Fighting the sadness.

I am severe­ly depressed.

There. I said it.

Believe me, I know the stig­ma that comes from admit­ting that. I’m rather ner­vous about say­ing it out loud like this in so pub­lic a place, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en the “advice” I’ve often got­ten for how to “get over” depres­sion, PTSD, and anx­i­ety. But I’ve decid­ed once again that hid­ing isn’t real­ly the best way to han­dle it. And so here I am, deal­ing with it, in pub­lic, in front of you, my dear read­ers. As always, I crave your gen­tle­ness.

This depres­sion of mine man­i­fests itself in many ways in my life, and I’ve tak­en to call­ing it The Great Sad­ness. Allie Brosh of Hyper­bole and a Half has a real­ly great post describ­ing depres­sion quite accu­rate­ly — I high­ly rec­om­mend read­ing it. She puts words and images to this beast of a thing, and I think that must be help­ful to some­one oth­er than me.

There are just…so many things that elude me on a near­ly-dai­ly basis. Mak­ing deci­sions can be emo­tion­al­ly and men­tal­ly crip­pling. Gar­ner­ing the con­fi­dence to speak my mind can trig­ger an anx­i­ety attack. I will stum­ble all over myself apol­o­giz­ing for being an incon­ve­nience — because I hon­est­ly believe the worst about myself pret­ty much at all times so severe­ly that I often apol­o­gize for sim­ply exist­ing. I sec­ond-guess my life, my words, my invest­ment in friend­ships, my abil­i­ty to be a good per­son and friend and wife and dog­gie-mom­my, and all of my fears and doubts and sad­ness and pain and anger over­whelm me to the point that I often very lit­er­al­ly can­not func­tion at all. When in pub­lic or when I fear ridicule and judg­ment, I can usu­al­ly hold myself togeth­er until I’m alone where I’m safe to fall apart.

I do plan to seek pro­fes­sion­al help when I am able. The thought of ther­a­py ter­ri­fies me worse than my depres­sion, PTSD, and anx­i­ety do, so we’ll see when­ev­er I can make that step. But for now, I have my own cop­ing meth­ods that I would like to share with you. I call them all Oper­a­tion: Fight the Sad­ness! There are three stages of this oper­a­tion, and I’m choos­ing to call them practices…because I cer­tain­ly haven’t mas­tered any of them.

I’d also like to point out that I do not in any way, shape, or form believe that these are solu­tions to any men­tal ill­ness. And I say men­tal ill­ness because that’s what depres­sion is. That’s what PTSD is. That’s what anx­i­ety is. The things that I’m talk­ing about here are not just “per­son­al­i­ty quirks” or “proof” that you or I or any­one is “just atten­tion-seek­ing” or in some way defi­cient or lack­ing or less of a per­son. Depres­sion says noth­ing about our moral­i­ty, our worth as peo­ple, or our stand­ing before or rela­tion­ship with God. I call these cop­ing mech­a­nisms because that’s what they are for me. They help me get through my days when I oth­er­wise might not be able to.

That being said, allow me to tell you about my first prac­tice…

The practice of positivity.

One thing that I have got­ten into the prac­tice of doing is affirm­ing myself. I am often over­whelmed by the feel­ing that I am not enough — not good enough, not hap­py enough, not lov­ing enough, not trust­ing enough, just alto­geth­er not enough. And yet I am often also con­vinced that I am entire­ly too much — too opin­ion­at­ed, too out­spo­ken, too hon­est, too trust­ing, too sad, too skep­ti­cal, just way too much. (My friend Sarah Moon wrote an excel­lent post about this dichoto­my over at Alise…Write!)

When these feel­ings over­whelm me, I tell myself about my good qual­i­ties. I am lov­ing. I am com­pas­sion­ate. I am a good lis­ten­er. I am kind. I am intel­li­gent. I have great hair. (Hon­est­ly, some days I just need to look at the mess of curls and tell myself this through grit­ted teeth.) And then when I inevitably feel that I am being far too self-cen­tered, vain, and shal­low — I give myself per­mis­sion to take care of me. Which brings me to my next prac­tice…

The practice of permission.

I just real­ized that I’m appar­ent­ly turn­ing this into a ser­mon out­line with all the allit­er­a­tion. Oops.

As I touched on briefly ear­li­er, I often tell myself how self-cen­tered I am. Rec­og­niz­ing my good qual­i­ties is self-cen­tered to my mind. Tak­ing pride in wear­ing clothes that make me feel good about the body I hap­pen to have is shal­low (after all, deep and intel­li­gent women don’t care about their looks!). Tak­ing a long epsom salt bath or play­ing video games or read­ing when I should be clean­ing my house is lazi­ness. Frankly, I have absolute­ly no inborn con­cept of tak­ing care of myself.

