When I was depressed, I felt awful.
- I didn't want to get out of bed because I couldn't see anything good happening that day.
- I didn't want to leave the house for any activities. I was ashamed of the way that I looked and home was my comfortable place.
- I ate anything that made me feel better, hence the fact that I gained 55 pounds.
- I procrastinated on almost everything because I just didn't want to do anything other than sit, watch TV and eat. I only wanted to do things that made me happy.
- I spent money like there was no end to it. I spent it on things that made me happy like clothes, shoes, food and movies.
- I didn't want to cook or clean, so I ordered out a lot. Hence the weight gain.
- I didn't want anyone to take photographs of me because I felt bad about myself. And this is saying a lot because I am from a very photogenic family.
- I felt like I had no control over some aspects of my life so I tried to regain it. I cut my hair really short (then ended up hating it). I hated the fact that I wasn't done school yet and the fact that I couldn't change it.
- I didn't sleep well and my sleep habits were off the wall. I had stomach aches and other symptoms that appeared out of nowhere. I cried for no apparent reason and I was more emotional than normal. I didn't feel like myself in my own skin.
- I had stronger feelings of rage, anger, and sadness than I had ever had before. I cried over spilled milk on the floor, about a fly in my kitchen or I flew into a rage when I dropped paper on the floor. My emotions were much stronger than ever before.
How do you make it end? How do you go back to feeling normal or happy? Well, I am not a doctor or therapist, but here is what I did. I wanted for the cycle to stop but I didn't know how to stop it.
The first step is willpower. Have the will to change or stop a habit that was acquired. Start small. For example, if you are ordering often and eating junk food like I was, don't buy anything for one day. Just one day. Drink water, take fruit for snacks and cook supper. I felt awful and I really wanted to buy something but I forced myself not to. That first day is terrible because it didn't feel good thus I wanted to buy junk food more but once that first day was over, it seemed easier. Do it again.
You will need to replace bad habits with good ones to keep yourself happy. For example, my comfy blanket was junk food. I couldn't just take it away and expect for myself to be happy so I had to replace it with something healthier.
Address what you are doing to make yourself happy. You know that some of the things that you are doing are not healthy (junk food, not leaving the house, constantly watching movies) so it's time to adopt a healthier happy habit. Find a healthy fruit that you really like and snack on that. Try preparing it in new ways with other fruit, a honey lime dressing or yogurt. Give yourself something sweet to look forward to that you know is good for you.
This also applies to destructive habits like watching movies all of the time or staying at home. What things did you used to enjoy? If you like going to the movies with friends, then go to the movies with friends. Don't cut yourself off. It might be hard at first but it will get easier the more that you do it.
Find happiness in small things. It's not just the big things, but buy pens that make you happy. Spend one hour taking a bath with your favorite bubble bath or read your favorite book again.
Food was my friend -- and it wasn't my friend. It was very hard for me to get out of this habit so I started small: drink water instead of pop, have fruit instead of chocolate, and stop buying candy. I had to replace the habit with something healthier so I had water with Crystal Light in it. I tried new kinds of fruit until I found ones that I really liked -- for me, this was raspberries, mango, pineapple and kiwi. Then I looked forward to the healthy replacements. I had to teach myself to enjoy something that was good for me instead of something that was bad for me. Within a week, I had overcome a lot of psychological issues with this one change. With every following week, it got easier and I started to feel better about what I was eating.
The hardest obstacle for me was getting out of the house. At this time, I was a student so I had to get out of the house for school but I didn't go out for social events. I would often cancel social outings at the last minute because I just wanted to stay at home. I couldn't explain it either and I felt embarrassed but deep down I knew that I had to get out. I started small by having friends over at my apartment. I was in my comfort zone here. Then I was more willing to go out of the house for parties, dates and movies. I took it slow and I have to admit that I am still dealing with this aspect but it will get easier.
I also told my closest friends about my problems. It helps to have people to talk to about how I felt. They encouraged me to get out or they talked me through my hardest moments. It really helped that I could have someone to talk to. I didn't feel alone.
Work or School
Like everyone else, I had deliverables. I had assignments for school and duties at work that I still had to meet. As I said before, I hated the fact that I was still in school but I knew that I had to knuckle down and just do it so I did. The faster I got things done, the faster I would be out of school. Focusing on school work or work actually took my mind off of how I felt at home which helped me greatly.
One thing that I did was to try and find something that I looked forward to at work or school. At school, this could be time in one of my favorite classes. At work, it could be a joke that I told that brought a smile to someone's face. I was a cashier once and every day it made me happy to know that I had helped a customer. These little things may seem every day but if you find something happy in what you do, even if it is that you made it to work on time, you have done one good thing that day.
It took two years to get into a depression, it would take about that long to get out of it. This seems long and arduous but this is really how it looks. It starts with little steps and finding other things that make you happy. You have to keep going with everyday life even though you feel horrible but with time, it will get easier.
Exercise and Weight Loss
Time for yourself is also necessary. As I said, I had a problem with junk food and exercise. So, we got a treadmill and I could start walking in my apartment. I was in my comfort zone but I was doing something that I knew was good for myself. I started losing weight and that became a huge motivator. It started to break down all of the barriers that I had put up and before I knew it, I didn't mind someone taking pictures of me.
I knew that I couldn't run a marathon right away when I started go to back to exercising. Start with small victories like exercising for 30 minutes, 3 days per week. Once you have met that milestone, then add an extra day. Try to do it for longer and try to take the workout up a notch, for example, if you are walking then try a walk/run program for the next 12 weeks. Don't be surprised if you can't do the entire program in 12 weeks though and if you get stuck at one point, spend more time on it. The most important thing is that you stick with it even if you don't see results right away.
