This is Part 2 in a series on depression in creatives.
When you have walking depression, it’s possible to hide it from your family and friends, your boss, your kids.
Even from yourself.
You forget what it’s like to wake with a sense of sunshine, to laugh from your belly, to grin at the thought of tomorrow. Or you never knew what that felt like in the first place.
And you convince yourself that things are not so bad, you’re managing. If you can just get through this next rough patch, you’ll be okay. You see people around you suffering more and you scold yourself to count your blessings.
Until one day you turn the corner and come face to face with the truth. A friend shares her own struggles. You read a memoir like Lit or Eat Pray Love or The Water Will Hold You. You come across a website like In Good Company. Maybe, like me, you drink a glass of wine and realize that it’s been a long time since you felt this good. And you can’t deny it any longer.
You are deeply unhappy and it’s affecting your whole life.
And without your ongoing denial, coping with your unhappiness just got harder.
So you face a decision.
Will you do something about your unhappiness, or will you allow it to continue?
I don’t blame you if you turn away and put your head down, keep trudging. Doing something takes hope and courage and energy and self-love ~ the very things that depression has stolen from you. You may need to bide your time until action is possible again.
But when you are ready to do something, there are many ways to walk away from depression.
Before I share those ways, a brief note on the nature of depression. Some conceptualize it as an illness, a state caused by hormonal imbalance, some deficiency of the brain, a tendency passed down in the genes. Others, like Eric Maisel in his book Rethinking Depression, see it as the emotion of profound unhappiness, “a normal reaction to unpleasant facts and circumstances.”
Which definition is true? Which is more helpful? These are interesting questions, and I’ll get into them further as part of Eric’s book tour post here on April 1. But for now, I’ll tell you the premise I’m working from.
I believe that the physical and emotional aspects of depression create a kind of chicken-and-egg dynamic that is hard to untangle. Bottom line, I think it is essential to address the existential questions that underlie depression: What’s the meaning of my life? Am I doing what I was made to do? Does my daily experience reflect what is most important to me?
Treating just the physical symptoms still leaves us open to depression creeping in through our thoughts and feelings. As Eric writes in Rethinking Depression, “Even if you believe that there is a “mental disorder” called “depression” and that certain treatments work to minimize it or “cure” it, you must agree that you will not have cured life once you have cured your depression.”
Answering those existential questions is not easy. In fact, it can be disorienting, scary, and exhausting. But I believe it is rewarding and necessary for our long-term happiness.
Alright, enough preamble. Let’s get to the good stuff.
10 ways to walk away from depression
The first 5 ways I list here are about accepting reality, the “things we cannot change” mentioned in that old saw, the Serenity Prayer. These are often our first steps away from depression. Please remember that I’m not saying any of these things are easy or overnight cure-alls. But they are a place to start.
Rest. Take the day off. Take a week off. Call a babysitter. Go on vacation. Go to bed at 9 pm and sleep in. Take a sleeping pill. Whatever you need to do to get some rest. Then find ways to make proper rest a regular thing instead of just an emergency measure.
Make use of medication and other physical treatments. Antidepressants, light therapy, exercise, diet changes ~ all of these can have a noticeable effect on your mood, your thought patterns, and your energy level.
Caution, rant ahead: I really wish there were less shame associated with medicating depression. I took antidepressants for 3 years, and I don’t mind telling you that. There is no moral superiority in recovering from depression without meds, just as women who have natural childbirth are no better than those who have an epidural. Yes, the rising rate of antidepressant use is a concern, but we’re not talking about statistics here ~ we’re talking about you. Do what you need to do to cope in this moment, and bugger the hand-wringers.
Do therapy. Doesn’t matter if you see a therapist, a social worker, a psychiatrist, or a psychologist. Doesn’t matter what modality they practice from ~ CBT, Jungian, art therapy, whatever. What matters is that you talk and they listen and respond. “Countless studies have shown that ‘successful therapeutic outcomes’ in therapy are related to the therapist’s warmth ~ not the therapist’s theoretical orientation, not her training, not her experience.” (Rethinking Depression) So find someone you like and just open up. For more on this, check out my article at TalkTherapyBiz, Why therapy is awesome for artists.
Practice gratitude. Oprah started the craze with gratitude journals. Writer Ann Voskamp infused fresh life into the practice with her book One Thousand Gifts and the community that has grown around it. Saying thanks for what you notice cultivates a cycle of positive thinking that lifts your spirits.
Make connections. Therapists aren’t the only people you can talk to. Seek out people you can be authentic with and spend time with them. Join an online class or community ~ often the relative anonymity makes it easier to open up. Reducing your isolation will erode your unhappiness.
The last 5 ways listed here are about redesigning reality, “changing the things we can.” Once we are on firmer footing, gaining resolve and resources from taking those early steps, we can tackle the harder ones.
Reduce your responsibilities. Chances are that you’re tired and stressed and sad partly because you’re doing too much. So stop doing some of it. Find a new volunteer to replace you. Get some childcare or join a babysitting co-op. Cut back your hours at work. (Believe me, I know all of this is simpler said than done, but start small and you’ll grow bolder.) For more on quitting stuff, see my post The kind of help we all could do without.
Spend time creating. Step away from the grindstone and allow yourself to play. Remember the way you created as a child ~ purely for your own pleasure. Noch Noch has just published an inspiring article about how depression rejuvenated her creativity. (If you’re a writer, Story Is a State of Mind is a fabulous program to ease you back into things.)
Change your thoughts. You may think that you are stuck with the morose ramblings in your head. You are most emphatically not. You can “get a grip on your mind,” as Eric puts it, and replace the downer monologue with confident and encouraging self-talk. Learn this through cognitive therapy, or by practicing The Work of Byron Katie, or reading Eckhart Tolle.
Develop a meaning practice. You can intentionally instill more meaning into your life by understanding and doing more of what matters to you. Most of Eric’s book, Rethinking Depression, is devoted to describing such a meaning practice, and I highly recommend trying it out.
Change your life. This is what designing your art-committed life is all about. Slowly but surely you weed out the activities that drain you and fill your days with deliciousness. And you do this because you know that you are entitled to the best life you can imagine.
You have probably already heard most of this advice. And you may be gnashing your teeth and saying, “I know what to do, I just can’t do it!” But perhaps it helps to have it laid out and categorized like that. Perhaps you will be able to keep your eyes open for things you can do.
I appreciate the importance of accepting what we can’t change.
But what really fires me up is changing the things we can, and finding the wisdom to know the difference.
That’s what I’ve sunk my teeth into as a woman recovering from depression. That’s where I focus my work as a coach. I am not willing to settle for coping, tolerating, getting by ~ not for myself and not for the bright creatives who come to me for support.
If you’re ready to redesign your reality for more artistic happiness, look at my Enter the Labyrinth coaching services.
Which of these ways have you used to walk away from depression? Have I missed any that you’d like to add?
Photo credit: ItzaFineDay