How have you learned to live with depression?
August 24, 2017 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I have been in therapy for nearly ten years. It has helped tremendously. I have been focused on fighting depression, beating depression, curing depression - you name it. But I'm starting to wonder if it would be more helpful to gently accept it into my life and learn how to live this way. I'm tired of fighting.

My therapist has equipped me with tools for self-care, journalling, and a number of other wonderful things. I am very grateful for her expertise and support. I continue to experiment with medications with the help of my primary care physician. But I'm overwhelmed by the expectations of function and productivity in everyday office life.

I'm privileged to work with a dietician, do yoga, get regular massages, fresh air, sunlight, and all that good stuff. I've read Feeling Good, and acknowledge that depression makes me an empathetic and compassionate person. A friend shared this video by Mooji called Go and Enjoy Your Life - Depression Breakthrough. Yet here I am, feeling daunted by a lifetime of this.

How have you learned to live with depression?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
My wife has gotten a lot of traction in figuring out what her depression is trying to *do*. In her case, one of her biggest depression triggers is overwork, and growing up with a workaholic mother who thought "pushing through" depression was the only solution ingrained this habit pretty deep. Learning to stop and take a day off when she gets tired has been (surprisingly, for this slacker) very hard for her, but has helped tremendously with reducing the frequency and duration of her depressive episodes. (To be clear, the meds helped a bunch too - the SSRI seems to have made the *severity* significantly less, which was absolutely a worthwhile benefit even though med roulette sucked.)

This may not be your specific problem, but I know that this mindset - that depression can be a legit response to a situation that is unfortunately maladaptive now that she's an adult - has helped her a ton in feeling better about being a Person With Depression.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:58 AM on August 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Following on restless nomad's comment -- I recently started thinking of my depression as a stress response, a kind of weird, messed-up coping mechanism. The worst part of my depression is the desire to withdraw and shutdown and that seems to be most intense when things are super stressful and overwhelming. This has been a tremendous benefit to me -- it helps me recognize and be aware of my situation and approach both the depression and myself with more awareness. It gives some perspective from within the experience.

Trying to follow the rabbit hole of "okay but why am I feeling this way REALLY" isn't something I recommend, and I don't think this is the end-all be-all of what I experience, but it seems to be a major factor. So - as an answer - I would say try and identify what, if anything, seems to trigger the major episodes.
posted by curious nu at 10:09 AM on August 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

I suffer from depression pretty significantly. It has been a long battle but I've come to accept that it is just always going to be part of my life, so like you I sought out ways to live with it, rather than "cure" it.

1. I keep a close eye on my meds, both in terms of making sure I take them, but also making sure they are doing what they should. I recently had to switch meds because my "tried and true" med stopped working. It took three tries but we have finally hit upon a new med that works.

2. I have carved out a safe space for myself. I am married and have a step son, and both my husband and son are wonderful people and I love them both tremendously, but sometimes I just need to be alone. I realized I needed a space in the house that was MINE, and so now in our house I have my Sanctuary. It is my home office for when I work from home, but I decorated it with everything that makes me happy (grey walls, fuscia curtains, unicorn and ponies and girly stuff, etc). I also have a pillow filled, douvet covered day bed. It basically amounts to a grown up pillow fort where I nap and hide. This is MY room and it is a very private important space. I spend some time there most days as a sort of daily dose of self care and hedonism, and honestly it has been deeply valuable.

3. I have become open about my depression mostly because I think depression thrives in the shadows and the effort that goes into pretending I'm okay when I'm not just make things worse. I recently wasn't able to go on a family trip due to my being in the throes of a bad depressive episode, and rather than making up some lie for why I couldn't go I was honest. It went over remarkably well, and actually resulted in some sympathy and kinship with an inlaw with whom I sometimes butt heads but who actually deals with mental health issue themselves.

