I’m a little over two weeks into a depressive episode. According to my therapist, anyway. I’ve been a human slug, inching my way around my apartment, dramatically sighing and eating microwave meals and watching the dishes stack up in the sink.
You know the deal.
This, just two months after being hospitalized (can I just catch a break?). You’d think that all the intensive therapies, support groups, medication changes, and workbooks would have prevented this. But alas, here I am – sometimes depression manages to get a foot in the door despite your best efforts.
Sometimes when I’m entering into a depressive episode, I like to write down reminders that I want to hold onto as I go through it. They can be affirmations, reality checks, or words of wisdom.
Anything, really, to keep some perspective when I’m dealing with my episode. I try to write down the words I think I’ll need to hear as I struggle – because too often, we lose sight of the important stuff.
This time, I figured, why not share my list? And even better – encourage people to write their own.
Here are five of my own reminders to get us started.
1. Sometimes what’s best for us is the thing we resist the most.
I wrote about this recently in another article – how mental illness can encourage us to do the exact opposite of what we need to be doing. For example, my depression often urges me to stay in my apartment, even though going out into the world and socializing would actually boost my mood.
When you lack energy and motivation, and you don’t find the things you used to love as pleasurable as you once did, it can be damn near impossible to find a reason to do anything but curl up in bed.
Our instincts, clouded by the depression, often leave us opting for behaviors that are worsening our mood.
Some days, I am simply unable to move or participate in things. And that’s totally okay! It’s most important to be compassionate with ourselves and take care of ourselves.
But I’ve found that sometimes, telling myself to ignore my depressive instincts and do some self-care – even if it sounds unappealing, exhausting, or boring – really does help me.
You get to decide, ultimately, what’s feasible for you and what’s not. But it’s good to remind yourself that depression does not always have your best interest in mind.
2. Surviving depression involves being skeptical of 95% of your thoughts.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was something like, “Not everything you think is true.” This is especially relevant advice when dealing with depression.
Too often we forget that depression doesn’t just impact how we feel, but it affects how we think.
Things like low self-esteem, pessimism, suicidal thoughts, catastrophizing, rumination, and harsh self-criticism are just a small slice of the impact that depression has on our thinking.
Which is to say, it’s important to approach our negative thinking with a certain amount of skepticism.
Some healthy questions worth asking yourself: (1) Have I always felt this way?, (2) How do I know, logically, that this is true?, (3) What advice would I give to a friend who struggled with this?, and (4) Could depression be impacting my feelings about this?
When I’m grappling with low self-esteem, for example, and I go down the shame spiral of feeling like I’m not worth anything to anyone, I can go through these questions.
No, I haven’t always felt this way. And logically, none of my friends have told me I’m not worth anything to them – quite the opposite. If my friend were struggling with this, I would encourage them to reach out to their friends and express how they’re feeling. And yes, it’s possible that depression is impacting this because I guess it’s neither permanent nor logical.
Sometimes the questions help, but sometimes I’m too depressed to think outside of my situation. Regardless, it’s one useful tool amongst many in my toolbox that I can call on any time, and it’s helped me to push back on a lot of the negative self-talk that is so typical of depression.
3. Asking for help is sometimes the most difficult but necessary thing we can do.
My recent breakdown required that I call on my friends and ask for their help despite desperately wanting to leave everyone out of it. And while in hindsight there’s a lot I would do differently, I can’t say for certain that I would be alive today if I hadn’t reached out.
Asking for help is really hard. I will never invalidate the very real fears that come with reaching out.
We’re afraid of the possible rejection we’ll face from others. We’re afraid of being burdens on the people we love. We’re afraid that we’ll push people away. We’re afraid of being ostracized by our communities. We’re afraid of being further stigmatized.
And sometimes, we’re just ashamed to say that we’re hurting. We don’t want others to see us when we’re vulnerable. We don’t want others to see us at our lowest. I can assure you that I know how that feels.
Reaching out when you’re struggling with a mental illness is complicated, and everyone’s situation is complex and different. I can’t tell you what the right road to recovery looks like for you.
