Your Insight to What Can Jump Start a Person Out of a Hopeless State
December 4, 2011 2:19 PM   Subscribe

I have sputtered down into a rather listless scary hopeless state. I have depression which I am being treated for. My question... What has gotten you up or moving ahead when in the darkest pit? I am taking things about 1 hr at a time right now and was doing conventional things as best I could like exercise and spiritual things, but it is like a watch that has stopped. I guess I want to know what has helped you, no matter how tangential it may seem. I appreciate your time and responses. (I suspect there may have been other links on MeFi over the years on this as this is the human condition and I apologize in advance if it seems like I have been to lazy to look. It has taken me 1 hr to even compose this question.)
posted by snap_dragon to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
I always questioned how healthy this "trick" might be, but it sustained me long enough that I don't have to use it any more.

When I was in that pit I'd use the self-loathing aspect and punish myself for being so indefinitely sucky with intense exercise, which eventually made me feel better about myself for all of the reasons exercise makes you feel better about yourself, at which point I'd be exercising hard on its own merits.
posted by cmoj at 2:28 PM on December 4, 2011

Here is a mental exercise that has helped me since college. I imagine that I am the dead version of me, rotting away for thousands of years in the future. Then, I picture myself being given a second chance to rise from my grave, transporting myself back in time and going from being a forgotten ancient corpse to a 36-year-old me in 2011, struggling but alive. It always feels great to be back.
posted by steinsaltz at 2:30 PM on December 4, 2011 [28 favorites]

Joining a support group. Just being with other people who understand depression helped me quite a bit. I've done this several times over the years and it always kick-started my recovery from that cycle of depression.
posted by devymetal at 2:31 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also performing acts of service helped me get myself out of my spirals of ruminations. Like, I walk dogs for an animal shelter. It gets me outside and helps the dogs and during the times when I do it, I'm not depressed at all.
posted by devymetal at 2:33 PM on December 4, 2011

Two things I've found really, really helpful:

A dog, even one you borrow from a neighbor, to take for exercise for a few hours a day. Having a dog, building a relationship with a dog, being -needed- by a dog, is great therapy, and the exercise helps too.

A project to work on that involves working with your hands; I gutted the inside of an old shuttle bus and turned it into a sort of camper-van, just sort of winging it, because I am incompetent with tools but it was fun. Another great project could be building a treehouse or a playhouse for kids, or just a shed or a picnic table or anything, really. The point is, it should be something that you are creating but without having to be perfect, but you are building it with your own hands and seeing something come out of nothing. Something you can do outside is better; fresh air, etc, but inside will work, but avoid fiddly 'projects' like knitting a sweater or laying tile, and avoid 'projects' that are 'art', like writing a book or painting a picture, because those are too easy for you to judge poorly.

posted by The otter lady at 2:34 PM on December 4, 2011

I was very depressed years ago. Oddly, it was accepting that it was okay to feel down that helped me out. It was changing my focus away from myself, away from trying to explain the pain, from trying to "cure it" that helped me heal. I forced myself to stop evaluating each day, stop evaluating each moment and allowed myself to just be, even if just being didn't feel great.
posted by Milau at 2:36 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you are truly needing time to pass while waiting for other strategies/treatments to kick in (as opposed to just hoping that things will get better on their own, because this won't help with that) try watching, from beginning to end, an engrossing television show that's available in its entirely online or on DVD and that has a multi-episode narrative arc. Mad Men, True Blood, Weeds, Twin Peaks, Big Love, The Wire are examples that spring to mind.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:51 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make my bed and tidy my room. It doesn't get me out of the pit but it gives me a sense of achievement and a clean space to be miserable in.

Think of the things that are going right in my life (I have food, accommodation, medical help) and I'm grateful for all of these.

Remember that I've crawled out of the pit before, and even when I haven't some days are better than others, there is no doubt that there are better days to come.

I'm very impressed that you're exercising. Well done, you!

There's a mindfulness exercise that I'm going to do right after breakfast (thanks for reminding me) that also helps sometimes.
posted by b33j at 3:05 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I am in the same position currently, so thank you for asking this question. Surprisingly, I am having a sort of good day. I haven't cried yet (for months, it's been routine for me to cry throughout the day) and I went running for the first time in...five months. What a strange Sunday for me. I think it's possible that the prescription my psychiatrist gave me a little over two weeks ago is starting to affect me, or perhaps it was a productive session with my therapist on Friday that made today possible. Whatever it is, I'm cautiously hopeful this evening.

