Recovery from depression isn’t easy. Coming out of depression isn’t like flipping a light switch, one day you’re in the dark pit, the next you’re in a room flooded with light. I’m going to try to describe what it’s really like here because this is what is happening to me right now and it’s weird.
Earlier this year I found myself in a pretty deep depression. Not suicidal, but disconnected. Not staying in bed all day, but a walking, irritable zombie. Not tearful all the time, but sad, very sad. When I realized what I had was depression I began the slow journey to recover my life. I wrote an article about it for Insidewink, The Freedom of No, so I won’t repeat all of it here. Today is about the convalescent zone; not depressed, but not confidently back yet.
In taking the reins back I’ve discovered big blank patches where my memory used to be. It’s scary to be talking with a work associate about a project we want to launch in the Fall and hear her say, “We decided on these dates earlier this month. Don’t you remember?” Oh, shit. No, I don’t.
It’s been like that these last weeks, discovering gaps as if the record of my life was erased for weeks, months. Appointments made, but I didn’t write them down. Knowing I took care of a report but not finding the hard evidence for it. Emails written but never sent. Emails received but not responded to. Let me just say, it’s a damn good thing I have the years-long, embedded habit of taking progress notes after every therapy session.
From the perspective of a hyper-responsible person in general, and a businessperson in particular, this is horrifying. Or it would be horrifying if the depression cave I was emerging from wasn’t more horrifying still.
Living With Chronic Illness
As a person living with chronic illness, I’ve written about the nether-world of convalescence. Our society does not tolerate sickness well, much less that in-between time. You’re either sick in bed, immobilized with a fever, in surgery, paralyzed or you’re at work full throttle. Anywhere in between, you are vulnerable to guilt and shame. At least I am.
Because this is exactly where my shame spiral button lies. I swear to God when I’m well enough to even think about work but I’m still not well, my default is not, “Well, good for you! You’re feeling better. Let’s just relax and practice some self-loving, self-care.” No. It’s more like, “Think about all the people you are letting down by stepping back. Think about how they will be disappointed you aren’t the quickest, smartest, most successful person in the world.”
Wow. That really sucks. Do you see how that can feed the depression that you’re working so hard to overcome? It takes a great big heart to shut down that shame spiral.
Here are 5 tips that help me during this recovery from depression and might help you:
1. Self-compassion. Human here! Imperfect here! Just one person here! And that is more than enough. Believe it. Even cherish it. When this is hard for me I use the, “imagine you’re talking to a loved one” trick and *boom* there it is. All the compassion, understanding, empathy and love is there without question.
2. Talk to people. My dear, wonderful husband was the first to hear my “I’m depressed” discovery. Since then every time we go out with our friends something comes up that makes telling my story a natural part of the conversation. Instead of keeping silent, which I would do in the old days, I take a deep breath and dive right in. To John’s credit, he doesn’t roll his eyes or try to stop me. He listens for the third time. To my friend’s credit, they don’t squirm or shut me down. They listen. Importantly, every single time, they nod their heads, “Yes, that’s what it’s like. That happened to me.” Stigma sucks because it keeps us quiet exactly when we could use some support and understanding. One out of thirteen of us on this planet report some form of depression in their lifetime. That includes men, even though women statistically experience depression at twice the rate. I honestly think men, in general, have a harder time with the stigma. Anyway, the point is, we aren’t alone.
3. Pick up one piece at a time. When we are recovering from depression, the newfound energy and clarity of the brain are so exciting it can compel us to jump right back into the deep end of life. That can be like running three miles on a mending sprained ankle. Stop. Check off all the items on your To-Do list at once is in part what landed you in depression in the first place. Our mending brains need to re-learn how to focus on one thing at a time. This takes patience, I know, but it’s worth it.
4. Be creative. Give your left brain a rest. Explore the right brain. Use it to create a whole new measuring stick. The old judgy one sucks so hard. Why do we do things a certain way when it obviously is not working? Humans are supposed to be clever about finding a new way to use a brick but we can’t find a new way to be in our lives? Our old way of judging ourselves IS NOT WORKING! Breaking that old mold and creating a whole new one isn’t easy. I highly recommend talking with a good therapist about this to help out.
5. Choose courage. I’ll bet you thought I was going to say “Be grateful.” Well, yeah, be grateful for what you’ve got, absolutely. Be in the Now, in the Moment, blah, blah, blah. That’s all good. What I’m talking about is wrestling with the fear that keeps you from truly living. When you make life choices, decisions on which path to take, ask yourself, is my motivation for picking this path made out of fear? Are you afraid of judgment, afraid of letting people down, like I’ve been, or is it even harder than that? Afraid of making a bully angry? Afraid of financial catastrophe? Afraid of being alone? Afraid of sticking out? Afraid of dying? We’ll never get rid of fear. Because of our biochemical hardwiring, it’s here to stay. But when we make decisions that are driven by fear we become co-conspirators in building our own emotional prison. Be aware of when fear is driving. Gather the courage to relegate fear to the back seat. This, too, might be something for which to get helpful support. Good thing I know some great therapists.
Elvira G. Aletta, PhD, Founder & CEO
Life gave Dr. Aletta the opportunity to know what it’s like to hurt physically and emotionally. After an episode of serious depression in her mid-twenties, Dr. Aletta was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease that relapsed throughout her adulthood. While treatable, the cure was often as hard to bear as the disease. Later she was diagnosed with scleroderma, another chronic illness.
Throughout, Dr. Aletta battled with anxiety. Despite all this, Dr. Aletta wants you to know, you can learn to engage in life again on your terms.
Good therapy helped Dr. Aletta. She knows good therapy can help you. That’s why she created Explore What’s Next.
Today Dr. Aletta enjoys mentoring the EWN therapists, focusing on coaching and psychotherapy clients, writing and speaking. She is proud and confident that Explore What’s Next can provide you with therapists who will help you regain a sense of safety, control and joy.
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