2013 was probably the hardest year I ever faced in my life, and God willing, it will remain the hardest. For those who follow my articles, you will know that in spring of last year, my wife left me, and ended our relationship despite my wanting to work through it. And it hit me hard. I've never faced a pain like that before. The result was what I can safely say was a very real, deep depression.
It took me a while to understand what it was because I was not really accustomed to this kind of sadness. It was only natural to be sad and grieve, but I always hesitate to declare anything as a depression because I feel that the term is overused by the public... or perhaps underused when it comes to those who are actually going through it.
It is important to recognize when you're actually depressed and one of the ways I found out was looking it up and making the connection that the signs of depression were my reality. That sounds obvious, but not everyone is aware that what they feel from day to day is unusual. Depression is more than just being sad; it is intrusive. It is natural to be sad from time to time, especially when things in life are stressful or you go through a loss. But sadness should not continue to be a pervasive presence in your day to day life.
Now, I'm not a psychologist. I can only speak from my own personal experience and some articles and videos that I've seen on the subject. I'm definitely not an expert, but what I can do it help out with some practical steps into helping curb your depressive thoughts. This may not help everyone so if things don't get better, you may be going through something much more severe than what I was going through. At which point, I would recommend seeing a professional for help. I'm not against the notion of medication for depression, but I also believe that some cases don't need to go as far as drugs and it's healthier to adjust your life style before your body chemistry.
1.) Don't feel blame.
Rationalizing anything when you're depressed is not easy. Negative thoughts spiral out of control and become irrational all too quickly. There is a certain thought pattern that follows people where they feel guilt for feeling depressed which makes them feel even worse. This wasn't as much the problem with me as I knew I was depressed due to circumstance. My thought pattern was that of immense loneliness and feeling completely inadequate as a person. I felt that I would never be loved again and that no one could accept me for who I was. But there was a deep down more rational side of me who knew that these thoughts weren't true and that it was just a season of sadness. But no matter how many times I tried to tell myself this, the negativity would maintain a stronghold. That's when I recognized the disconnect between who I was and how I felt. I had no control over my emotions. As if I were in a life boat trapped on the ocean, I could not avoid the storms, I just had to survive them.
But that was the first step to overcoming the depression; the knowledge that I was helpless to do anything about it released me from the notion that if I were only stronger or smarter that I could be cured of this. That, in a way, lessened a build up of negativity toward myself.
2.) Talk honestly with friends or family
One of the things that I feel our generation really struggles with is being open and genuine with people. And while I don't think you should open up to everyone, you shouldn't be afraid to open up with some. It is shocking how many people just don't want to hear what it is that you're going through. I remember that if I talked about it because people asked me how I was doing or whatever, if I opened up too much, people would conveniently find ways out of the conversation. But what you're going through is always on your mind so you feel like you need to dump your emotions out... and you probably do. So, this is where you find out who your real friends are.
I was very fortunate, and I recognize that not everyone will have the same luxuries that I had when I was going through my separation. When I moved out from my wife's apartment, I moved in with my mom. My initial intention was to only be there a couple of months until I found a place for myself, but my sadness only worsened and the truth was that I needed to be close to family. Isolation would have been disastrous for me. I'm also fortunate in that I have a very good relationship with my mother so being able to open up about my situation was not the challenge it might be with some.
But I also opened up with some select friends of mine. And I really mean opened up. I had to be willing to let it all out, which meant talking about some of the things I had done wrong and being willing to cry around them. I mean, the crying is pretty much an inevitability when you open up fully and, personally, I don't have a problem with that. I think men are too afraid to cry, but it's a natural emotional response and we shouldn't block that from ourselves.
3.) Eat proper food.
One of the things that I came to for comfort was junk food and I knew it was bad, but I indulged anyway. It was a sort of 'f-you' to my ex because she was very controlling over what I spent money on and ate. Not that she was wrong all the time, but I took my hurt and new found freedom and made some unwise dietary choices. I ate a lot of nanaimo bars, not gonna lie. But like most actions that are fuelled with selfish intent, they have a tendency to backfire.
