Thursday, 27 November 2014

How To Deal With Depression When Nothing Else Works

storm-clouds-depressionSo you’ve tried antidepressants. You’ve tried "talking" therapy. They’re not working, or they’re hit and miss. The things that are contributing to your depression aren’t improving either, and in order to have the energy to fix them you need to conquer your depression first.

Sound familiar?

If so, I’m hoping that a few of my personal tips (having dealt with similar issues) can be of help.

Personally, I think the problem with treating depression is that fact that it’s lumped into the "mental health" category. If there’s medical intervention, a lot of the treatment is modelled on how severe mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, are treated: medication, psychiatric assessments, and if you’re a harm to yourself or others (like many who are clinically depressed often are, either being irritable or having suicidal thoughts/tendencies), you can be voluntarily or involuntarily sectioned.

A lot of the time, a person with depression just needs someone to talk or vent to, who isn’t going to further aggravate them. Someone who is understanding, sympathetic and offers positive encouragement. In theory, this is what a counsellor should be doing, but receiving that treatment isn't always guaranteed. As with my experience, it can take months of waiting to even receive counselling. 
CC image courtesy of Joe Houghton on Flickr

Currently, the mental health system is so flawed that to receive counselling you’re referred from one service to the next, some of which may entail a cost. It astounds me that there isn’t one free counselling service that you can access directly through your GP, instead of being referred and assessed and passed onto someone else multiple times.

When you’re depressed, and probably already irritable or dealing with heavy life stuff, it’s not exactly helpful.

You may be lucky enough to have supportive friends and a family. For the most part, I wasn’t. Friends? They got cut out when I was going through the worst bout of depression in my life, as far from helping, they were actually contributing  to it, due to their attempts to take advantage of me when I was clearly going through a rough patch, which I struggle to forgive.

My family do try to help, but there are limits to their patience and understanding. I’m grateful to them that they’ve offered financial assistance (which I’ve declined as I’m not comfortable taking cash off people), or there’s been the offer to live with them (which I’ve accepted until I find my feet, as to me staying in a spare room and keeping to myself isn’t exactly putting them out)…but when you have a volatile relationship with your family, as I do, it isn’t the healthiest environment to be in long term, especially when trying to stabilise your moods.

Why am I explaining this? Because you may find yourself in a similar situation, with no-one to really turn to. If you really need immediate help and someone to talk to, your best bet is probably a helpline such as The Samaritans (although an 0800 number is listed as the official helpline, they usually have a local office that you can ring that is open 24/7).

Or you can try some of my tips.

So how do I get through it? How am I able to STILL get up, keep going and interact with people normally? I basically have three methods of coping to recommend:

1) Distancing yourself from negative people/situations – Of course, this isn’t always possible and you will always come across assholes and crappy situations. But if you can identify triggers and minimise your interaction with them, you’re on the road to living a more peaceful and less stressful life.

It may get to the point where you have to tell people outright to eff-off and then ignore them, especially if they try to force themselves into your life, to the point of being overbearing. While you can often recognise the good intentions behind this, if they’re a trigger you HAVE to be firm and distance yourself from them.

The same goes for toxic friends or relationships. If people are bringing you down, you have to take care of yourself and remove them from your life. This doesn’t have to be permanent; while I may not always get on with family, I know they do care and are concerned so I still talk to them or see them, but only every now and again.

If it’s a friend or romantic partner who’s bringing you down, you need to decide if you still want them in your life. It might just be the case that a little space is needed and you reconnect in the future.

2) Focusing on self-improvement – I basically wrote a list of all the things I wanted to learn or improve on. For example, my bike riding skills left a lot to be desired. So I borrowed a bike and got practicing. It turned out I could ride a bike, I just needed to practice. But the buzz I felt afterwards was such a massive self-esteem boost.