Even as I write this post, I am not invulnerable to that dark time. Sometimes, I have a thought that reminds me of that life that I was in. Sometimes I think that it will happen again and I live in fear that something will happen that will cause me to go into another depression. So, I am writing this post about what happened and how I got out of it also to remind myself just in case it happens again, what I can do to get out of it.
Some other suggestions that I found are:
- Get into a community group: this could be a neighborhood clean-up, a book club, a musical group, a local sports team or a political group. It may be hard to leave the house but you will be surrounded by a community. The more you go, the more you become part of that community. You might not say a word to anyone that you are depressed or feeling bad, but just being around other people can heal you.
- Develop or share a hobby: if you are depressed and all you want to do is lose yourself in a hobby, perhaps you could share it with someone else. Or, take a class to learn a new hobby. Hobbies give you something to do and can get you through a dark time. You have to be careful not to spend all of your time on it but it can help you focus on something else. You can also teach your kids your hobbies. This can be frustrating at first, but if they enjoy it like you do you can find yourself starting a scrapbooking or knitting time a few nights a week with your kids. Suddenly you are not alone in your hobby.
- Get excited about an upcoming event for yourself or someone else: this could mean getting excited about your kids going back to school, preparing for an upcoming holiday like Hallowe'en, Thanksgiving or Christmas or someone's wedding or retirement party. Get involved in the planning and do some crafts for it. This gives you something else to focus on that is healthy and takes your mind off of how you feel about yourself.
- Plan a menu: if you hate cooking, cleaning and other household chores during this time, then perhaps you could follow a plan. Search on the web for some meal plans, print them out and follow them for a few weeks. With the meals and grocery lists planned for you, you may notice that you follow them. You try new food, develop new cooking skills and no one is asking what is for supper tonight. You get into a routine that, once you have formed it, is hard to get out of (which is good!). This is a good routine.
- Seek professional help: take the money that you are saving on clothes, junk food and other damaging pursuits and spend it on a therapist or doctor. Tell them everything about how you feel and really listen to their suggestions. Try some of them. You may notice that they either work and you feel much better or they do not work. Find new routines or medications that work for you. I should note though that I didn't take medication to get better and I don't think that you really need to though. I think that you need to address what made you depressed and change those bad habits instead of taking something but it may be necessary for some people.
- Have "weaning" days: just like I did by stopping junk food for one day, stop one bad habit for one day. Pick one that you accidentally acquired during this dark time. It could be as simple as leaving your bank card and credit cards at home for a day. Plan this weaning day out: if you leave your card at home, plan your meals. Plan any temptations where you would usually use those cards so avoid the stores and perhaps take a different route home. Ask yourself if you can do that again tomorrow.
- Attack your to-do list: one thing that drove me nuts was a long to-do list that I was developing during school. This was the pile of papers that I knew that I had to go through, the clothes that I had to get drycleaned or the e-mails that I had to organize. I felt that I just did not have time to address my to-do list and that just infuriated me further. So, take a space of time, even if it is only one hour (you can spare one hour, right?) and attack something. Also, whenever you think of something that you have to do, write it down. I used a computer document so that I didn't accumulate scraps of paper. At least if I couldn't attack the "to do" right away, I could at least write it down so that I didn't forget it. It would be there whenever I had the time to attack it. Schedule a time every day or every week to deal with the to do list and do it. You will find that it feels great to finish something that has been bothering you.
- Stop taking advice as a personal attack: one time, someone told me that I should listen to health podcasts. I got furious and took it as a personal assault as someone telling me that I was fat and had to lose weight -- even though I knew that they were right. I was highly sensitive to anything that someone said to me during this time which was confusing -- I am not normally like that! If you make an effort to attack some of your bad habits, you may notice that you don't take well-meaning advice so personally anymore -- or, not as often. When you can think clearly, take them up on a piece of advice that was given to you. If they told you to look up a website or video, look it up. It may or may not apply to you. It's not going to cause you physical pain to look into the advice that you were given -- unless it was acupuncture or surgery, of course. It can't be that extreme though, right?
- Laugh: find something to laugh about. Laughing feels good and it costs you nothing except moving facial muscles! Check out funny YouTube videos, read the joke section of the newspaper or get a copy of your favorite comic strip book. Talk to friends who tell good jokes or tell some of your own favorite jokes to others.
- Master your deliverables: know how to do your job or your school work. If you are having a problem understanding an issue or concept, research more about it so that you really get it. Go to workshops to develop new skills or hone your existing ones. If you are a parent, then focus on helping your kids develop their skills or taking a parenting class if you doubt yourself. Feel comfortable with your main activities so that you feel like you know what you are doing. Nothing eats at you more than doubting yourself and your deliverables. These are your main activities in life and you want to feel confident that you are doing a good job.
- Worry only about things that you can control: can you control the new laws that the government is passing? Maybe, if you contact your MP or municipal council. Are you worried sick about nuclear war? Well, nothing we can do about that now other than live our lives. Live your life and don't let larger issues worry you too much. Often, you find that you have spent so much time worrying about it that you don't know why you paid attention to it.
- Don't let a failure bring you down: so you gained a pound, you ordered out one night or ate a bag of chips. Put it behind you. You did it but instead of feeling bad go straight to the thought of: why did I do that? Did you have money that was burning a hole in your pocket? Were you in a social situation that pressured you to get chips or order bad food? Could you just say no? Address that instead of punishing yourself. You are only human and you will fail. Failing is ok, picking yourself up again is the right way to deal with it.