4. I don't hesitate communicating my emotional state to my husband. Right out the gate when we first started dating I was upfront about my depression with my husband. When I'm having a bad day I make a point of telling him that I'm having a bad day or a "cry day". It isn't about making it his problem to solve, but rather just a heads up so that he can try not to make things worse (ie. not bring up some new drama with his ex-wife until I'm better). It also allows me the ability to not have to fake okayness.

5. I have worked with my psychologist to try to identify what some of my trigger points are so that I can avoid them when possible, or at least prepare for them when they can't be avoided.

6. I did some work on getting over the "its not fair that I have to struggle with this" thoughts. Sure, I still struggle with that, I still feel very angry over my disease. I am just coming out of a 3-4 month long major depressive episode, and now that I'm coming out the other side I have a lot of anger and frustration over having those months basically stolen from me. But the fact is that it is a disease. As I said to my son, "my brain doesn't make enough happy", and that's the truth. It isn't my fault, nor is it a failing or weakness. It just is what it is. Whatever.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:14 AM on August 24, 2017 [25 favorites]

How have you learned to live with depression?

By cultivating an instinctively furious reaction against the modern idea that happiness is the only acceptable emotional state (Stimpy's Invention is probably the most cogent argument I've ever seen anybody else put for this point of view).

I experience occasionally quite lengthy periods of utterly appalling darkness where nothing appears to be worth doing and the only consequence of waking up is an overwhelming though usually frustrated desire to be able to go back to sleep. I have learned that the single most effective strategy available to me for addressing this condition is simply waiting it out. I am allowed to feel whatever the fuck I do feel, and anybody who says different can just fuck off.

That said, largely due to the patient strength and guidance of the astonishingly wonderful woman who married me, I've also become much more skilled at remaining mostly non-toxic to others during such periods - and deliberate, conscious efforts made to exercise that skill weaken the grip of the Black Dog's jaws quite noticeably.
posted by flabdablet at 10:24 AM on August 24, 2017 [23 favorites]

Never had proper treatment for my depression. A few of my more important coping mechanisms include:

* Learning to recognize an episode of depression for what it is.

Probably the most pernicious thing that happens to people with depression is that while you're low, it seems like you've always been low and will never be another way. Someone I'm very close to suffers from bipolar II, and while she's having a low cycle, her favorite cognitive distortion is that things are always bad.

Coming to accept that dips are temporary and should be treated as such has done wonders for me: I don't quit stuff or make precipitous decisions when I'm down, I just focus on self-care more.

* Pressing myself to continue to be social while down, instead of isolating.

It's tempting to crawl under a rock when I feel bad, but I've cultivated places where I can still talk to people if I feel crappy either without letting on, (virtual spaces for that), or where my friends also feel comfortable hanging out if they feel bad.

Also, I wanted to second this:
I am allowed to feel whatever the fuck I do feel

Likewise. The mainstream notion that everybody has to be happy all the time feels more harmful than not to me. Like, it's easier to ride this stuff out when you view it as just another part of life instead of some kind of failure.
posted by mordax at 10:29 AM on August 24, 2017 [7 favorites]

it's easier to ride this stuff out when you view it as just another part of life instead of some kind of failure.

Well put.
posted by flabdablet at 10:33 AM on August 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

I am immensely grateful that my depression, particularly my worst depressive episode, forced me to talk to my wife about really difficult things.

Society pressures men to be the "rock" - this impenetrable, unflappable, impossibly strong person who can take everything that life throws at you and grunt at it. My father was like that, my grandfathers were like that, and so I felt like that was what you were supposed to be.

There was immense shame in me being a person that just wasn't that. The moment I cried in front of my wife - not because something happened, but because I was endlessly and pointlessly sad - was the moment my shame gave way. I wasn't hiding anymore. It created a bond between my wife and I that took us from two people dating to two people building a for-better-for-worse life together. I feel like the person I am is enough now.

