Wow! Who would have thought I would be feeling this good 6 months ago? Not me, that’s for sure. I thought this would be a good opportunity to share what’s helped me on the road to managing my illness. I’m in a better place, and there’s not enough success stories out there, I just want to give people some hope. Warning: Some of the BOLD titles are there for shock value, I’m not really telling you to stop being a baby. Also, this advice is not for everyone. I’m just sharing what has worked for me. For a better idea of what I go through, I have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
This is number one on the list. This is what allows the rest of the things I’ve done to help myself, be possible. I can’t learn what triggers me if I’m not trying to. I can’t force myself to be a better person then I was yesterday if I’ve given up. So first and foremost, persistence has been the most useful tool in dealing with my condition.
Not to say I haven’t felt like giving up, it’s just that I don’t and I haven’t given up. Persistence is closely tied to my philosophy on life. It’s a multi-faceted approach to dealing with life, persistence only works while tied to a belief system that allows for it. Which brings me to my next item, the idea’s I have about living life.
The Pursuit of Happiness
Many people are struggling with depression, suffering, pain, illness. Who isn’t looking for happiness? As I reminisce about the past few years of my life, and realize everything I’ve gone through, changed, made better, I start to feel a gentle wave of comfort. I feel like I’ve moved mountains. To an outsider, it may not seem that way, it is only me who can see the internal battle I face everyday. I’m better now then I was.
I don’t know if I’ll ever reach my dreams or my goals. This might be as far as I ever get. I might go backwards. But that’s okay, because until the day I die, I can always keep trying. Maybe I can’t make things better, but if that is true, then nobody can take away my struggle either, it is mine alone. And it’s the process, the pursuit of happiness, that really defines me. “What if you weren’t feeling better though?” you ask, “What if you were still feeling the way you were?”. I’ll tell you right now I would be okay, and that’s because I would still be pursuing happiness. Enjoying the process. Life is pain and hardship and joy and pleasure, it is everything that it is. I still remember at the worst times in my life, I always knew it was still beautiful. That really kept me going.
Some days I would feel suicidal, like giving up, depressed, numb. It was usually a few days of being numb before I saw beauty in the complication that surrounded being a human being. I don’t know how to describe this feeling, I wish I had better words to offer you. Losing all hope was freedom, in a sense. Here I am, everything is all fucked up, nothing is getting better, I’m numb and depressed, and yet I am alive to experience it all. How precious life is! How confusing! I am thankful to have been confused.
You might say “You weren’t depressed if you were feeling these things.” The truth is, I wouldn’t have felt these things if it wasn’t for the depression. I would never have seen the fragility of life. I would never have experienced what will break me, what will mould me, what will tear me into pieces that I have to put back together.
I am not dead. And so I will keep trying, persisting in my pursuit of happiness. Accepting my depression was the best step I ever took, as it allowed me to really engulf myself in it and experience it. I know I might receive some flak for this, but I do think depression plays a role in our lives. If not to strengthen us, then to show us who we are.
I don’t mean to romanticize depression. It is debilitating, it is hard, and it will beat you into submission. My point is that when I finally let myself fully submit to it, that’s when it released me. Those points of depression will remain highlights in my life just as the happy times. They will be remembered as the times when I saw the world for what it was, a mess. A beautiful mess. It fucking sucked 🙂
Suck it up buttercup, Or rather, fake it until you make it. Or some other cliché that doesn’t work for anybody. Or does it?
Here is probably where I will receive the most angry replies, but please humour me. You are welcome to your own opinions, and I am only describing what worked for me.
I know that people who don’t have depression will never understand how hard it is, and will offer bullshit advice. I feel like there’s a reason for everything though (not something spiritual, just plain causality), and that there must be some nugget of truth to why people were saying these things. So I sort of cherry-picked the things that I felt would help me, and serve me as tools.
And that’s what’s important to define here, that I use them as tools. They will only serve the purpose that they are made for. Sometimes “stay positive” would make me go batshit crazy and want to break things. But there were indeed times where this helped me. Not everything is a nail when you’re holding a hammer.
Here are some things that helped me.
Don’t be a baby.
Bear with me, that sounds horrible I know. What was very important for me in dealing with depression is not feeling completely sorry for myself. There is a difference in recognizing a bad circumstance and responding emotionally, then to going in circles feeling sorry for yourself. This is an acquired skill, that takes a lot of practise and self-reflection. You must delve into yourself and touch the sensitive spots.
I had to ask myself many times, is this worth losing my quality of life over? Is not doing anything about it, staying in bed really helping me? “Okay, you were very obviously not depressed” is probably what you’re thinking. I still stayed in bed most days, while I practised “not being a baby”. I still felt sorry for myself, I still wallowed, my house was still a mess for months. I still felt no emotions, no love or sadness, just plain nothing. But I knew that this wasn’t getting me anywhere. Near the end of my depressive stage, I just stopped caring that I was depressed so much. I stopped worrying about it, and just started doing what I could. And it was slow, small steps. Picking up a pair of socks of the floor. Turning off the light switches at night before going to bed (Actually, now that I think of it, that was the first step I took in moving out of depression. Just simply flipping the lights off instead of just feeling to depressed to go around the house and turn them off). There is always something small enough that you can do.
It takes practise to recognize when your brain is tricking you into feeling sorry for yourself, or if you really do owe it to yourself to be upset about something.
