I’ve been living with clinical depression for a couple of decades now. It can be challenging terrain…lots of sheer cliffs and deep canyons that are way too easy to get lost in, especially in the beginning when they can feel inescapable..but after twenty years I’ve learned how to get around. Mapped out the local territory, made friends with the natives, and built a beautiful life there that I really love and am deeply grateful for.
I’ve done it without antidepressants. And before anyone gets their panties all in a bunch, I’m not opposed to pharmaceutical treatment. (I so dislike that whole battle. It’s divisive, distracting, and a waste of precious resources.) It’s just that, back when I slipped into my first severe episode, I didn’t know what was happening to me. Depression wasn’t the by-word it is today. It took a while just to figure out what I was dealing with and, once that became clear, I still couldn’t afford long-term, continued access to drugs.
So it was fortunate I’d already pieced together an alternate treatment plan that was working for me. It’s complex, eclectic, and tailored specifically to my life and strengths, so there’s no point in going into detail here. But there were a handful of important skills I had to develop in order to make the whole thing work and I suspect they might be helpful no matter what treatment plan a person turns to. So just in case that’s true, here they are:
A DEPRESSIVE’S SKILL SET:
1) Develop emotional endurance. A lot of it. Do exercises.
2) Trust your instincts, you’re not crazy. Some studies have suggested that depressives actually have a more realistic view of the world than non-depressives.
3) Question your conclusions. Depressives can take that aforementioned realistic view (especially in a severe episode) and translate it to mean everything is futile and unbearable when it’s not.
4) Develop emotional endurance. Really.
5) Depression annihilates confidence so cultivate stubbornness instead. (Desperation is also a surprisingly effective motivation for short hauls but it’s tough on the adrenals.)
6) Did I mention develop emotional endurance?
And 7) Look for light. It’s a discipline that can save you. If you can’t find any immediately, then hang on to memories of old light until you can. Living with depression is a lot like living at night. Colors fade out and disappear during a descent, and the whole world falls into shades of gray. But once you figure out where to look and start to see them, the stars in there will knock your socks off.
copyright Dia Osborn 2011