CW: frank discussion of depression, with mentions of body dysphoria, mostly upbeat.
I was answering this question in a private message, and decided to flesh it out here in case it helps someone.
What helped with my depression, behind the cut.
1. Learning how to step away from the things sucking me dry. This can be a lot of things, but the biggest thing was crippling guilt and self-doubt over things I screwed up with in the past and couldn’t fix. How did I do this? I looked at the memory closely. I studied it. I analyzed my actions. I asked myself these questions:
- Have I learned everything I can from this right now?
If the answer is yes, then I move to the next question. If not, I keep thinking about what I could learn from it.
- Am I going to make this exact mistake again?
We all make mistakes, and sometimes we make similar mistakes but with the things that leave us shaking with guilt and self doubt, the answer should be, “No, never again, I never want to hurt anyone (or myself) that way again.”
- Is there anything left that I am willing to do to make amends or fix things?
If there is, I try to do it. If not, it’s time to move on.
- Does it help me or anyone else to keep letting this command my attention?
It’s one thing if it’s a lesson I’m still working on, but if I’ve gotten to the point where a) I will never do it again and b) I’ve done everything I can to fix it, letting it eat at me isn’t doing anything but derailing me from the rest of my life.
If I get to the end of that list and the answers are right, then I do a mental exercise to separate myself from the intrusive thoughts/guilt/dwelling. First, I envision the thing as a gross cross between a lamprey, a tick, and that alien bug (iretis?) from Stargate Atlantis. Big ugly thing with suckers and proboscises and tentacles. And I pull them off. And stuff them in a box. And lock the box. And stuff it in a chest. And beat the tentacles back inside the chest, and then wrap that in chains and leave that in a room in my head with no doors and no windows and I only go in there when I have the mental energy, but mostly I don’t because the things I put there are NOT HELPING ME. I’m not going to pretend I can get rid of them. They’re mine. But I don’t have to let them make me bleed forever, not when I’ve done my work.
2. Supplements/diet People’s brain stuff is all individual, and what works for one person might not work for another, but I’ve found some supplements help more than antidepressants, with fewer side effects. For me, those include Sam-E, turmeric, and sunflower lecithin (a source of choline that isn’t as reactive for me as soy lecithin). It helps if you can look into what your symptoms are associated with (dopamine, seratonin, etc.) and tailor the supplements to that, paying attention to any interactions with medications you’re taking. I also need to avoid sugar and gluten (any gluten at all gives me a migraine, sugar in quantity will, too) and do better if I’m also avoiding artificial colors. YMMV. This is super individual. If you’re going to use supplements, pay close attention to brand reputation, reviews, and if they’re the ones supplying researchers. I’ve seen supplements that were flat out fraudulent that did nothing or worse than nothing. The good ones help if they’re targeted to what you need. (methylated B-vitamins, fish oil, vitamin D, magnesium are all on my list for a variety of reasons, and might be helpful.)
I am not on them right now, but have been on a variety of them in my life. Before I first took antidepressants, I’m not sure I knew what normal thought patterns even looked like. Once I figured out that I wasn’t doomed to spiral endlessly into the pit, it was easier to self-talk myself out of episodes. THAT SAID… some people NEED antidepressants for life. Some need them for short term or medium term use. They are a medicine that can help and should be used as long as they are helpful. For me, I tend to need them when the pressures of external stresses are things I can’t self-talk my way out of. Sometimes shit is just genuinely, objectively hard, and even people who normally don’t need antidepressants may need them to keep the brain from rewiring itself to sadness during and after times of high stress. Sometimes life throws bricks at us. Sometimes life throws them one at a time. Which sucks, but can often be managed. Sometimes the whole fucking bucket lands on our heads at once. That sucks too, but at least it’s over quickly? Sometimes life throws bucket after bucket, and that’s when I tend to need more external help.
Sometimes depression just HAPPENS and it isn’t about external stress. It doesn’t really matter. Do what you need to climb out of the pit. You deserve to be happy, or at the very least, content and not broken and bleeding at the bottom of a mine shaft. Antidepressants are a useful ladder, and they’re a good safety railing, if you find the right ones. They’re all a little different, and it may take some trail and error to find ones that work right for you. Talk to your doctor.
4. Finding things to find joy in.
At the worst of it, most recently, as I was coming to grips with my disability and failing health, my child’s disability and escalating behaviors, the pain of loved ones and a whole lot of ridiculous stressful legal SHIT from real life grownup nonsense, it all came down to this one video of my son, throwing a ball for a dog. I can’t figure out how to download the video from Facebook, but it goes like this… picture, if you will, a little 2 year old wearing overalls and a red tie dye shirt, running on a lush green lawn. He holds a tennis ball, and throws it for a dog as big as he is. The ball flops onto the grass about 3 feet away, and the giant goofy dog picks up the ball in his mouth, and carries it 3 feet back to my son and then drops it at his feet. My son, giggling, picks it up and yells, “FANKS DOG!” and then throws it again. Lather, rinse, repeat. The ball never travels more than a few feet, but both dog and boy are endlessly joyful over the game. I used this video, played in my mind more than anything, to break negative thought spirals. It was just so pure, and perfect, and joyful, and nevermind that the only reason he was playing with that dog was that I was off busy having my third embolism, it doesn’t matter, it was just… pure joy in a time of great stress. If I couldn’t fall asleep, I used that video in my head, until I was smiling and sleepy. Joy does not have to be large to exist and save you.
