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Depression creates a horrible cycle of negativity. It doesn’t matter whether a person is diagnosed as clinically depressed, or stuck in the midst of a terrible situation and experiencing the symptoms of depression. It is all painfully real.
I struggle with it too. Right now, depression leads me to fail at meeting all the responsibilities set forth before me. Each time, depression senses my guilt moving in, so it lies to me and tells me that I am just ‘not enough’ as a person, that I probably don’t have what it takes. Depression then makes sure to remind me that I am letting down my husband and children.
Then my thoughts lead to thinking that my family would be better off without me. My mind wanders through different choices, narrowing down the best way to end it all.
The thing that always pulls me back is the thought of my three little girls having to deal with my death because they are young and innocent and love me despite all of my failures.
And each time this happens, as I cry and continue thinking about all that my depression has put in my head, I fall further behind in the work that is on my schedule for the day. You can then see how this cycle continues as I feel guiltier and guiltier about failing to meet my responsibilities.
In the past, this cycle continues until the end of the day where I’m exhausted from the pain, but I have accomplished nothing.
However, I want today to be different.
So, how do I go about breaking the cycle?
Depressed people are not the best decision makers. We just don’t care sometimes. That is why we spend an extra hour taking a nap when we are already three hours behind on our day. One of the best ways to combat this is to create a schedule and stick to it. (You’ll have to wait to create your daily plan when you are having a good day.)
Once you have your schedule, commit to yourself that, no matter how the day goes, you are going to stick to your plan.
Your plan should include the necessary activities of life. I’m not talking about scheduling all of your work activities, just your basic life activities. Things like:
These two activities are good for every person in the world, but they take extra effort when you are depressed. Doing them can help break the cycle. Not doing them can keep you in the cycle.
Eating seems like a common sense thing to do every day, but many times when we are depressed, we don’t feel hungry. And exercising, let’s face it, we lack the motivation to care. However, these are two activities that you need to commit to doing on a set schedule, whether you feel like it or not, to break out of your cycle.
Whether we want to admit it or not, exercising is great for our brains. Medically it stimulates your brain into releasing good chemicals that help fight depression, and it reduces chemicals from your immune system that can worsen your condition. Exercise can also build confidence and briefly distract your mind.
Food gives us the energy we need to get through the day. When we don’t eat, or we eat poorly (I had a period when I lived off McDonald’s, chocolate milk, and Cheez-Its) our body suffers. We lack the energy to keep going. If we are mentally tired, and we don’t give our body the proper fuel it needs, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
Though they don’t always know how to help, friends and family make all the difference when you are depressed.
When we withdrawal from people, it makes it easier to stay stuck in our depression. There are many times when I want to connect with someone when I am feeling depressed, but I never take the step to reach out to them. Why, because I feel like I would just be a burden. I know everyone is busy and they don’t have time to pull me up out of the pit over and over again.
If you have ever felt that way, I encourage you to find a few people that you trust deeply. Then, on one of your good days, talk to them and ask for accountability.
Tell them you need some help breaking your cycle of depression.
Talk to them about how your cycle usually starts and explain what they can look out for to know when it is happening again. If your friends can identify when you are struggling they’ll know when to come alongside you.
You should also set regular times when you will check-in with the person you trust. It could be as simple as a text message but, if you miss your check-in, they’ll know that you could be struggling. Give them permission to follow up with you.
If you have a depressed person in your life, know that we don’t expect you to make it all better. Sometimes we just need to know that someone is there, that they care, and that we haven’t let them down because of this.
If you are struggling with depression, it might not be the time to take on the world, but it is always good to still have dreams and goals.
However, when you are struggling allow yourself to set smaller daily goals. Instead of trying to clean the whole house, pick two tasks that you will always have done. For me, it was making my bed and opening the blinds. If I could do those two things each day, I felt better about my house. I usually accomplished other things as well, but those were the two that mattered to me each day.
And they made me feel a little better because I had a clean bed to crawl into at night and some natural light coming in my windows during the day.
Several years ago I was struggling with the feeling that there was nothing I was good at, I felt worthless.
My counselor gave me a take-home activity where I had to come up with a list of ten things that I was good at, or that was good about me. This task was incredibly hard to do, but I did it (with a little help from my husband).
Next, each day I had to read the list out loud, speaking the words, while looking in the mirror at myself, three times over. At first, it felt silly, but after sticking with it for a little while, I was able to start believing those things about myself.
Here’s another bonus strategy you can use. Choose a few Bible verses (my verse was 2 Corinthians 1:3-4) or life quotes that motivate, encourage, or comfort you. Memorize them. Repeat them over and over in your head. Write them on sticky notes and plaster them on your bathroom mirror, your bedroom walls, and inside your car until you know them in your heart.
Give yourself constant reminders so that the truth eventually breaks through all the lies your depression tells you.
The most difficult thing about breaking the cycle is that other people can’t do it for you. They can come alongside you and encourage you, but it takes hard work on your part. The cycle won’t break unless you make it happen. But, let’s face it, when we are depressed we aren’t always the best at making things happen, are we?
So the advice that the Director of the Duke Mood and Anxiety Disorder Clinic, John L. Beyer, M.D., gives is, ‘Act as if you are not depressed in anticipation of feeling much better.’ Or, in simpler terms – fake ’til you make it. That sounds overly simple, but it can also be the hardest thing in the world when you are struggling with depression.
Pick one or two of these things to try. I don’t recommend trying everything at once. That’s what I tend to do, and that just leads to failing and starting the cycle all over again.
But, most importantly, never give up. You’re not going to get this right on the first try. Remember that this is a process and it takes time to break your cycle of depression. Never give up, keep trying, keep fighting, and keep moving forward.