Nov. 20, 2018- In 1980, I left my full-time teaching career, and a multitude of friends, in Corvallis, Oregon, and moved alone to Durango, Colorado. I had ample savings to provide a comfortable living, but no job to occupy my time and give my days structure. My one good friend moved to Denver. I began feeling sad and apathetic every day: the beginning of my depression.
Over the decades since, my depression has persisted despite my improved personal circumstances: a new career and a loving wife. Over the years, I’ve acquired various simple techniques that help me manage my depression. Fortunately, by implementing these ten strategies, I’ve been able to keep dark thoughts and impulses at bay.
- Soon after the onset of my depression, I got help from professionals, since I figured I wouldn’t recover on my own. I made an appointment with my physician and he prescribed an antidepressant. Later, I sought assistance from a licensed mental health therapist and a psychiatrist. Over the years, I’ve chosen professionals I felt comfortable with: ones who listened and considered my concerns and opinions. We make a team. I’ve changed doctors and therapists from time to time, recognizing each possessed particular areas of expertise and personal experience to draw from, bringing a unique perspective to treating my symptoms. If one didn’t seem the best fit, I tried another.
- I’ve gotten personal support. I’ve confided in those I trusted: my spouse or partner at the time, my daughter, my nephew, and close friends, as well as my healthcare providers. They empathized with, affirmed and encouraged me. I also joined a support group. I share with friends and acquaintances if I sense they are comfortable talking about mental health.
- I distance myself from negative people and situations as much as possible. Negativity breeds more negativity, making it hard to stop the cycle, so I surround myself with positive people who make me happy.
- I’ve remained patient about finding the right medication. Although some antidepressants can yield results within a few days, I understood that many take weeks to make a difference. I followed my physicians’ directions, not exceeding or using less than the prescription. I looked for gradual improvement rather than significant change right away. I didn’t despair when my body struggled with a medication’s side effects; often my doctors were able to select another suitable one I could better tolerate, or one that had fewer or more manageable side effects. I’ve also kept a log of my experience with each drug, to share with my healthcare providers and track for future reference. I finally found an antidepressant that completely addresses my condition.
- I journal I explore thoughts and feelings in a private place, sometimes on paper but usually electronically. Just the act of writing them down and reviewing or revising my essays brings me validation, relief, and hope. I let out anger and frustrations instead of bottling them up, then reread past entries to remind myself I have weathered previous hard times. In 1999, I excerpted parts of my journals and published a book, Surviving Our Parents’ Mistakes, that allowed me to forgive my mother for abusing me when I was a child, and to heal wounds that remained.
- When feeling down, I stick to my daily routines. Each morning, I get up at 5:30, exercise my back, shower, and eat breakfast. In the afternoon, I eat lunch at my favorite cafe and meditate. During dinner, my wife and I watch a game on ESPN. These habits provide structure and stability, furnishing mileposts to carry me through until bedtime.
- When feeling depressed, I stay busy, filling the hours between routine activities. I joined a writing group and often start or edit a new story or poem. I keep idle time, when I know negative thoughts might arise, to a minimum.
- I seek sunlight. I walk outside or sit indoors beside a window. Even on overcast days, some of the sun’s rays will penetrate the clouds.
- I exercise and maintain a healthy diet. I walk almost an hour every day, and jog three miles three times a week at my fitness club. Aerobic exercise burns calories and releases endorphins, which can reduce stress and lift my mood. I started jogging by setting a small goal, five laps around the track, and gradually worked my way up to 24. Once I created a routine, sticking to it became easy. I keep my weight moderate, and eat three meals a day to ward off illness and sustain energy.
- I keep my inner dialogue positive. I talk to myself every day, either silently in public or aloud in a secluded place, to elevate my spirits. When depressed, I remind myself this condition is temporary and that I will overcome it. I stay compassionate, give myself credit for handling difficult situations well, and forgive myself for blunders and angry remarks.
Over the years, I’ve found that when I struggle, these strategies keep my candle burning. They make me resilient and usually allow me to pursue my normal activities and maintain an overall quality of life that brings satisfaction and joy. I encourage you to try these strategies out, and be open to discovering new ones for yourself!
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