I’m pretty open about this in person, but I’ve never quite worked up the courage to openly talk about my own struggle with depression here. It’s a travel blog after all, so I wanted to keep it light and mostly filled with travelogues and helpful tips on traveling. But I also know that depression has been a marked part of who I am and why I practice gratitude and why I take Local Adventures. I know I’m not the only one, so hopefully this may help whoever is reading this know that you’re not alone too.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived with depression. I was great at masking this growing up, because I felt pressure to be the perfect pastor’s child. I know I’ve had plenty of happy memories sprinkled into my childhood, but overall I was internally a somber and moody child. I honestly believed everyone in the world also felt the way I did and was also masking their sadness too. Yet I hoped that this was a phase of childhood, and one day as I blossomed into a mature adult, it would resolve itself.
I was wrong.
Last year, while living in LA, my depression spiraled out of control to the point where I alienated myself from almost everyone I knew, and I could not leave my bed most days. I had hit a new and even lower rock bottom where I felt completely and utterly hopeless. Each and every passing day was painful, and the guilt of my depressing existence would even eat away at me (See how it continues to spiral?). It took courage that I didn’t think I could afford to keep living each new day.
When I was hitting my rock bottom of last year, I finally decided to seek help. I was put on a medication that my body responded well to and I talked to a therapist regularly.
Situational Depression vs Clinical Depression
Let me first shine a light on the difference between situational depression and clinical depression. They are two different beasts and sometimes one can lead to the other. If you’ve ever been diagnosed with clinical depression, you know it’s not something that you can just snap out by sheer will. It’s not a matter of coming to terms with reality.
Sometimes it’s something you don’t even understand. I felt even more guilty when my life was going perfectly fine, but for no apparent reason, I was constantly depressed or irritable. It was so confusing. I had no idea why I felt the way I did. I’ve tried to fix things by the book, but no matter how many times I reasoned with myself or wrote in my gratitude journal or exercised, it wasn’t something that just went away.
Note for the family and friends: If you have a friend who has depression, here are 10 things to say and not to say. Whether situational or clinical, the worse thing you can do is try to use reason or go into a fix it mode by projecting your own experiences on them. This could just make them isolate themselves more. The most meaningful thing to me is when a friend sticks around. Just listen and be present even if you feel like you’re not helping or providing them any value from what you say.
Now that we got that out of the way, these are some life lessons I learned so far from depression (certain ones may only apply to me)
You are never alone in your struggles.
It’s extremely easy to feel this way. At the very least, I understand that hopeless feeling that can last for months and even years with no light at the end of the tunnel. Since talking about it, I’ve also met plenty of others, so we are out there if you need to talk to someone. Know that there is always someone who is going through the same thing. You are also not the only one struggling. Everyone has their own share of struggles even if it’s not the same as yours. Don’t forget that life can be tough for everyone. I always loved the quote “Always be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Most of us are acutely aware of our own struggles and we are preoccupied with our own problems. We sympathize with ourselves because we see our own difficulties so clearly. ” – Ian MacLaren
Don’t try to do life by yourself.
It’s easy to feel like a burden and want to alienate yourself, but this is probably when you need help the most. I used to always tell myself no one else understands me or what I’m going through. There isn’t a point. Don’t be afraid to share even if people can’t relate to you. Even if those around me couldn’t relate, I was encouraged by how much my husband and friends deeply cared for me.
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help
I know there’s a weird stigma about mental health, but don’t let that stop you from getting the help you need. It can take time to find the right therapist and the right combination of medication that works for you. Don’t lose hope if it doesn’t happen right away. For both, you need good chemistry.
Is depression just a luxury?
Is it just for people like me who has too much time on my hands and don’t need to worry about putting food on the table? Maybe it’s true. I have yet to know what it’s like on the other side. But I genuinely believe that people from all walks of life can have clinical depression.
Don’t chase happiness
When you are consumed with depression, it’s easy to obsess over the pursuit of happiness. For me, the pursuit itself did more harm than good. Happiness was elusive. Whether I did the one thing a day that made me happy or whatever method I tried, the more I chased, the more unhappy I became. Death and sadness are a natural part of life. I wish I was better at accepting and embracing this rather than always trying to escape it.
You will eventually recognize the symptoms earlier
There will be tough times in life. There will be more seasons of depression and maybe even deeper and lower valleys in my life, but now I know how to recognize it earlier and hopefully seek help. I know I don’t gracefully accept these times now, but maybe one day I will.
Take baby steps. Don’t expect any of the above to be a quick and easy fix.
Everything in life comes to pass.
Even life itself passes. Whether this is depressing or relieving is up to you.
Some practical things you can do to help
- Practicing gratitude helps to shift your mindset.
- Focusing on helping others helps you see outside of yourself and your problems.
- Eating healthy and exercise helps make a difference in mood. It at least keeps your body happier.
- Try to have good sleep hygiene and sleep regular hours.
- Get some sun. I had the hardest time adjusting to Portland’s gloomy weather.
- Do something you enjoy. Take up a hobby. For me lately it’s been climbing.
These aren’t the end all be all. These life lessons certainly helped contribute to a healthier mental state, but it’s a continual process. While I no longer need to talk to a therapist weekly (though I like to check in every once in a while to get a “tune up”), it’s not over and it may never “go away”. Coming to terms with this has also been difficult for me. I’m still in the process of it.
I also know that it’s so much easier to talk about your struggles in hindsight when you’ve already dealt with the worst of it, but because I value openness, honestly, and authenticity, next week I hope to share what I am currently struggling with. I’m grateful for all the life lessons I’ve learned so far, and I’m grateful to be able to share a piece of myself to such a wonderful blog community.
Also, this whole post came about because I can’t believe Robin Williams is no longer with us. As tragic as it is to hear about any celebrity’s death, I don’t think I’ve ever grieved like this over someone I didn’t know personally. I’m not sure what it was about Robin Williams, but I felt this strange and deep sense of loss. My heart physically ached when I heard the news. Maybe I am also mourning the loss of the happier parts of my childhood. I didn’t realize until this week how much of a profound impact he had. For someone who brought so much joy and laughter into other people’s lives, it’s sad to hear that he was a victim of his own depression.
[ Update: It actually wasn’t depression, read this if you want to learn the real reason why Robin Williams committed suicide ]
P.S I found that depressing photo of me from this past weekend in LA and it made me laugh so hard. So fitting for the post, but I was actually more pissed at Jacob than I was depressed. ;)
P.S. We’re also celebrating Robin William’s life by having a movie marathon over here starting with Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Hook!
What is your favorite Robin Williams movie? Do you or anyone you know struggle with depression? How do you cope? How have you tried to help?
This is week 48 of practicing gratitude. See the other posts here.