Depression is a sneaky assassin in a cheesy 1970s action film, carrying on behind your back until you turn around to face the room and realize nothing’s left alive.
Sure, there are warning signs — the occasional yelp, a sudden thud. We don’t want to believe our lives are falling apart, so we simply don’t look, but looking could have tipped us off to the larger problem. The assassin.
Most of us struggle with this at some point or another in our lives and we need all the help we can get to make it through.
I can’t remember a time unmarked by depression. As a child, I would have recurring nightmares, crying fits and a tendency to isolate myself. I didn’t know why and I couldn’t understand it. As I grew older, I found myself connecting most with other troubled kids. Kids whose parents were fighting, kids who struggled in school or among their peers. I was usually the kid comforting the sad kids at recess because I had needed that comfort myself.
Into adolescence, depression really took hold. My parents, whose rocky marriage was reaching peak explosion, had no room left in their emotions to support me. I was in and out of abusive relationships which decimated my friendships and tore down my already fragile self-esteem. In an effort to both distract myself from my problems and to earn my worth (spoiler alert : that’s not how self-worth works), I filled my life with tons of extra-curricular activities, responsibilities and work. Students council, choir, drama, all-academic courses, a part time cafe job and babysitting gave me plenty to work on that wasn’t myself.
I remember seeing my family doctor for heart palpitations and being told that if I continued on the path I was taking, with all of the ridiculous amount of responsibilities and obligations, I would give myself a heart attack. At 17.
I decided to take an extra year of high school, despite having already fulfilled the criteria to graduate. I took only arts courses and plenty of spares. My entire life was writing, photography, theater and literature. All the pressure was gone and that year was one of the best years of my life.
The next year, I was off to university and I began piling on the work again, only this time I prioritized studying and making money — no arts, few social engagements and for some strange reason I decided to get married right in the middle of my undergrad. By the time my 4 year degree was over, I was a wreck again.
I threw myself back into the arts full-tilt and it gave me so much in return. I got to sing out my frustrations and write out my troubles. Again, I had some of the best times of my life yet again. However, I am revisited by depression year after year.
The world keeps on changing and we haven’t lived in a stable working world for decades. Full-time, permanent jobs that pay a living wage with benefits are scarce. Most people these days are jumping from one gig to the next with no sense of security. Nothing is a safe bet anymore and we’re all working as hard as we can to carve out a living.
The constant effort required to find work is exhausting in and of itself and the demands on workers are increasing while the compensation is decreasing. Most of the available jobs are in cafes and restaurants, or big box stores and most of the available labour have advanced degrees that they earned so that they wouldn’t have to work those jobs.
More and more of us are battling mental illness, depression being the most common, especially during the winter months with fewer hours of sunlight. Many of us are medicated, either through the supervision of doctors or through substance use, and treatments vary in effectiveness from person to person.
A lot of us are running on empty with no hope of rest. Yet we very badly need it. Burnout has become widely known because we almost all get there sometime.
Fixing the system
Climate scientists and activists agree that the future of our survival on this planet rests on getting rid of capitalism. Our system is strangling us and we will continue to suffer as long as it exists.
There are plenty of ways to contribute to this change. Become politically aware and active. Protest the pipeline and other capitalist bullshit. Find ways to meet your needs that don’t involve buying things. Cultivate and lean on your communities to help each other out.
It can be really tough to deviate from our habits. Habits allow us to minimize mental work so that we have more bandwidth for the rest of our lives. However, habits can be changed and if we want a better future, we must change our habits.
Communities are the future
Isolation is one of the worst things humans can experience. That’s why solitary confinement is so torturous. We need community. We need support. We need love. Those things can look very different from person to person and from relationship to relationship, we just need them to exist. Depression tells you to disengage and fall out of society. Fighting that impulse is very hard, which is why building supportive communities is so important. We all need people who will reach out to us regularly and check in.
Reach out to family members, friends or even strangers on the web. Whatever is accessible to you. The important thing is that you reach out and make a connection. Keep reaching out. Keep building those connections, little by little. Let people in.
One of the biggest lessons I am constantly re-learning is to give others the opportunity to help. No one can help you if they don’t know what you need. Self-awareness and introspection go a long way to understanding what your needs are and how to communicate those needs to your support system. The more I learn to ask for what I need, the more I am surprised and overwhelmed by support. It doesn’t always come in the form you’re asking for or at the speed you’re demanding, but it does usually come.
Self-care has almost become a joke these days since it is so often touted as the be-all, end-all solution for wellness. We know that our economy and inequality is the root of most of our problems and that healthy relationships and a strong support network are necessary for our survival. Those are the big ones, but self-care still matters.
No one knows you like you do. All the heart aches and set backs, the successes and losses. You have the inside view to yourself and that relationship is the most important one you’ll ever have. Spend time with yourself. Get to know yourself and care for yourself like you would a lover, a friend or a child.
Yes, self-care can come in the form of bubble baths and spa nights, but it’s about more than that. Self-care is about really getting to know what you need and honouring yourself enough to get it. For me, I know that I need to wash dishes every day and tidy regularly so that my mind feels less chaotic. I know that I need to eat well and exercise or I won’t have the strength to keep going. I need to get enough rest and I need to be creative. I also need to draw boundaries in my relationships and respect myself enough to fight for them.
Self-care isn’t always easy, and often the hardest work on ourselves is the most necessary and rewarding. The more I work on myself, the more of my depression I am able to chip away for good.
There are many different causes of depression and many different treatments. Therapy and medication can be really great options, especially when used in combination. If depression is something you’ve been dealing with for a while, it might be worthwhile to see your doctor for advice. They can monitor you while you find what works best and refer you to therapists or support groups.
Be informed about your treatment options. There can be plenty of side effects of antidepressant medications, staying informed can help manage expectations. Some can have a short term increase in suicidal thoughts while transitioning to the treatment. If you notice an increase in suicidal thoughts, regardless of whether or not it is caused by your medication, call a suicide prevention hotline.
Here is a helpful guide to suicide prevention.
Living in the fog of depression isn’t easy, but the familiarity of it can make it feel safe. Retreating from the world can restore some sense of control. There’s no shame in needing a little time to hide. Our ways of coping can help us through the worst parts of depression and integrating more sustainable habits can go a long way in staying resilient.
If you find your fog lifting, help it out. Take care of your physical body to bio-hack your way into some good feels. Reach out to and strengthen your community. Lay the foundation for better living while you’re feeling good so that you have resources to lean on when you’re not. Living in today’s world is a struggle for most of us and the best thing we can do is stand together and support each other’s healing.
Photo credit : Amelia Moses