Depression closes you in. It makes you want to curl up and avoid the world. I learned from hard experience that tendency must be resisted as best you can. For what helps is having friends, not friends who tell you to “cheer up” as if that were in your control, but friends who recognize your agony and who nurture you and help you find the professional help you need. Surround yourself with and clasp such close friends.
I stress finding professional help. Medication is of course important, as you have a chemical imbalance, but talk therapy with an objective third party who can provide insights and perspective is crucial. You need to feel comfortable with that person. If you are not, search for someone else. You need to give yourself permission to talk about all the mess that you feel your life has become. In my own experience, I took a very practical approach. Here I was paying this person money and damn it, I was going to get my money’s worth. That meant me talking, not sitting there like a lump on a log.
I have had three major depressions in my life. With my first I found myself crying uncontrollably. I rarely cry and was dismayed. I determined to find something specifically to cry about and envisioned a very lonely young girl dressed in white and cried for her. The young girl was of course me and I knew it.
With my second I had suicidal thoughts and after a friend took me to the emergency room, I signed myself into the mental ward. It was the right decision. I was living alone at the time and being somewhere where there were others to care for me was important. I gave no thought to the stigma that might be associated with such a move and I in the end found none. While in the mental ward I looked inside myself for some source of strength and found it in two poems I had written a few years earlier. I paced up and down the hallway silently saying them to myself and they did me good:
Tough as a weed,
Scraggily limbed and lifed
Through the wilting winds of change
I have survived,
I have survived.
I would live my life in unmeasured units,
No tea cups full of time and chance,
But boldly striding into chaos,
Amid the broken china to forever dance.
Art, in its many forms, can obviously be important in dealing with depression. Find your creative outlet. So is your environment—no dark, gloomy rooms but bright sunshine—and good sleep. Not being able to sleep played an important role in my spiraling into depression. There are now drugs such as Trazadone that can help. I need to watch out for brooding. I tend to pick at the scabs of things over which I have no control. Here self-examination is so crucial. I try to watch myself and ask the objective question whether there is anything I can do further about a situation. If not, let the negative thoughts go.
I feel very strongly about fighting the stigma of mental illness. I have always been frank about my situation when talking to others and now I have gone even more public with the publication of Examined Lives and my blogs. Too many suffer in relative silence, afraid of the reaction of those around them. I hope they will take heart from this, speak out and help combat the stigma themselves.