Depression can diminish the things that bring us joy, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. We can regain ground and get stronger.

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If you’re like me, living with depression feels a lot like drowning. Some invisible weight, created by a thousand different thoughts and anxieties, is always working to drag you down.

I get tired — tired of the constant battle. And when I want to rest, it seems there’s no rest to be found. It’s easy for me to convince myself it’s normal. I can’t escape it, so I tell myself I have to live with it.

During a depressive episode, I feel “stuck.” I’m in the grip of anxiety and fear before I even know what’s happening.

It’s what makes these conditions so insidiously dangerous. I know something isn’t right, but I can’t find the will to do anything about it. When I realize it’s depression with an undercurrent of anxiety, I’m already in the middle of that ocean.

I’m treading water, and depression whispers, “Everything’s fine!” It wants me to stay put.

But I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to stay stuck. I’ve fought depression head-on and I’ve won.

One of the most important things I know about depression is it deceives us into believing we’re alone. We start to feel misunderstood, isolated, and unloved by those around us and by ourselves.

Depression lies. I’m not sinking in an empty ocean. More than 17 million adults in the United States live with depression. That’s equivalent to the entire population of the Netherlands! I’m not alone. In fact, I’m in good company.

Just because depression isn’t always visible doesn’t mean it’s not there. I know neighbors, friends, and family members who share what it feels like to be immersed in negative thoughts and emotions.

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When I’m depressed, I work desperately to hide my anxiety and to put on a happy face. I don’t want anyone to know, and in those moments, I don’t think anyone would understand.

I’m afraid I will be judged or considered weak.

No one else could possibly be going through what I’m going through, right?

When depression tells us no one understands or cares, don’t listen. People do know. Many people do understand and are on the same journey.

Waking up one morning and realizing your depression has magically disappeared isn’t likely to happen. I desperately want it to work like that, believe me. I’ve laid in bed for hours, staring at my ceiling. I’ve slept more than I’ve been awake because sleeping is the only full escape I have.

My depression is never gone when I wake up.

Depression is a formidable foe, and like all adversaries, I can’t avoid it. I have to find the strength to stand against it.

We don’t have to feel this way

Learning I wasn’t alone in my depression was the first step in a long process of discovery. The second revelation I had was that I didn’t have to feel that way.

I don’t have to be stuck. I don’t have to feel consumed by despair or indifference.

I can feel better.

There’s nothing stopping me other than the voice in my head telling me that it’s pointless to try. Once I realize I don’t have to feel bad all the time, I can start actively looking down that road of recovery.

We can find small victories

The desire to make an effort to ward off depression is important. I know when it’s time for a change. At that point, I’m ready to argue back against depression’s whispers.

Learning to say “no” in life can preserve our mental health and save our personal bandwidth in many ways. It establishes healthy boundaries and helps us develop respect and expectations among our peers.

It also saves me from myself.

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I’m going to go take that walk. I’m going to get up and take a shower, even when the weight of depression is so heavy I can barely move my feet.

And guess what? I feel the success of that small victory like a burst of sunlight in the darkness. I did it. I got up and took that shower. I went for that walk. I brushed my hair today.

Depression said I couldn’t, but I did it anyway, and I know I’m unstoppable.

We can be kind to ourselves

Depression likes to turn us against ourselves. Who knows our weaknesses better than we do?

Those thoughts of not being good enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, get brought to the surface by depression. What’s worse, we start to agree with those thoughts.

We begin to accept those thoughts as truth. If we feel that way about ourselves, of course everyone else must feel that way too, right?

As my awareness of depression’s influence grew, I started to regain my ability to be kind to myself.

It often means more than positive words in the mirror. I write down my positive thoughts in a journal, and I try to practice consciously reframing negative thinking.

When depression says “you’re not good at anything,” I remember that ability to argue back. I’m good at many things. I have so many positive traits — we all do!

We are not our thoughts. Studies show acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) help to defuse those negative thoughts and lies that invade our personal space.

Depression doesn’t get to tell us we aren’t good enough. We know we’re unique, and we’re the ones in command — not depression.

We can cultivate honesty

Depression tricks me into hating myself, but it also manipulates how I feel about the world.

When doubts about loved ones creep in, I take a moment and ask myself if I honestly believe they would want anything other than what was best for me.

When depression is pulling me under, trying to drown me, it’s whispering that those around me don’t want to help.

Deep down, I know this isn’t true. Our loved ones want us to be happy, healthy, and successful. Many of them would sacrifice for us to have the best of the best.

By taking those small moments of reflection, I can see the lies of depression clearly.

It may be time to make some changes

As much as depression is an internal war, like any battle, the landscape in which we fight matters.

When I look at the things and people around me, I ask myself if they’re contributing to my feelings of depression. This can be a very emotional process. The last thing I want to do is ride the anxiety of change and drift toward the unknown.

Sometimes, however, this is the only way.

Research confirms that our environment matters in major depressive disorder.

Is someone bullying us? Are we feeling safe? Do we absolutely dread going to our job every day? Maybe the place where we live has no green space or sunlight.

We can have a say in many of the things around us. Remember the powerful quote from Mark Batterson: “You are only one defining decision away from a totally different life!”

I don’t have to stay in places and situations that contribute to depression and anxiety. Change may be difficult. It may take time.

But I can change my life in a single moment.

Find our comrades

Remember when I learned I wasn’t alone? Millions of other people are out there, in this exact moment, sharing this experience with me.

We don’t need to cope with depression alone. We can find opportunities to share our hopes and our struggles with people who understand. We can learn from them, and they may learn from us.

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Depression is always going to tell me I can’t do this. It’s always going to tell me that everyone is judging me or that I won’t gain anything from the experience.

I know this isn’t true. Depression lies to me, so I’m working to maintain the skills I need to be able to ignore those whispers of deceit.

The types of depressive disorder out there do much more than make us feel sad. They make us see the world through a filter that colors every aspect of our lives.

We can start pushing back against depression in small ways. When we feel like we’re about to be pulled under those waves of dismay, remember the lessons I’ve shared:

I’m not alone.

I don’t have to feel this way.

I can tell depression “no.”

I can be kind to myself.

I can be honest about my thoughts.

I can make changes to my situation.

I can find help and help others.

Sometimes, on this journey, we may need a little extra support. That help can come in the form of professional guidance, or it may involve medications.

When we’re taking steps to improve our lives, we have nothing to be ashamed of. We’re looking every day to be the best we can be, and that is incredibly brave and admirable.

I know what it’s like to be lost in that dark place, hounded by anxiety and doubt — and apathy. I’ve been there, standing in the shower for 3 hours because I had the will to get in, but not to get back out.

I’m here to tell you that I’m OK! I work hard every day to be content and to find joy, but I’m doing it. And when depression decides to visit me again, because I know it’s never too far away, I can stand tall and know that I’ve gotten through its sea of emptiness once, and I will do it again.

Remember, if the weight of depression is too much to bear, or suicidal thoughts are creeping in, there is always somewhere to turn.

Hope Gillette is a freelance writer and published novelist. She’s passionate about providing accurate, empathetic mental health content for readers, and believes writing can help combat stigma and improve wellness outcomes. Hope’s early career focused on health disparities affecting marginalized groups, and she remains a firm advocate for health equity.