There is probably something terribly ironic about writing about depression while depressed. Maybe not, maybe it just makes sense because it’s just what I’m thinking about right now.
While to trying to find some answers for myself, I read a blog with 21 Tips to Keep Your Shit Together When You’re Depressed. I’ve got a few things to add that I think are probably useful for other introverts. (Not that we’re super special, just that different people need different techniques, and I think for an introvert, having her internal world shrouded in darkness is especially difficult to overcome.) These ideas/thoughts/tips are what get me through the day when I am at my worst.
Prevention. The best way to cope with depression is to never let it get overwhelming. I’ve incorporated certain rituals/routines to act as warning signals so that I can catch the depression before it becomes so all-consuming that it takes tremendous effort to get out of it. This routine is not necessary for life, like eating. I would advise against that. My tactic is simple: I choose to wash and moisturize my face as part of my morning and nightly rituals. I know that I am pretty stable if I can make the choice to expend the energy to wash my face in the morning and before bed. If I skip this part of my routine too many times during the week, then I know it’s time to admit to myself that I am slipping into a downward spiral.
Thought processes. When I’m depressed, I recognize that my mind—normally my favorite place—is now tricking me. Watch how you think while depressed. Are you assuming that you know the feelings of other people when, in fact, you aren’t a mind reader? Are you assuming you know the outcome of some event when, in fact, you have never been a fortune teller?
These are just a couple examples of how your depressed mind distorts your thinking habits. I first read about them in Feeling Good by Dr. Burns (which is full of mind-altering information). A brief description of more of these distortions can be found here. The book has more information and more topics besides these distortions. I highly recommend it.
Remember that being depressed or having a tendency for depressive episodes does not make you weak or incapable of happiness. These thoughts will only trap you and make getting help and getting better harder. I believe that people living with depression are in fact very strong.
Be kind to yourself. Now is not the time to take up public speaking or something equally terrifying. Don’t overload your schedule. You can help yourself not be overwhelmed by making smart choices and admitting, “Hey, maybe I should wait to do [this terrifying thing that society makes me do] until I feel like myself again.”
Self-comfort. We all talk to ourselves (I hope at least), and it can be a source of pain if you talk to yourself with the same words you use when cussing someone who pulled out in front of you on the highway. Even though your mind is shrouded in darkness and everything seems awful, there is no need to be cruel to yourself. That’s not helpful.
Think about it: You are your longest and most intimate relationship. You are the only person who will always be there.
How would you comfort a dear, dear friend? That’s how you should talk to yourself. When I get overwhelmed and put my head on my desk, I think, “It’s okay, love. You’ll be okay. It’ll pass soon, love. Just hold on.” Or if I find myself in the kitchen in the morning and I can’t remember why, I think, “Concentrate, dear. What were you doing?”
Talk sweetly to yourself. You shouldn’t add to your own pain by berating yourself when you are at your most vulnerable.
Do something, celebrate after. When I am depressed and need to find ways to cope, I lose all energy. This is common of course, but it is, to me, the hardest symptom of depression. In college, a beloved professor who also suffered from depression told me to complete one task and celebrate after. The celebrations can be anything from watching an episode of your favorite TV show (that you know you probably shouldn’t be watching because you’re behind on laundry and life because you’re depressed, but it’ll feel so good to watch it, and since you did complete a task of life, you deserve it!). It could be eating a fun size Snickers bar or taking a cat nap with your kitty. Whatever will make you feel better, give you something to look forward to, reinforce good behavior and still get a few tasks accomplished. (This means that the cat nap needs to literally be a cat nap and not, in fact, a 3-hour sleep.)
Break the monotony. In that same frame of mind, scheduling something to look forward to or treating yourself to something new can help break the monotony of depression and bring a pinch of positive feelings (perhaps even an echo of excitement) back. A scheduled appointment could be anything from a checkup with your psychiatrist or therapist to a movie date with your bff. Giving yourself something to count down to will help get you through the day.
