Today’s topic: depression. For the past few months that I’ve been in Spain, I’ve been working, traveling, and focusing on my future by studying for my LSAT. However, as exciting as the future can be, I like to reflect on the past and how far I’ve come. Recovering from major depression and learning how to manage depression have made it possible for me to be where I am today and its so important for me to help others dealing with depression. Below, I’ve listed the top 10 ways I’ve stayed on track during my personal journey of recovery and what I consider to be crucial to my successes!!
1. See a psychologist.
Showing up at my university’s clinic was the first step I took towards recovery. It was the first time that I reached out for help and helped come to terms with the fact that I could not deal with my depression alone. While some people do see a psychologist for years while depressed and would argue that the therapy visits don’t help, I personally consider this an important step towards acknowledging your mental illness. Therapy helps you get into that ‘warrior recovery mode’ that you do not accept your current mental state and are willing to help other help you fight it. In addition, talking to someone helps you uncover realizations about yourself that you might of not had otherwise. At a therapy session, you have a place to share your thoughts and hear another perspective regarding your depression in a safe and consistent environment.
2. If you don’t know where to start, do the opposite of what you’re used to.
When I finally decided to take action and deal with my depression, I didn’t know where to begin after being severely depressed for more than four years. Suffering from depression during your teenage years brings an especially unique challenge: it interferes with your development. During the years when you grow and change the most (physically and mentally), depression hinders the process of discovering who you are and who you want to be. So by the time I found myself in college, depression was so engrained into who I was and who I though that I was, that I didn’t know how to separate from myself and who I was without it. All I knew what that I didn’t want to be the person who I was with depression and so I decided to do and be the opposite. That meant that even though my depression told me that I didn’t deserve to feel good because of allowing my depression to happen, I was to make myself feel good. I went out of my way to express my sense of fashion and to dress nice. I made sure to do my make up more often to feel pretty, because contrary to what my depression had been telling me, I did deserve to feel pretty and I deserved all the things that my depression had denied me.
3. Set small goals.
When tackling something as complicated as depression, its so important to cherish and celebrate the small victories. There will be times that you relapse or let depression get the best of you, and when this happens, its important to not have those disappointments destroy you mentally. Setting and completing daily goals like making the bed, reading for an hour, or completing small errands helps us feel in control and positive about our journey. Also setting long term goals such as getting an A on the class, or finishing a book, (or getting a good score on the LSAT), helps us work towards something bigger yet feasible.
4. Get a support system and trust it.
As you progress through recovery, you’ll realize that its a cycle of ups and down and more than once, you’ll relapse and find it easier and comforting to let your depression take the reins; DON’T. Our ultimate goal is to fight back for control. However, sometimes you won’t have the energy to fight relapses yourself and its important to have a support system to reach out to. Your support system should be people who care about you – your family, your friends, your mentors – who are a part of your journey through recovery. Trust that they care and will help you feel better and support you. Trust them to motivate you to get back up and fight your mental illness.
5. Find a hobby.
Hobbies are important. They help you create (whether its intangible or tangible) and reminds you that you are capable of beautiful things. They give you a sense of identity and comfort, especially as you deal with the ups and downs of depression.
Exercise has played one of the most important roles in my personal journey. Even now, I continue to go to the gym 4-5 times a week for mental clarity. Beyond the physical benefits of exercising, just an hour at the gym leaves me focused and boosts my confidence in tackling my day and my goals. It’s no secret that exercise helps with the release of endorphins, a chemical that helps relieve pain and stress, and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this phenomenon. Even on days that I’m tired or down, just 30 minutes of weight training or cardio makes a world of a difference in my attitude.
7. Travel by yourself.
There’s no better way to learn about yourself than to spend some quality alone time. Solo traveling gives you the perfect opportunity to make decisions entirely on your own, to wander and to explore. I treasure my study abroad experience in Buenos Aires during my spring semester of college because it played such a vital role in helping me learn who I was. Traveling through Patagonia in southern Argentina and experiencing the Atacama Desert in northern Chile reminded me how beautiful the world is and how life is worth living. Figuring out my travel plans and meeting so travelers from all across the world taught me how capable I was and how much I could learn from other people. Even if you can’t take a trip out of the country or state, just a day out in the city or on a hike gives you time to reflect and look at the world around you. Its a refreshing experience to be reminded that the world is full of possibilities and wonders.
8. Don’t give up.
Relapses are inevitable and the faster you accept it, the better off you will be. However, the best way to decrease and mitigate the effects of a relapse is to resist it. Obviously this is easier said than done but I’ll be the first to tell you that recovering from depression isn’t easy. This means that if you don’t feel like going out and being social, then go out. When you feel like crying in bed all day, dress up, do your make up, and call a friend. The key is to do these things automatically and mechanically. The minute you start to negotiate with yourself is the minute you lose and your depression wins. You won’t win every time and over time, it’ll become easier and easier to overcome the depressive urges, just don’t be too hard on yourself!
9. Fake it till you make it.
Embarking on a journey of recovery doesn’t exactly mean you know where you’re going. You probably don’t remember what its like to get up from bed and go about your day without a struggle or what its like to live blissfully in the moment, and that’s okay. But you do have a vision of who you aspire to be without your depression and and sooner or later, you’ll become it. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable as you embark on the journey of a better you and ignore the voice of depression. So get dressed and go out for a coffee with a friend. Laugh and socialize even though you might feel like you’re dying on the inside…. because you’re not dying. You are surviving and you are alive and you’ll live to see that day when you finally make it.
10. Lose the shame, get comfortable with your depression.
As you continue with your journey of managing your depression, you will learn that depression is not you, only a part of you. For some, like myself, depression is something that will always be apart of our lives, and thats okay. Through recovery, you’ll understand your relationship with depression and understand that any periods of sadness and heaviness wont last. Recognize that depression is something that happens to you and don’t let it shame you; you are strong and beautiful even with your scars.