My seasons of depression have been the hardest of my life.
When depression moved in, I no longer felt like I had the freedom to maintain my normality. I gave up at the first signs of the symptoms; I allowed depression to take over every aspect of who I am. I surrendered to its demands and allowed its presence to rob me of even the smallest amount of joy. I was depressed, and that was it.
It's been ten years since I started my battle with depression. Reaching the ten year mark is both daunting and encouraging. Daunting because that's almost half of my life. Encouraging because I'm still alive.
I don't, by any means, consider myself an expert on depression and anxiety. But, I am well versed in them both. I wouldn't have survived this long if I wasn't. (I intend to survive for much longer.) In the past ten years, more specifically in the past four, I've learned a lot about what it looks like to live functionally with depression. This year, within the past few months, I've finally decided to practice these things in my everyday life.
I figure that a lot of people write about what it's like to have depression, but not a lot of people talk about how to take control of it. It seems like everyone fails to mention that it's possible to live with depression and to live fully at the same time. I understand that sometimes it's not possible-- I've been there. I've lived the seasons where depression is stronger than I am, and if you are there, I hope you believe that you are not alone.
But today I'm talking about the seasons of depression where living feels possible. Today, I'm inviting you into the season I'm living, because just because depression is unapologetic, it doesn't mean that I'm not strong enough to overtake it.
Taking Control of my Morning
In the past, waking up has been the hardest part of my day. This year, I'm making an effort to make it the best. I wake up at least two hours before I have to be anywhere. I make sure my feet hit the floor before I have a second thought. I eat a good, full breakfast. I spend time reading my Bible and praying. I stretch, wash my face, and get dressed. I have a set routine, and I have yet to let depression take it away from me. I'm learning that starting my mornings strong has made the days easier.
Eating Three Meals
Anxiety almost completely robs me of my appetite. Normally, I let it. I've skipped a lot of meals due to anxiety's orders, and it's only left me feeling worse. I've been making an extended effort to fill my stomach three times a day, even if that doesn't mean eating a typical meal at a typical time. I eat food that's good for me, that'll give me energy and help my body to feel good even if my mind doesn't.
This is the hardest one, I think. Last semester, when I felt good, I went to the gym everyday. Depression causes me to lose my motivation to do most things, and working out isn't excluded from that. It's so hard to get myself to the gym. But, I do it. I do it to help my body feel strong when my mind feels weak. I do it to get some amount of endorphins, in hope of making myself feel a little better. It's so hard, but I do it. And the benefits outweigh the struggle, every time.
This may seem simple, but I think it's what's really been the game changer this year. I've made an effort to invite Holy Spirit into my everyday. I ask God for strength, endurance, and joy. I ask Him if He has anything to say to me, inviting Him to speak truth into my mind that feels so clouded with lies. I'm seeing what it looks like for His power to be made perfect in my weakness, and it's been the coolest thing.
Talking About It
This one is simple: People need other people. I can act like I'm okay alone, but I'm not. I have to invite people into this season. I have to be honest with them and with myself. Depression tries to trap me in my brain, but that's the most dangerous place for me to be.
Listening to my Body
Right now, I feel pretty strong. Taking the initiative to control my depression has been cool, but I'd be lying if I said I'm not tired. I still have to spend some afternoons in bed. I let myself sleep in on weekends. I get in bed earlier than most normal seniors in college. I listen to what my body needs, and those needs look a little different because I'm depressed, and I do what I can to meet them. I can feel strong, and I can tell myself that I'm fine, but that won't make my depression go away. No matter how strong I feel, I have to listen to what my body needs to I can set myself up to succeed.
I could go on, but I won't. Those six practices, commitments, whatever, have changed the depression game for me. My days aren't perfect, and those practices don't go unbroken, but I start everyday with the goal of accomplishing them.
My therapist said it this way: If depression is a dance, it's the one choosing the song. But, I get to decide how we dance to it. For a long time, I still allowed depression to take the lead. This year, it's my turn, and I feel pretty good about it.
If you are depressed, and you're looking to learn more about living with depression and anxiety, read My Name is Hope by John Mark Comer. It's encouraging, insightful, and really informative.