It’s Movember, a charity drive raising money for men’s health. One of the key focus areas is mental health. I am raising awareness on this issue by growing a moustache and writing about some of my struggles with mental health.
Most of these words come from a letter written in 2017 responding to a friend dealing with depression.
Your story rings so true for me. My initial reaction to feelings of depression or dissatisfaction is to do something to change the situation, but you are right: whatever feelings I am having just follow me wherever I go. There is also a history of depression within my family.
Periods of depression have been a part of my life since at least my teenage years. They come and go, but fortunately over the years I’m slowly learning to manage them better. I have come to a place where I accept that I am susceptible to depression. I try to be vigilant for when those feelings arise.
There are several ways I have found to help deal with my episodes of depression. I think most important is approaching the feelings that go along with it with an attitude of love and acceptance, while also recognising that feelings are a temporary phenomenon that eventually will pass.
I know that probably sounds somewhat contradictory. What I mean is that it does me no good to beat myself up about feeling depressed. It is a natural part of the human experience, and rejecting those feelings doesn’t work. You know what it’s like when someone wants your attention. If you try to ignore them, they just get more insistent.
I like to picture depression as an upset child needing to be acknowledged and loved. At the same time, these feelings associated with depression are ephemeral, waves in the ocean of my emotions that rise and fall. If I give them too much power, then I become “depressed” versus experiencing feelings of depression. A meditation practice has helped immensely with this aspect of dealing with depression.
Some of the concrete ways I deal with depression include:
- Meditation: helps me realise that feelings come and go, and that there is an inner stillness and sense of peace below the surface of all those chaotic emotions. I sit quietly anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes first thing almost every morning. When I am regular with this habit, everything in my life seems to go better.
- Spending time in nature. This helps me feel connected to something bigger than myself.
- Helping others. This also helps me get outside my own head. I don’t do this one enough. When I get depressed, I tend to get too self-obsessed, which is precisely why I need to put more effort towards helping others when I’m feeling this way.
- Food choices. I’ve been eating a lot less refined sugar, and being really mindful about the effects of caffeine and alcohol on my body. Too much sugar or caffeine leads to a roller coaster of highs and lows. Alcohol is a powerful depressant and no matter how happy it might make me feel at the moment, a big low is sure to follow. I’ve also been eating 99% vegan for the past several years and though I don’t know if it directly affects depression, physically I feel healthier and more energetic than when I was eating a more standard diet.
- Write. Get those feelings out of my head and onto the page. Other creative activities could also serve this function.
- Practice gratitude. Here’s an article about keeping a gratitude journal. I will periodically make a list of the things I am grateful for.
- Remember, there is a strong mind/body connection. If one is not right, the other will suffer. Many of the above tips have to do with this.
- Don’t wallow in feelings of depression. Do Something. See above.
All this being said, I am not an expert and I do believe that seeing a counselor could be the right thing to do depending on your particular situation. I did for a little while in college after a big break-up, and it was extremely useful. Depression can be a serious issue that deserves the same level of care you would apply towards any other medical condition.
Okay, that was a lot of stuff. I also listened to a couple of podcasts yesterday by a meditation teacher I like about happiness if you are interested.
I hope some of this is helpful. Please let me know if I can be a resource in any way.