Therapy Doesn’t Have To Be Scare-apy and Other Lessons for the Chronically Depressed

This article was first published in March 2014, but we thought it was a terrific piece on depression and want to join the #BellLetsTalk conversation about mental health.

As someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD, also known as “Seasonal Asshole Disorder”), I consider battling bouts of depression almost a regular part of my routine at this point. When I was a teenager, it took the form of sleeping for 12+ hours at a time, eating junk food and reading Stephen King novels. Scratch that, depression hasn’t changed at all except that now I also have a full-time job, live-in partner and a comedy show to run.

Depression can hit at any time. There are many great tools available to you if you are in a bad spot. Some of these seem like a lot of work or effort (the last thing you want to deal with when you’re in a deep depressive episode), but trust me that even the most moody of blues can handle it.

Check Your Temperature. Put away that anal thermometer, I’m talking about checking in with your depression. I personally love the Burns Depression Inventory, but you can look around online for others. This gives you a very basic scale that helps you determine where you’re at. If you keep a log of your results every week (or more often), you can begin to get a picture of what your depression looks like. This information will be helpful to your doctor, therapist and loved ones.

Be Alert. If your depression score is very high, you’re thinking about suicide, hurting yourself or generally feeling nothing at all, it’s time to reach out to a loved one or your doctor. In situations like this, the best thing is to let someone else steer the boat for an hour or a day, however long it takes to get checked out and pulled out of the danger zone.

Talk It Out. Sharing your dark secrets, sadness and shame might make you feel like you’re going to burden your friends or scare away your partner. Trust me, if they are worth their salt, they will reach out and help you through this. If you don’t have a lot of support or feel like you’re unburdening too much, try a sturdy journal with pages thick enough to stand your tears. The next option is great too:

Therapy. It’s not just for the terminally rich anymore! Every major city has low-cost therapy options out there. Get on the internet. One way to find a good price is to look for psychotherapy programs with students or recent graduates. Talking to someone who isn’t part of your life is key because they can help you monitor how you feel from session to session and help you find peace with yourself. But you are limited to only one “My therapist says…” per conversation from now on.

Exercise. Four trips to the gym per week ought to do it. Ugh, AS IF. No depressed person ever exercised consistently. It’s like telling someone with a broken leg to take up Riverdance. But a ten-minute walk will make a difference, even if it’s just to the store to get more apple cider and Cheetos.

No Boozy-Woozy. Alcohol makes you “forget,” except it really just makes the depressed person more of a weepy buzzkill than before. Please, for the sake of yourself, and the fun of the other people at the bar/party/wedding, do not drink. We all know it’s a depressant. Which leads me to:

Antidepressants. People like to play tough and say they don’t need them. Or parrot the old Adbusters-inspired “psych meds are tools of social control” trope. But guess what? You have an illness. You may not want to go on pills but no one else wants to deal with you not on pills. Including yourself. For a better understanding of how these drugs work, check out Feeling Good by David D. Burns (it’s also just an all-around great book on depression).

Let There Be Light. Get a light-therapy box for the winter. Darkness is your worst enemy. Turn that baby on full bore and let it run first thing in the morning for at least thirty minutes with your peepers open. Read a book or eat toast. Your light-receiving rods in your eyeballs do something in there to make you un-depressed. Science. Throw in a little Vitamin D to your schedule, too. Once the weather de-glooms, it’s time for sitting outside in a lawn chair with a book, or at least taking ten-minute walks. Or do what I do and just roll around for ten minutes on one of those weird exercise balls.

Have a Vegetable. Just one. Not a whole salad – you’re not that together. You don’t even have to cut it up; just grab a red pepper and eat it like an apple. Or occasionally take a few nibbles from a whole tree of broccoli. Pretend you’re a giant eating a whole forest. Let the nutrients soak into your bod.

Do One Thing. Write a to-do list but then promise yourself you only have to do one of the things on there, even if that’s just a laundry load of socks. One thing. You can’t be a superhero right now, and it’s better to do the one thing than to loll around in your bed feeling sad and guilty that you did zero things.

Lastly?

Don’t Be So Damned Hard On Yourself. Remember, sometimes you gotta just be a weird sad pup rolled up into a blanket burrito. That’s okay. No need to beat yourself up about it. One day you’re gonna get out of that stinky blanket burrito and head out into the sunshine and you’re gonna listen to your favourite band with your headphones and sit on the grass and smile to yourself, and say, “Hey, this is alright.”

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