Everyone has a different experience in life, everyone copes differently. In the spirit of understanding that here an experience of working with depression and coping strategies that I have tried to develop.
I have had depression for a long time, it has been a very tumultuous experience for me and I will be the first to admit that having aggressive mood swings is not as hilarious or charming as Hollywood makes it out to be, nor is it something that disappears as soon as you have “made peace” with your trauma or taking medication can just simply erase.
Depression is a hard slog for anyone involved and it takes a combination of counselling, strong friendships, support from medical professionals and a mindset to change. It’s taken me 10 years of depression to get to the point of even getting to medication and two very good friends not allowing me to back out of going to see the doctor. I am very thankful to these two beautiful souls.
Before I started taking medication I was working a Tech Support job for an internet provider, I had a pretty good team to work with, I was pretty good at the job, but I was also deeply unhappy. I would get sick all the time and get anxious about workloads, communicating to others and dealing with some unsettling attitudes. In the end, despite my best efforts to keep working through my misery and anxiety I just kept bouncing from sickness to sickness and my then Doctor told me that I would have to leave as, obviously, the workplace was just not a healthy place for me to be.
With that, I resigned and packed my stuff away, returned my badge and left. I wasn’t upset about leaving, I regretted it a little, but I was mostly relieved. Now I could have my breakdown, now I didn’t have to struggle to do every day life and pretend I was ok. Now I could just stare at my ceiling and not worry about how I was not sleeping, and how much I needed to sleep to do my job.
I completely shut down.
I spent days in my room, only coming out to use the bathroom, and only if no one was home. I flinched at the sounds of my parents in the house, silently crying, hoping I wouldn’t have to interact with them. I barely talked to my friends, and if I did, it would be incredibly hard. I hated the sound of my phone ringing, I would stare at it, my heart beating in a flight response, I never answered it if I could help it. I was unable to sleep most nights and would just stay up 2 nights in a row so I could sleep on the third night. I drank large quantities of alcohol to make myself get to the dizzy, light headed stage that made me feel sweet, blissful nothing.
All I did was sit around and struggle to function. I did not move forward, I languished in my misery and struggled to want to be better.
I won’t go through everything about that time as this is already getting longer than I intended it to be, but suffice to say I got help and with some trial and error have achieved some semblance of balance. I am happy most of the time and have gone from feeling like there was no point in existing to having so much to live for in the space of the year. (Counselling, communicating to others, wonderful friends, supportive family and medication have greatly helped with this)
When I go to work now, which I have a great group of friends at and am consistently challenged by, I aim to be as positive as I can. I set goals for what I want to achieve in the day, making sure that they are achievable, I look for the absurd silly things to laugh at and make sure to tell at least one terrible pun per day. When I am normal, this works, I leave work tired, because my job is mentally exhausting, but happy and with a sense of accomplishment. I make sure to tell my partner about the silly things that happened in the day and I tell him what I felt successful about. Most days this works well for me and I plan my future with a joy of living life.
The other day at work I was not having a good day at all, I woke up feeling down and struggled to put on a positive mindset for the day. I just didn’t have the energy and I was tired, even two shot coffee didn’t help. I was so far behind my monthly target in spite of all the effort I put in and felt the anxiety just build within me. I felt my face sink and become heavy and I sat at my desk and struggled not to cry. I did as I usually do and tried to make a joke, but it didn’t help. I tried to set up a plan for the day, but my mind just wasn’t working. I found it incredibly hard to concentrate and all I wanted to do was break down and cry, I felt so helpless and incapable of doing my job and all I could hear in my head was that I was going to get fired and I would never achieve anything in my life, it would be better if I just gave up.
I noticed all the negativity building and I did not want to cry in front of my work mates so I closed my eyes and meditated. I focused on an image and worked my mind to feel that image with all of the senses, in this case it was a long grassy, hilly field and I breathed in time with the wind rustling the grass heads and just let the imaginary wind blow all the thoughts in my head away. I didn’t stop until my whole body relaxed and found that I could do my work for a while. After a time though, it would just build in me again and the tears would start to form. I meditated many times, it worked just enough, but I was getting closer to the edge of my tolerance.
I then decided enough was enough, I was going to use my words and talk. So I sent an email to my manager and asked to speak with her. We went to a meeting room and I kinda just cried as I told her my frustrations and how I wasn’t coping.
This is a very hard thing to do, I was worried that they would think me incapable and that I would be told to leave.
Lucky for me, people can surprise you and my manager completely empathised and actually allocated blame to herself! (blew me off my feet when she did) She said that she felt it was her fault because she thought I was doing ok and didn’t need to hear about how well I was doing despite not reaching target and proceeded to explain that I was a high performer and she said that sometimes it takes time to have that reflected in the target. She then helped me lay out a plan to improve and locate where things weren’t working.
After this I felt better, but I still was depressed and struggled through the day, my emotional response dulled and I no longer felt like crying, but I was not able to emote at all. I struggled to match the right emotion to outwardly display to my work mates when they surprised me with birthday cake and a present. They still thought I didn’t like my cake or my gift even though, somewhere past the thick fog of nothing I knew that I was pleased. Had it been any other day, I would have been delighted, but it was this day where I was feeling horrible and I just thought: ‘This is nice.’
The key thing I think I am trying to say is that depression can’t be fixed by a plan, but it can be managed and understood if you communicate with others. Which is no small thing, many people who have experienced depression will agree with me on this. It is extraordinarily hard to reach out and communicate with others while depressed.
If you experience depression, I urge you to work out coping mechanisms to help you deal with the bad days. I urge you to reach out and talk to others, if it is too hard at the time (trust me, its a thing) do so after the fact. People will surprise you and if they are assholes that judge you for it, they are not worth your time. Please seek help from a medical professional, whether it be a local GP or a counsellor if you think you have depression or are just feeling down, they will help you to find what works best for you.
Above all else, know that you are not alone, I’m here too.
Let’s struggle together and tell our stories so that no one has to feel horribly isolated by this mental disease.
Here’s hoping that this helps someone, I know I feel better for writing it.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please visit http://www.beyondblue.org.au/ or call 1300 22 4636
If you are thinking about suicide or are feeling life isn’t worth living please visit: https://www.lifeline.org.au/ or call 13 13 14
Don’t suffer alone.