How to feel better when you're really, really depressed.
June 30, 2015 6:36 AM   Subscribe

How can I make myself feel better when regular self-soothing techniques don't appear to be helping?

Disclaimer: I am in therapy 2x a week and am on medication (Emsam, thyroid, and Lamictal.) I see my psychiatrist on semi-frequent basis. YANMD.

Lately I've been feeling pretty awful and none of the things I'm trying are working to make me feel better:

- Visualizing my bad feelings in an effort to depersonalize them
- Telling myself the feeling will pass
- Playing music
- Watching reruns of funny TV
- Eating ice cream
- Lighting candles

I feel better temporarily while I'm doing the activity but about a couple minutes later the joy from that activity is gone. It's extremely frustrating.

Has anyone else been through this? Do I just need to see my therapist more frequently? Adjust medication (which is basically a shot in the dark)? I'm at a total loss for what other options I have. If this continues on like this I wonder if I need to check myself into inpatient treatment.
posted by joeyjoejoejr to Human Relations (31 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you are already doing a lot to take care of yourself, and I'm so sorry to hear that your efforts aren't helping enough!

It's probably cliched advice for a reason: have you tried exercise? You could experiment with cardio (like running outside) or body weight exercises. If nothing else, you're likely to start seeing some improvements pretty quickly in your ability. Maybe that will help lift your mood.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:43 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I listened to a TED talk on happiness and one the most effective ways to feel happier was to do things for other people. It had a long lasting effect, not just whole you were doing it.

My way to feel better is a long walk in nature.
posted by beccaj at 6:44 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

I was also going to suggest getting outside and moving, even if it's just a walk and not a run. Getting some sunlight and raising your heart rate tend to help me in these situations. And I am not generally an "active person"
posted by French Fry at 6:46 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I forgot to mention I have been swimming again lately after a long hiatus.

Sunshine is a good idea. I'll try to sit in the sun during my lunch breaks at work.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 6:57 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yes to sunshine. Also, buy a brown roll and feed the birds.
posted by greenish at 7:12 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Throw yourself into a selfless activity, like volunteering at an animal shelter or be a senior living companion. Likely those activities will occupy your feelings for several long hours, with a residual feeling that you're doing good in the world for other people, not just yourself.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 7:27 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

When was the last time you had a really, really good cry?
posted by blue t-shirt at 7:36 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've had treatment-resistant depression my whole life and even though I know it sounds trite, as I half-heartedly limp through the worst parts of it, the most reliable source of help I've ever found is spending as much time as I can in the company of dogs, preferably while basking in the summer sun.

Dogs are like mini-Buddhas, only ever living utterly in the moment, and the only thing that can jolt me out of feeling like my depression is never going to end is gazing into a puppy's eyes, petting their soft little ears, and just straight-up adoring them and their quiet, peaceful philosophy with every ounce of feeling I have. Pouring all the love in your heart into a dog-vessel is deeply comforting -- there's no chance of feeling like you're fucking it up or doing it wrong (I always feel this way when I'm around other people, no matter the circumstance) because puppies just want belly rubs and a warm spot in a sunbeam.

I'm very sorry you're feeling like this, I know what it's like to spend months watching as every speck of light is drained from every bit of contentment you can muster, and I'm so glad you can recognize that you might need a bit more assistance from the professional end of the care spectrum if things don't improve. If it helps at all, this internet stranger is sending you lots of love, hope, strength, and solidarity. Thank you for reaching out to us, I hope you feel better soon.
posted by divined by radio at 7:40 AM on June 30, 2015 [30 favorites]

Nthing everyone's comments on volunteering and exercise. Getting your mind off yourself and onto others and the world works wonders, but it may take time. As someone who has experienced (I refuse the word suffer) depression for my entire adult life, I have found nothing works better than vigorous exercise. The more you stay focused on an activity, the less you spend ruminating.
In the meantime practice (and it is practice) noticing your thoughts but not becoming attached to them. Don't let your thoughts define you. They are just thoughts. As I have said before on here and it may sound like I am a shill, watch some of Noah Elkcrief's work on youtube.
Realize that nothing is permanent. Not your good feelings or bad feelings. And your feelings aren't you.
In peace.
posted by jtexman1 at 7:41 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

You haven't mentioned chatting with friends. Do you have friends and family you can hang out with? Not to use them as a therapist or burden them with your problems, but simply to soak in the mutually enjoyable experience of connecting with someone and having a shared experience like going for a jog together or attending a concert sitting side by side.

