I realized today that it’s only been five months since I came out of hospital where I was treated for major depressive disorder, GAD, and dysthymia. Only five short months, but it feels like a lifetime ago.
In the five months that have passed I have tried living as ‘normal’ a life as possible. I did still see my psychiatrist and take my medication (always recommended!), but we also started a support group for other depression and anxiety sufferers, bought a new car, sold our apartment, bought a new apartment, and I am proudly seven weeks pregnant. The one thing I have learnt from all of this though is that distractions are nothing but that, distractions. I was hoping it would spur me on and give me new life, but instead it’s been stressful and sometimes coping has been tremendously difficult. I have had to quickly learn new coping mechanisms to deal with each situation, some have been more helpful than others, but all have been of some benefit to me over the last few months – hopefully some of them will be of value to you too!
Firstly, I would encourage expressing yourself. Be it in writing, colouring and art, music etc., it doesn’t matter, just find a way to express how you feel in a tangible way. I love painting but I have not had the inspiration to do very much, so we made a mood-board instead. On this board I would write emotive words (sad, happy, frustrated, down) in different colours – black would mean that it’s just caused by the depression and my husband could not do too much to help except for quietly being there for me. Red would mean that I was angry or upset, and that there was a reason other than the depression for it (in other words, a situation that could be dealt with). Blue meant that I was struggling to deal with something on my own. It was the signal that I needed help. This exercise meant a lot to me as a person in that I was able to express how I feel, but it was also helpful for my husband to know what he could do to help me deal with the way I was feeling.
Secondly, the emotional benefits of exercise are too great to explain. Physical exercise helps you deal with stress more effectively, is a good way to help your body work out the hormones caused by anxiety and depression, and alleviates a lot of the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression (sleeplessness, aches and pains, etc) Sticking to a good exercise routine will be hard, sometimes you just won’t have the will to put in the effort, but believe me – it is well worth your while to do this. I took up a martial arts class to help improve my concentration (something that flies out the window with depression), give me discipline, and help me get rid of some of my frustration. Your exercise of choice might be running, or Pilates, or joining your local gym… it doesn’t matter – just do something!
According to many sources, sticking to a schedule can be very helpful. This schedule should help you maintain a healthy work/life balance, and should not be crammed to the max with ‘to-do items’. With depression, something that goes quickly is motivation. Sticking to a well-balanced schedule helps you feel more productive and fuels your feelings of achievement and worth. Make sure to schedule some down-time, some time to do something you enjoy, as well as some time for that exercise routine we just looked at!
Last but not least, learn to lean on others from time to time. Close friends and family can help you feel better about yourself when depression has you feeling down. They can encourage you to follow your treatment plan, help you stick to your schedule by doing certain tasks with you, help motivate you to eat a healthy diet, and generally take care good of yourself. You can also join a support group for the chance to talk to others who understand what you’re going through and can give you some insight on how they managed to cope through difficult times.
The above is not an exhaustive list of coping mechanisms, but are the items I found most helpful on my journey. I would love to hear what you have found to be helpful as well!