that I had to get better—not only so that I would be proof to others that it’s possible to overcome depression, but so that others would know that it was God who enabled my healing. Instead of bowing my head in shame, I surrendered; I let myself to become a puppet, seemingly limp and lifeless, so that the world would know that it was only God who was holding me up. I discovered what Mother Teresa meant when she said, “God uses nothingness to show his greatness.” – in my brokenness, I suddenly felt beautiful.
I clung to the hope that this hardship would improve my endurance, strengthen my character, and increase my faith. I clung to the hope that through this hardship I would grow closer to God and that he would make himself more known to me. I clung to the hope that by losing my passion I would be re-directed to a new passion—the one that God gave me. And I clung to the hope that by enduring my wounds, I would become more and more like Jesus Christ himself: the one who endured the greatest suffering to show the greatest love.
I was desperate—but I was desperate for God. It was a thousand times better than being ignorant of him. That’s when the unthinkable happened: I found joy amidst the suffering. The two co-existed.
I also actively sought God in a practical sense. I clung to Bible verses, holding onto their promises (e.g. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23), and paid attention to verses from Job, since his conversations with God somewhat reflected my own: they were messy, honest, raw, broken, clear in exclamations of anguish—but ultimately wound up as proclamations of faith and trust. I also attended mass at church more often, finding that the priest’s homilies were uncannily timely to what I was experiencing and very helpful. I also read about saints who suffered depression or the “dark night of the soul”, which gave me hope that suffering was the prerequisite to holiness. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. What originally felt like a curse was suddenly a blessing.
Extra Coping Strategies – I also did other simple things to boost my mood. I would play the ukulele, take walks in my neighborhood, do yoga, and start painting. I forced myself to be around friends more often, even if I didn’t ‘feel’ like it, because being alone too much wasn’t good. I started a gratitude list, writing 3 things I was thankful for each day, realizing that even the smallest things counted. I tried to laugh more, watch movies, get back into reading leisurely rather than always being hung up on school. I adopted the mindset of taking things one step at a time, not rushing, not worrying too much if I fell down, knowing I could always get up again. I enjoyed the simple things.
I also began blogging; I figured that if I was struggling with depression, I might as well use my experience to help others who were going through the same thing. So that’s what I did; I struggled, but from these struggles came new perspectives, and I shared them. Although I wasn’t completely healed yet, I would squeeze as much ‘juice’ from this experience as I could to make the most out of it. I wanted it to count.
QUESTION #2: WHERE DID YOU FIND YOUR STRENGTH & RESILIENCE?
I found my strength/resilience from several areas. The biggest one was from God, as described above. I also found it from my family, who journeyed with me relentlessly through these tough times. I found it from the few friends I did confide in, who checked up on me when they found out about my depression and acted as my ‘cheerleaders’ for the small improvements I made. I found it in my doctor, who didn’t exactly give me a ‘cure’ for my depression but helped me believe that I had what it took to manage it—I just needed help activating it (he purposely chose not to give me medication for this reason). I also found strength/resilience from the people I believed I would help in the future; though I didn’t know them yet, I was propelled by the idea of giving them hope that it was possible to get through this, so I did my best to heal. Praise God, because he truly fulfilled that in ways I would’ve never imagined.
WHERE 'YOU' COME IN ...
So that's it--the details of how I coped with depression. If you've got any comments or insights to add, don't hesitate to comment below! & Feel free to share this blog if you feel inclined to do so <3