Depression has been defined as the loss of hope. For a lot of us battling this illness, hope simply doesn’t exist. The future can be daunting when another painfully numb day looms ahead. Through my years of therapy for depression, I’ve acquired some strategies that help me hope in the future more often.
Break the future down into ten minute increments. Catastrophic thoughts are a cornerstone of depression. I don’t wonder how my child is doing walking home from school. I decide she has been hit by a car and that I will never see her again. Negative thoughts make the future a very scary place. A therapist once told me that instead of obsessing about the future, I should try to live my life ten minutes at a time. It isn’t healthy to think way down the road if it only contributes to paralyzing depressive symptoms. Ten minute increments is a starting point. It can help me use what little energy I have positively instead of worrying about how I’ll manage this coming summer when all four of my children will be home every day.
Go back to the basics. I am often preoccupied with battling negative thoughts in my head and attempting to live minute by minute with throbbing pain. How does one live ten minutes at a time? I had no idea, so I decided to go back to the basics of my life. Set a timer and take a shower. Make the bed and brush my teeth. Go outside and take a walk around the block even if I hate every second of it. For someone with depression, simple activities can be incredibly difficult. Doing something basic for a short time pushes us into the future whether we like it or not, and surprisingly, it may provide a little relief from our guilt of not doing anything at all.
Don’t think. Just do. I used to wake up in the morning and try to decipher how I felt. What was I thinking when I opened my eyes? Did my body ache? How heavy was the darkness? My most recent therapist, a cognitive behavioral therapist, encouraged me (when able) not to fall into that trap. Don’t think right away. Just do. I try not to allow myself to think about how I feel before accomplishing a few small tasks. These tasks may last for five minutes or an hour, but doing is essential. Focusing on my environment instead of myself has proven to be a healthier way to start my day.
Make lists. If your brain (like mine) is often cloudy and you are stumped as to what you should do, make a list of options for the morning, or for ten minute increments, or for any other time of the day you might be able to tackle. Write down specific activities. I find it also helps to write down a few of my favorite Bible verses and other pieces of advice I’ve received from my therapist so if my anxiety rises too high before I can catch it, or if my depression trips me into a new pothole, I can pull out my lists and either read something over and over while doing some deep breathing or to attempt to do instead of think.
Appreciate small victories. Shame is a huge part of my depression. My mind fixates on my failures. I’m ashamed of what I don’t do for my family. I’m ashamed when I seem to drop out of my own life. One of the ways I fight shame (trust me, I still struggle with it) is by attempting to notice and appreciate small victories. If I get some household chores completed, that’s a victory. If I push myself to do in the morning before thinking, that’s another victory. If I tuck my kids in at night and spend a little time talking to my husband, that’s a victory. Small victories matter. They become scaffolding on which we can begin to rebuild our lives. They can lure us to a future of hope and perhaps, just maybe, a desire to live the kind of life God wants us to live. Small victories, when strung together, can help eradicate the lie of shame that exists in our minds because of our illness.
For Gillian Marchenko, “dealing with depression” means learning to accept and treat it as a physical illness. In Still Life she describes her journey through various therapies and medications to find a way to live with depression. She faces down the guilt of a wife and mother of four, two with special needs. How can she care for her family when she can’t even get out of bed? Her story is real and raw, not one of quick fixes. But hope remains as she discovers that living with depression is still life.