I still have the note from the university clinic so I could defer my courses in second year: “Erin has been mentally ill and is unable to complete her work.” Twenty years ago, I experienced my first severe depression, and I’ve lived with it since. In recent years, I’ve begun to speak openly about it because I want to fight the stigma associated with mental health. It is hard enough to need and ask for support without the shame.
Over the years, I’ve developed some strategies that have helped me. I hope they help you as well.
1. As hard as it can be to believe, try to remind yourself that even though you feel down right now, you won’t feel like this forever. Mood disorders have peaks and valleys, and right now you’re in a valley — eventually you will start climbing toward the peak again. My most severe episode lasted several years, and the sense of futility I experienced during that time was overwhelming. I believe that subsequent episodes have not been quite as long or deep because I know from experience that objects in the distance are closer than they appear.
2. When I’m experiencing a more severe depressive episode, I write “done” lists. These lists include such epic accomplishments as the following: got out of bed, showered, brushed teeth, got dressed, walked to the corner store. I feel a little silly writing them, but it is proof against the automatic thoughts that I am lazy and have done nothing that day. I have done something — the evidence is there. It’s not much, but it’s also not nothing.
More on Broadview:
- How to take care of your mental health this winter
- My mother and I have the same mental health disorders. But is it genetic?
- All church youth leaders need mental health training
3. Sometimes the inertia is all consuming, especially if compounded by Warm Bed and Bad Weather. In cases like this, break down tasks to the smallest possible steps. Getting out of bed: stick one foot out from under blanket, put foot on floor, roll onto side, stick other foot out of blanket, put that foot on floor, sit up in bed, stand up. You can take the blanket with you, if you want.
4. I cannot recommend enough the cognitive behavioural therapy workbook Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky. You don’t need a therapist to work through it, and I have used the skills I learned from it many times over the years. At this point, I’m able to do the work in the book mentally — identify the negative automatic thoughts and work them around to more realistic ones.
5. Don’t be afraid to try medication. It doesn’t work for everyone (it didn’t work for me), but it does work for a lot of people and it can take a while to find the right one. The same goes for a therapist — don’t stick with the first one if they aren’t a good fit. Group therapy was another helpful tool for me. Find what works for you — something will.
These days, my depression is basically an annoying roommate. Sometimes it makes my life difficult, but most of the time it’s just…there. I often remind myself to be as gentle with myself as I am with others, that the only constant in life is change, and that this, too, shall pass.
Erin Norah Thompson is a playwright, production co-ordinator and functioning depressive currently living in Toronto.
We hope you found this Broadview article engaging.
Our team is working hard to bring you more independent, award-winning journalism. But Broadview is a nonprofit and these are tough times for magazines. Please consider supporting our work. There are a number of ways to do so:
- Subscribe to our magazine and you’ll receive intelligent, timely stories and perspectives delivered to your home 8 times a year.
- Donate to our Friends Fund.
- Give the gift of Broadview to someone special in your life and make a difference!
Thank you for being such wonderful readers.