For a long time I thought the depression was going to win and here's the thing: when you are depressed you always think the depression is going to win. But here's the other thing: it doesn't if you keep fighting.
When I was first diagnosed I wanted to know when I would get better, how long is the recovery period? Like when I broke my ankle, I knew I would be in a cast for 3 weeks, then physio for 6 weeks and then I would be almost good as new. For the most part, this was true, give or take a few weeks.
With depression, there is no defined recovery period. I have seen people bounce back after a 3 month dose of citrolapram and never look back. I've seen people who have fought all their lives against this insidious illness.
In the early days, my psychiatrist assured me I would get better. I asked him how long that would take. He said something vague like "a while". When I pressed him for something more concrete, he was unable to provide any time frames. At the time I thought he must not be very good at his job. But now I can see that there really isn't any way to predict recovery.
The effectiveness of medication changes over time. The effectiveness of therapy is wildly variable. What happens in life is outside a clinical study and therefore cannot be factored into a recovery timetable. In other words, you just have to ride it out and have faith that eventually you will get better.
But if you think that getting better means going back to the same person you were before you were ill, you are in for a big surprise. You never come out of depression the same person you were going in. Many of the behaviours and thoughts you had before were the very things making you ill. It's like drinking poison, recovering, and expecting to stay better but going back to drinking the poison.
Everyone comes out of depression fundamentally different than when they went in. Same as when cancer survivors come through but their lives are fundamentally changed thereafter.
Here are some of the things that have helped me recover to the point where I am today:
- Take the prescribed medication as and when your psychiatrist prescribed it. Don't mess with that. If you think you might be ready to make a change, discuss these with your psychiatrist and agree a plan. Follow that plan to the letter. Trust me. I once took myself off my meds because I thought they were making me worse. That was simply put, one of the worst decisions I have ever made in my life and probably set my recovery back a year, perhaps more.
- Get a tribe. You will need to be surrounded with people who get you and get your disease. You will need people who will allow you the freedom to discover a new you. You will need people who will love you unconditionally. You will need people who will come to you even when you tell them to go away. This tribe will consist of some old friends and some new friends. Family may not or may not be included. My children get it better than my husband does. Maybe that's because children generally get unconditional love better than adults. I have lost a few people I thought were my friends along the way but I have more than gained in the overall friendship sweepstakes. Ask that tribe for help when you can. Give back to that tribe. They are invaluable and deserve your investment.
- Find contentment in the present moment. Don't strive for happiness. It is fleeting and impossible to sustain. Instead be at peace with what is happening, good or bad, in the present, right here, right now. When the shit hits the fan, feel free to duck and cover but be at peace with the exercise. Know that this too will pass.
- Invest in yourself. Increase your self awareness. Change your habits if you don't like them or just accept them as part of your rich tapestry as a human being. Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Forgive yourself and those around you. Embrace yourself as a totally unique individual that has limitless potential. Sounds new agey and hippy groovy, but when you stop having expectations and judgements of yourself and others, you will start to feel contentment in the moment. Avoid drama. Not your monkeys, not your circus.
- Breathe. When all else fails, breathe. I know this sounds stupid and I've lost count of the number of times I've rolled my eyes when someone tells me this. But it works. When you think you can't face another moment, stop. Stop thinking. Stop moving. Just stop everything. And breathe. In slowly. Out slowly. And again. All day if you have to.
But the proof is in the results.
- I am writing again! This is the biggest achievement so far. I abandoned my first novel as it had me in knots. I started a whole new one that had been assembling itself in my brain for a few years and in just 10 days over 110,000 words came out of my head through my fingers and hit the keyboard. I hit save. I'm actively sending it out to potential agents every day and have some interest.
- My life modelling becomes a bigger and bigger part of my life. I model nearly every week at least once and most weeks more than 3 times. It helps me to be still, physically literally and mentally in practise. I use the time for positive affirmations, meditating, and breathing. It also helps me to accept the beauty (both inside and out) of who and what I am in that moment. I can't envision how I would have recovered without it.
- I don't listen to others thoughts on how or what I should or should not be doing unless they are part of my tribe. Even those in my tribe, know that whilst I may take their advice under consideration, I am free to choose what I feel is best for me. And they love me still.