But at the end of the day, I’d like to remind you of this: Your survival is critically important, your life holds value, and you deserve compassionate care that will help you through this struggle.
Often times, sadly, that care is only within reach when we ask for it. And often times, that care is not just optional – it’s necessary if we are going to survive.
As I navigate recovery, I’m grateful every single day that there were people in my life there to help me. I would’ve died a long time ago if they hadn’t been.
I don’t know your situation, but I will say that I hope you are able to find the support that you need – even if it’s scary to ask, your life and your happiness are worth it.
4. None of this is your fault. None of it.
Damn, this one is too real.
Sometimes when I’m depressed, I get caught in this loop of self-blame that seems never-ending. If I had done this differently, if I just pushed harder, if I had better coping skills, if I went to more groups, if I did this, or that, or this, or that… apparently depression would disappear by sheer effort alone.
That’s not how it works. Depression isn’t a matter of willpower. Deep down, I think most, if not all of us understand that.
…but this is kind of incredible, right? Because part of my profession is knowing stuff about mental health, so you’d think I’d get the message by now. But depression shows up, and suddenly everything I know about mental health goes out the window and I’m punishing myself for something beyond my control.
I would never go up to someone with mental illness and say, “You need to try harder.” But apparently I’ll tell myself that twenty times a day?
(See, this is what I mean about being skeptical of your thoughts.)
So here’s the reminder for that inevitable moment that I fall back into that unending loop: It’s. Not. Your. Fault.
If it were a matter of willpower, the depression would be gone by now. If you could do something more, you would’ve already been doing it. No one chooses their depression.
But if you’re looking to make life changes to address your depression, I do have some advice. Make changes in the name of self-care – not in the name of self-blame. Because yes, you deserve a lot of care right now and no, you don’t deserve the blame.
5. It is impossible to know what the future will look like.
When I’m deep in a depressive episode, I find myself saying – with complete and total conviction – that nothing will ever get better, that my future is empty, that I will always struggle, that there’s nothing worth living for.
(Pro-tip: Words like “nothing,” “never,” “always” – or any words that exist in an “all or nothing” framework – are really big red flags. Folks dealing with depression often think in absolutes, which can feed into the hopelessness that we’re already feeling.)
As someone who both struggles with mental illness AND regularly supports people who do, I see it time and time again.
We’re deeply depressed, and then we’ve convinced ourselves we already know what the future looks like – despite the reality that none of us could possibly know.
Remember that skepticism I talked about? We’ve got to utilize it here above all else. Because our feelings about the future can drive our depression.
It’s so important to remember that you can’t know what the last page of a book says if you’re only in the middle of the book.
It makes perfect sense that, when we’re depressed, we see the future as being hopeless. But it’s impossible in any given moment to predict the outcome of our lives, no matter how despondent and awful our present moment might be.
The future is always unknowable. I’ve learned this the hard way many times, when I made rash decisions to harm myself under the assumption that nothing would get better, and later regretted it as I discovered that the future was not as predictable as I thought.
To be clear, I’m not asking any depressed person to remain hopeful about a future that they can’t see. Hope is a feeling that depression often robs us of.
But I am asking depressed folks to consider not making decisions based on a future they’ve assumed will happen, and instead, try to deal with the present, one day at a time.
It is possible that things will not get better. None of us can know for sure. But it’s also possible that they will. And I sincerely believe that every one of us deserves the opportunity to find out – and the tools to make that future as bright as possible.
On the days when I am crumbling under the weight of depression, and the future seems utterly hopeless, I try to remind myself of the many times I counted myself out, only to discover that there was something in the future that was waiting for me – something I never saw coming.
This may sound cheesy, but I had people to meet, and places to travel to, and articles to write, and communities to be a part of. I couldn’t have imagined these things in my life, but now I can’t imagine my life without it.
If there’s only one reminder that you take from this list, it’s this: There is a life for you beyond depression.
And I’d like to believe that there’s one for every one of us.