“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.”
― Roy T. Bennett,
I see a lot of things like the above quote on the internet, I even heard them daily growing up. And I absolutely believe it, because I’ve seen it, and experienced it. But I’ve also seen a lot of ranty blogs, and articles complaining about this sentiment. The above sentiment is often spouted by people who’ve never had depression (or any related mental illness), in such a way as to suggest that if you choose to be happy then you won’t be depressed. So in those instances, I think that the ranters have it right.
But in reality, neither is so simple.
Having depression doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t be happy. Because depression isn’t about happiness. It’s more like a cross between a roller-coaster and quick sand. Depression has a natural life cycle of ups and downs (like the roller-coaster), but when it’s heading down it pulls you with it – whether you want to go or not (like the quick sand).
Every person who has depression finds that it manifests slightly differently. Things that helped one person, don’t help at all for another, and vice versa.
For me, when I’m on top of the roller-coaster I can bang out a chapter a day (if I work at it), in the troughs (the low points) I’ll watch TV for 8 hours a day, and mounting piles of dishes will instill in me a deeper apathy than any other I’ve known. Depression sucks the motivation right out of me. Suddenly, it’s like I don’t want to expend the energy to be happy.
Because that’s the bit that no one mentions, the choice to be happy isn’t enough. It’s a choice, that needs to be followed by action. And the other thing, choosing to be happy, even following through – it doesn’t make the depression go away, it makes it bearable. It gives you an inch of rope to hold onto, to keep you from sliding down into the chasm beneath the sand.
All that effort, in addition to what I like to think of as my first aid kit. A simple list of things that are my go to’s, which may or may not help me drag myself out of the darkness before professional help is required. And these are just mine, the list gets added to, and things get removed. And I have to be paying attention, because two years ago I wasn’t and I had a meltdown/breakdown (if you really want to read about it you can find Three posts about it – Academic Anxiety, Redemption part 1, and Redemption part 2); I was very lucky that Student Health had an excellent counselor, and that my lecturer was exceedingly forgiving.
- Eat my feelings
- Eat the comfort food – do not focus on whether it meets health guidelines, is it what I want? does it make me feel better?
- This one can be harder, how do you put the black hole into words? But even just venting helps. It’s not for other people to read, it’s more like when you’ve over filled a pot and it’s boiling over – so you pour off the excess.
- Enough said, the point is to get naturally occurring endorphins pumping through your body, they help – really.
- Remembering who I am normally.
- It’s a bit of a litmus test, as well as something to strive for. But the less I can remember who I am, and what I’m like outside of depression the deeper in the pit I am.
- Laughing and laughter.
- Patch Adams knew what he was talking about. Laughter makes things bearable, he never said that it could make the illness go away. Just that you don’t need to suffer with it. Genuine laughter also produces those all important endorphins.
- Have a dinner party.
- Just something informal, it’s not supposed to be stressful. But cooking for people is often how I show them that I care about them. But in this instance it’s about getting my friends (aka, my support) around me, when the thought of going out might be too stressful.
- I could make mac and cheese and they would come.
- If having all of them around at once stresses me out, I can have them over individually, or in small overlapping groups (also helpful when living in a small house).
- Delegate the washing up!
- Celebrate the little victories!
- Cannot stress the importance of this enough, when the concept of getting out of bed (or staying out of bed) is mind boggling it needs to be celebrated when you do it. See Boring Self-Care for more ideas on this one.
There are others, but these are my go to’s. I’m not ashamed that my brain rides a roller-coaster. I shouldn’t have to be.