As I was doom scrolling on IG recently I came across a post that the incredible Viola Davis had shared all about depression and how we can self-gaslight when depression hits and my god I needed that because I’m certainly going through a period of depression at the minute and sometimes you need that outside eye (Or Oscar winning, all round bad-ass Viola Davis’ IG account) to remind you what you already knew; namely that depression is a liar
So in today’s post I am going to focus on why depression is a liar and how you can help yourself or a loved one when they are going through it.
Depression is serious and very real, it takes any colour out of the world and you feel like there is no point in getting up to exist until bedtime and then repeat, forever. It will whisper to you that it will always be like this, it will rob you of joy and connection and all the while a voice will grow telling you to give up. That voice is not your intuition,. that voice is depression in a fancy coat. It is a fucking liar. Things can get better, colour will return, you will feel again. It is a fight but I have proven to myself time and time again it is one worth having and at this point I feel like a fucking heavy weight.
These are things I do or have done that have helped me. Now, don’t get me wrong none of these are magic bullets, not everyone will work for you, you won’t be cured and depression won’t be vanquished from your life forever BUT they may help to ease it, like a pain killer. It takes the edge of and so things become more bearable.
Now for the disclaimer:
⚠️ I am not a doctor, nor a medical health specialist. This is a list of things that have worked for me and I share them in the hope some of them may be helpful to you. They are not to be taken as expert advice or replace a medical opinion. In the first instance, seeking help from a doctor or mental health practitioner is always advised and if you don’t have access currently Mind are a great mental health charity that can advise you.
Talk it out
Often when I’m in throws of depression the last thing I want to do is talk about it and thats because Depression’s best mate Shame has joined the party and together they fuck me up. But as the incredible Dr Brene Brown says:
“We desperately don’t want to experience shame, and we’re not willing to talk about it. Yet the only way to resolve shame is to talk about it.” – Dr Brene Brown
Just the act of listing out the things we feel and to a trusted person, whether that’s a partner, family, friend or a crisis line has an affect on our emotional state. Firstly shame dies because its no longer a secret, you have spoken on it, reached out and proven that you are not shameful, you are unwell and that is perfectly normal and acceptable
Write it Out
Not all of us are fortunate enough to have someone we trust and if we can’t access a crisis helpline then the next best thing is to write it out. Now I’m not talking about trying to write a memoir here, I simply mean put a pen to paper and write – even if you don’t know what to write, you ca write that over and over until your brain starts to spill onto the page. You can keep going until its out or you could set a timer if you need more structure.
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” – Anne Frank
I find when I write stream of conscious like this that afterwards I feel drained and often a little lighter emotionally,. which means it worked and I stand a better chance of sleeping. Another way to do this if you are worried about judging yourself or others reading it is to simply write the first sentence and then write over and over again until you are done,. you will never be able to read it back and neither will anyone else.
Old TV show and Something
I don’t know about you but when I’m feeling low, I find concentrating on one thing difficult and nigh on impossible if that something is new. So, I will often put on a ‘comfort’ show (by ‘comfort’ I am not referring to the content but the familiarity, for example most of mine are crime shows – Elementary, Castle, Scorpian etc the point is it involves no effort from your brain) and pair it with an activity that doesn’t require a lot of thought (I usually work in silence) for me that’s cross stitch, painting or drawing.
“The only key to fight depression is distraction” – Selfish Pysch
This serves me in a few ways I have more than one thing to focus on to help distract me when demons come calling – and they always come calling, I’m not trying to force myself to do something new and stressful and lastly it’s a way for me to healthily decompress and let my subconscious process.
Crying Yourself Out
Generally depression leaves me numb but on the occasions it all feels too much, I just need to get into bed and cry. I’m talking ugly, snotty, shrieking, lung wracking sobs. The type of weeping that leaves you looking like you’ve been stung by bee’s and drains you completely.
“There is an ancient tribal proverb I once heard in India. It says that before we can see properly we must first shed our tears to clear the way.” ― Libba Bray, The Sweet Far Thing
A therapist once told me that intense emotion can’t last because physically the body can’t maintain it, so I speed it up by allowing myself to sit in it and ball it out. The upside to this is I am often left so drained I fall asleep, which is always better than conversing with demons
Ok, bare with me on this because on the surface it sounds like a Karen asking if you have tried having a glass of water and breathing. So, this is another therapist learnt thing. Good news it’s simple, bad news it involves moving.
