DEPRESSION: HOW TO START HEALING + TIPS TO EXPLAIN IT TO OTHERS
Trigger warning: as you can probably tell by the title, this isn’t going to be a happy or funny post. It’s a serious topic and I’ve opened up about my own journey and what it’s like to be depressed. If you feel like this topic may trigger you in any way, please scroll down to the “HOW TO START HEALING” section and skip the rest. Please contact me if you need someone to talk to during your journey or comment below where you may get in touch with others on this journey. I want us to heal together so if you have any other tips that have helped you, please share them in the comments as well.
As I was having a conversation with my boyfriend about the topic, it dawned on me that indeed not everyone has experienced this particular kind of hell. He is one of them.
To me, it is shocking that some people don’t quite understand what depression is and can’t relate at all. While he is lucky to have an impenetrable fortress for a mind, I consider myself lucky to have experienced mental illness because it has not only made me stronger, but it has given me the gift of appreciating my mind for all its intricate complexity, the gift of relentless pursuit of healing and helping to heal others, and many more gifts. I have made the choice to see things in a positive light for the sake of my own healing, and let me tell you, it really helps!
Now, I’ve been able to heal from depression and am now officially a (mostly) happy and positive person. But for years I suffered in silence and denial about my own mental decline. I had always tipped the scale towards the negative thinking side, and considered myself mostly a self-pessimist (aka I was only really negative about things that pertained to me, but seemed to be able to be positive for others). I work HARD on myself – and have for years – to emerge from the depths and feel the need to help others going through that and tell them that IT IS POSSIBLE. I don’t want it to take years for you but I also won’t lie to you and tell you it can be done overnight. It takes work and commitment.
Some people think this is something you should just be able to snap out of (ughhhhhh), that people who are blessed don’t have a right to feel depressed because “there are people way worse off than you, you should feel lucky” (double ughhhhh). They simply can’t comprehend it and it leads others that have experienced it to feel unsupported, misunderstood and guilty.
The thing is, depression does NOT follow logic. It does NOT discriminate. There have been very many celebrities with all the money they could ever ask for, their dream house and their dream life that also get hit by depression. If depression were logical, then it would think “well, this guy has it all, a fat bank account, a beautiful partner, a steady job, a sweet mansion and freedom (relatively) to do anything they want. I’m gonna leave them alone.”
I suspect if this was Depression’s thought process, the poorest countries would be plagued with it, with most of their individuals suffering from depression. It very well may be true that many people in developing countries actively suffer from depression, but there are just as many in the most developed countries that suffer from it, too.
According to the World Health Organization, USA is one of the most depressed countries in the world; third, to be exact. China being the first.
These are two of the most powerful countries in the world.
Why then, are they the highest ranking in this category?
I grew up in Venezuela, a country with a long history of dictatorship and a third world country (if there were anything lower, we’d most likely be that). People in my country are surprisingly positive and optimistic, and they’re able to use humor to cope with the overwhelming circumstances we’re faced with. That’s not to say that there’s no depressed people in my country, of course. I use “they” because my mind works a little differently, and I’ve had to teach myself coping mechanisms and create healthy thought patterns to fight off depression.
Trying to explain this to my boyfriend was challenging, as it is not to be understood using logic. That conversation inspired me to create this post, to hopefully help others trying to explain this to their loved ones (and trying to feel a little less alone)
Tips to explain depression to loved ones
This is not a conversation you want to have in passing, or at a party. This is one of those times where you might want to set aside a little time with your loved one to really have the chance to express yourself as best you can.
Remember that your family and friends want to be supportive, but they’re most likely uninformed and don’t know how to help. Don’t feel bad if they don’t get it right away. Again, this isn’t something that can be explained easily to someone who hasn’t truly experienced it themselves. It’s not their fault and it’s also not yours if they can’t comprehend.
- Find a quiet place to talk. Speaking about this isn’t an easy task, and some privacy is helpful and more conducive to truly opening up.
- Tell them to keep an open mind. Most people who haven’t experienced it are trying to understand it from a logical standpoint and – again – depression is not logical.
- Consider writing about it before trying to explain it to them in person. It can be a bit easier when you’ve already taken some time to write down what you want to say because it is quite an emotional topic and sometimes we get choked up or at a loss for words when we’re in the moment. If you think this would be helpful, go for it!