When I've been depressed, self-esteem problems were at the root of it. I felt better by doing either of the following:
-Accomplishing something (a workout, playing a piano piece, doing a good job at work)
-Being liked (i.e. hanging out with a friend and having them obviously enjoy my companionship)

Also, nthing *doing for others*.... Even if you hang out with a friend who NEEDS YOUR ADVICE, and you don't say a word about your own problems, I guarantee you'll end up feeling better afterward!
posted by Guinevere at 7:59 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Eating ice cream? How about making ice cream? The hard way, with rock salt and a hand-crank.

Meaning, try learning a craft, like cooking, that requires attention and learning new things, and focuses you in a direction.

Bonus: Give your food to others.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:08 AM on June 30, 2015

Have you tried journaling? That helped me a lot.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:23 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you like nature documentaries? I always find watching something like Planet Earth (streaming on netflix now) helps me feel better. I'm also a fan of doing something that makes me sweat, and would echo the comments on dogs.
posted by neematoad at 8:33 AM on June 30, 2015

Best answer: Every day, name three positive things which happened or have some direct relation to you. "I slept well." "I got out in the sunshine." "I helped an old lady cross the street."

Journaling can be very helpful as long as it doesn't only become an account of how and why you feel so bad. Make sure to include some positivity, as above.

I would definitely suggest a chat with your psych about whether meds are correct.

Hope you feel better soon.
posted by Riverine at 8:35 AM on June 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

You might try writing a gratitude journal -- just list five things you're grateful for each day -- and see if it helps. (Some people find that it makes them feel better, others that it makes them feel worse, so it's good to listen to yourself on that.)
posted by jaguar at 8:39 AM on June 30, 2015

Google "TIP skills DBT." They can help in crisis, and sudden intense exercise (modulated by your physical health) can absolutely lift your mood.

This document on self care may also help. It provides a really smart list on helping yourself.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:46 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

One of the things that can happen to me when I'm depressed is I push away all the bad feelings as hard as I can, but they just flood back in when I'm not spending all my energy doing that. I found this exercise helpful in coming to a more balanced relationship to those feelings:
posted by spindrifter at 9:27 AM on June 30, 2015

When I feel bad, I try to tell myself, this is just a feeling and feelings go away. Maybe come up with a list of 5-10 activities so you can kind of roll through them when you need to (watch funny TV show, 30 minute walk outside, read a book, etc.). Staying busy (but not too busy) can help me keep my depression at bay so if I get home from work at 6:30, I can make and eat dinner, get work clothes out and pack my bag for the next day, watch Call the Midwife, read a book for 30 minutes, look it's time for bed, I won today, depression!

I think making something is also productive - then when my depression tells me that I'm a useless loser, I can respond, screw off, I made a scarf today and went for a walk. That can be your thing for others if you like too. When I was knitting a blanket for my future niece, that kept me working at it. Also, how are you sleeping? I saw someone put on Facebook recently, if you are too tired to do anything but surf the internet or watch TV, you should go to bed.

Are there places you can go that make you happy? My depression makes me not want to do anything like leave the house so forcing myself to get out prevents me from spiraling too much. Bookstore, park, library, cafe, grocery store, etc.

