I am 57 years old. I am a lawyer. And I struggle with depression.
I was diagnosed when I turned forty. I didn’t know what was happening to me. But I knew something was wrong. I was crying quite a bit. My sleep became disrupted. It became difficult to concentrate. I felt no joy in my life.
Since being diagnosed all those years ago, I have learned to live with depression as have many of the 20 million people who are living with this illness right now in this country.
One of the hardest truths I have learned is that while depression is not my fault (early on I blamed myself for not being tough enough), it is my responsibility. I had to work at my recovery and still do. It is my responsibility because the wisdom I learn in therapy is only effective if I apply it in my daily life. This involves making the daily effort to invest in my myself like I’m worth it. In many regards, it is like managing any chronic illness like, for example, diabetes or heart disease by eating healthy foods. With depression, we have to feed ourselves healthy thoughts.
Everyone needs to find the self-management tools that will help them. There is not a one-size-fits-all plan. Here are a few things that have helped me and others I have met on my journey:
- Therapy: depression is composed of lots of negative thinking that brings you down. “I’m no good at anything,” “Why can’t I figure this out and just feel better?” or “I’m weak.” In addition to being negative and self-loathing, they are ruminative. We think the same negative thoughts over and over again. In therapy, we learn to recognize these distorted thoughts and think of ourselves and the world in a more realistic positive light.
- Medication: Not everyone needs to be on medication. But for some, it is an integral part of recovery. Whatever the cause of someone’s depression, their brain chemistry may be askew and in need of medical intervention to recoveries. Sometimes, it is difficult, as it was for me, to learn and put into practice the things you learn in therapy when you feel so god awful. Medication can help people regain their footing so that they can benefit from therapy.
- Exercise: Moving our bodies is essential to feeling better on multiple levels. It boosts our mood and plays a vital role in many recoveries. There are times when I drop into a depression, and yes, I still do from time-to-time, that the only thing that will pull me out of the mud is some heart-pounding exercise on an elliptical at the gym.
- Spirituality: However you define it, connect with it. Find and relate to something bigger than your depression bubble: the majesty of a giant forest, God, the beauty of a smiling baby, the universe. It can help give you perspective.
Yes, you can recover from depression. You can learn to live with it. I know because I have learned that depression doesn’t have the last say – hope does.
By Dan Lukasik