- Explain to the best of your ability what it feels like to live with depression, and that you’re actively working on healing and you would appreciate the support.
- Take some time to think about how “support” looks like to you. Is it a weekly check-in phone call? Is it being available to talk at any time? Is it being your workout buddy? Express how you would best like to be supported so they clearly understand how they can be there for you.
- Sit with your loved one and talk in detail about how you’re working on getting better. For them, knowing that you have a plan and you’re actively working on it helps them not be so worried about you and it helps keep you accountable.
Since I didn’t really speak to anyone about this when I was going through it, I can’t tell you how that goes. It would have been so much easier to go through if I had thought of these tips when I was in the thick of it. It’s not that I didn’t have support, I did, and lots of it; it’s that I felt ashamed to have such a great life and still feel so sad. I felt that anyone else would feel lucky in my shoes and I didn’t understand why I didn’t feel that way. I was also in denial for a long time about my mental health for many reasons. It wasn’t until I began healing myself that I came to terms with my depression.
The day I tried to explain all of this, it brought back that feeling of helplessness I felt before and I experienced it so vividly that I can tell you: it’s not an easy conversation. In a way you have to be prepared for that vulnerability, but if you have a great person by your side who supports you, makes you feel safe and wants to understand this very big part of your life, you have nothing to worry.
Here are some of the talking points we discussed that might help guide your own conversation:
- It is IMPOSSIBLE to “snap out of it” (as far as I or anyone I know who has been through this is concerned). If you are reading this and are someone who hasn’t experienced this first-hand, please NEVER EVER say that to someone with any mental illness. It is the worst thing you could say to them.
- That thinking that “you have it so much better than sooo many people” is something I’m aware of – acutely. I know I have a good life, I am blessed beyond measure and have a roof over my head, a full belly and a great family. This knowledge actually makes it worse. You’d think that would be a relief, right? Wrong. It leads to an intense feeling of guilt. Guilt of feeling this way despite how good I have it. It made me question why depression happened to me when I have so much to be thankful for and when there are people that are starving and suffering and “actually ill”. The thing is that depression and gratitude are not mutually exclusive. You can be so grateful for so many things and still be highly depressed. One has nothing to do with the other. Though focusing on gratitude can help immensely in the healing process.
- I can’t explain it to you in a way that makes sense to someone who hasn’t felt it inside and lived their lives in battle with their mind. But that’s kinda what it feels like, I guess. Like your brain has waged a war against you and (I suspect for many) it feels like it is much, much stronger. Some days it feels like a battle that can’t be won, or like a war that will last forever. (SPOILER ALERT: IT WON’T)
- It’s not an easy task, and most of the time it feels like a full-time job to fight against the negative thoughts and beliefs that depression tries to convince you of. It’s truly hard work to get yourself out of it but I know it can be done. I feel so mentally strong now, and I appreciate life in color so much more now thatI’ve seen it in black and white. And it has made me feel damn proud of myself.
- I can’t explain why I was depressed. There’s nothing that makes me go “aha! That’s where it started” Most of the time it’s not dependent on one single thing. When you can trace your depression back to a single situation or moment, I would call that ‘situational depression’ which is easier to emerge from in some cases when you remove yourself from that situation. Grief can be an example of situational depression for some. It can be traced back to the loss of someone or something, and with time and hope and effort, you heal. While I can’t pinpoint when, where or why I became depressed, I can identify some things that really didn’t help my situation.
- I feel a little embarrassed to even admit this, but I spent over two whole months without talking to or seeing another soul. One of the things that is common with depressive people is isolation. We isolate ourselves and have many excuses for it. We don’t want to burden people, we don’t want to bring others down by being there, so we remove ourselves from that situation. We suffer in silence so as to not make others suffer with us. This is probably the worst thought process to have, but it’s a reality for many. Don’t do that. It doesn’t help, it makes it worse.
- Most things don’t make you feel joy anymore. You kinda start to lose your sense of identity a little bit, since what you used to enjoy and be passionate about simply doesn’t do it for you anymore. Passion isn’t a word you’re familiar with anymore. But I can tell you that joy can be found again, passion can be reignited and happiness isn’t just wishful thinking.
