Coping with Depression

(By chris the cynic)

Note that this is a post for people with depression, and for them only if they’re really interested in it.  There is a reason that the most popular post on my blog is about how well meaning people give completely unhelpful advice to depressed people about dealing with depression.  Generally if you’re not depressed and you have a depressed person you want to help the best advice you can give is to encourage them to get professional help (or get different professional help if theirs isn’t helping.)

You can say what helps you to feel better, but you can’t expect it will help.  It might, it might not.  Never push it, that doesn’t help.  Saying that something will solve problems when it doesn’t just makes things worse.

So I want to start with a story, which has nothing to do with depression.

Pretty sure this is from before I was born.  My dad once worked maintenance in an apartment building. One time when he came to the door the tenant was happy not because broken thing was getting fixed, but because it meant he could sit down.

He didn’t have the energy to get back up again once he sat down, so without someone there to help him up, in this case my dad, he didn’t sit.  Near as I can tell he slept standing.  My father describes the way he moves as always using something for support, a wall, a counter, a table.  When he had to cross an empty area too large to stay in contact with something he took the shortest distance from one support to another and did it carefully.

The point here is that he knew he couldn’t get back up if he sat, so he didn’t do it. That’s the opposite of an ideal solution, but it is a solution.  A better solution, my dad thought, would be a chair that helped you to get up (they make those now) but by working around his problem the tenant was able to go on with his life in his apartment.

Not a good solution, but a solution.

Coping with depression can be like that.  What works for you will probably not be ideal, but when you find something that works for you… you’ve found something that works for you. Use it until you find something better.

The rest of this will be me talking about some things that have worked for me, maybe some of them will work for you.

First off, it’s important to remember the basic necessities.  If one had to remember to breathe regularly I’d probably have suffocated long ago.  Fortunately breathing is automatic.  Other necessities not so much.  Drinking, eating, and getting enough sleep are all things that require more effort on one’s part.

And, generally, depression is bad enough without adding dehydration, malnutrition, or sleep deprivation to the mix.

Dehydration is something I’ve always struggled with because getting up to get a drink when I’m thirsty has long been more effort than I could muster so I’d just stay thirsty and not drink.  At some point I realized that it took me a lot less effort to fill a glass of water whenever I was in the kitchen, and bring it with me wherever I went.  The result was that when I got thirsty I’d already have water near me, and thus could actually drink something and stay hydrated.

Keeping well fed is something I’m still working on.

When it comes to sleep both maintaining a regular schedule and finding darkness help.  (A lack of darkness while one sleeps can actually induce depression like symptoms, so if you’ve already got depression you definitely don’t want to have light intruding on you.)  At the moment I’ve put a canopy made of a blanket, a sheet, four garden stakes, and elastics over my bed.  That helps but one of the meds I’m on screws with sleep and since it’s the one that does the most good (and the only one to ever do any measurable good in the area it treats) getting off of it isn’t an option so my doctor put me on a (non-prescription) sleep aid.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing to try to make sure I get water, food, and sleep, I highly recommend getting enough of these three things however you can because if you don’t then their absence will make it that much harder to deal with the depression.  Plus, missing out on them is simply unhealthy.

The most obvious thing is to never give up.  One of the few good things to come out of the post-Peter-Sellers Pink Panther movies was David Niven explaining the one redeeming quality of Inspector Clouseau: He never gave up.  And thus, in spite of all of his incompetence, in the end he always came out, at the very least, tied and a few times ahead.

How one goes about not giving up is probably an individualized thing.  I’ve made plans that I knew I’d never go through with, I’ve hoped for things I knew were impossible, I’ve latched onto causes I knew were lost, I’ve ignored the future entirely and focused only on the moment, I’ve done whatever it took to keep moving and get me through the day.

Whatever gets you though the day (presuming it doesn’t hurt yourself or others) do it.  Until you find something better, do it.  That’s got to be about the second best advice I can offer.  (The best is to seek professional help.)

And never give up.  I’ve been dealing with depression for most of my life, quite possibly more than two thirds.  About half of my life I’ve had the diagnosis.  For quite a while, until I aged out of my mother’s insurance, I was being treated.  None of it worked.  Then this year, in a few short months the people I’m working with right now were able to make more progress than was made in the rest of my life combined.  If I gave up I never would have met them.