Also, I know I'm not the target demographic but watching It Gets Better videos cheers me up usually.
posted by kat518 at 10:46 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

What works best for me is pursuing a dream. Pick something you can work towards that means a lot to you. It can be silly to other people -- it doesn't matter. Plan and save for a trip somewhere you've always wanted to go. Learn a new skill. Network with people who are living your dream. I find that I'm most depressed when I think that I'm never going to achieve my dreams. Taking steps (even small ones) to get there really helps me more than any amount of feel-good activities.
posted by 3491again at 11:15 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Two suggestions, you may want to look into transcranial magnetic stimulation, the second is a short term solution with a long term price but consider a tattoo. The release of endorphins can jump-start a change of mood.
posted by InkaLomax at 12:02 PM on June 30, 2015

Fixing things.
It's tricky, because I have to figure out what 'needs fixing' without getting down on myself, but if there are little things stressing me out, actually resolving some of them really takes the mental weight off.
I am often unaware of things that need resolving/fixing, because they are stressing me out, so I'm not thinking of them. So, I kind of pretend I am someone else, trying to help 'Elysum', and I think about what a good thing to do would be. No beating up on yourself, because I wouldn't be mean to someone else, and I'm not going to be mean to myself.

Brainstorm, and try and pick something that you can complete. It might be, dishes are done. Or applying for that ID card that has been stressing you out. Or talking to a Dr about a health problem. As scary as writing things out can seem, I find it's less scary looking at what I need to do, in front of me, down on paper, than it is having them lurking round the back of my head.

Without any other ideas, a good thing to start on is making your bed. Tidying your sock drawer. Tiny, achievable, tasks, that establish control over your surroundings, and make your home nicer.
Then making the space around your bed look beautiful. Have a happy-secure feeling home/burrow.
posted by Elysum at 5:24 PM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend Couch to 5K (which I started a few weeks ago) but I also know when I was at my lowest, any thought of physical activity was a huge "nope." (I would do some yoga but that was a struggle.)

I recommend easily accomplished things. Do you like jigsaw puzzles (I don't, but you might)? Lego sets (although they're pricey). Anything with a set solution/instructions seems to work. But beyond that -- find one easy thing that needs doing and do that.

I will also agree with nature documentaries (although some can be a bit sad/dark).

(I would actually recommend against finding projects to throw yourself into. It could just be me but I've had so many "depression projects" that I thought would save me that I ended up abandoning because I just did not have the energy.)

Do you like baths? Showers? Clean your bathroom and take the most luxurious, indulgent bath or shower possible. If it's a bath, I recommend a favorite drink and a favorite magazine. If it's shower, soothing lighting and music and a good body product. Bring a chair into the shower if you have one that will work. I always find water really comforting.

I do find that list that was linked to above to have some valuable tips. Comfy clothes can help (there's a reason why I only buy pajamas now) but if you decide "I want to wear this pair of sunglasses around right now" do that.

One thing I've done this year is a decision to do one new thing per day. I sometimes cheat (a bit) but it's great to be able to say "I made a new friend" or "I watched this documentary I hadn't seen" or "I tried a new flavor of soda" or whatever. It makes me realize how much life I'm living and keeps me challenged in an easy way.
posted by darksong at 7:02 PM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of the things I found most helpful in deep depression was having my mind blown by being in a totally weird/different environment. A friend took me to a butterfly conservatory, for instance, which was just not what I was expecting and butterflies were landing all over me. Maybe find some really out of the ordinary, random thing you've never done and sign up for it and make yourself do it. A museum, a boat trip, a steam room, a botanical garden, a treehouse...I don't know, whatever strange new environment you can get access to. Getting bumped out of the usual routine and challenging your senses to endure some surprise can be great.
posted by Miko at 8:25 PM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Getting outside is huge. Even just a walk around the block if that's all you can manage. Look at the cracks in the sidewalk, and see what's growing up through them. Look at what's in bloom, and pick out your favorite plant. Look at the sky: is it cloudy? totally blue? wispy clouds? Are there telephone wires across the sky? Planes? Look at the cars going by, or the cars parked. Are they newly washed? What bumper stickers can you see? Pick out a car who's owner could be your imaginary friend based on their bumper sticker collection. What can you smell? What can you hear? If you're in a crowded place, what conversation snippets can you overhear? Who are all these people and what are they doing today? Get outside yourself for as long as you can.