Depression has taken a lot out of me (and others), but it gave me the best relationship in my life.
posted by notorious medium at 10:41 AM on August 24, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm on an SSRI right now that seems to be working okay at the moment, but I've been in and out of treatments of varying effectiveness for 15 (Jesus!) years now, and one of the most helpful things I ever did was read up about the principles of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and work through the DBT Workbook. I was never able to get a DBT-trained therapist, but even working through it on my own made a huge difference, specifically the concepts and practices of radical acceptance, distress tolerance and emotion regulation. Learning to acknowledge pain and crisis and sit with really really awful feelings and not have them be an emergency or become an emergency through my actions has been enormously beneficial in my life. I absolutely credit this with why I am a reasonably functional adult now (well, that and chemicals). If you can get access to therapist-provided DBT, or incorporate it into your existing therapy, I would for sure try that, but even the workbook and some reading were incredibly helpful in learning to live with thoughts and feelings that everyone in the world says we shouldn't have, rather than beating myself to a pulp trying to force them to change. It's no silver bullet, but I think it provides me with a floor of functionality.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 10:58 AM on August 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

That feeling of "fighting" depression linked strongly with your subjective perspective. I found that this book, The Mindful Way Through Depression helped me to live *with* instead of trying to avoid or turn away from depression and thoughts and feelings associated with it.

It comes with a guided meditation CD as well, and as someone who has been medicated for Anxiety and (on and off) Depression for over 25 years, I can't tell you how much better meditation has been for me personally. It has changed my life.

Good luck!!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:16 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am surprised no one has yet mentioned ACT, as far as I can see, because I think it is very much compatible with your present mindset and goals. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, people are encouraged to accept their suffering, reflect on their values, and live a life consistent with those priorities. While this approach often reduces depression markedly, the real goal of the therapy is to help people live fulfilling lives regardless of the symptomatology they may be enduring, acknowledging that suffering can be tempered but never eliminated. This may be something you can work on with your present therapist or something you can find another therapist to work on. There are also books and exercises you can work on independently. You can learn more about the approach here.
posted by reren at 12:23 PM on August 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

I find that taking a "medical model of mental health" approach really helps here. (It's generalized anxiety for me, but with some depressive tendencies.) What is depression, really? It's a chronic illness. It can be treated with a combination of medicine, therapy, and dietary and lifestyle changes, but not cured. Occasional flare-ups cause fatigue and sometimes cause you to miss work or social events, or struggle to complete everyday tasks.

What are depressive and self-defeating thoughts? They're a symptom of a health condition. I like to name it--"my anxiety/depression is making me feel XYZ today". And think of it much like when I'm sick with anything else, like a cold--"...and in a few days I will stop feeling so XYZ. I just need to ride it out and make sure I'm doing [lifestyle things that help] when I have the energy." I'm the second person to say "ride it out" and it's totally true.

This doesn't work for everyone--I know a lot of people actively push back against pathologizing and person-first language and the idea that the depression "is my brain talking, not me", and so if that sounds like you, this approach probably isn't for you. Just sharing what works for me personally.
posted by capricorn at 2:00 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

But I'm overwhelmed by the expectations of function and productivity in everyday office life.

That's because every day office life is not remotely natural. So it's kind of natural to be depressed by it, isn't it.
posted by serena15221 at 2:59 PM on August 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I live with my depression. It's not so bad these days, but the potential is always there. It helps a lot that I've moved into a phase of my life where I'm no longer trying to build the life I was told I should want, and instead am working step-by-tiny-step toward living the life I do want. Frankly I think that most people, even very privileged people, are given a pretty bum deal in our society. Is it any surprise, for instance, that spending 40 prime hours of every week doing something I'd rather not have to do just so that I can scrounge up enough arbitrary monkey points to feed and shelter myself feels bad? I mean I'm lucky to have my job and it could certainly be much worse but it's still a pretty raw deal, and so are lots of other perfectly "normal" things in our society.

