I wrote earlier about my battle with SAD, about choosing to listen to the voice of experience as opposed to the voice of doom and gloom – depression tells me I can’t do anything, depression calls me to give up, but the voice of experience reminds me that I’ve been through this before and I’ve come out of it, I’ve had these feelings and survived.
The voice of experience also reminds me of weapons I have found useful in this battle, and in this post I’m going to list all the weapons that spring to mind – things that have been helpful to me in fighting depression.
Important caveat: just because X has been helpful to me, it doesn’t mean X will be helpful to you.
I can’t even say that the same thing that was helpful to me once will necessarily be helpful to me each and every time.
But there are things that I’ve generally found helpful, things that did actually make me feel better, or ways of coping whilst waiting for the cloud to lift. And I’ve also learned about stuff that is not helpful to me, stuff that may seem tempting when I’m down but actually turns out to be the road towards feeling even more down. Basically, I’d put those things under the heading of giving in, going with my feelings. When depression is trying to drag me down, listening to my feelings is dangerous. My emotional state is lying to me, it’s telling me that I haven’t got the energy to do anything and that it’s all hopeless. It’s inviting me to curl up in a heap and cry. Now, crying is sometimes the healthiest thing you can do – when you’ve got stuff that needs to come out, keeping it in is unhelpful. But what I’ve learned from experience is that when my desire to cry is the result of depression, crying doesn’t help me. There isn’t stuff that needs to come out, there’s just this feeling that has come from nowhere and I need to somehow weather it until it’s gone, I need to find things to do in the meantime, and preferably the kinds of things that can help me start to gradually come out of it.
So, tempting as it may be, I say no to the image of self curled up on sofa with a romantic novel or a magazine and a large box of chocolates, and yes to any of the following:
- Getting things done – anything that’s on my to do list, it doesn’t really matter what. pick something and do it, and give yourself the opportunity to feel some sense of achievement, of progress, of satisfaction. (Much as I love computers, my to do lists are always on paper, so that I can have the joy of taking a pen in my hand and physically drawing a line through something I’ve done.)
- Physical exercise – and, being the unfit person that I am, I’m taking this category in its loosest sense and including housework. Anything that gets you up from the chair or sofa, anything that gets a bit of circulation going. But of course a brisk walk is even better (and also gets you into the fresh air, an added bonus), or putting music on and dancing (and music can also help lift your spirits).
- Fresh air
- Change of scene – for me this includes going for a walk where I can see pretty scenery, but also going on a nice shopping expedition and browsing round shops.
- Being creative – and it doesn’t have to be anything major, it can be just something done for fun. My main creative outlet is writing, but I also enjoy making greeting cards – I enjoy that in a different way, because I don’t expect myself to do it particularly well, it’s not my strong side so I can do it in a more laid-back way. And it’s like being a kid again – all this cutting and pasting. :)
- Eating fruit. Drinking fruit juice. Not overdosing on chocolate, which only gives me a very very very temporary high. Coffee in moderation. Water is good. (I don’t know about alcohol – haven’t been into that for a long long while, so I can’t say anything from personal experience about how it would affect depression. I expect it’s probably different for different people, depending on how used to it you are. I’ve also heard people say that some types of alcohol tend to be more depressing and some are more cheering-up, but I really don’t know.)
- Music – obviously for each person there’ll be a different kind of music that helps cheer you up, but go for the kind that cheers you up and not for the kind that makes you wallow… My own preferences have changed over time, these days my top cheer-up music is a worship album by Helen Shapiro, which combines uplifting music with another element, relevant to those of my readers who share my faith: praising God. Which takes me on to…
- Giving thanks, even though you don’t feel like it. There is an amazing power in just starting to think about the good things in your life, the things you can be grateful for.
- Doing something for somebody else – I have a neighbour who is severely disabled, and when she needs help it kind of changes my sense of perspective.
- Looking at pretty things – a friend sent me a gorgeous picture of flowers earlier, a very vibrant colour, and for a while I just kept it on my screen and looked at it.
- Pets can be helpful – I don’t currently have a pet, but when I go out for a walk I often meet one of the neighbours’ cats and stop for a chat and a stroke.
- Time with friends – as long as they’re not the sort who will get you crying. What’s helpful when I’m down is chatting with a friend who is good at prattling about this and that and not getting too deep. Stay away from those who are good at empathy – one look at their face when they ask “how are you” and you’ll see the compassion in their eyes and burst into tears.
- Friends who can cope with hearing you’re depressed are very valuable – those who can just take it in their stride, not make a big drama out of it, just treat it in the same way as if you told them you have a headache or you’ve caught the flu. And for me as a believer it’s been great to mention it to friends who are willing to pray for me.
This is, like I said, just a list of stuff I have personally found helpful – you may find that some of this just doesn’t work for you. All I can say is: don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Sometimes the stuff we feel very resistant to is actually the very thing that is good for us. Just as the stuff that seems very appealing can turn out to be poison.
And give it time. Don’t expect magic, don’t expect immediate results. Depression can be a very heavy cloud and it can take a long while to lift. In the meantime we have to somehow survive. I find it easier to survive knowing in my head that it is actually possible to get out of it – listening to the voice of experience and reminding myself that I’ve felt like this before and I’m alive to tell the tale. And I’ve learned that I cope a lot better in the meantime if I do the things I’ve found over time to be helpful, rather than going with the temptation to wallow. Wallowing is good (in my opinion) when it’s a temporary situation, when you’ve been hurt and you need to take time to recover, i.e. there’s a specific reason why you’re feeling low – depression is different, it’s like a cloud that comes down and tries to smother the life and hope out of you, and it tries to lull you into giving in, but the more you give in, the more down you feel. It’s as though someone is trying to sedate you, and their ultimate aim is to kill you but they want you to be calm and not struggle when the moment comes for them to do it. So they’ll dim the lights and play you quiet music and – – – don’t play their game! force yourself to wake up, turn the lights on, open the window and get some fresh air in, turn off that dreary song and put on something upbeat, remove the dark curtains and hang up something in bright fuchsia or vibrant orange, choose to live – even though you might not, at that particular moment, feel like it.
and if you suffer from SAD, then I also highly recommend using a daylight bulb. It’s made an amazing difference to me.