How to Survive Depression (And Keep Surviving It)

You did it. You got through a really tough time, perhaps the toughest to date.  You’re feeling unstoppable. Things are under control. You’re taking care of yourself, going to therapy and doing all the right things. However, at some point or another, things may not go as planned. Jobs may be lost, friendships may be strained or hearts may be broken. Whether you have struggled with a mental illness or not, it can be hard to not get caught up in a “things won’t always be this good” mentality. Unfortunately, if you struggle with a mental health disorder, then those thoughts can be even more intense.

My struggles with depression took shape during my college years. I was at a point when I knew I either had to get help or I would not survive. After countless therapy sessions and medications, I made it through. Since then, I’ve been through several job changes, stressful residency years, health scares, bad break ups and the highs and lows of everyday life. Although I am no expert by any means, my resilience continues to surprise me and I take solace knowing I’ve gotten through some considerable hardships thus far. The point of this article is to give some perspective and hope, as well as remind you all of what you have fought through and what you’re capable of.

For starters, look how far you have come. That may be cliché, but when you make it through depression, you become stronger than you realize. Take it in. Sit with it. Although it may not always feel that way, it’s important to celebrate your progress. You may have been in a similar position as me where you did not think you would make it. That you would never have had the success you have now. And yet, here you are.

However, you may still find yourself wondering: “What if I get back to that place? What if I get to the end of my rope again? What will be the situation or event that causes all my progress to be undone? Will it come out of nowhere? How do I even prepare for it?” There is no magic switch to turn your brain off from these worries or doubts, but I can tell you they will continue to waste your time and energy if you let them. Look back at what you’ve been through, but stay in the moment as much as possible and celebrate where you are today.

Next, focus on what keeps you going. Perhaps there was something that kept you hanging on when you were in the trenches of your depression. Whether it was your family, your children, your pets, your work, your passions or your goals, focus on those things. What makes you feel alive and feeds your soul. Too many times, those are the first things to go when life gets busy, stressful or overwhelming. Ironically, often at the time you need those reminders the most. It’s OK to lose sight of them sometimes, but keep them close to your heart for when the going gets tough.

Realize that bad days are still normal. There will still be days when you wake up sad, feel sluggish all day and do not feel like doing anything that takes much energy or effort. It may be exhausting to even think about work or your other responsibilities, perhaps for no particular reason. However, it’s important to distinguish between these days from your depression creeping back in. If you’re unsure or start having more days like these than not in a row, it may be time to check in with yourself. The more time that passes and you don’t reach out for help, the greater pain you may find yourself in.

Finally, take care of yourself. Throughout the years, I have gotten really good at “predicting” when I may need a little more self-care. For example, the day I started my second year of residency, I found a therapist, a psychiatrist and the best comfort food near my apartment. Even though I was feeling excited and ready to take on whatever challenges the year may present, I knew I could not be over prepared. As it turns out, it is much easier to prepare yourself for an emotional setback when you are in a good headspace than not. I’m not suggesting everyone needs to find a therapist or psychiatrist, but identify what will help you. What will be healing, soothing, comforting to you in case you are in a situation where you’re not in a good place. That’s what matters.

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Although I have had my share of difficult moments in my life, I would be naïve to believe it is all smooth sailing from here on out. It would be nice if we could have an allotted number of painful experiences to go through and then everything else in your life will be easy, wonderful and positive. However, I do believe great wisdom comes from great pain. I remember after a particularly difficult day several years ago, I climbed the stairs to the top of a parking garage and called a suicide hotline while looking out over the edge. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about that time every time I pull into a parking garage now. Although that remains an excruciating memory for me, it is a reminder of what I could have lost, what I fought for and what survived. That I survived.

Despite knowing times will certainly not always be easy, because I know I beat depression once, I have no doubt I will continue to beat it time and time again. When I think of that, a smile comes to my lips, a sense of relief rushes over me and I feel invincible.  It is with all my heart that I hope you feel that same power too.

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