There’s no official manual on how to pull yourself out a massive depression, and if there was, a massively depressed person would likely be too lethargic to read it.
I was diagnosed as clinically depressed last year following my concussion, and instead of reading a self-help book, I decided it was a good time to tackle “Anna Karenina.” I read the first line 8 times, slid it back on the bookshelf, and stared at my bedroom wall for three hours.
The lack of emotion I was feeling was even more jarring than the anger that would erratically and aggressively cut through the inky depression haze and completely overwhelm me. Anger tagged along on my depression ride like a bratty sibling, and save for a few embarrassing outbursts, mostly manifested in the form of an extremely lowered level of “bulls@%t I can handle.”
Since I was being treated for a concussion at the time, I saw my doctor regularly, and she thankfully put me on antidepressants. Those SSRIs really helped bend my brain away from suicidal ideation and total hopelessness. With regular therapy, my mood slowly started improving about two weeks after I started the meds.
Still, I was fragile, sad, and incredibly frustrated. The bulk of the work that needed to be done to climb down from inside Satan’s a-hole, I needed to do on my own.
If you are depressed, you should seek the help of professionals, but I found that there were many things I could do to improve my situation, and they became the cherries atop my “well-managed depression” cake.
1. Express Yourself
While depressed, I indulged in a few languid hobbies. I sat around and did nothing A LOT. I also took to studying posses of pigeons bob through the park by my house. Mostly, though, I binge-watched TV shows. I went through the entire "Sons of Anarchy" series, twice, because why would anyone ever want to watch anything else?
A Hamletian drama about a gun dealing biker gang where emotional stakes are high and consequences brutal probably wasn’t the best choice for a clinically depressed person with a concussion, but if you told me that at the time, I would have raged harder than Gemma Teller-Morrow gearing up to destroy a slutty crow eater.
By the time I finished Season 5, there was a Sons-of-Anarchy-shaped hole in my life. What was going to happen to these characters I had come to know and love? What would Kurt Sutter put them through come Season 6? “I NEED TO KNOOOOWWWW!” screamed my fragile, overly invested brain.
A sane person might have pushed those thoughts away and gotten on with life, but I started working on a faux script for episode 1, season 6 of SOA. Instead of wait, I would create!
My constant headaches made it hard to look at a screen, but I tried to use the pain I was in to inform my writing, or something. Mostly, I took a lot of painkillers and squinted, thinning my blood and elongating my crow’s feet.
The exercise proved a great way for me to digest my unresolved emotions about the show, and I navigated the characters in directions that made me happy and satisfied my now insatiable need for over-the-top, violent drama.
No one but me has read the spec script, and it might be a steaming pile of moose crap, but the process of playing puppet master helped me create some distance from my own demons and focus on manipulating a fictional world I wasn’t a part of. It also got me writing again, and I had felt light years away from being able to write in the weeks and months after depression hit.
When I wasn’t being a crazy scriptwriter, I would paint, draw, play guitar, bake, and do anything that kept my mind occupied and allowed me to produce something.
2. Become A Quote Master
Oprah, beacon of hope and light that she is, has been a constant in my life since I started watching TV. She was always who I turned to when shit went south. You could be pretty sure that no matter what you were going through on any given day, someone Oprah was interviewing probably had it way worse than you. The Oprah Winfrey Show was an excellent reality check. AND THEN SHE WENT OFF THE AIR AND WHAT WERE WE ALL SUPPOSED TO DO?
There’s The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which I’m sure is great and handy in times of emotional crisis, but I don’t get that channel. Sick of being a passenger on the self-hate train to nowhere land, I did what any depressed 21st century woman with access to the Internet might do: I went to Oprah.com.
The site is full of inspiring stories, expert advice on everything from wellbeing to money management, and tips for living your best life, of course. I loved it so much I signed up for the daily newsletter, which always includes an inspirational quote.
Inspirational quotes became my depressed brain’s catnip. I’d read them a few times, cry, then contemplate their meaning, the person who said them, and how I they applied to me.