What has helped me when I am desperately sad:

1) I try to not dwell on the Big Picture at all. When I feel hopeless and worthless, there is no use in me trying to think about the future or the past or, heck, even anything more substantial than "Am I hungry? When did I last shower? Wouldn't a walk be sort of nice right now?" Make your focus very small and simple. For me, that has meant a walk, even if I cry while I'm walking. But I try to notice at least one beautiful thing while I am out there. I give myself permission to just distract myself! I used to feel so guilty if I avoided my troubles. But you know what? It kind of helps to go watch an independent movie at the local theater downtown by myself. The movie takes my mind off my sadness and I look around at the other folks sitting by themselves and I don't know, I feel comforted somehow. I get a small popcorn for myself and I let myself enjoy it. One day, when I feel better, I will start to think about the Big Picture again. But not right now. Right now, I'm just focusing on small steps for as long as it takes.

2) I try to speak kindly to myself and do nice things for myself. I know it's probably not easy to pause the negative loop of thoughts playing in your mind right now. It's not easy for me and they can be so debilitating. My therapist is slowly helping me change that. But to whatever extent you can, try to be kind to yourself. I pat myself on the back for brushing my teeth, for setting my alarm, for asking a friend a question, for borrowing a book from the library and sitting down to read a few pages. I put on my favorite sweater, you get the idea. I don't try to punish myself or hurt myself anymore.

3) I limited my responsibilities (quit my internship, canceled an exhibit, quit a band, etc). I also took a sabbatical from social media for an indefinite amount of time (I deactivated my Facebook account and asked a friend to change the password for my Twitter account. I downloaded Self Control from Eyebeam and put every website that triggered sad feelings on a blacklist). A lot of pressure disappeared and it has given me some more free time, which I really needed.

4) I sought help. You said you are getting treated. I'm glad. Hold on to that. If there is anyone in your life that you can ask to be around you sometimes, I'd ask them. I feel so alone so often and I have an anxiety disorder so I get afraid to talk to people, but when I needed help badly this autumn, friends were there. My roommate and her boyfriend, an older friend of a friend who has experience with the same antidepressant as me, my neighbor, an ex-boyfriend...all of these people have shown up when I needed them. They helped me clean up my room or went on a hike with me or brought me some leftovers. I just had to ask them for help.

You're not alone. Be kind to yourself. I'll be rooting for you.
posted by pinetree at 3:05 PM on December 4, 2011 [14 favorites]

Thank you for the input so far. I want everyone to know (who also may benefit by chance by answers here as well) that I am not going to mark any as 'best answer' as they all are strategies that worked for someone. After a rough discussion with my wife about dark thoughts, I tried switchin gears and said "um, hey...why don't we go visit a french city next year?" (We don't make much $$) Thinking Paris or whatever she said "That sounds great!"...I said "Well, pack your bags, baby because we are going to Terre Haute!"

Anyway, maybe that makes somebody here laugh. I hope so! (Except for those in Terre Haute, that is.)
posted by snap_dragon at 3:08 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

2nding a pet. I tried to commit suicide two months ago and got a dog a month ago. She's been the best antidepressant I've ever had (and I've been on 20+ of them). If you can handle it monetarily and time wise a pet is a true wonder. The relationship I have built with her has saved my life.

If you can't do a pet I found meditation to work wonders. It can allow you to observe your thoughts and get some space from them. I still go down the "I'm stupid" highway but at least I can see it happening now and sometimes halt it before I hit max speed.

Good luck! It can get better (I've had depression for 20+ years) and I'm here as a living example.

Feel free to memail me if you need to talk.
posted by kanata at 3:49 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Singing. Even if not too well. In a group. Sometimes I have to drag myself out to our local (no audition required) chorus (not religious) group for weekly singing, and always feel lifted up afterwards.
Also, pets.
posted by mmf at 3:53 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I get like this, I watch bits of stand-up on youtube. At those times, I don't really have much an attention span, but I can handle 5 minute clips.

Walking around the block helps me too.
posted by shinyshiny at 4:00 PM on December 4, 2011

One thing that helped me a little bit (just a little though) was when other people who had been in my shoes told me that they really, truly believed I would feel better one day. And, speaking as someone who has been suicidally depressed multiple times, I do - really - believe that you will eventually climb out of this depressive episode and feel better. It might take a while. It will take a lot of hard work. It almost certainly feels like you will feel this way forever - but that's the depression talking, not reality. It is absolutely possible to go from feeling the way you do now to being really, truly better, and I do believe that you can and will do it.

