It is a complex disorder, and healing may come from different sources, he said. But when you’re struggling with an illness, it can help to hear how others have survived and thrived.
That’s why we wanted to know the greatest lessons others have learned about managing their illnesses. Below, individuals share everything from the importance of accepting their depression to understanding its powerful influence to discovering one’s inner strength.
For years Adia Colar, a freelance writer and senior publicist at New Harbinger Publications, believed her depression was a character flaw. And it took her that time to admit she was struggling with the disorder. “As I learned more about it and about myself, I saw that it was a real issue and one that I needed to treat.”
It’s a powerful lesson she relearned after deciding against getting treatment.
“I would quit therapy, stop taking my meds, tell myself it wasn’t as big of a problem as I thought — you name it. What would inevitably happen is my depression — which had previously been manageable when I was taking care of myself – would increase to the point that I was pretty debilitated.”
Colar has learned to be open and honest about her feelings. For instance, she recently lost her dog. Now when friends ask how she’s doing, she’ll divulge she’s feeling depressed.
“Acknowledging I’m depressed helps me to process it and take the next steps to alleviate it. If I simply say ‘I’m OK,’ I’m not going to work toward a solution for what I’m going through.”
Appreciating Depression’s Effects
“…[D]epression seeps into every aspect in your life, and vice versa, so you need to live a diligent, disciplined life with regard to relationships, eating, sleep and exercise. It’s not just about some chemicals in your brain. It’s everything.”
Paying Attention to Warning Signs
“Because my last episode lasted over 5 years and was described by my psychiatrist as the worst he had ever treated, I am hypervigilant to my early warning signs,” said Graeme Cowan, a speaker and author of the forthcoming book Back from the Brink: True Stories and Practical Help for Overcoming Depression and Bipolar Disorder.
For instance, when he’s overloaded, he wakes up early with a sense of anxiety and dread. “If I experience this for more than three consecutive mornings, I make a conscious effort to cut back on my commitments to get my life centered again.”
Julie K. Hersh, author of Struck by Living: From Depression To Hope, has experienced three major depressive episodes: as an 18-year-old college freshman; as a 41-year-old mom taking care of young kids and elderly grandparents; and as a 47-year-old who mistakenly thought she no longer needed medication.
“My formula for staying well is to be cognizant of my symptoms of depression — insomnia, weight loss and isolation — and act early to correct these symptoms.”
Practicing Healthy Habits
To help him stay well, Cowan practices two rituals. He plans out his week every Sunday, making sure it includes events or meetings around these vital areas: physical health, emotional health and career and community.
His second ritual involves getting up at 5 a.m. to meditate for 30 minutes and exercise for 45 minutes. Often this includes a nature walk, which Cowan finds “incredibly restorative.”
Hersh stays well by focusing on six elements: “medication, sleep, exercise, nutrition, social support groups and stress management. All three of my depressive episodes occurred when I didn’t have or know what type of medication worked or I refused to take the small dose of an antidepressant that keeps me well.”
Running injuries also contributed to her depression, which coincided with the darkest time of the year. Today, if she has an injury, she engages in other types of exercise and watches her vitamin D levels.
Hersh also meditates and limits her alcohol intake. And she’s realized the importance of managing all stressors, even the good ones, a lesson she keeps relearning. “I love life and often become overcommitted with all the exciting opportunities before me.”
(She elaborates on these components in this video.)
Blistein stressed the importance of not beating yourself up over what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Suffering every day is hard, he said. “It’s a process to get healed. Try not to make it any more difficult [by being mean to yourself].”
Kindness can include acknowledging your pain and engaging in relaxing activities, such as reading, watching funny films and getting a weekly massage, which Blistein has found helpful. (Depression is as much a physical illness as it is a psychological one.)
Finding Inner Strength
“The biggest lesson I‘ve learned from living with a chronic illness like depression is that I am a lot stronger than I think,” said Deborah Serani, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and author of the books Living With Depression and Depression And Your Child.
As a young girl, Serani saw herself as weak, especially when she was struggling with a depressive episode. But she eventually realized her “immense inner strength.”
“I realized that while my emotional journey had taken me from sadness to despair, I also moved from adversity to resolve. I discovered a quiet but solid strength and spirit within me … Learning that I have this enduring strength is the silver lining that comes from my depressive cloud.”
Blistein repeats this mantra several times a day, which encompasses the lessons he’s learned about managing depression: “It will pass. Be kind to yourself. Ask for help.”