Sometimes winter doesn't leave. For some of us, it hangs around, in a chill deep in our bones that never thaws. Frost that paralyzes your soul and a blizzard that destroys your mind and sometimes kills.
The best way I can describe depression is cold. It feels as though your entire being is freezing. Everyone associates winter with death of some kind, of sunlight or flowers. But what happens when winter is inside of you? And spring never comes? Being depressed is like the worst cold, windy, and rainy day you can imagine. Except it is every day; and the kicker is that everyone else is living in a sunny day and they cannot understand how you can feel so horrible when everything's great. It's unbearably isolating. So we make do and cope however we can. Some methods of coping are healthy, some are less so, and some are downright dangerous. These are some of the healthy-ish things I did to survive depression.
Let Yourself Feel
There were so many nights I spent lying in bed or on the floor sobbing and freezing cold inside. No one really talks about depression in the nitty-gritty of it. Everyone likes a cheerful story and a list of what you can do to get better. But what people without depression do not understand is that sometimes we need to dwell in the feeling to get out of it. Every time I sobbed into my pillow wishing to die, the only thing that made me feel alive was the pain I felt when I listened to depressing music, and that would be enough to get me through that moment of feeling like I was suffocating in grief. Now, I'm not telling you to just listen to “Alone Again, Naturally” on repeat or dwell too much on the negativity in your mind, but sometimes it is necessary in order to move forward. Looking back on the years I was depressed, I realize being an “emo” probably saved me. If I hadn't been able to release emotion and express my feelings through the music I listened to and the way I dressed, I'm not sure how I would have made it out of those dark days.
Give Yourself Grace, but Hold Yourself Accountable
It is so important to give yourself grace when you are struggling. I heard this cheesy saying once that said “If you wouldn’t say it to little you, don’t say it to yourself now” but that really is true. I struggled with self-compassion when I was depressed. I thought some pretty horrible things about myself—things I would be ashamed to say out loud, let alone to myself as a child. Sometimes, as hard as it can be, forcing yourself to be objective and to realize that there are certain things that you just need to do to feel better. Changing the way you “talk” to yourself in your head is the best place to start. It takes very little energy to change a thought, but it is unpleasant. No one likes to hear that what they're doing is wrong, and there's no one to hold you accountable for your thoughts. This is one of those things that you just have to force yourself to do; so grit your teeth and push through. I have been here, and I know some days are easier than others. But you still have to get back up after each bad day and keep pushing forward.
Choose to Fight Everyday, Even When it's Hard
No one can magically save you from depression. It is something you have to work at,and choose to fight every single day. There were so many people whom I told I was depressed, and almost no one believed me. Everyone had some piece of “advice” that made me feel worse. Some of the things people say without even thinking about can cause a lot of damage.
It is easy to give up, especially when you are fighting alone and no one knows what you are going through. There will be days when you do not even think it is worth it to try to get better, and there will be days when you feel like everything is going to be OK. The most important thing you can do is to push through the darkest days, even when you feel like you can't. Hold on tight to the good days, and use the memory of them to get through the hard days.
Don't Try to Go It Alone
As hard as it is, you need to remember that you are the only person that can save yourself in the end; but that doesn't mean to fight alone, all the time. Lean on people when you can, but learn to stand and fight alone too. Remember that there is no shame in reaching out for help; therapy can help, and going on medication was very beneficial to me. I encourage everyone who is feeling depressed to consider therapy, since it can give you the tools you need to fight. While support can really help someone struggling with depression, it cannot be everything. If you rely solely on other people, it can be easy to use them as a lifeline; if they cannot be there for you, you could start drowning. That is why it is so important to learn how to fight for yourself; therapy is often helpful for that.
For those who don’t have depression, it may not seem like that big of a deal to reach out for help. But for many of us, fear prevents us from opening up. We're scared that we won't be believed, or worse, ridiculed for how we feel. . If someone is teetering on the edge and they open up to someone hoping to find help, and instead receive dismissal, anger or mockery, it can send them over. That's why it is extremely important for people without depression to learn how to listen to people when they’re struggling. It can save someone’s life.
Finding Purpose in the Little Things
The greatest piece of advice I can offer is to find purpose. Depression sucks the joy and happiness out of life, and it makes you feel as though you don't have any reason to be alive. It tricks you into thinking the world would be better off without you, but that it is not true. The world is NOT better off without you; there IS a reason you are here, even if you haven't figured it out yet. And there's no rush! You do not need to figure everything out right now, you just need to make sure you stay alive until you can. So find purpose in small things: watering your plants, making sure your dog gets enough walks, music, faith, whatever works for you. There is no right answer. For me, taking care of my dog and making music were what I found purpose in. Now I find purpose in my faith and in letting other people know they are not alone in their struggles. It doesn't matter what makes you want to keep breathing, you just have to find something to keep you going.
So winter may stay around longer than we like, and there are days when the icy grip of depression seems too much to bear. But you can learn to keep warm. I know it may not feel like it, but I promise it really does get better. You just have to be patient, keep marching, and know that spring is coming. And once your world starts thawing and you see the first signs of joy spring up, you will know you made it–and there's no better feeling. So hang on to that hope and never, ever, stop fighting. You’re worth far too much to give up on.