(Note: It was extremely unhelpful when people who had never been depressed told me I would feel better soon.)
posted by insectosaurus at 4:05 PM on December 4, 2011

Also, and I realize this is not what you are asking at all but I do want to throw it out there, the right medications made SUCH a big difference for me. Getting on a SSRI alone definitely helped but getting on the right cocktail of a couple of medications (memail me for details) made an unbelievable difference in my mood. I do realize that meds don't make that kind of difference for everyone.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:10 PM on December 4, 2011

Your question is really well-written even through your depression; are you the type who pushes yourself really hard? I can be that way.

Perhaps I'm off base, but you seem to fear what would happen if your depression doesn't lift soon. Milau suggested riding it out. I think it's a good approach. Stay in bed, watch TV, read something. I think you'll eventually get sick of that and you'll want to get up and do something else without having to push yourself.

If you have to work and can show up, you're probably better off doing so. Holidays are coming up so you'll have some time to veg.

I have done just about everything already suggested at different times. Exercise is probably the best short-term fix. This time, though, you might want to try giving in for a short while. The outcome might not be as bad as you think.
posted by Currer Belfry at 4:31 PM on December 4, 2011

and I have this for others...I am starting to collect quotes:
"When going through hell...keep going!" - Winston Churchill
posted by snap_dragon at 5:10 PM on December 4, 2011

Getting and riding a bike after not having or riding one in years got me out of my usual back-to-school, fall-means-cold-weather-and-less-sun funk last year. It would be an exaggeration to say that the bike saved my life, but it definitely saved my season.

Try to think about things you thought "maybe" you'd like to try *before* you started feeling this bad. Your depression loop might say, "I don't like anything and have never been interested in anything and never will be." But, think past that. Even if you don't emotionally remember *feeling* like you could like this new thing you think of, you might remember being interested in it objectively at one time. (pottery? reading a series of books? learning a language? riding a bike? getting a fish? playing kickball?) Make a list of one small step you could do to reach toward that new thing. One *small* step--if it's biking, your first step could be looking on Craigslist for cheap used bikes, or looking up parks with bike trails near you. Don't overwhelm yourself, but give yourself a goal to work toward, and will hopefully give you something to look forward to.
posted by shortyJBot at 5:21 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, similarly to what pinetree said about being kind to yourself, I made a deal with myself that if I was going to be hard on myself for stupid little things, I would also reward and be kind to myself for stupid little things. I TOOK OUT THE TRASH. I AM AWESOME! Look at me taking a shower! I am kicking so much ass vacuuming right now! Weee!
posted by shortyJBot at 5:23 PM on December 4, 2011 [9 favorites]

I've tried everything-- from medication to meditation to exercise to diet to supplements to therapy and so on.

After all that (which I'm sure cumulatively helped), the thing that helped the most was to try a brainwashing experiment on myself. I woke up one morning and said, "I'm going to live for one week as if I am the luckiest person on earth. I will lead a charmed life, incapable of making a poor decision. Every single thing that happens to me will be for the best."

So. I sleep through the alarm. How lucky! I must have really needed that extra sleep. (As opposed to cursing myself for being lazy.)

I missed a deadline. How lucky that I was only reprimanded, not fired!

I was too tired to run. How smart of me to realize it, rather than blindly pushing myself too hard.

And if something bad did happen? I told myself it was for the best, I just couldn't yet see how. (My mantra that week was "as long as nobody gets maimed.")

And so on.

See, here's the thing. I realized what I thought was depression was caused by anxiety-- all those little "shoulds" building up in my head, ALL THE TIME. The absolutely continual negative internal monologue. And when I tricked my brain into shutting that off, it was... Peaceful. Quiet. Joyful.

It wasn't something I can keep up continually (yet-- I suspect it's like a muscle that needs strengthening), but these days, when I start to feel rotten, I walk into my kitchen and turn on the tap. And think "Look at that. The water came on. It's clean and I can drink it, and I don't have to hike three miles to get drinking water or worry that I didn't pay my bill so the water is going to be shut off. I? Am really fucking lucky. It's going to be a good day."
posted by instamatic at 5:56 PM on December 4, 2011 [14 favorites]

I have been there.

I promise IT WILL pass.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:27 PM on December 4, 2011

the thing that helped the most was to try a brainwashing experiment on myself.

brainwash yourself (read: therapy).
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:00 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

One thing that helps me get through a down time is to realize how utterly unimportant I am. That may seem like a depressing thought, but it can actually be very liberating. If I'm suffering, so what? It doesn't matter. I'm one of 7 billion people on the planet, every single one of whom will know suffering, so who the hell do I think I am to think that my puny little suffering matters? My personal distress is so insignificant, it's preposterous -- hilarious, really -- to get all worked up about it. When I feel lousy, this reassures me and helps me ride it out without taking it too seriously.