But the truth is that junk food has a very short term benefit. It makes you feel good for a short time, but doesn't provide you with the energy you need. And one of the symptoms of depression is being really low on energy. Bad food on top of a chemically skewed brain is bad news. It just elevates the problem.
But if you think about it, if much of depression is happening on a chemical level, you would probably be best off doing whatever it takes to normalize your body chemistry. We're not really made to each processed foods, refined sugars, and deep fried fatty foods. Junk food is full of sugar, salt and fat.
What I did was I started to make my diet more protein based while increasing my vegetable intake also, which has always been difficult for me because I've never fully shaken off my picky eater younger self. I've expanded my pallet, but I still have a tough time choking back veggies. But I found that I could pack back handfuls of raw spinach. While I don't really 'enjoy' it, I can easily tolerate it and made that one of the main vegetables to take it, which is good because it's a really healthy veggie, full of iron, calcium, potassium and tons of vitamins. So I'm glad I can gag that one down.
Bettering my eating habits was only part of it though. I also decided to start getting into better shape. We are a people who are meant to be in movement. For whatever reason, our society has developed to counter our own biology, giving us jobs where we sit all day only to come home and veg out on a computer. We are so inactive and that may be one of the reasons why so many people suffer from things like depression. Up until a couple of generations ago, jobs involved people being on their feet. Agricultural life styles were the norm, where people would have to wake up early to take care of things on the farm and be active every day. Not to say that I'm not grateful for the advancements we've made. I enjoy the leisure that a modern life provides, but I've become increasingly aware that being active does not come naturally and has to be a decision that you make. But I promise that it is never a decision you regret. If you asked me even a year ago if I would ever go to the gym regularly, I would laugh because it just seemed so illogical. I had no interest in getting a toned and muscular body; it seemed vain. But now I go regularly and it is encouraging when I can physically see the results of working hard. And my main reason for going is because when I sit around inside too much, I feel a sadness creep in. After I work out, I feel better both physically and emotionally.
You don't have to lose a bunch or weight or gain tons of pounds of muscles either. Everyone can have an exercise regime that suits them best. I tried running and I hated it and felt more discouraged after. Wasn't for me, but I know people who really get a lot out of it. Heck, I would even just encourage people to go for a half hour walk a day. Just walk. It will go a long way for your physical and mental health.
5.) Find a creative outlet.
I was also very fortunate that when my wife left me, I was in the process of making a short film and was able to bury myself in that work. That provided challenges on set, as sometimes I would be reminded of what was going on in life and would have trouble composing myself, let alone be funny, but those moments would fade fast enough. And it's not because I was completely distracted. I don't think that's a solution; it just delays the inevitable and also often doesn't even work. Rather, the film making process, acting, and being with like-minded people who share these passions, was really energizing. It was something that brought me a lot of joy. How could that not counter a depression?
Making a film did wonders for me, but that's something that I've known is my passion for a long time. What if you don't know what it is that makes you excited? I guess now is the perfect time to find it. At least the act of trying things and doing something different is a push in the right direction. Painting was something my aunt tried that she found she connected with when she experienced a loss. I've heard some people get a lot out of journaling. That can be one of the more raw and direct ways of expressing your emotions and it's as private as you like. There are any number of things you can try.
I must stress again that I'm not an expert. I don't even really have myself fully figured out. I still get depressed and anxious and it takes effort, or sometimes just time, to get through it. But these steps have really helped me through this last year and I wanted to share it with someone who may need it. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to seek help. This is something that a lot of people need help with. I feel that in the daily grind of just trying to get by with work and other obligations, we really don't put enough emphasis on mental health. Our brains are bombarded with stress and chemicals and who knows what else and I think more people need to take a step back and really take care of themselves. Mental health should be a bigger priority in our culture. I honestly believe that.
If you have any more recommendations or want to call me out on something I have completely wrong, please comment below. I really appreciate feedback. Feel free to share your experience and also if you're struggling to find someone to talk to, you can reach out to me. Even if you're a complete stranger, I will listen and help in any way I can.
[Originally posted on Sour Grapes Winery on June, 2014]
[Originally posted on Sour Grapes Winery on June, 2014]