Dealing with depression is very real for so many moms, wives, sisters, and friends, yet it is all too often still the "elephant in the room." According to Mental Health America website, 1 out of every 8 women can expect to develop clinical depression at some point in their lives. Around 12 million women in the United States deal with depression each year. And last but surely not least, women ages 25-44 are most frequently diagnosed with depression.
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I was 19, and in the middle of my sophomore year of college, when depression first made its “Grand Entrance” into my life.
I am now 39. Wow, has it really been 20 years?
You might be moved to feel sorry for me. But you know what? I am thankful for this cross that I still bear. Sounds crazy, right?
Well, I am. . . kinda. . .
My Experience Dealing with Depression
I have learned so much because of my experience dealing with depression (and let’s go ahead and tag on Generalized Anxiety disorder because I was later diagnosed with that too.) My “mettle” has really been tested, but I have also tremendously grown in my spiritual life. I don’t think I would be where I am today without having battled with depression.
It probably wasn’t until I became a mother that I really started to come to terms with my depression and realize it was going to be part of my life for the long haul. Because of the love and support of my husband and family, I could see that I had self-worth. I could see that depression was a part of me but did not (and does not) define me.
Therefore, as I started to meet other mommy friends, I couldn’t help but jump at the chance to talk about my experience when I saw another mommy suffering. I wanted them to know that they are not alone in this fight and that there can be hope for joy and happiness again.
During my 20 years of experience suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, I have come to find and learn certain things that help me endure, cope, and sometimes even stave off a major episode of depression.
Update: After so many years of experiencing depression and mood challenges, I have been diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder. It took until I was 40 years old to have my first manic episode. I still believe that I am a stronger and better version of myself from going through my mental health ups and downs.
If you need a community of others who have had some of the same challenges as you have dealt with, join the Chronic Illness Warrior Life private Facebook Group.
These are the 10 most vital things you need when dealing with depression:
1. The Right Meds
I know that some of you might struggle with the idea of being on medication, especially long-term, but if you have true clinical depression they are your first line of defense. A true chemical imbalance warrants medication. Always. There are lots of other things that can help when dealing with depression (and you will read them next), but without the right medications prescribed by your psychiatrist you are building your house (mental health) on sand, not a solid foundation.
2. Time Each Day for Yourself
Okay, I have to laugh at this one. My old psychiatrist that treated me when I just had my oldest child actually told me and my husband that I needed 2 HOURS every day just for myself. What?!!!! If you are a parent, then you know she might have well just said, “You need to go on a vacation to Hawaii at least once a month.” I encourage you that yes, time to yourself is important, but depending on your circumstances you may just have to take what you can get. Seasons of life change, and you may be able to carve out more time at different stages.
3. An Awesome Psychiatrist
I can’t emphasize this enough. I have had my share of not so great ones. I encourage you to try to find people that can personally refer a doctor. If not, then see about having consultations with new psychiatrists to find someone who resonates with you. Trust your gut feeling and when they start a new treatment plan for you, have them make a case for why they think it is the proper course of treatment. This brings me to my next point, which is . . .
4. An Advocate
Often times when you are seeking the right psychiatrist, you are in a time of crisis. Maybe not always, but the chances are pretty high that you will be. In that event, you won’t be able to think your clearest and most logically. It is important to have someone- husband, parent, sibling, friend- to “think” for you and assess the situation and help you choose how to go forward.
5. A Light Therapy Box
SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a real thing. You don’t have to be officially diagnosed in order to start using this type of therapy. If you notice that on dreary, rainy, cloudy days you feel a dip in your mood, then you will definitely benefit from having a “light box.” I have had mine for years and I find that it makes a HUGE difference for me. I don’t use it all the time because some winters go by without any problems. It also probably helps that I live in the Southeastern area of the U.S. We don’t really know what Winter is!
6. A Hobby
To be honest, I think I have too many hobbies! But I know this is integral for my well-being. Luckily, so does my husband. Having tried many different hobbies, I have found that I love to create. Whether it be jewelry, little girls clothes, baby bedding, or curtains, I am the proudest of the things I make. I love to sew and crochet as well. There are so many options, and not just crafts. It could be horseback riding, collecting stamps, starting a blog (Ha!), or learning a new skill. Read The Best Hobbies You Should Try because it has lots of different ideas and beginner tutorials.