We live in a sick, fucked-up world that exists as a sort of giant self-perpetuating machine that absolutely nobody understands or can control. Making people feel happy and fulfilled is not one of the goals of our civilization. The only goal is to keep building the machine bigger, and human lives are the fuel. Of course some of us feel unhappy about this, even if we never quite identify exactly why. Some of us are flexible enough to deal with it and feel OK, but not all. There's nothing wrong with you or me. It's the world that's wrong.

So I'm working toward something else. I'll never be totally free of civilization's grasp, but I'm working toward a life that minimizes the amount of bullshit I have to put up with. At the same time, I embrace the fact that it is bullshit. I don't try to tell myself that the sucky parts of life are normal and that I'm somehow wrong or weak or immature for not feeling OK about them. Whatever your own personal bugaboos are, chances are you've got a point in feeling like they're burdensome and unpleasant, even fundamentally unnecessary on some level. Try to identify and mitigate them, and fill your life with things you love instead. There will always be bullshit, but if you can acknowledge that bullshit is what it is, it will have less power over you.

Of course, you'll still have bad days. There will still be times when you just can't deal and you feel terrible and upset for no specific reason. Forgive yourself when you have days where you can't get anything done, when you can't get out of bed and face the world. Nobody's perfect, nobody is 100% all the time. Remind yourself that it's just a bad day, that it's not the end of the world, and that life will go on and things will get done eventually. Work around the problem.

Also, it's crucial to take good care of your mental state. That means prioritizing things like getting enough sleep, doing fun activities, spending time with people you love, etc. Our society devalues that stuff, says that we have no right to play—or even sleep!—when there's work to be done, money to be made, things to worry about. Well, guess what? For you, playtime is not optional. It is part of your mental health regime, without which everything else will crumble. Yes, sometimes we all must set aside play and get some work done, but be careful and learn to pay attention to how it's affecting your mental state.

In fact, monitoring your mental state is critical. For me, I've learned what it feels like when I'm driving myself too hard, and I can notice the strain before I break. Taking the necessary action to correct my mental balance is sometimes another matter, but I'm getting better at that too—largely because my life has more room for positive experiences than it used to, see above. I don't know if you hike, but it's a little like how on a backpacking trip you have to be super in tune with your body and take care to give it what it needs early on, before a real problem develops. You have to treat the hotspot before it becomes a blister, you have to rest before you're tired, you have to drink before you're thirsty, so that you don't find yourself crippled, or exhausted, or dehydrated. You have to care for your mind the same way.

It's all a big balancing act. First you have to give yourself resources to nurture, cultivate, and when necessary recover a positive mental state. Then you need to learn to deploy them as needed. And never forget that the bullshit is just that.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:53 PM on August 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

Oh, and this song really helped me "get good at feeling bad":

Kimya Dawson — The Competition
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:57 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Bleak unflinching morbidity.

I say to myself, "Fritillary, we've been here before, and you can always die later!"

Gallows humor ftw!
posted by fritillary at 5:24 PM on August 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have lived with depression for over 15 years, going meds route with periods of success and ...not. I will say: I dipped a toe into mediation about a year ago and found a lot of benefit. I was highly skeptical, too. I encourage everyone I know to try it, but especially people who suffer from depression. That said, it's not for everyone. I think everyone should try it for a month and then see if they want to continue, because the felt change comes after time, not immediately (or at least that was my experience). I found it changed how I experienced emotions in a way that was positive and practical. I did the headspace app and loved it.
posted by Kemma80 at 6:08 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

every day office life is not remotely natural. So it's kind of natural to be depressed by it, isn't it.

Not long after Prozac was first released, one of my space cadet friends acquired some to experiment with for its own sake, and started taking it at a therapeutic dose rate even though not initially depressed.

He gave it up after a couple of months, quite badly shaken by noticing how tolerable it had become to continue working for his objectively shitty employer.