How to Begin Healing From Depression
Yes, everyone says that…for good reason! Meditation helps you find a moment of peace in the midst of confusion and chaos and war in your mind. It helps you exercise your mental muscles and will slowly strengthen your ability to control your thoughts. Sit comfortably somewhere you won’t be disturbed. Start with a guided meditation or 432 HZ music (or just search for ‘healing meditation music’ on youtube or SoundCloud. Focus on your senses. Feel every sensation and release the need to control your thoughts. Surrender is the main ingredient to successful meditation.
I think journaling is intimidating to many people because it feels vulnerable and uncomfortable to sit with your feelings and try to sort them. However, journaling can be whatever you want it to be: whether you want to keep an art journal where you draw something that evokes what you’re feeling, or you use it to just write about your day, or you detail all your feelings, or you write in a stream of consciousness style – whatever comes out. The purpose of journaling is to take that energy that’s inside of you and extract it somehow; to pull out those feelings to be able to see them in front of you instead of inside of you. It helps to give us perspective and is a great tool to begin connecting the dots of your thoughts. By learning more about ourselves, exploring what triggers us, what brings us glimpses of joy even in our gloomy minds, finding the roots to our sadness we can begin to heal ourselves and create an action plan to kick depression out of our lives for good.
Therapy is invaluable and a tool that so many people use successfully to work through their depression. There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about going to therapy, in fact, it’s a strong message to the D word (or any other mental illness) that you’re not messing around and you’re going to fight to better yourself. Having someone to talk to who is unbiased and professionally experienced can help you understand yourself better and also help create an action plan for healing.
Know and consistently remind yourself that you are not your thoughts
YOU ARE NOT YOUR DEPRESSION. We often over-identify with our feelings and thoughts because they feel so intertwined with our identity. I’m here to tell you that your mental illness is a liar. It claims to know things with such certainty, it says that you are absolutely and irrevocably right about those negative thoughts. You know exactly what I mean. Well, those thoughts can be wrong, and usually are -very wrong. Mental illness feeds you a script of who you are, how all your friends and family feel about you, about your worthiness and your flaws. It’s all a story, they only become true IF you choose to accept it as truth. But you’re in charge of your truth and by recognizing that our thoughts are separate from us (which meditation helps immensely with this) we are capable of “vetting” this information and tossing what doesn’t feel true to us and only accepting as truth what we choose to. You are not your depression. You are not your thoughts.
Surround Yourself with High Vibes
Now, don’t thing this is all a bunch of woo-woo. Whether that’s by eating healthier, exercising, hanging out with your most positive and encouraging friends, doing more things you love or focusing your thoughts and energy on love, it all helps you to release the hold that depression has on you. By raising your vibration you begin to detach from any lower vibrational energy, because you usually attract that which you are aligned with. The more light you let in, the less darkness surrounds you.
Evaluate what you could change in your life
AKA remove what is holding you back from healing. This can sometimes be hard to do, so take your time. Take a look at your life, the people and things you surround yourself with, the places you go, the energies you come in contact with. What things in your life are not giving you joy? Who or what is holding you back from healing? Are there objects in your house that bring back bad memories or emotions? Are there negative people in your life that feed that script your depression is telling you? Do an inventory of your life and purposefully edit out the parts that aren’t serving your growth and healing anymore.
Act "As If"
Now, this one may be the hardest of them all as it may be really hard to act happy when you don’t feel it inside, but bear with me. This is hard to do but may possibly be one of the most effective tools on this list. That’s because when we “act as if” – acting as though things that normally make us happy and brought us joy, are in fact bringing us joy again, it starts changing our subconscious. The more you act in alignment with the feelings you want to have, the closer you become to experiencing them again. I will expand on this topic (and many on this list) in another post.
I could talk about this forever, so if you would like some more information and tips on how to manage and heal from mental illness, please leave me a comment or contact me so I know this long ass post isn’t falling on deaf ears.
Healing from depression and mental illness IS possible. Not needing medication IS possible. It takes effort and time, and the best results come from readjusting your life to include more of the things that will heal you and bring you joy and removing what isn’t serving you, healing you, or growing you. It’s having boundaries and systems in place so that you never go back to square one. It’s using a combination of the tools I mentioned and any tools you find helpful. It means never giving up.
The mere fact that you’ve read this far lets me know you’re healing. You are taking active steps to heal, so healing is inevitable. Congratulations, you my friend are on the right track and if you haven’t heard it yet, I’m proud of you.
If you have any questions, comments, or need someone to listen, please let me know. You can contact me through my social media or email anytime.