Since I was an inspirational quote whore, I downloaded an app called “Transform Your Life.” It alerts me daily at 10:05 a.m., when a mid-morning gong sounds and a quote pops up. Underneath the quote is a little assignment that suggests how to manifest its message through your actions that day.
A few of my favorites are:
“Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.” – Janis Joplin
ASSIGNMENT: Today, choose yourself in a situation in which would ordinarily abandon yourself. Notice how that feels.
“When they tell you to grow up, they mean stop growing.” – Tom Robbins
Assignment: Today, recall something you used to love to do but gave up to be a grown up. Make a date to do it.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
Assignment: Today, whatever you’re going through, keeping going – and smile.
Words have so much power, and this is especially true of the words we don’t say out loud, but in our heads, to ourselves. I became more attentive to my thoughts and how mean they had gotten. Having a daily reminder to be nice to myself was incredibly strange and necessary.
It’s worthwhile to note that inspirational quotes do not work if you’re in one of those particularly foul moods where not even a cute baby smooshing cake into his fat face or a kitten stuck in an unplugged toaster could get you to crack a smile. In these cases, you will come up with a snide comeback to the quote, and that is fine; it just means your critical brain is working.
3. Sad Songs Say So Much, But Don’t Listen to Them
I mean, listen to them if you must, but crying along to Kid-A while depressed wasn’t the thing that made me want to rejoin society as a relatively happy, functional member. Happy songs from my childhood, however, were more encouraging.
Like fairies of 80s musical goodness, songs like, “Got My Mind Set On You,” “Dancing In The Dark,” and “Simply The Best,” put at least a passing smile on my sullen face.
Don’t get me wrong, physically going to the gym is something I’m pretty allergic to, so I tricked myself to work out by dancing in my kitchen. Any dance that makes you look like a massive idiot is pretty much a fail proof mood booster.
The Carlton Banks pairs deliciously with the aforementioned 80s hits, but if you want a real workout that forces you to keep up with dancers way better than yourself, please view these two talented gentlemen dancing The Charleston to Jimmy Soul’s “If You Wanna Be Happy.”
My sister and I could regularly be found kicking our legs about the kitchen like deranged animals trying to keep up to the men in the video. The laughter that ensued during and after the dancing was so powerful, we didn’t realize our heart rates were skyrocketing and we were about to collapse.
After I got in the habit of kitchen dancing, I felt ready to start going to yoga again. Yoga was a safe place to cry and work out at the same time. I apologize to my classmates, who I likely made quite uncomfortable with my downward dog whimpers, but that shit was healing. I also signed up for ballet barre, which is an aerobic ballet style workout done at the barre. I never cried during those classes because I was concentrating too hard on having perfect posture.
5. Funny Things
Depression is a real self-esteem killer. Inspired by rereading Tina Fey’s “Bossy Pants,” I joined an improv class at Toronto’s Second City a couple months after my concussion. I thought forcing myself into uncomfortable situations (performing, being around strangers, being in public) would boost my confidence.
After my class stopped doing exercises like “Pass the imaginary ball around the circle,” which took at least five weeks for us to master, we started doing skits.
Our teacher, Kerry, would participate with us. At first this was fun, but pretty soon, he got strangely competitive and critical and we were like, “whoa Kerry, buddy, calm down and be nice to the emotionally brittle participants of your intro improv class.”
Despite Kerry, the class pushed me far out of my comfort zone and got me to laugh and interact with humans again.
Around this time I also formed a strict, lifelong rule that whenever "The Cosby Show" is on, I must watch it. Those Huxtables are magical.
Antidepressants, therapy, little lifestyle changes, and forcing myself into potentially happy situations slowly urged me out of my depression. It was hard every day, and then it was hard most days, until it was only hard some days.
Sometimes my brain threatens to go back to that dark place, I do any and all of the above to keep that from happening. I looked at storm clouds for so long, I really appreciate the sunshine now.
And seriously, if all else fails, just Charleston.