The word depression is thrown around quite a bit this time of year. The days are shorter, the air is colder, and when you’re divorced, there can be a feeling of loss that’s more prominent this time of year. All of this can lead to depression. This is a personal post as you’ll see some of my story in it. Usually that isn’t the case, but it felt right today. I hope it helps someone who may be feeling the way I did.
Let's take a minute to define what true depression is. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), depression is defined as having at least 5 of these 9 symptoms nearly everyday:
1. Depressed mood or irritable most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful).
2. Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, most of each day
3. Significant weight change (5%) or change in appetite
4. Change in sleep: Insomnia or hypersomnia
5. Change in activity: Psychomotor agitation or retardation
6. Fatigue or loss of energy
7. Guilt/worthlessness: Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
8. Concentration: diminished ability to think or concentrate, or more indecisiveness
9. Suicidality: Thoughts of death or suicide, or has suicide plan
Before we go any further, if you are feeling suicidal in any way, if you feel as though you want to die, stop reading and get help. Tell someone, anyone, and get help. The National Suicide Hotline is (800) 273-8255. Someone is there 24/7 to help you.
With that said, whether you have true depression (as defined above), feelings of loss and loneliness that seem to take over your life, or you’re down in anyway - know that you are not alone. Divorce has a way of bringing this out in people, and I get it. I was there, too. For me, it didn’t hit until about 6 months after our divorce was final, but it hit, and I traveled between numb and complete sadness all the time.
It was after a few weeks of feeling this way that I told myself, “There has to be a better way.” It was then that I learned that the only emotion stronger than fear, stronger than loneliness, stronger than sadness - is hope. Hope is the strongest emotion. Hope fueled a journey from depression to where I am now and though I’ll always have the ghosts of depression in my closet, I’m a lot better at fighting it when they start to show themselves. Here’s what helped:
I talked about it. It was embarrassing at first. I felt weak. I thought people would look at me differently, and they did, but not in the way I thought they would. They saw me as real and it helped them open up about ghosts in their closets. My support system and I grew together in our own ways.
Exercise. I didn’t start competing in marathons. I wasn’t at a gym several times in a week, but I did take the stairs instead of the elevator. I did park farther away when I went somewhere just to get extra steps in. I walked to the library with my kids instead of driving and we started going to state parks to do mini hikes.
Journaling. For any of my clients who are reading this, you already know how important I think journaling is, and this is why. When you’re depressed, you cannot let those emotions and feelings simmer, you have to get them out. How do you get them out when you feel like you’ve exhausted your support system? You start writing and you don’t stop even after your pen doesn’t work on tear-stained sheets, you don’t stop even after you can barely see through the tears. You just keep writing because, as you do, you begin to feel the weight being lifted, you start to see the sun through the clouds. (The same applies to anger and journaling is one of the best ways to release it.)
Therapy was necessary. Though everything above was, and continues to be, ways to combat depression, I also needed a professional for a few months. I needed to understand it, to accept it, and then fight it in the best way possible. I saw a great counselor who actually helped me become who I am today. I wanted to help the way she did and so I did. I became a counselor because of her and people like her.
Though this was years ago for me, it will always remain a big part of life. I am a completely different person because of depression. In writing this, I hope it doesn’t make anyone feel worse, rather I hope it gives you hope. I hope that you see that depression is real, that you aren’t alone, and that it’s possible to manage. It’s possible to get out of. There is a better way.
If you have dealt with the blues, depression, extreme loneliness and/or sadness, comment below and tell us what has helped you.