woman trying to cope with depression

Coping with Depression and Anxiety – 3 Things to Remember

With this year’s social distancing recommendations, mental health has been on my mind lately (no pun intended). It’s hard to maintain and nurture personal connections, let alone create them, and isolation is taking its toll on many people’s mental health. I thought I would do my part and share some ways that have helped me while coping with depression.

First, some context. As I have shared in mental health panels at cons, I was diagnosed with major chronic depression in 1994. I have navigated college, my wedding, marriage, pregnancy, raising children, managing a home, work, and many other life experiences while coping with depression. Some days and weeks were very, very dark, and others, you wouldn’t even know it was an issue for me.

Some additional context: depression can skew your thoughts, and lie to you, and as such, I often deal with anxiety as well. For me, it’s mostly feeling overwhelmed in uncertain situations, racing thoughts, and consequent trouble falling asleep.

With mental health issues as a backdrop for the past 25+ years, I have worked with multiple therapists and psychiatrists and read countless self-help books. From these resources, and my own experience, I have compiled some tips for coping with depression and anxiety. I’ll start now with three things to keep in mind.

Be proactive

Action – no matter what form – is you declaring that you are making a choice. You choose what you do, even if you can’t choose how you feel.

It may seem a little tone-deaf to tell someone fighting depression to make an effort and do something, but unfortunately, I have found it to be true. Generally, during a depressive episode, my mood would not improve if I hid in my room in bed. It also wouldn’t take a huge jump if I got up and did the dishes, but at least I could point to that and feel the tiniest sense of accomplishment, even as I was hating myself on the inside.

Action – no matter what form – is you declaring that you are making a choice. You choose what you do, even if you can’t choose how you feel.

Monitor your moods and symptoms

I have also had to be proactive about seeking support and treatment. Because my mood and thoughts sometimes disrupt my activities, I have to take stock of how well I am managing. If I notice that I’m irritable for an extended time, having disturbing dreams and not sleeping well, or not laughing at my husband’s jokes, I check in with myself to see if maybe the depression is resurfacing and see what I can change. Sometimes I have to pursue different treatments or coping techniques when one isn’t working well for me.

I also rely on my husband as a gauge of my mood. He has been along for my entire depression history and knows my symptoms. He asks how I’m feeling and how I’m managing. Sometimes he catches a depressive episode before I notice it. It really helps to have that outside perspective and someone who’s watching out for you. It may take a very candid conversation to ask for that kind of support, but there are often people in your life who are willing that take on that role.

Depression lies

Here’s the thing. Depression lies. Anxiety lies. They skew and twist your thoughts and use them against you, to keep you down. And the lies ring true because they’re inside your own head. That’s why being proactive and fighting back is so important. You can prove the lies are wrong. You are stronger than your thoughts and feelings, even if you don’t believe it.

Thor’s journey to cope with depression

Consider the dramatically transformed Thor in “Avengers: Endgame.” Regardless of the depiction of “fat Thor” (and subsequent critical debate), he was clearly experiencing trauma, grieving the loss of his friends, and far removed from his heroic self. He had fallen into a depression, likely feeling guilty for not living up to his own expectations. 

Those expectations of how one should act or feel are one of the ways depression lies to you. Just because your brain tells you that you should have done something (or that nothing matters, or that no one cares about you) doesn’t mean it’s true. One therapist encouraged me to consider those kinds of thoughts as opinions that I didn’t have to agree with.

Thor is worthy - catching Moljnir while coping with depression

It will get better

Another thing to remember when coping with depression and anxiety is that you won’t feel this way forever. It may last longer than you’d like, but it does get better.

I know from experience that it feels like you’re always going to be depressed and/or anxious. It feels like the deepest, darkest hole with no rope or ladder and someone shouting from the top that it’s not even worth trying to climb out. That you’re not worth the effort. That no one will even notice if you don’t climb out.

You never know what might help

Sure, the future is uncertain. But while it may seem like the depression will never lift, it’s more likely that you will eventually feel better. You never know who you will meet, what book you will read, what video you will watch that will help shift or change your perspective. And you have to have that little scrap of faith that you can hang on through this storm to get to the other side.

Here’s an example. During one of my worst depressive episodes, I discovered Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I’m not sure what made me read it – at the time, I certainly didn’t identify with anyone’s interpretation of effective. But I did read it, and it started the kernel of an idea of what I wanted my life to look like.

I began working on my personal mission statements, one for each area or role of my life, and what I ideally wanted. Then I started looking for small steps I could take to make each of those missions a reality. This personal work eventually led me to write my first book, The Book of Me. (Did you know I’ve written four books, all while living with depression?)

While depression had hidden a brighter future from me, the possibility of it was still out there. I just had to wade through the darkness, do the work, and hang on through it. No simple task, but I came out stronger, and I now have the perspective to see this struggle in others, and the resources and resilience to try to help them.

And now, my diagnosis has changed to “major depression – in remission.” I still struggle sometimes, particularly when I’m feeling overwhelmed, but I have many more good days than bad. I’m living proof that it can get better.

Fighting the fight – together

So here we are. Together. Fighting the fight. It will get better and you are worth the effort. I believe this, and I believe in you. Check back for future posts with tips on coping with depression and anxiety.

Get help

Feature image by Małgorzata Tomczak from Pixabay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.