In saying this, I do NOT mean to belittle the pain or importance of anyone's depression. When you're inside of it, it seems vast and soul crushing. When I'm able to step aside and look at it from a little distance, it's still there but it seems smaller and easier to handle. I hope I'm expressing this clearly enough to be at least a little bit useful.
posted by Corvid at 8:41 PM on December 4, 2011

I have been moderately-severely depressed much of my adult life, sometimes to the point of thinking about suicide.

My version of depression involves rumination. If yours does too, if you are over-thinking and living inside of your head, then *action* is the antidote. It doesn't even matter what you do, just start doing things. Don't think about what you should do, just pick something and do it.

Sometimes when I have been deeply depressed and I forced myself to do that first thing, it helped me get a claw out of the pit, and allowed me to build on that and do more and more things. And sometimes that in turn lead to me feeling better about myself, my situation, and the world at large.

I have observed that a lot of people focus on their bad feelings when they are depressed, but I think that mostly tends to just prolong those feelings. Concentrating more on do than think or feel helps me get out of that space.

Now when I am not (as) depressed, listening to someone obsess and ruminate over and over and OVER AND OVER about the same problems, my (internal) reaction often is, "jeez, if you would just shut up about it and actually take steps to do something about it, this problem would have gone away eons ago". I wish I could shake people who do this and make them see that they are perpetuating their own problems. It reminds me of someone who is in a room that is rapidly filling up with water, to the level where they are almost submerged, and instead of opening the freaking door and allowing the water to run out, they just keep commenting on how wet it is in here.

When people who haven't been depressed say "snap out of it", they are being belittling and dismissive. But I have been wildly depressed, and I am sort of saying the same thing, I am saying stop allowing yourself to ruminate on your problems, force yourself to get out into the world and do things--fill your schedule up with so much stuff that you cannot continue to wear grooves into your brain about the same shit.
posted by parrot_person at 10:16 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to die a couple of years ago... depression ruined my life... but that was a huge decision, so I thought long and hard and made a pros and cons list... i finally came to the conclusion that I needed to give life one good shot again and frankly I had really let myself go.

I started focusing on my next birthday and made a project out of myself- I had gotten so fat on the medication that I was unrecognizable- so I started taking VERY long walks, I whitened my teeth, I got a hair cut and highlights, new make-up, went back to work (but in a job that was easy enough for me to do).... and over about 7 months I finally felt better and looked great on my birthday... and now 2 years on life is really cool.

the last psychiatrist I saw before i started working on myself said to me that when life really throws you that the chemicals in your brain can go haywire- like PTSD but not- and that the brain WILL re-calibrate, but you have to let it, and that means not ruminating as parrot said...not drinking, exercising, eating better, taking medication if you do, and occupying the mind with simple things- i read a lot of jackie collings that year!

Depression is starting to be thought of as a whole body experience, and that makes sense to me.
posted by misspony at 4:09 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

thank you everyone...and too any newcomers, feel free to continue posting. I have an arsenal to choose from.
posted by snap_dragon at 7:32 AM on December 5, 2011

2nding shortyjbot - if you have anything about which you've said 'hey maybe I want to do that' give it a try. Distract your brain.

I tried painting. I found an already-painted canvas in a garbage can down the street and got some cheap acrylics and brushes and I like to just go to town on it. I occasionally have a vague idea of what I want it to look like but if I'm not pleased I'll just paint over it. Or I could just toss the canvas for someone else to find. I don't care how bad it is because I don't have an end goal; I can just enjoy seeing how the colors mix together and dry on a surface.

Preparing a non-alcoholic beverage (I'm partial to seltzer and fruit juice) can give you a task and some time to sip while you ponder your next move.

Also, I hate to say this for the addictions it may cause, but Minecraft. It was my outside when I couldn't get my ass outside.
posted by ghostbikes at 8:55 AM on December 5, 2011

For me, the key is staying busy. The more I stay in bed or sit in front of the computer surfing aimlessly, the worse I feel. The instant I get up, I start to feel better. What I have to do is ignore the voice in my head saying that it all takes too much energy and I'm so tired, so I should just rest; it sounds like my voice, but it's actually the voice of the disease, so I can't listen to it. I always try to do a little more than I think I can and that makes me feel a bit better and propels me on to other things.

I also try to do little things to perk up my home, like turning on lots of lights, opening the drapes, lighting candles, playing some happy music, etc. As somebody said above, making the bed can really help. And, it's silly I know, but I always try to shower and get dressed before noon; staying in my PJs makes me feel like a loser.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:26 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Is my modem dying?   |   How to get my hiking backpack on a plane Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.