Some­what relat­ed to this is my deep need to seek per­mis­sion to do things. I con­stant­ly feel the need for affir­ma­tion from oth­ers, peers and men­tors alike, for deci­sions that I make. I need to know if buy­ing a fall jack­et is okay. I need to know if buy­ing a new car that won’t break down on us is okay. I need to know if let­ting the dish­es pile up so I can spend qual­i­ty cud­dling time with Michael is okay. I con­stant­ly seek and desire and crave the per­mis­sion and approval of oth­ers. And when dis­ap­proval is expressed, I’m often over­wrought with anx­i­ety over “doing some­thing wrong.”

One major thing that I do to help bring auton­o­my, sta­bil­i­ty, and free­dom from guilt to my life is that I give myself per­mis­sion to make my own deci­sions and enjoy what­ev­er I want to enjoy. This typ­i­cal­ly looks like me (or some­times Michael or Paige) telling me, “You don’t need anyone’s per­mis­sion to do this,” or “You’re allowed to like this thing, even if I don’t. It’s okay.” When I start wor­ry­ing that I’ve done some­thing that some­one else wouldn’t have cho­sen for them­selves or want­ed me to choose for myself, I take a deep breath and tell myself, “I am an adult, and I can make my own deci­sions.” Some­times I have to keep telling myself these things until I real­ly believe them. But it’s been so immense­ly help­ful to me to be able to own my choic­es and even to own my inter­ests. It’s free­ing in a way that I’ve nev­er felt as an adult, and takes away the pres­sure of per­form­ing to make oth­er peo­ple com­fort­able or hap­py.

Sec­ond, when my depres­sion and anx­i­ety and post-trau­mat­ic stress have so over­whelmed me that I’m good for noth­ing more than sit­ting in a pud­dle of pan­icked self-hat­ing tears, I give myself per­mis­sion to take care of me. (As a side-note, thanks to Eliz­a­beth Esther for her post about slow recov­ery that made me feel far less self­ish and far more sane for this belief that I need to baby myself some­times.)

This is prob­a­bly the most impor­tant break­through I’ve had in the past six years in deal­ing with The Great Sad­ness. And it’s born in part from Ann Voskamp’s One Thou­sand Gifts. In that book, she talks about a lifestyle of giv­ing thanks and tells about how she began writ­ing a list of one thou­sand gifts in her life for which she was thank­ful. Noth­ing was too big or too small to go in this list, so that she could appre­ci­ate all things.

While I do have my own one thou­sand gifts list, I sat down one day and cre­at­ed anoth­er list. And when I am in that cri­sis mode of depres­sion where there seems to be no hope for light, I pull out this list.

The idea is very sim­ple. It’s a list of activ­i­ties that make me hap­py. Things like read­ing a young adult fic­tion nov­el, shav­ing my legs, wash­ing my face, play­ing Nin­ten­do, pet­ting Sher­lock, kiss­ing Michael, burn­ing a favourite can­dle, lis­ten­ing to acoustic gui­tar. Things that calm me, make me feel more sane and more in con­trol of my life. And when I pull this list out, I choose 2–5 activ­i­ties from the list to accom­plish that day.

There are stip­u­la­tions for these activ­i­ties, of course. Since I am pulling this list out when I am emo­tion­al­ly and men­tal­ly spent, it must either take no longer than 10 min­utes, or it must be an activ­i­ty in which I am sta­tion­ary. There are excep­tions — it’s no use hav­ing a list of hap­py activ­i­ties if I’m going to be too mil­i­tant in what I allow myself to put on it.

The only oth­er rule I have is that when I pull this list out and choose what I want to do, I can­not guilt myself for not doing all of what I choose. Maybe I’ll get caught up in one activ­i­ty and not want to move on to anoth­er. That’s okay. The idea is for me to focus on mak­ing myself well, to get me to a point where I feel more in con­trol over my emo­tions and my life and can func­tion nor­mal­ly again.

If you’re inter­est­ed in me post­ing a sam­ple list, please let me know! I can def­i­nite­ly do that.

When all else fails in my attempts to cope with The Sad­ness, there is…

The practice of persistence.

This is my least favourite prac­tice of cop­ing with depres­sion. But it’s also the one that I’m the best at, because I’ve been doing it all my life.

Some­times, noth­ing I say to myself makes me feel bet­ter. Some­times, noth­ing I do dis­tracts me from the hope­less­ness. Some­times, absolute­ly noth­ing helps.

And when that hap­pens, I whis­per to myself, “All you can do is keep breath­ing.”


What about you? If you deal with depres­sion or anx­i­ety, what have you found is most help­ful for you? What do you think of my extreme­ly unpro­fes­sion­al method for myself?

18 Comments

  1. Yogitastic on November 1, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Good luck, Dani. I’m root­ing for you.

    • Dani on November 1, 2012 at 8:28 pm

      Thanks! I’m root­ing for me, too…first time prob­a­bly ever.

  2. Hännah on November 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Oh my gosh. I need­ed to read this today.

    • Dani on November 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      I’m so glad. If I can ever be of help, please let me know.