It is simply this: change your perspective by moving location. This could be if you are in bed move to the sofa, if you are standing sit down, if you are in the living room move to the bathroom etc it just means change your literal perspective i.e what you can see. I’ve been known to lay under my table, get into my wardrobe or hang upside down.
“Sometimes a change of perspective, is all it takes to see the light” – Dan Brown
The science is basic, you change what you are looking at or the angle and your brain re-focuses on it’s surroundings, it notices them. It’s like a little slap to your neurons and while they figure what the fuck is going on, your brain gives you a break. The best example I can think of is,. you know that thing when you are on a swing and you lean back while in motion and tilt your head and you suddenly see the world in an entirely new, tummy flipping way? You are still on the same swing, you are still in the same place but your experience is new because of the way you are seeing it.
The success rate of this for me is around 60%, I find it just takes the edge off what I’m feeling/the numbness and makes it easier to bare.
Music and Dancing
When under the soul crushing endless nothingness that depression so kindly comes to bare on my life one of the healthy ways I’ve learnt to reach for feeling is to put on my headphones and blast music,. then I dance – well I move, I’m not sure what I do in those times can be considered dance by even the most post modern interpretative dancer. I’ll often sing my lungs out too.
“If you just set people in motion, they’ll heal themselves” – Gabrielle Roth
This works for me for a few reason,. firstly I’m literally shutting my senses off to anything that isn’t that music. I can’t hear the outside world because the headphones and volume, I can’t hear the inner voice because of the volume and the fact I’m singing at the top of my voice, I don’t feel anything other than the music and the air over my skin, I’ll often shut my eyes to block out any judgement’s I might feel at moving the way I do and I cannot taste anything other than the air in and the sound out. The type of music I tend to play is either angry or motivational in some way to me personally because those emotions are the simplest ones for me to reach for in my depression. The music you choose is a personal decision and I have a couple of ready made playlists, so I don’t have to think about it when I’m ill.
Hitting Soft Objects & Tearing Shit Up
Another way I treat my numbness and the demons that come with the seemingly endless march of gray is to hit soft things or destroy things. Now I stress soft things because the point here is to avoid self injury, not replace it with another method. I am fortunate to have a punching bag but before I did I would beat up pillows or my mattress,. it is exhausting. That is the point. It gets out any emotions that we are currently numb too and it drains us of energy, thus getting past the peak of crisis or intensity. I like to visualise my depression and then beat the crap out of it, yeah it’s a little ‘woo woo’ but I do not give a fuck, it works and it keeps me here. I would suspend sage from my nipples and stuff my vagina with crystal eggs if it kept me breathing.
Another form of this is to destroy things, just to be clear I mean ripping paper or card, tearing old fabric or if you have the means finding a location that has ‘Demolition Therapy’ I don’t mean taking a hammer to your TV or car. It works in much the same way as hitting soft objects and can get you past the danger point and let you reach trauma you don’t understand and unleash it in a healthy way.
I won’t go into too much detail here as I have a blog post about it and I also speak about this on a recent interview I did on the Activated Authors podcast.
But what I will say is this, you don’t need to be an ‘artist’ to benefit from this,. hell you don’t have to think of yourself as creative. It isn’t about making something to frame or having a skill to convey the intellectual understanding about what you are feeling.
“Art is not always about pretty things. It’s about who we are, what happened to us, and how our lives are affected.” – Elizabeth Broun
Just pick up some paint if you have it and throw it on a canvas,. or paper or old sheet,. repeat with a couple different ones and then get your hands dirty. Or grab a pen and pad and scribble, draw lines, hell colour the whole page in black biro – whatever it doesn’t matter. The end result is irrelevant its the doing that matters and brings catharsis.
A side note with a lot of these tips is the ones they are physical and with that activity comes the release of endorphins, I left this out as a conscious choice because too often we hear, ‘Go for a walk’ and yeah I’m not going to argue with the science. Exercise = endorphins = feeling better, but if it was as easy as that we would all just be merrily skipping around. When I’m deep in depression being told to go for a walk is like a mentally well person being told, ‘walk up the hill’ after they have been dumped at the base of Everest with no equipment or training.
I truly hope that you find this useful and please remember no matter what the demons say, no matter how many times depression tries to manipulate you – YOU MATTER, THINGS CAN CHANGE.
Until next time,
focus on the next breath