If you’ve ever suffered from depression you don’t need me to describe the symptoms to you or explain how utterly hopeless and destroyed it can make you feel. Besides, I’ve been dealing with the black dog since childhood so I don’t want to spend any more time than I have to dwelling on the many ways it steals your joy.
And when I say “since childhood,” that’s when I first began showing symptoms, but back in those days, no doctor was going to diagnose me with depression. Instead, it was “all in my head.” I’m surprised I wasn’t locked in the attic and forgotten about.
I wasn’t diagnosed until my early 20’s, so I didn’t get any treatment until then. Once I was diagnosed? I took anti-depressants, attended counseling, tried to eat the right food, tried to limit alcohol, used essential oils, crystals, meditation. I got on with things, distracted myself, rested, exercised, and rang a friend.
Nearly 30 years later, and my depression is now a part of me just as much as my blue eyes and stubby fingers are. It has molded me into who I am now, and for that reason, I’m glad I have the experience of it.
Before you start accusing me of tipping over into insanity, let me explain what I mean by that.
The UK Mental Health Foundation describes it well, I think. It states that:
“For many people, the concept of recovery is about staying in control of their life despite experiencing a mental health problem.”
There are some people who experience one episode of clinical depression and never go on to experience it again. However, according to the American Psychiatric Association, more than half of people who have one episode are going to have another. Some people will live with this condition all of their lives.
But it doesn’t have to break you. Although you have to make a determined effort, you can use your depression to increase your happiness, improve your life, and make a difference in someone else’s life. Isn’t that a much better coping strategy than giving in to it?
Use it to create art
Art can be any creative activity you choose. Painting, writing, and poetry are the first that spring to mind, but the options are limitless. And if you have the kind of brain that develops depression, then let me reassure you, you have the type of brain that can create anything you decide to.
Creating something will help you to focus your mind on something other than what you’re feeling. Yes, it will, even if you’re expressing your feelings through whatever it is you’re creating. How liberating would it be to shift all those things from inside your head, to somewhere outside of your head? Who knows, you might even get a new career out of it.
Use it to teach others
Although their numbers are getting fewer, there are people in the world who have never experienced depression. They have no clue at all what it’s like. You’ve met them, they’re the people that belong to the “why don’t you just snap out of it” crowd.
These people need to be educated.
It’s our duty, as people who live well with mental illness, to do our bit to reduce stigma and discrimination. The way to do that is by talking about mental illness. We need to discuss it in our everyday conversations, talk about it in just the same as we talk about having the sniffles or a cold.
And yes, I know, it’s next to impossible to adequately explain real Depression to someone who has never experienced it, but shouldn’t we still try? You wouldn’t tell a firefighter not to bother explaining how dangerous fires are to someone who hasn’t experienced one.
Use it to make a difference in the world
This one could perhaps be described as a combination of the first two. If you create any form of art and use it to teach people about Depression, you will make a difference in the world. And you don’t even need any teaching skills, you just need to tell your story.
Because you’ve made it this far, you have learned the qualities of tolerance, resilience, empathy, self-care, and the importance of looking after yourself physically with diet and exercise. To name just a few. These are all skills that our young people, and even some of our older people, need to learn. Desperately.
But the steps I’ve outlined above won’t just help the world, they’ll help you. Creating is a therapeutic process, and the very act of telling your story is cathartic. Creating something from your imagination is a truly joyful experience and will lighten your heart in a way that no anti-depressant or counseling session can.
And who wouldn’t like to think that they’d made the world a better place in some small way?