5. Playing to my strengths
So I’m really good at writing, and I’m really good at helping people find the true thing they need to know. And I put those things together and started writing fanfic about healing and about relationships improving and suddenly I noticed myself being happy more? This ties in with number 6.
6. Positive feedback
I started playing to my strengths, and writing positive things, and people started responding to that, and I started listening to them instead of dismissing them out of hand. Eventually I started believing them.
7. Helping people
This is always a balancing act, between helping people in productive ways that feel good and pouring endless energy into places that just keep sucking me dry. I look for places I can help short term, where people who I’m helping can use the help constructively to get to where they need to be. It’s okay to say no when you don’t have the energy to give, but when your energy is low and you can find a place you CAN really help? It’s everything, and increases your energy overall.
8. Letting myself laugh.
When things are hard, it’s easy to get into a mindset that feeling any happiness is a betrayal of the things that are really really wrong in the world. When in reality, finding things to be happy about is a really good way of sticking it to people who don’t want people like me to be happy (including a nasty part of my own brain.) Fuck you, Chad, this shit is hilarious… It’s okay to laugh. Google that silly chicken riding around on a roomba. Or the bullfrog playing ant crusher. That’s a start. Take some time each day to watch something you find really funny. Laughter is medicine.
9. And this is one of the most critical things… Figuring out that I don’t have to want what society thinks I should want.
Society has always thought I was a girl. When you have a lot of voices telling you you’re female, and you hit your mid forties, those voices are saying, “You should want to look younger. You should want to be thinner. You should want to have lots of sex. You should want to have a rewarding career. You should want to have children.”
It hit me like a bucket of butterflies, the moment I realized that I’d been young, and pretty, and had lots of sex, and that it was the worst time in my life. It sucked being those things. That moment that I realized I’d had a fulfilling career and it wasn’t everything. That I”d been a parent and it had been both the hardest and best thing ever, but that it wasn’t everything. I don’t want to be younger. I don’t need to be thinner. Sex is fucking exhausting and it’s fun sometimes but it’s not the reason for my existence. My kids are great and I’m SO SO glad that I’m done having babies and that I don’t have a uterus anymore. What do I want? I want to get my breasts removed. I want to write and write and write. I want to love my family and let my kids grow up and not be the only person they rely on. I’m okay with kids leaving home when they’re ready. I don’t even want to be female. I don’t want to be male. I don’t HAVE to want to be either. And that brings us to 10.
10. Giving myself permission to be me.
“Me” is fat and 44, with thinning hair that changes color on a whim, with a lively, active mind, with a helping soul, with a body I can’t count on. I’m someone who needs a lot of actual physical help around the house, I’m not someone who will ever be happy with cleaning (It hurts me more than is reasonable, due to Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) and it’s okay that I’m not good at some things. Sometimes it takes me a while to get things done. Sometimes I go through and do things gangbusters. Sometimes I’m really social and sometimes I just want to crawl under the covers and hide, and that’s all OKAY. I don’t have to look like society says I should want to look. I get to exist in the body I have. I’m autistic, and I was my whole life, and no one figured it out, and figuring it out makes it a lot easier to accept “why I’m like this”. Why I’m different.
But you know what? It’s my differences that are also, in part, my strengths. The same difference that means I feel every scrap of clothing and can’t stand overhead lighting lets me put together a thousand different variables into something new that solves a problem.
I don’t just get to exist in this world… this world fucking needs me. So I think I’ll stick around. And it’s okay if sometimes I’m sad and sometimes I have bad days and sometimes my high point is hitting the top of the league in Angry Birds Friends. Or.. not. Because days like that are offset by days when I write something that means something to someone. When I inspire something in someone else. When I comfort a crying child. When I make someone laugh. When I actually get done the grownup tasks I set myself.
I lived for 24 years in the grip of constant messages of inadequacy, loneliness and hostility both internal and external before I even had an idea that anything else was possible.
And it took me another 20 years to figure out that I get to take up space and I don’t have to be pretty or even female to do it. That I don’t even have to want those things.
Hopefully, this will give someone the ideas they need to find their way out, too.
You don’t have to be the best. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to “measure up”… the space you fit in the world is just your size, and it’s yours, and you don’t have to earn it. The world is better with you in it. You have so much to give, and you don’t even know yet what that is.