Please take this with a grain of salt. I know it could easily be taken the wrong way, especially with my poor choice of words. I don’t want you to supress your natural feelings, just to question whether they are helpful (expression of feelings can be good), or hurtful (I’ve gone to 20 interviews and haven’t gotten a job. I’m worthless.)
I know that depression makes those skills hard to acquire, but I do believe it can be done.
It’s all about the dance with Manning/Womening up, while also being sensitive to your feelings and allowing yourself to express them. If you go in with this advice thinking “I’ll just man up to all my circumstances”, you will quickly fail and then feel shitty about yourself for doing so. And then come back to my article screaming that I’m an insensitive jerk.
It’s about picking your battles, starting slow. Don’t begin by saying “Yeah my mom died last week, I’m totally fine.” Start with something like not feeling stupid because somebody waved at a person behind you and you waved back. You have to question yourself, and evaluate, and ask yourself “can I handle this situation better?”. Start small, ask yourself, I mean really ask yourself what you are capable of, and then go on and do it!
Pick some motivational quotes that resonate with you or your values
And try to live by them. Even if you don’t believe them wholly. How could you believe them, you’re depressed? Everything sounds like bullshit when you’re depressed. I knew this, I used to get very angry about other peoples advice or so called motivational quotes. “How can this stupid one liner help me?”
I can only speak for myself when I say that when I tried to live up to these ideas, they started to feel more real and whole.
See them as a tool, rather then a truth to follow. I don’t know if everyone can pick up this skill of mine; knowing something is silly but tricking yourself into it anyways.
I wish I could give you a list of these quotes, but they really were only temporary pick me ups. I’m not going to tell you some quote magically changed my life. Just that I used them to get by a really rough week, or to change my perspectives on things. Or sometimes I’ll just remember them randomly and it helps me solve a problem, or push myself to be a better person.
There were some quotes that just meant so much to me, no matter how stupid or simple or even untrue they were. I used them as tools, accepted that they weren’t perfect, and improved my situation.
Fake it until you make it
I hated this one so much. I really did. Mostly because it didn’t work for years. I don’t think people realize that it takes years though. It took me around 2 years to be able to look people in the eye when I talked to them again. After the illness hit my self confidence dropped massively, and I just couldn’t do it comfortably anymore. So I forced myself to do it, no matter how shitty it felt. It took a long time, but eventually I developed the confidence to do this without feeling weird about it. It feels more natural now.
Walking around, projecting confidence even though I didn’t feel it, made a huge difference too. Walking with my head up, my shoulders back, my chest out, doing power poses. They all seemed so stupid and unnatural at first. Nowadays I love walking around the way a confident man does, and I feel like a better person for it. And not only that, people respect me a lot more.
There are a whole bunch of other things that non-depressed people say that they think will help. I just decided to test them out and see if they really were bullshit, or if I was just so mad about my situation and thought I knew everything. Depression really turns you into a know-it-all. You tend to come up with theories without testing them out, because you know you “see the world for how it is”. But do you? Do you really? Can you prove it scientifically, or is it just that all the anecdotal evidence is telling you so? Yes, there were things that didn’t work, indeed. But I’m not so quick to push off somebodies advice just because it sounds simple or impossible or because they don’t have depression.
Change is one of the most important parts of managing my illness. I noticed that I was stuck in the same old habits, doing the same things everyday. Looking at the same videos, ideas and stories. Like the quote about not being able to fix a problem with the same sort of thinking that created it.
I had to force myself to stop reading articles that pissed me off. Or watch videos about all the horrible things going on in the world. Instead, I began to look for what is good in the world. What is improving? What is better now then it was 100 years ago? What has science accomplished lately? What humanitarian things have been going on lately?
I’m not saying ignoring the bad things in the world will make them go away. Just that you haven’t really taken the rose-glasses off if you think that the world is all shit. Instead you’ve swapped them for a pair of muddy-glasses. Seeing the world for what it really is means seeing the good and the bad. Understanding that it is a complicated mess of joy and fear and love and pain. If all you see is travesty, you’re not as objective about the world as you think.
I began to mix things up. I’ve tried at least 15 hobbies in the past couple years. Most of them I was too depressed to find any fun in. But I did find a few things that I enjoyed, and this never would have happened without trying them. Have you tried any new hobbies lately? Is it just the depression, are you sure? Maybe you haven’t found what resonates with you. Come back to me 3 years from now when you’ve tried about 100 hobbies, and tell me the same thing.
Learn about yourself
What are your triggers? Have you noticed any patterns in your mood? What sets you off? What makes a day less “meh”? Do certain foods affect your mood? Does exercise help? Who do you like being around? Who would you be better off without in your life?
Depression is hard as hell, mental illness is not something I take lightly either. I just think it’s so important to challenge yourself, your ideas, your perceptions and perspectives. Science is your friend! Ask yourself if you’re rushing to conclusions, or if you’re really being scientific about your discoveries on life. I am in a better place then I was when I started this blog. I have stabilised a lot and would love to share with others anything they might find resourceful. This blog post doesn’t do justice to the way that I think, and will sound a lot more shallow then I mean it to be. I struggle with turning thoughts into words, and wish I had more to offer.
Please feel welcome to poke holes in my theories, ask me questions, or to just leave a nice comment!