There are times when our depressive realism is the truest friend any of us have.
posted by flabdablet at 9:23 PM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

>But I'm overwhelmed by the expectations of function and productivity in everyday office life.

Switch jobs. Do something not in an office. Something clear and simple with short-term, tangible outcomes. The kind of work you could leave at the end of the day with peace in your heart. It's not possible to completely escape bullshit drama/scheming/maneuvering because humans, but it doesn't have to comprise 70+% of the day (or be the actual work itself). We are not fit for sitting (all day! We're supposed to move, our bodies like it and hate not doing it) behind screens and stuffing down anxiety about our positions (or their worth, or our reliance on others' judgment of their worth). Pick something with unambiguous value, even if it's modest.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:59 PM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Fritillary, we've been here before, and you can always die later!

I'm quite looking forward to dying. Based on some past experiences of having my body forcibly shut down temporarily in various ways, I expect it to be really interesting.

But the thing about actually dying is that we only get to do it once and we don't get to do anything else afterwards. So my plan is to put that singularly interesting experience off until after thoroughly exploring another one on the bucket list, which is acquiring a full-bore heroin addiction.

The thing about heroin is that anything that feels as wonderful as heroin purportedly does stands a very high chance of derailing everything else I've got going on. I would rather be able to devote my full attention to enjoying the opiate ride purely for what it is, completely free of the distraction of knowing that it might be keeping me from other things. So my plan is to put all of that anticipated excellence off until I'm so completely ancient and decrepit as to be entirely incapable of other things.

After having reflected on both these plans at length, I consider them both completely sound. For many years now they have acted as a robust counter to suicidal impulses: "fuck off, you impatient little shit, it's not time for that yet." And that, so far, has always been enough to get me back onto the waiting it out track.

The cool thing about waiting out depression is that it functions as practice at waiting in general, which I rate as one of the modern age's vastly undervalued skills. Just waiting, for its own sake. Not waiting for anything in particular, just waiting.

Waiting is what a person has to do in order to notice things properly.
posted by flabdablet at 10:11 PM on August 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

I recently moved from an office job to a field-based job, partly because my job was contributing to my depression. It helped TREMENDOUSLY. I can't begin to tell you what a difference it mskes for me to be out in the sunshine every day (or even the rain!) rather than stuck indoors. Never going back, no sir, not for all the tea in China.

Office work isn't for everyone. Yeah, almost all of the high-pay, high-prestige jobs are indoors. But what good are riches and prestige if you're miserable? What value do they have compared to your sanity? You only get one short lifetime on this Earth. Don't waste it doing something that makes you miserable.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:30 AM on August 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

I like your question, and it's been making me think about just how I came to terms with my depression. Ultimately, for me, it was about being honest with myself about my illness as a thing that I can manage but not eliminate. It's still not a good feeling to think of myself as having a chronic illness that I can't fix, but... I do. So, now, instead of spending my minimal ability to function to "fix my depression" (or worry about my depression or speculate on my future depression or alleviate my depression or find the right medications or try an endless list of mediation/yoga/journaling/therapists/etc/etc), I focus on positive/helpful/healthy things that are sustainable parts of my life.

Many of these are daily-life things like:
- incorporating physical activity into everyday life (I bike to work every day: 1.5 hours of exercise, being outdoors, not internet-ing)
- being honest with my partner about my down days and my disinterest in talking about it (usually "I'm just not feeling ok and am not going to do anything today") vs. trying to explain myself ("I'm tired because of x," "it's been a long week after y")
- allowing myself to have down days AND up days, by which I mean: if I'm feeling bad, I just don't do things I should probably be doing (even small things: cook dinner, fix the door handle, put away laundry, send an email, walk the dog), and eventually I make a list of the things I'm not doing. When I'm feeling better, or more energetic, or more gritty, I do some things, and often use that depression-list as a to-do list.
- building in "free" time in expectation of busy time: if I'm going out of town for a weekend, I put an entry on my calendar to have a free day the week before or after. If I have a meeting-heavy day at work, I block another day of work for non-meeting work.
posted by chemicalsyntheticist at 10:07 AM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lots of therapy, not to get rid of the depression so to speak, but to ask it what it's trying to tell me. Reframing depression as a feature, not a bug, helped me tremendously. I started therapy in my late teens and wanted to Get Rid Of It. It wasn't until later that I learned the value of depression, in the sense that it has the potential to give me good information about what's misaligned in my life.