In addition, doing something fun or comforting might help. Buy new clothes. Cook something new. Get a pedicure. Buy a new video game. Anything that brings you pleasure and excitement (as long as it won’t defile your bank account and bring more emotional instability).
Recharge. There is also nothing wrong with an occasional lazy day. Introverts need to recharge, and depression takes a lot out of you. Give yourself a day to veg on TV shows that have been in your Netflix queue forever or to reread a book that has been on your mind. Sometimes these days will end up becoming good thinking days for me, and I’ll end up writing or journaling. I think it’s because I haven’t put pressure on myself to accomplish anything so I can just … be.
Be careful though. You don’t want to isolate yourself further or use the day making suicide plans. Turn the lights on. Don’t sit in a dark room; your mind is dark enough without the lights being off too. A lazy day is only helpful if you use it to recharge and not to burrow more deeply into the depression.
Talk. The best thing I’ve trained myself to do when I get depressed is to talk about it. Introverts tend to be so quiet, especially when depressed, and I find that acknowledging and calling out the depression gives it less power over me. The same way Harry Potter always referred to Voldemort by name. Find your person and tell them, “I’m depressed; I feel [this way]. Thanks for listening.” Your words will cut holes in the dark shroud your mind is wrapped in and invite someone who cares to help you shine light through the darkness.
If you can’t talk about it because that’s too hard or there are no words, then just be in a room with someone. Just sit with no agenda, with words or without. You can share the pain. All of humanity shares your pain.
Letting someone else into the picture, even if it is without words, brings you new perspective, a perspective that only another mind can give you.
Power accessory/article of clothing. The article I got this idea from already mentioned dressing nicely, but I’d like to add to that thought. Find your power accessory, that one article of clothing or accessory that makes you feel … powerful. For me, it’s lipstick. I feel like only strong, confident women can have carefully painted, glossed and shimmered lips. But your item could be anything: a pair of shoes, a watch, a piece of jewelry, a blazer. I imagine this would work for men as well, but I have no data to back that up. (My Star Trek: The Next Generation magnetic combadge is a close second and also more gender-neutral, though only applicable to nerds.)
Brand loyalty. One of the worst parts of my depression is my loss of energy and inability to make everyday decisions in a normal amount of time. Introverts tend to make decisions more slowly even not depressed, so adding depression can make life unmanageable. One way I’ve found to help with decision-making is to take away some of the decisions altogether. If you choose a certain brand and stick with it, then you don’t have to stand in front of a shelf of way too many items and get overwhelmed. Do your research first of course before you decide. The effort will probably save you time and energy later.
Listen to music. “Lullaby” by Nickelback has saved my life on more than one occasion. If I’m not listening to podcasts on my long commute to work in the morning, I’m listening to music, and this song has pushed back the frighteningly comforting image of hitting a tree or a power pole head-on a few times.
Some other songs that help me are “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera, “People Like Us” by Kelly Clarkson, “The Fighter” by Gym Class Heroes, “Till I Collapse” by Eminem, “Not Afraid” by Eminem, and “Firework” by Katy Perry.
Please remember: If you are reading this now, I’m reaching out to let you know that you are never alone.
Never give up hope. Remember that life follows a cycle. For a woman, it’s obvious: we are in a constant wheel of changing hormones that bring us up out of and down back into depression episodes. For those without a menstrual cycle, there’s still a cycle, at least in my experience. I think once you get so far down and don’t kill yourself, there’s only one direction to go: up. While this is a strange type of comfort, it still seems to help me in my worst moments. It will end at some point, and I have control over how I get there.
These ideas are techniques I have gathered from books, professors, and my own experiences. I’ve known I’ve had problems with depression for a decade now, and I’ve probably struggled with some level of it most of my life. These ideas are not fixes, but perhaps they will help take the edge off in those moments when life seems like a heavy, choking blanket of hopelessness trimmed with sadness and loneliness.
The biggest take home lesson to remember is depression lies.
Last updated March 30, 2014