We all have certain skills we either want to learn or can expand on. If you’re already multi-skilled and know how to do most things, focus on a particular hobby you enjoy and make more time for it, or look at taking it up a notch. As a result, you may find yourself meeting and interacting with friendly people that you have something in common with, thereby combating the loneliness or social isolation that can sometimes come about as a result of depression. 

Focus on one thing at a time so you don’t get too overwhelmed. Even if you don’t pick up the skills immediately, it will give you something to work towards. Often, people who are depressed are suffering from a feeling of low self-worth and self-esteem. Reminding yourself of things you’re good at, or your ability to learn new things, can counteract that.

You’ll find that whilst you’ve been in the process of removing yourself from negative situations or people, your mood starts to improve and you’re more motivated to do things, as you won’t have negative people distracting you or bringing you down.

3) Do things that make you feel better – If you have trouble identifying what actually makes you happy and smile, I'll use some personal examples:

- Writing. This whole blog came about during a lengthy wait to receive counselling. I needed some form of immediate therapy, an outlet. Which for me, writing definitely is as it helps me let out some of my frustrations and bottled up feelings.
- Listening to music.
- Watching funny or relatable films, TV programmes or YouTube videos.
- Spending time with my nieces and nephews.
- Going for walks.
- Reading advice on online forums from those who have posted about relatable situations.
- Dressing up, going out and meeting new people. I recently moved to a new area and have met people through really random circumstances. As I’m naturally quite a chatty, friendly person, I enjoy talking to genuine, down to earth people as it can be refreshing to get a different perspective on things. If you’ve also relocated to a new area, you could try things like Meetup to meet new people.

CC image courtesy of Chris Ford on Flickr
When you’re feeling sad, of-course, you may not be in the mood to do any of these types of things. But if you’re having a good day, indulging in these activities will help to further lift your mood and maintain it.

I’m not an expert on depression. There is no one-size-fits-all method to combat it. Antidepressants didn’t work for me personally, but for some people they may be a godsend. I’m not slating or ruling out medication, because for some people, it’s essential. My own siblings, who suffer from more extreme mental health conditions, need medication so they’re not a threat to themselves or others and it's worked for them.

On the flip-side though, one of these siblings unfortunately passed away a couple of years ago. At the inquest to his death recently (almost two years after he initially passed away), the pathologist was of the opinion that the medical condition that resulted in his death was a side effect of the heavy dose of medication that was administered. So as you can imagine, I’m a bit cautious about an over-reliance on medication and their subsequent side effects. But at the same time, just like any other medical condition, if depression is left untreated it can get worse or become unmanageable.

CC image courtesy of MIk on Flickr
As someone who has experienced extreme life circumstances (trust me, that is not an exaggeration, several doctors are surprised I’ve held it together this long), I feel like I’m in a position to be able to offer tips. I too had a breaking point and when it happened, I turned to medication. I can say that my experiences with antidepressants, and the various other procedures to treat depression was enough to put me off medical intervention for life, and to also make sure I got better (as I couldn’t imagine the rest of my life on meds or dealing with incompetent idiots)...but on my own terms.

I mean I definitely didn’t feel depressed anymore on the meds. But you also don’t feel much of anything else either. I personally didn’t like the drowsy, drugged up feeling where you can’t say or do much – I felt like I was turning into a vegetable. And if you experience the side effects like I did (drowsiness, nausea, insomnia, weird dreams, restless legs), you have to take even more medication to counteract them. 

I’ve been told if you stick with anti-depressants, you do get used to the side effects. I didn’t take them long enough to find out as it was severely affecting my quality of life. It took about two weeks after I stopped taking them for me to feel completely normal and like myself again.

At the end of the day, you have to remember that a lot of the time these extreme downers do eventually pass, especially with enough time and with the tips I’ve outlined. You can enjoy life again, you can have fun and interact with people and life can feel like it’s worth living again.

I really hope that anyone who comes across this finds this article helpful. If you do, leave a comment and let me know. After all, helping someone out is also said to be a prescription for depression ;-)

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