In that vein:
Thomas Moore's "Care of the Soul." It's a treasure (at least, it was for me.)
Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now."

Other things that help me (YMMV):**
* Getting out in the sunshine, getting fresh air, being in touch with nature.
* Becoming an early riser. ***
* Asking myself what I need to root out and get re-aligned.
* Doing anything creative. Journaling, painting, knitting, scrapbooking, whatever. Making something.
* Reading poetry. I like Tomas Transtromer and Mary Oliver.
* Exercise, particularly cardio and strength training. Push ups. Squats. Sweat. Repeat.
* Installing the My Mantra app, and using graphics/inspiring quotes from Google Images to populate the app. This is one of the best things I've done, and one of the few apps I transfer to my new phones when I upgrade. It was developed by psychologists.

**What helps the most is giving myself permission to do ALL or NONE of the above, as I see fit, and not feeling guilty about that.

***Turns out I'm a naturally early riser, like early, and a major trigger for me is getting on the wrong sleep cycle/being inconsistent. I feel bad sometimes because SO and I are on different schedules, but it's what I gotta do :)
posted by onecircleaday at 10:36 AM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I forgot to add: I stay the hell away from politics when I'm feeling down. And I give myself permission to refuse to feel guilty about it.
posted by onecircleaday at 10:46 AM on August 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

* Getting out in the sunshine, getting fresh air, being in touch with nature.
* Becoming an early riser. ***
* Exercise, particularly cardio and strength training. Push ups. Squats. Sweat. Repeat.

THESE. Particularly the sleep schedule one. I recognized early on that darkness (actual literal darkness, sun-going-down) was a trigger. I try not to make significant decisions past about 3pm -- I hold off on that til morning, when I'm less prone to worst-casing things. I get the emotional/mental heavy lifting done as soon as I wake up, if at all possible. And exercise on a regular basis.
posted by curious nu at 12:16 PM on August 25, 2017

Not all offices are the same, and different office jobs - or even different spots in the office! - seem to help enormously for me.

Having a rock-solid sleep schedule is what I attribute a huge amount of success to.

Learning to avoid things that negatively affect my mood, and snowball a bad afternoon into a bad week or worse. This means avoiding negative people, often avoiding the internet, and moving near enough to work that traffic isn't an hour-long-shitball, but overall, the trades are worth it.
posted by talldean at 1:00 PM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

In the past, a therapist mentioned to me that she noticed me "fighting off" my feelings and asked if it got tiring. Well, yes, of course it does. I started to take note of how much effort I was taking to not feel so down and troubled and how that exacerbated my condition. I have since learned to accept my highs and my lows more readily and to have a program for myself that's fairly easy to follow to keep it from progressing to worse. It helps me tremendously to have a schedule and to keep it. I commit to exercise classes each M/W/F and cardio three times a week...the more the better. I commit to eating healthy foods every day and to making the time to sleep well at night (though circumstances prevent it sometimes). Having a revolving group of friend or friends to check in with every day is also a necessity for me. Depression lives best in isolation. I make sure to try new social activities, when I can. I also get outside every day and I'm fortunate to live somewhere sunny. I think it's best also not to think too far into the future about your condition. It will change over time. It may even improve. And remember that a lot of us out there are dealing with this and we welcome talking about it and helping each other out.
posted by DixieBaby at 12:49 PM on September 9, 2017

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