Secondly, don't discount your victories. Hey, did you shower? Victory. Not YEAH, BUT you didn't do anything else, you hadn't showered the day before, showering isn't that much of an accomplishment. Absolutely give yourself credit for things you do, or good feelings you have. Never put an asterisk next to your victories where they are shredded to nothing in the fine print. Work at being genuinely proud of yourself for something every day. Say kind things to yourself, even if it feels awkward and embarrassing at first. When you're getting frustrated that the "joy is gone" from the activity you were just doing, don't wipe away the joy you had doing it. Say, hey, that specific fun is over right now, but man, that was great, I'm so glad I did that.

Small things are good things, especially when doing "normal" things like going to the grocery store, or re-organizing your bookshelves might as well be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Do what you can. And celebrate yourself for it. And get outside and outside yourself.
posted by missmary6 at 9:57 PM on June 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

I suggest planning your days so as to limit any chance to ruminate. I find a dog/cat I can pet. I indulge and eat my favorite food. I talk to people I like via text, phone call, gchat, or over drinks. I go to a Catholic church, light a candle, and sit in peaceful silence. I watch 'Annie Hall' or 'My Bestfriend's Wedding' in bed. I visit a park and people-watch while sipping a latte.

Take care.
posted by tackypink at 10:35 PM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Absolutely give yourself credit for things you do, or good feelings you have.

Yes! When I'm at my worst, I give myself the assignment of having to do two positive things a day, and one of those things is taking my medication. The other thing could be going to the gym, or going to an MD appointment, or making one homemade meal (and throwing together things from cans and jars and the fridge counts), or interacting with a friend, or showering, or reading something online about how to deal with depression (and double points if I spent five minute railing about why it was crap!), or doing laundry, or any other thing, no matter how small, that moved me in the direction of "Doing productive things."

I was talking with someone today about an "I did this!" journal. I haven't done it myself, but I love the idea -- write down two to five things every day that you've done that make you feel better. Even if those things didn't work. Just document how you're trying. It may help you refine what does make you feel better, and it may help you focus on the positive stuff you are doing. (As I said before, if anything you try makes you feel worse, then stop doing that.)
posted by jaguar at 10:46 PM on June 30, 2015

Response by poster: Hi folks,

Thank you for all of the helpful responses. Especially the words of encouragement. It means a lot.

I ended up playing fetch with my roommate's dog, then refilled his food and water bowl with cold water to help him cool down. So this involved a dog and taking care of someone (dog is close enough to human IMO) so I count that as a two-in-one feel good activity.

Also, I bought an automatic ice cream maker. That had actually been something I wanted for a while but keep talking myself out of because I didn't think it'd be worth the cost. I think it was a good purchase, if only for the fact that I can plan and look forwarding to eating home made ice cream in the future.

Going to therapy yesterday was probably the most helpful thing I did.

This morning is still a struggle. I called out sick to work when I started crying in the shower. I have an appointment with my psychiatrist this afternoon and I'm trying to stay optimistic that they can help me find a resolution.

I truly hope other people struggling find something helpful from this thread. Even if things are sucking really hard, stay strong.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 5:30 AM on July 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

I have been following this, was hoping you'd get some helpful replies, and was so glad to see your update!

I won't pretend to know how you feel, but I have been through some damn dark times in my own life.

I'm gonna give you some advice that would not have worked on me. (ha) I'd like to build on what people have said above about getting out in the world and finding a way to get your focus off yourself and (optimally) help someone else.