A simple little joke is not what I am talking about. Rather, I am speaking of laughing so hard, and for so long, you pee your pants a little. Watching comedy specials, like with comedian Jim Gaffigan, is my favorite way to laugh. Having a girl’s night out where you shut the restaurant down because you are so busy talking and laughing. Also, playing games with family or friends like Apples to Apples, Twister, Bop It, or Charades. Figure out what tickles your funny bone and submerge yourself in it!
8. A Purpose
This purpose can come in many forms. It could be chasing a dream, or it could be a new responsibility. I used both.
After I had my first child, I went through a really difficult time with my depression. Changing psychiatrists and changing medications, it took me a really long time to get the depression under control. My husband and I didn’t know if I would ever get back to the quality of life that I had before. But I noticed I didn't spend as much time feeling sorry for myself about being depressed. I suppose it was because I had another human being to take care of.
I also started a jewelry making business that really gave me joy and gave my mind something else to think about.
9. A Self-Care Routine
I know that may sound silly to some, but when you are in a really low spot, self-care is not at the top of your list of priorities. You may even sometimes feel like you don’t deserve self care. In your darkest moments you can believe some of the most awful things. So I encourage you to find things you are excited about and really love to incorporate into your self-care routine when you are really suffering. Read How to Create a Kick-Ass Self-Care Plan Using Highly Effective Self-Care Strategies for ideas on how to get going in the right direction.
You also need to have a Self-Care Toolkit for yourself in order to maintain a solid self-care routine that will improve your mental health.
10. A Good Friend
Someone willing to listen when you need to talk, who won’t think to themselves, “Geez, here we go again!” Easier said than done, I know, but this is crucial! This friend does not have to suffer from depression also. They simply need to see you as the treasure you are. This may be your spouse, a sibling or other family member, your sister-in-law, someone from your church, or even a co-worker.
Not everyone in your life will be able to grasp what you are going through. Some people have never experienced a chemical imbalance that is completely out of their control. Others may have just enough experience with depression/anxiety that they can be dangerous. A true chemical imbalance of the brain is vastly different from a situational bout of depression like losing a loved one or surviving a disaster. Although well-intentioned, these people can sometimes be hurtful.
Need a special gift? Read 11 Thoughtful Gift Ideas for Someone with Depression.
There are many different places online to find support for dealing with depression. Start your search by reading Online Support Groups, Resources and Communities.
One of my favorite places to find support on the web is The Mighty website.
On the website, The Mighty, I have found a wealth of support, encouragement, and information. The following two quotes express exactly what I want the people closest to me to “get.”
I know it must be hard to understand something as seemingly “all in your head and not real” as depression, but if you love someone that suffers from it, you can really show your unconditional love by educating yourself and having an open mind.
“Don’t take my actions personally. Putting on a strong front and putting all my energy into making it through my day takes a lot out of me. When I cancel plans or say I just can’t today, it’s not because I don’t love you or want you in my life. I’m just exhausted.”
“I won’t reach out when I’m struggling because I don’t want to upset you or be a burden. I don’t like people worrying about me, even if they should be.”
I am also a contributor on The Mighty. I would love it if you would check out what I have written and follow me at Ali @ Chronic Illness Warrior Life
I am extremely grateful for my husband. He had no experience with dealing with depression and he did not understand it AT ALL when we first got married. But, even though the logic may elude him, he recognizes that depression is real and it truly is something I cannot control. He has learned to support and guide me through the tough times and is the first one to say, "It's ok if you don't get everything done because you are just trying to get through the day."
He reminds me all of the time when I feel like I am failing at being a good wife and mother that keeping up with housework is not the measure of my worth. That simply loving and being with our children is way more important than making sure their socks always match or that the house is always clean. He is happiest when I am happy and I think that is so amazing and selfless. I strive to be a little more like him every day.
How long have you dealt with depression? Are there certain things that are invaluable to you when you are at your lowest points? I would love to hear about your experience with depression. Please comment below!