For all my posts about mental illness and brain injury, I haven’t talked about depression, because up until now I didn’t have any useful coping methods to pass on. However, the last few days I’ve felt the depression gremlin creeping up on me, but instead of it dragging me into the murky depths as usual, I figured out a couple of ways to ward it off that actually seemed to work. So in hope that these methods might help someone else (although very aware they might not), here goes…
Spotting the Warning Signs
It’s important to recognise the early signs that depression is curling its fingers around your thoughts. Once the depression has you fully in its grip, most methods of escape are useless (including the following ideas). For me, the warning signs are: believing that nobody likes me, ruminating on past unfairness that doesn’t matter anymore, and thinking of myself in a negative way. When I notice most of my underlying thoughts are like this, bubbling under the surface, then I know I’m in trouble. The sooner I spot the signs, the more able I am to stop a full attack.
So if you notice the first hint of the blues, this might be something to try to stop them taking hold…
The First of the Three Little Things
Focus on small but lovely sensations/events.
This sounds twee I know, and seeing it written down is already irritating me, but when I tried it it simply worked.
Every time you find negative thoughts crowding your head, stop and take a moment to pay attention to something pleasant. For example focus on how your feet are warm, or think about a friendly text message you got earlier, or just remind yourself that something nasty isn’t happening: eg I’m really happy I don’t have to go to the dentist today. Properly focus on that good thing, let it be all you think about for a few seconds.
If you are anything like me, you’ll now be thinking: but how can I focus on my warm feet when my hands are cold? Or Maybe I don’t have to go to the dentist, but I do have to go to work! The thing is, there are always going to be bad things happening, I’m not asking you to pretend that there aren’t, I’m just asking you to try ignoring them for a few seconds and focus on something good. Don’t just do this once, if you find it helps, do it repeatedly.
And with the negative response, I don’t believe it’s the clear and rational thought that it seems to be, but the depression messing with your perspective. Because the depression gremlin is very persuasive and he wants to survive, he makes sure that you perpetuate behaviour that will make you miserable. If you try and do anything that might quash the depression, then he needs to convince you you’re wrong. So, ignore the nasty voice telling you to dwell on shitty things and, for a few moments, concentrate on the delightful; relish your senses, or a memory, or just anything nice. Give your mood a few moments of relief.
I reckon this method works because a big part of depression involves the build up of whispered nasty thoughts. You might not even notice these thoughts until they have taken you over, but they are there: telling you you are crap, that your life is awful, that everything is going wrong, that you can’t cope. It’s very difficult to just stop thinking these thoughts because they are so insidious and constant, but it is possible to drown them out with positive repetitive thoughts.
Next method on Wednesday…
Let me know if any of you find this helpful. I’m always very aware with depression that any advice on overcoming it can seem like trivialisation of a very serious and complex illness. I’ve been battling the gremlin for most of my life, and I know that there are no simple, cure-all solutions, but I’ve managed to figure out a few methods that seem to help me, and I really hope they might benefit someone else too.