I have found a HUGELY helpful "building block of mental health" to be volunteering with the disabled. If someone had suggested this to me when I was at my worst, I never would have done it, because how do you even find a place to volunteer, what if it's hard, what if I hate it, etc. And there ARE many challenges to finding the right program where a volunteer is a good match with the environment, work, and people. When I was at my worst, there's no way I could have been up for that challenge.

That's why I am really suggesting that when you feel a bit stronger, consider finding a place to volunteer that could give you a dose of perspective. For me, it has been a powerful kick in the pants to be reminded over and over that the things I thought I hated about my body are trivialities, and I won the genetic lottery by being born with a healthy heart and legs that work right.

More importantly, it has also exposed me to the variety of human responses that are possible in the face of intense pain and trauma (mental, physical, emotional). I am surrounded by good role models who teach me how to be strong in so many ways.

I wish I'd had these things and people in my life in my most miserable years, but there's no way I could have sought out something like this, then. So I'm grateful for it now, as a way of further aligning my life toward how I'd like it to be, and keeping me resilient against future disasters and sadness.

When you feel up to it, you could find somewhere to donate your time that would make you feel important and appreciated, might deliver some perspective, and could give you a new social group. In the meantime, this could be something to look forward to.

And every time you do a small helpful or friendly act for someone (like giving that dog a drink), you can remind yourself, "I am THIS sort of person too." You are not JUST sad/anxious/miserable. It sounds like it feels overwhelming right now, but you can decide not to be defined by it. What if you thought of yourself as "kinda miserable these days, but once in a while happy or at least distracted." So then you focus on whatever gives you a moment of relief from the shitty feelings, and you try and get more of those moments in your day. This is how you creep back toward feeling like yourself again. I promise it is possible, and I don't even think you are that far away from it.

I know this is long, sorry, but I had to say something, if only to remind you that change is (of course!) possible, you are not a lost cause, there are many ways for you to get back to a life where you can feel joy again, and I believe you can do it.

I believe this because I try to believe it about everybody. And because you took care of that dog. And because of your last two sentences in your update. Even when you feel like shit, you are able to think of others, and that is a powerful thing you can leverage to get yourself out of this hole.

You are not alone. You are a part of the world. Me too! If you ever feel like talking to a person, drop me a line. It's ok if you don't. I am on your side.
posted by jessicapierce at 7:31 AM on July 1, 2015

You were crying in the shower?

That means you made it to the shower! Victory! It's all about the incremental successes. (Not being Pollyanna here, I have major depression too)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:29 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have depression that sadly has not been so well controlled as of late. More frequent "cry days" (as I call them), and a lot of struggling to find good in things. It sucks. I don't know why my meds aren't working as well as they had been, but I guess this is just the nature of the disease.

Things that have helped me:
- Knitting. There is a lot of evidence to support this. Google it. Knitting is my #1 self soothe.
- making my hair super pretty. I gave myself a fresh dye (long overdue!), and I've been putting in the time to properly dry and straighten my hair the way I like it. It is all swoopy and lovely and it helps me to feel pretty.
- gardening. Growing things, seeing my effort have direct results (no matter how crappy) is a good thing.
- YouTube lets-play videos. My absolutely favourite is Stampy. His lets-play videos give me the happy. He's just a happy guy having fun, and even when things aren't going well for him he always stays positive and has fun. No cursing, no violence, no rudeness or sarcasm or negativity. It is just HAPPY. I don't know, I just totally love his videos and I don't give a single fuck that his target audience is 8 year olds. I had a really difficult stretch a couple of weeks ago and I had to stay home from work because I couldn't stop crying. My husband told me to spend the whole day watching Stampy videos and knitting because he knows those are the things that work for me when I am that beside myself, and you know, it was awesome and it helped. I owe that guy a lot. I frankly wish I could tell him and thank him. (Watch his "Quest" series, starting here. Man, when they finally kill the Ender Dragon they are both so unabashedly pants-peeingly excited, it is just spectacular. It is so sincere and real and watching it I can't help but be happy watching it. )
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:28 AM on July 7, 2015

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