Depression: Doing It (Mostly) Right

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I felt the darkness trying to swallow me around the third week of August.

We all get stressed and a little melancholy from the ups and downs of life, especially when the downs keep coming and the ups are far behind. But some of us know a certain form of sadness, a very consuming despair, quite well. I’ve survived with clinical depression for twenty-five years now – sometimes handling it well, sometimes…not.

For the last two or three years, however, I’ve handled it well. Depression isn’t something you just “get over,” of course. I didn’t become better at managing it spontaneously or through great luck; no, it took a lot of work. Namely: five years with a great cognitive behavioral therapist, group support, and a lot of personal time re-training my mind to react differently to the circumstances that used to send me into the abyss. I know exactly what to do if I start to feel depression coming on, who to engage for support, what to do to stay healthy, how to quash the distorted thoughts that want to damn with self-condemnation and loathing.

This time the noonday demon arrived suddenly and that made restoring balance a little more difficult.

Here’s what I got right (and wrong):

  1. I drank. So I don’t have a lot of friends who are local – much of my socialization is through social media – and I needed friends to go out and see a movie with, or have a pizza and talk to. Lacking this support, I reached for a bottle and got pretty drunk a few nights early on. Not blackout drunk, not vomiting all night drunk, but pretty crapulous, I must say. Drunk on weeknight, or “pulling a Jace” as my friend Lauren calls it – which I find flattering despite myself.
  2. However, I did reach out to family and let them know I was struggling. I talked to a few friends by e-mail and text. They kept in touch and offered support.
  3. I kept on exercising. Hiking is really the foundation of my physical and mental health, and even without a car I found ways to hike when I could. The increased blood flow, oxygenation, and natural endorphins are probably the best cure for depression. Even if I felt awful, I forced myself to put my feet on the ground and move.
  4. I focused on getting plenty of vitamin D in my diet. I continued to eat a good balance of leafy greens (I strongly recommend an organic spring mix with kale and herbs), tomatoes, avocados, fruits with a low glycemic load (cherries, berries, grapefruit, watermelon), and healthy proteins (Greek yogurt).
  5. I stayed in contact with my therapist. He was on vacation, but made time to check in from time to time.
  6. I focused on rewarding tasks. Thankfully, classes started shortly after the depression started. Spending time with future colleagues and amazing friends was a huge boost to my mood. (Shout out: Haley, Taylor, and Lauren – so much love!). Of course, the classes themselves are also a source of happiness. Learning about the anatomy of the body, blood typing, and doing chemistry experiments (especially successfully mastering the math) helped boost my mood considerably.
  7. Used a trick from dialectical behavioral therapy called “opposite of emotion” activities. So instead of putting on sad music and sad movies that edify depression, I put on my favorite upbeat songs and shows that make me laugh like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Arrested Development.

Within a week I was back on my feet. I’m proud of myself and the hard work I’ve done to get here. Depression is one of those illnesses that, I’m told, are never “cured.” We keep it in remission and, with diligence, hold it at bay. I feel no shame in being a little immodest about what I’ve accomplished over two decades – anyone who’s fought depression and is still standing has the right to be unreservedly proud.

Another important update – On August 24, I received some great news that I was accepted to the UConn CEIN Nursing program, too! Some of you have been following my progress for over a year now and know how important this goal is to me. So I’m extremely grateful for everyone who has encouraged and supported me along this journey.

I’ll be starting in January if I can come up with the considerable tuition. I still have a GoFundMe account for achieving this dream, and if anyone has enjoyed my posts, the photos, or just believes in dream of becoming a nurse and helping others, I would be so thankful if you made a donation. Above is another FREE photo that you can use for any purpose you’d like – put it on your website, your fliers or church bulletins, in a movie, in a book, CD – whatever! All I ask is you credit me and link to this page.

Stay positive, friends – and feel free to share your depression success stories (or challenges) below!

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