  3. Sarah Moon on November 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Love this. (and the allit­er­a­tion. hah. Bap­tists did that too)

    • Dani on November 1, 2012 at 8:26 pm

      🙂 It prob­a­bly doesn’t help that I’m def­i­nite­ly one of the peo­ple who learns bet­ter with allit­er­a­tion. Ah, well!

  4. Amy Phillips Bursch on November 1, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    We’re all here for you and we love you, Dani.

    • Dani on November 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm

      Thank you, Amy — that means so much to me.

  5. Janet Irvin on November 2, 2012 at 6:28 am

    Dani — Thank you for your will­ing­ness to share your inner­most thoughts. I could iden­ti­fy with a lot of it. I think of my life as being in a minor key. A lot of what you do to help your­self is what a pro­fes­sion­al coun­sel­lor would tell you to do. I call my list of hap­py things to do “life savours”.

    • Dani on November 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm

      I love that name for your hap­py things list! So won­der­ful (and as I’m sure you know, I adore puns 🙂 ).

  6. Lew on November 2, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Dani — I think the steps you have put in place for your­self are excel­lent, and a good start. I have been depressed (on and off) all my life. That is part of what killed my mar­riage but that is a long sto­ry. Even now I have bouts with it, just from lifes stress­es. Los­ing a job, going to school, find a job that is half of what I was mak­ing before (but at least I am now employed). I know it’s bad when my pho­tog­ra­phy suf­fers, some­thing that has been the rock and main­stay since my child­hood years.
    I am in ther­a­py and have been for a while. What I find is this helps sta­blize me, allows me to say what I want with­out feel­ing guilty and pro­vides per­spec­tive on what I can­not see.
    Depres­sion isn’t some­thing that just goes away but it can be dealt with. I wish you the best in this jour­ney and from what I can see, you have a sup­port sys­tem out here in the inter-world too.

    • Dani on November 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      Thank you for read­ing and shar­ing with me, Lew. And I’m so glad that ther­a­py has been a sta­bi­liz­ing agent in your life. As a fel­low life-long suf­fer­er of depres­sion (I hon­est­ly can’t remem­ber a time when I wasn’t), I know how huge hav­ing a sup­port sys­tem is. I feel so priv­i­leged to have a sys­tem online here. I wish you all the best.

  7. Lissa on November 2, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I’m new to your blog… I whole­heart­ed­ly sup­port your plan! Yes yes yes you deserve to care for your­self! Be as gen­tle with your­self as you would wish oth­ers to be. I like your “keep breath­ing” affir­ma­tion.

    I recent­ly went to ther­a­py for the first time, for my anx­i­ety, and I was appre­hen­sive too. I think I was afraid of tack­ling a prob­lem that seemed SO huge; afraid I was com­mit­ting to some­thing I wouldn’t be able to see through. But then I sort of under­stood that that’s why we need help? We can’t com­mit to solv­ing our own men­tal ill­ness by our­selves. That’s why it’s called “get­ting help.” Allow me to offer you some hope. I’m already doing so much bet­ter than I was a few months ago.

    • Dani on November 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      Thank you 🙂 I went to ther­a­py when I was a teenag­er for help with anorex­ia and cut­ting at two sep­a­rate times…they were real­ly kind of hor­ri­ble expe­ri­ences for me. I think that’s a big part of my fear — what if it’s just like before? But I’m so glad that it’s been help­ful for you — the more pos­i­tive sto­ries I hear the bet­ter, I’m guess­ing.

  8. Alece Ronzino (@gritandglory) on November 2, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Your hon­esty is refresh­ing and beau­ti­ful and free­ing… For oth­ers as well as for your­self. You are brave and coura­geous, Dani. And you’ve put into words that which so many need to hear.

    • Dani on November 3, 2012 at 2:03 pm

      Thank you, Alece. Your words (both here and on your blog) bring life and heal­ing to my soul. So thank­ful I found your blog.

  9. Whitney on November 8, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I think it is key to admit the dif­fi­cul­ty and per­se­vere through it — just as you are doing! Well done. 🙂 My thing I say on the dark days is “at least I will nev­er have to repeat today!” some­times it helps. some­times it doesn’t. choos­ing the life of grat­i­tude — even for the dark days is hard, but so very reward­ing. Because of these days you can under­stand and com­fort oth­ers bet­ter. you have the gift of empa­thy. Most like­ly, this has made you more com­pas­sion­ate towards oth­ers strug­gling in this long-haul bat­tle. I’m pray­ing for you!!!

  10. meerkat on January 12, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    To answer your ques­tion at the end, “What about you? If you deal with depres­sion or anx­i­ety, what have you found is most help­ful for you?” …

    Noth­ing helps, except some­times sleep (a men­tal reset), but sleep isn’t always pos­si­ble. Affir­ma­tions are just salt in the wound. I live in the self-berat­ing pan­els of that Hyper­bole and a Half com­ic every day. I’ve had pro­fes­sion­al help and the only thing scary about it was the cost com­bined with the fact that it did noth­ing what­so­ev­er.

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