There is a brighter future out there, but it doesn’t always come quick and it doesn’t come easy.  Would that it did, but it doesn’t.  If it came easy you wouldn’t be reading this, because you’d already be not-depressed.  It’s hard to hear, “Hang in there and keep trying,” when you’ve got a medical condition that makes each of those things much more difficult than climbing a mountain (I’ve climbed mountains, I know, they’re much easier than dealing with depression) but the truth is that you have to hang in there and keep trying, and at the same time not beat yourself up for the times when you can’t.

If I think of how much I’ve lost or wasted because I didn’t try this or that it makes me want to cry, but the truth was that most of those things I didn’t try because I couldn’t try.  Some things are beyond your reach and while you should still try to reach for them (because maybe you misjudged the distance and you can reach) if they turn out to be something you couldn’t do no good comes from beating yourself up for not doing it.  You do what you can, no one can ask more from you.  Well, they can.  They can and they will, but they shouldn’t.  When someone expects more from you than you can provide, and is angry, abusive, demeaning, or disappointed that you didn’t do the impossible, it’s their problem.

I’ve found that online communities can be very helpful, they require less effort and less risk, so even when you can’t muster what is necessary to leave the house you can still go to them, and yet they can give you human contact and keep you from becoming isolated.  They can give you support.

Low risk, high reward, it’s worked out for me.

The downside is that it’s easy to drift away, lose contact, and fall out of an online community.  I’d run out of things to say, have a bad spell, or whatever and then by the time I could come back I’d lost whatever emotional connection it was that had made me stay in the first place.

There are plenty of places I left (with no intention of leaving), never to return to, because I had a bad spell and by the time it was over I had lost the ability to care about them.

There are things that I know, intellectually, I enjoy.  Yet there’s a sort of horizon effect where if they’re more than a certain distance ahead of me (say a few hours) it’s like they’re over the horizon and I can’t see them.  So instead of doing prep work for them feeling like it’s setting up for something I enjoy, it feels like meaningless work for something I don’t care about.

This has been known to result in me not doing things that I enjoy, and when you’re depressed every little bit of joy, no matter how short lived, can help.

So what I’ve found is that I have to trust past knowledge (I enjoyed this before) more than my emotions (I don’t care now) which can be hard because without caring motivation is difficult.  But if you know you’ll probably enjoy something, but you can’t feel a damned thing positive at the moment, in my experience going for it seems to work out more often than not.

At the same time, if you can identify things that drag you down, and avoid them where possible, that can help.  Or at least it has occasionally helped me.

In closing, whatever gets you through the day is what you need to do until you can get professional help that works.  Maybe it will involve absolutely nothing I have said.  That’s ok.  Do whatever works for you. Do whatever it takes to keep going.  Any port in a storm, and whatever gets you through the day.

But coping should never be the end goal, no matter how well you cope, as soon as possible (might be days, might be years depending on your situation) you need to start working toward getting it cured. Coping is just what you have to do until the opportunity arises.

6 thoughts on “Coping with Depression

  1. EllieMurasaki December 15, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Thank you.

  2. Firedrake December 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    The word “crutch” has picked up weird overtones. It’s a thing to help you get along. But some people say “that’s a crutch” in a way that implies you shouldn’t need it.

  3. froborr December 16, 2012 at 12:04 am

    A lot of these are things that have worked very well for me in the past.

    I think the most important thing, for me, was something you touched on: Learning not to trust my feelings. My feelings are evil liars that want me to suffer; I have to carefully examine everything they tell me before I can risk taking action on it.

  4. Firedrake December 17, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    I’ve managed to some extent to separate “sensible” from other feelings – the former have some visible cause, the latter don’t. If I’m walking along and see a dead hedgehog, I feel a bit sad; if I’m sitting pondering and suddenly want everything to be over, that’s a different level, and by recognising it I can go some way to getting round it.

    (Usual disclaimer: my depressive tendencies are well short of any clinical level, so it’s a whole lot easier for me than for many people.)

  5. christhecynic December 18, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Well there’s also a question of length, if the dead hedgehog leaves you feeling very down for the next month, probably not sensible even though it does have an identifiable cause.

  6. Firedrake December 18, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Yes, fair point. As always, It’s More Complicated Than That. The further I did into this stuff, the more I start to think that consciousness is a trick played by the brain on the mind.

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