In this candid interview, a person living with depression shares answers about recognizing the symptoms and managing the condition.
How would you describe depression?
My depression affects so many different parts of my life, but mostly my personal relationships because of how overwhelmingly self-critical I can be. When it’s at its worst, I often distrust people or feel that everyone lets me down. This stems from deep-seated feelings that I am unworthy of being loved, or that I don’t have any positive qualities that people should like. Basically, my self-esteem is extremely low.
When did you first realize you were clinically depressed? How did you know?
It occurred in college, although I know I had been feeling that way for some time. I was often angry, and I slowly learned that often my anger stemmed not from how things actually were, but from negative perceptions of people’s words, actions, or attitudes. I would take everything everyone said or did and believe there was hidden meaning behind it. I knew I was doing this to myself after a failed suicide attempt.
Did you talk to anyone about your diagnosis? Did it help?
After my suicide attempt, I began seeing a counselor. She was excellent. She listened. I was so comfortable with her that most of our sessions I just blathered on and began connecting the dots on my own. It really helped me learn how to take a better look at myself and stop negative thoughts from constantly taking over my life.
What are some of the symptoms you experience with your depression?
At it’s worst it feels like a film of dirt I can’t scrub off. It’s as if I don’t feel in control of anything and there is something inside me trying to ruin everything good in my life. I can feel helpless, but I’ve learned to rise above it and work hard to create a life so positive and happy that nothing can destroy it. It doesn’t always work, but I refuse to give up.
The worst is when my mind wants to immediately gravitate to negative thoughts and stay there. I have to actively tell them to stop, or start thinking about all the positive things in my life.
How do you manage your depression on a day-to-day basis?
Mentally, I sometimes say out loud, “stop” when negativity won’t let go. Physically, I try to exercise as much as time will allow. It’s a great way to keep stress down, the endorphins up, and my self-image a bit higher than normal. Also, diet is important. I know my mood is affected by what I put in my body, so I try to eat as healthy as possible (with the occasional indulgence, of course.)
When I feel absolutely awful and nothing seems to work right, I try to do good deeds. I volunteer, or just help anyone who needs it. I’ve learned that while I might not be able to help myself feel better, I can help someone else. In the end, I always feel better about doing it.
Do you take medication or other forms of therapy?
I’ve had many friends and doctors tell me to take medication. I tried one kind and didn’t like it, so I was weary of it. Along with diet and exercise, I recently began neuro emotional therapy (NET). At first I was highly skeptical, but my doctor is amazing at helping me explore and resolve things that have happened in my life that I wasn’t aware was still affecting me today. I look forward to each session.
Also, I write in my journal a lot. I often go back and read the entries—days, months, or years later—and look at reoccurring patterns in my life and see what I can do change them. I also celebrate every achievement.
Does your depression interfere with your life?
It wants to, but I refuse to let it control me. That’s an active endeavor, but I’ve seen first hand the damage it can do to my life. I’ve resolved to never let anything have that kind of control over me. I reaffirm myself that my moods are often reflective of my perception of something, so I always look at what I can do to make every negative thing better.
What advice would you give someone who is struggling with depression?
Never give up. Ever. Yes, life can seem unbearably difficult at times, but never act on those negative emotions. Find a constructive way to let them out, whether it’s writing, art, volunteering, or something. If you learn to turn your depression into something constructive then you’ll create a life full of happiness, beauty, and love.