Shocked about Robin Williams.
The small thing I can do, every day, is to be open about the fact that I have struggled with depression. If someone decides to not hire me, not vote for me, not be my friend, etc., because of that, so be it.
I try to be a good listener, and to help around the edges. Sometimes it starts, “I just moved to San Antonio and I feel out of place here.” Or, “My kids are miserable in school and the teachers look at me like I’m crazy.” I try to listen, share ideas, connect people who can help each other.
How to keep the darkness away? Lots of little things.
My friends responded with love, and encouraged me to write more. So, with humility, here goes.
My brain is predisposed towards depression. But I like my brain. My weirdness has side benefits, such as sensitivity, and being detail-oriented.
After college, I experienced a quarter-life crisis. My internal monologue sounded like this:
“I showed up for work today. Where’s my certificate?”
“I have an advanced degree, but I’m actually pretty clueless. What will happen when they find out?” [also known as impostor syndrome]
I couldn’t keep faking it. I could not get out of bed. I took a leave of absence from my job. I tried medication briefly, and it helped with the worst feelings, but I felt weird. I quit taking it, probably too soon, but it was just a short-term solution.
For lasting change, I had to build new habits. I rewrote my internal monologue. It became a dialogue between me and an imaginary coach, who looked sort of like Dr. Evil. New version:
Me: “I’ll never live up to . . .”
Dr. Evil: “Zip it!“
Later, I found out that this is sort of like cognitive behavioral therapy—a powerful tool for life change. Some of the thought patterns and habits that I thought were fixed and permanent actually turned out to be quite malleable. For a dramatization of that idea, watch the movie What the Bleep Do We Know?.
Here is my grab bag of techniques:
- Adopt an internal locus of control. It’s not the world doing these things to me; they are the consequences of the choices I make.
- Live with humility. A pastor shared a story with me about a religious leader who became depressed because he was not achieving the lofty goals he set for himself. His salvation was realizing that depression is the hand of God pressing down on you, making you humble.
- Volunteering. Giving your time to help people, and doing work that you feel passionate about. You will do your best work when you are passionate and motivated; you will feel good about yourself, and do more good work. It’s a virtuous cycle.
- Change your expectations. Success and money are nice, but those are not the right goals for life. Also, beware of making comparisons to other people; read more in this earlier post about friendship and money.
- Rewrite your story. Throw out the old plan, burn the scripts. Write a new plan for your life. Don’t worry about what other people said you should do with your life.
- Trust the experts. I know a good psychologist, and I check in with him on an as-needed basis. For a great perspective on this, check out Austin Moms Blog: “Counseling. It’s what’s for dinner.”
- Appreciate the little things in life. Good food. The beauty of nature. Feeling tired after a long walk, getting a good night’s sleep, and waking up the next day feeling healthy and glad to be alive.
- Most of all: People make life meaningful. Good relationships require humility, and strong friendships are not based on quid pro quo. It’s better to pay it forward with no expectation of immediate reward, and build a community of trust.
Because of my history of depression, I was concerned about postpartum depression. While I was pregnant, I skimmed Brooke Shields’ book Down Came the Rain. As it turned out, although I struggled with the sleep deprivation of caring for newborns, I had already learned some coping skills that saw me through it.
If you know a friend who shows signs of depression, what can you do? Instead of saying, “I think you’re depressed,” try asking, “What’s bothering you?” She probably has some obstacle in mind: a stalled career, homesickness, worry about a special needs child, etc.
Listen. Help her re-frame the problem and find a way to take control of the situation. If she needs to talk more than you are able to listen, enlist more friends to help, or steer her towards a counselor. Encourage her to pamper herself, but also to be tough-minded about problem solving.
The painful part about witnessing depression—and substance abuse, eating disorders, etc.—is that the person who is suffering has to do most of the work herself. As a friend, the most you can do is help around the edges: nudge her towards the tipping point that leads her to making better choices for herself.
My fellow San Antonio bloggers are also reacting to Robin Williams’ death. Read more:
- “A silent suffering (Robin Williams’ death)”, Tori Foster Johnson, The sTORIbook, August 12, 2014
- “Spark of Madness”, Brandi Dunagan, I Can’t Hear Myself Drink, August 12, 2014
- “Depression doesn’t have a face . . .”, Michelle Cantu, A Thrifty Diva, August 12, 2014
- “I Wasn’t Going to Go There”, Jolie Gray, The Gray Matters, August 12, 2014
- “Depression – An Overview and Resources”, Maggie McMahon, The Learning Lab, August 12, 2014