I suffer from massive depression. Some days it’s all I can do to get out of bed. Some days moving physically hurts.
I’m not alone. Almost everybody I know suffers from some form of depression. It feels like this is an epidemic in my generation. Even though we have access to everything, our brains eat away at us. Even though we can do anything, our bodies fight against us.
I read a lot and depression. Some of it helps, most of it doesn’t. Sometimes I find a tidbit that turns me around. I never know what’s going to help in the moment, but I know right now I’m cycling in a bad way.
So I want to tell you how I keep going even on days when I can barely look at myself in the mirror. I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a doctor. I’m just a guy that deals with my own fight all the time.
1. I remember what I do has value.
I don’t mean monetary value. I mean it has value to the world. I remember that my life has value to the whole of humanity.
Even if that value is to help only one person for the rest of my life, that is enough value for me to continue, because if I don’t then I can’t help that person and they will suffer needlessly.
Chances are I will help more than one person, which means my life has exponential value to the world. If I can help a million people then my suffering is worth it, but even if I can only help one it’s worth it too.
2. I set a project for myself.
The hardest thing to do when you are depressed is anything. I want to lie on the floor and go catatonic right now, but instead I’m writing this article.
I force myself to do something. Even if it’s just write an article or draw a picture. It’s something. I sit myself down at my desk and work away until it’s done. Sometimes it takes an hour. Sometimes it takes a week. But in the end I finished something.
I find that just releasing those creative energies helps my mood immeasurably. A lot of my depression comes from helplessness and completing something proves I have control.
It’s hard at first to do this. Your body will fight against you. But over time it gets easier. Now, I barely have to fight to keep going.
3. I remember life is long and there’s always time to turn it around.
Life is long. I’m 33 now and I feel like I’ve been here forEVER! Statistically, I have more than double my life left.
Even if I’m bankrupt today, tomorrow I might be the presumptive Republican nominee for President. A couple of years ago I had a great job, and now I’m running my own company.
Are there skids along the way? Of course. But there will also be a chance for greatness. There will be loss, but there will also be time for love.
There is always time to turn it around. Always.
4. I know my emotions ebb and flow.
I charted out my emotions and found that I am almost always depressed on the first of the month (when my mortgage is due) and the 20th (When I pay my credit card). I found that I’m happiest on days when I’m speaking and about half of that joy bleeds over into the next day.
I have about 2–3 bad days and 4–5 really good days a month on average. Once I knew that it became about maximizing the good days and riding out the bad days.
5. I remember that people love me.
It’s hard sometimes when you are in the deepest parts of depression to remember people love you. When you are in a spin cycle of depression it’s all you can do to breath.
It’s easy to think about how much easier people’s lives would be if I was gone. If I was gone then my wife wouldn’t be saddled by my business, after all. My business has good months and bad months, but it is never steady and stable. It would make life so much easier for her never to worry about money again. It’s easier to think about the positives to your death when you are depressed.
But there is also a crippling emotional cost that comes with my death. There is love and support that my wife and I give each other. There is her happiness to think about, which outweighs our finances by a country mile. There’s always time to make more money.
I never want to hurt her, so by extension I must stay around. When I’m depressed I desperately want to see all the things that would be better if I was gone, but I force myself to see all of the things that would be worse.
6. I accept that it’s not logical.
My depression isn’t logical. It comes when it wants. Sometimes it comes on the good days. Sometimes it comes when I should be elated.
My depression colors everything I do. It makes me think my work sucks even when it’s good. It makes me think meetings went terribly even if they went well. It makes me think everybody is against me even when they are helping me.
So since I know that, I try not to let myself get caught in the cycle. I try not to make decisions depressed. When I have to make decisions, I understand they will be colored by my emotions.
7. I never cancel meetings because of my mood.
I know that my body wants out of human interaction. I know that it wants to dig into a hole and disappear. I know that it doesn’t want to see people, but I force it out anyway.
If necessary I will tell people the truth when I see them, but it almost never comes to that. If anything my mood improves. I find myself happier when I get out.
I can easily cycle when I’m by myself, but seeing other people prevents me from doing that. It’s hard to think everybody hates me when I’m hanging out with a friend who clearly likes me.
8. I talk openly about my depression.
It’s hard to start the conversation the first time, but when I openly told people I suffer from depression things got so much easier. Just saying it out loud made me unashamed of my condition. A huge part of depression for me is shame, and talking about it took that shame away.
It puts everything I’m doing into perspective. It doesn’t make it better, but at least I took some control of my depression. At least I have some power.
That’s how I survive. I work within the confines of my depression. I complete projects so that I don’t seem helpless. I see people so I don’t feel alone. I understand my triggers so I don’t do anything stupid.
When I recognize my depression, I have a sort of mode that I enter. It’s like power saving mode on a computer.
I know that my work probably doesn’t suck, it’s my depression saying it sucks. I know my life isn’t horrible. It’s my depression saying it’s horrible. Even though I can’t turn depression off, it allows me to still function, because I know it will pass.
I know that I will live and that I should live.
Russell Nohelty is a publisher, writer, and consultant. He runs the publishing company Wannabe Press and hosts the twice weekly podcast The Business of Art. To book a free 30 minute strategy call, click here.