By Blake Oliver
I was diagnosed with depression when I was in first grade. My parents got divorced when I was too young to understand what was happening. I don’t even remember it. My childhood brain dealt with the situation the way that childhood depression happens: it lashed out. I was an angry kid.
Children don’t brood like adults or teenagers do. That came later for me, as I grew up. My mom had me go through counseling and medications off and on to try to find methods that worked for me, but then I hit puberty. Most people don’t have fond memories of puberty, though I’m told some actually enjoyed middle and high school. The easy answer why it is unenjoyable is that your brain is being filled with hormones, which cause your body to grow and develop. Now imagine mixing all the awfulness of pubescent hormones with depression medication chemicals. You may have heard that mixture can cause suicidal thoughts to actually increase during those teenage years.
I was one of those teens.
I had been on a new medication for a month when it began to affect me. My thoughts became increasingly dark; I began to fantasize about taking my own life. My depression medication was backfiring. It culminated in a night when my mom and I gathered all the knives in the house and locked them away from me.
Depression can be described either as chemical or situational. Situational is the kind everybody gets when something bad happens. You lose your job? You get depressed. Chemical depression, however, is the kind people have to find treatment for; it’s the chemical imbalance you hear described on almost any commercial for depression medication.
Having suffered from the chemical imbalance in my own brain for years, I’ve had to find methods to cope beyond just medicine. Through this time, I’ve found seven things that help me cope. It’s important to note, before I go any further, that medication can help people and does. It’s a long and painful struggle to find the right balance to help correct a person’s brain. Much like medication, these methods won’t help everyone, but they might ease the pain of surviving another day with the terrible weight of depression.
1. Make goals and distract yourself.
When I was in high school, I was an honor roll student, a young writer, a part of the theatre program, and an avid video game player. One of the first things I did was try to distract myself from my own thoughts. I played hours of video games, studied hard, and wrote tons of fan fiction and terrible poetry. These helped a little, but what helped even more was when I had a goal I needed to reach. Theatre allowed me to say to myself, “Well, I need to stick around until this date so that I’m not missed in the show.” It gave me a date to hold on to. After each show closed, the next date would be the next audition. It kept me going.
2. Separate the voices.
I’m not the only person who has suffered in this way. My mom did and several of my friends do. When we talk about our suicidal times, each of us found that it was like a voice was telling us that it was what we should do. This wasn’t a voice that we actually heard as much as it was a subconscious thought we had in our darkest moments. It sounds so much like ourselves that it’s nearly convincing, but it’s not us. I’ve had to get used to picking out the thoughts that are mine from the thoughts that aren’t as a survival technique.
3. Pray with honesty.
When my depression is at its worst, I want to hide from everybody, including God. While this feels so natural, it is the opposite of what we should be doing with him. Coming to God and simply stating, “I don’t know why, but I hate everything about me right now,” or “I feel worthless,” or “I just want to die” is a good place to start. I realize I need to talk about these feelings with him and not feel like it needs to be some flowery prayer. But I don’t stop there. . . .
4. Focus on God’s promises.
A relationship with God includes learning about him, and we have no better way to do that than by studying the Bible. This goes hand in hand with number 3 for me. Knowing that God doesn’t promise an easy life for his followers helps me when I’m in hard times. Knowing that he has promised to always be with his people means he is with me in my worst times.
5. Get out of the house.
I learned this when my college roommate Steven came home to find me depressed on the couch for the sixth day in a row. He took me to play Frisbee golf (which I first thought he made up). While I felt like I had no energy, I started playing and talking with him, and by the end of that day I felt better. Not happy, but better. As hard as it is to get the motivation to even get out of bed when the worst of depression hits, the best thing that we can do is get out of bed and get out of the house.
6. Get into community.
It is remarkably easy to do all of the previous five tips when you are in community with other people. Joining a small group at my church was one of the best decisions I’ve made because it put me in community with people I could talk to, hang out with, and pray with. Having these friends is a major part of my coping with depression. I can’t speak highly enough of getting into some sort of small group or Bible study.
7. Effectively communicate.
I only talk about my depression on a regular basis with my wife. It’s not necessary for everyone to know how my mental state is at every given moment. Even with my wife, it’s difficult to talk about. We created a scale to make this easier for times when I am feeling low. Numbers 0 to 4 mean that I am doing well. Numbers 6 through 10 mean that I’m not doing so well. And 5 means I am even-keeled. In my worst seasons of depression I never get a better number than 5, but on regular days I sit around 3 to 5. I might get 6 if I have had a bad day but am not depressed or suicidal.
All of these methods are an integral part of me coping with my depression, especially when I am suicidal. But they are not all-inclusive. These are merely my coping mechanisms, not cures. While I have managed to be medication-free for almost 10 years now by doing these things, getting a prescription is not a defeat—it is another way to help cope, to survive the day. Every day of survival with depression is a victory.
Blake Oliver is a freelance writer in Lugo, Spain while his wife completes a Fulbright grant teaching English.