At first, I only thought I was feeling down. It was just temporary, I said – a result of the stress I was experiencing at work, the winter blues, a particularly bad case of PMS. I honestly thought it was no more than a slump that would go away if I just waited it out. And everything would be back to normal in no time. That’s what I kept telling myself.
But the truth is, my blues did not go away. The more I minimized their importance, the more wedged they became into every aspect of my life.
Soon, I found myself dreading waking up in the morning, coming up with any excuse to stay home and “chill,” slacking off at work, and just feeling hollow. Like I was stuck in a film-noir version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, with invisible Dementors sucking the life-force out of me.
Five years later, I’m very well aware that it was not a slump, nor a particularly difficult time.
What gave it away?
Out of all the symptoms of depression I was experiencing, including sadness, emptiness, and the inability to focus and concentrate, I discerned the physical consequences first.
The first thing I noticed was that I had severe food cravings, which, naturally, led to weight gain. Secondly, I was suffering from extremely disturbed sleep patterns, unable to go to sleep, sometimes for as much as 48 hours, then being unable to wake up and get out of bed.
Perhaps I was lucky that my emotional state was reflected in my physical state. In truth, I probably would have believed myself that I was simply feeling down, or incapable of doing something right, or unworthy. But with the appearance of palpable manifestations of my mental state, I was able to realize that I needed to get help.
The first step towards recovery
No matter how inclined I was to solve my problem with Google, feel-good movies, and self-help books, I knew that having difficult conversations was inevitable.
The first person I spoke to was my best friend. I managed to get the dreaded “I think I might be going through depression” out, expecting the absolute worst, confirming that I was, in fact, unworthy, but she just remained calm and collected. The “I’m here for you” was the final push towards therapy.
Once I had found a professional to guide me through the process of overcoming my inner demons, I realized that there had to be a way out. But, I also learned that defeating the shadow hovering over me was far from an easy undertaking. It took effort, energy, and discipline.
And it still does.
You see, my journey is in no way over. But, I’m learning to equip myself with the tools that allow me to live life in full color.
There are still days that seem bleak and dreary, but now, I know that they’re not a must. They’re a part of my life, and I have the power to transform them into something that brings joy.
My key tools for getting better
The truth is, I don’t think that my way of working through depression is revolutionary. But as is often true in life, the simple solutions seem to work best.
In addition to therapy, which I currently attend twice a month, I also added a few beautiful practices into my daily life.
The first is long-form journaling. As a writer, words (usually) come easy to me. And I’m aware of their cathartic potential. So, I take the time to express myself on the page. Every morning, I take 10 minutes in bed to set my intentions for the day, to acknowledge how I’m feeling, and visualize the tasks I wish to accomplish. In the evenings, just before sleep, I reflect. I address my highs and lows and let my thoughts pour out, giving them a safe physical space to inhabit, instead of letting them weigh me down.
The second tool in my emotional toolbox was a combination of physical and spiritual exercise. My therapist suggested that I take up a physical activity, which would have a mood-boosting effect. I opted for a combination of running and hiking because they would also allow me to spend more time in nature. Additionally, I took up yoga to keep moving on slow days, which turned out to be a great segue into meditation.
Another thing I’ve become diligent about is taking time for hobbies. I particularly enjoy cooking and painting, as these relax me and give me a palpable outcome I can focus my energy on. But I also like to travel, read, and do jigsaw puzzles.
The last thing I’m concentrating on is taking great care of my body. In addition to all my spiritual efforts, I’m trying to make sure I’m giving myself the absolute best chance of feeling great. This means getting real about my sleep hygiene (which, as I’ve already mentioned, wasn’t exactly the best). I try to keep screen time to a minimum, go to bed early, and wake up at 6 am on weekdays. The routine helps me stay on track, and makes it slightly more difficult to fall off the wagon. Furthermore, I watch what I eat, giving priority to healthier food options, and staying away from sugar because it tends to make me feel irritable.
How I’m feeling now
Even though the dark cloud hovering above me is gone, I’m aware that this doesn’t mean I’ll never feel down again. The truth is, some days are still harder than others. But I’m also immensely proud of myself for having been honest and for having sought out help.
After all, that’s the most anyone can do: commit to doing better, day after day.
Sarah Kaminski is a life enjoyer, positivity seeker, and a curiosity enthusiast. She is passionate about an eco-friendly lifestyle and adores her cats. She is an avid reader who loves to travel when time allows.
Image courtesy of Martino Pietropoli.