“When everything seem to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” ~Henry Ford
We all have this image of how depression looks. It’s a person looking all sullen and grim. Rain is usually involved. It’s dark. It’s cloudy. It’s depressing.
But what about the sunny depression, the one that almost never shows its face in public, the one that looks just…normal.
I’m a naturally happy person. I wake up smiling. I go to bed smiling. I even smile in my sleep, or so I’ve been told. Yet I’ve been depressed, depressed to the point where I was struggling to find reasons to go on, knowing in my rational mind that I need to find them, yet unable to get there emotionally.
I was never diagnosed with depression, partly because I refused to actually see a professional about it and partly because I wanted to believe I could somehow find my way out without medication, since it wasn’t induced by a chemical imbalance.
In a brilliant TED Talk, Andrew Solomon says that “the opposite of depression is not happiness, it’s vitality.” And that’s what I was lacking—the vitality, the drive to do something every day, the desire to step out of the numbness.
I would spend my weekends alone in my apartment. I would pretend to be sick or tired, and when I would go out, I would go out of my way to not let anything seep through the armor I had built for myself.
Most of the time, when driving back home, I would start crying in the car and would continue crying until I’d finally fall asleep.
Sometimes I would sleep, even have happy dreams; other times, I would continue to cry in my dreams until the next morning when I would get up, go through the motions, put on make up to cover my swollen eyes, and start pretending everything was okay once again.
If you’re reading this wondering if this applies to you and your life, take a look at the signs that finally made me realize I was depressed.
- I would always find excuses not to do things.
- I’d look the same in public, pretending everything was okay.
- I thought I was tough, that I didn’t need help; therefore, I didn’t ask for it.
- I would cover my lethargy with smiles.
- I didn’t actually feel unhappy, just uninterested in everything.
- I started questioning if there was something at the other end, if I would ever get out of this state.
The more I thought about everything, the sadder I got, and nothing seemed right anymore. I missed the happy me, the one who would wake up with a huge smile on her face, the one who believed that magic happened every day, who made everyone feel better and radiated light wherever she went.
I looked around and realized I had no idea how to ask for help. I had never done it before and I considered it an act of weakness. But I still decided to try to ask for help.
Who was I going to ask? My friends? My family? My boyfriend? I felt ashamed, as if asking for help would make me seem less worthy of their love, as if I would turn into a disappointment. So I didn’t, at least not directly.
I hinted toward the fact that I was depressed. I may have actually phrased it as “being sad,” but I never asked for what I needed, mainly because I didn’t know what I needed. I didn’t want to be coddled or have anyone feel sorry for me. I just somehow wanted to be loved and supported, but I didn’t really know how.
And then it hit me. I would never have back the time I was wasting now; I would never have that moment when I could have woken up happy with a giant smile on my face.
Every moment I spent being sad and depressed was a moment I wasn’t happy, a moment I could have spent with my family, my friends, and my boyfriend. For every moment I was depressed, I was losing a moment of happiness.
I made a commitment to myself to find that happy me, that person full of love and vitality, the person that I knew still existed inside of me. It wasn’t easy. I had so many moments when I just wanted to crawl back into the cocoon of sadness and numbness I had created for myself, but I still tried every day.
I knew I didn’t want to go on like this anymore. Here are a few things you can do when you find yourself in a somewhat similar situation.
1. Stop putting yourself down for not waking up with a smile on your face.
Instead, create a routine that will help you start the day off right. I did a short, guided meditation every morning. It was only five minutes long and at first it annoyed me, but I stuck with it and soon enough I started waking up and looking forward to it. And after a while, I was starting to do it every time I had a few minutes to myself. This allowed me to step into a place of acceptance and a place where I loved myself no matter what.
2. Start looking for the little moments.
Instead of demanding for the entire day to be happy, look for those little perfect moments in every day. Those little perfect moments can be as simple as your coworker bringing your favorite coffee to work one day or someone calling you just to say they missed you.
For me, the perfect moments I will probably always remember were going to my favorite pizza place in the middle of the night, getting tickets to a concert I was dying to go to, yet it had been sold out for months, getting text messages that just said “I miss you” or “You’ve been on my mind.”
3. Surround yourself with joyful people.
And stay away from the ones who only see the bad side of things. We all have those people in our lives that charge us with energy and lift our spirits, and then we have those people who bring us down.
I tried as much as I could to spend time with those high-energy people that filled me with love and joy.
Sometimes when I was around those joyful people, I would feel a little sadness and anxiety, as if the pain inside me just wanted to come out. And many times, I decided to talk about it with them, knowing that they would always find the best thing to say to bring me up and help me release that tightness inside.
4. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.
If you feel happy for a moment, allow yourself to be happy; if you are feeling sad, allow yourself to be sad without judging yourself, but also without dwelling on that feeling of sadness.
5. Don’t dwell on the negative.
Whenever you feel like talking about all the bad things in the world, find a tiny little thing that was good and hang onto that one.
When those moments come when you feel full of anxiety, as if you’re going to break into a million pieces, allow yourself to talk about how you’re feeling, to get it all out, to release it and then to let it go.
I always found it helpful to talk about things with a positive person who did nothing else but listen. They didn’t push their advice on me, they didn’t convince me it was all in my head; they just listened and asked questions that helped me understand what was going on, and supported me as best as they could.
6. Start working out.
I worked out even more than before, to the point where exercise became my therapy. I would always pick the classes or the home videos with motivational trainers who lifted my spirit. Soon enough, I not only felt good during and after working out, but I also felt good when I looked in the mirror.
Throughout this journey of coming back to my happy and joyful self, I took big steps and little steps. I just took everything as it came and looked for reasons to keep me on my path every day.
Some days it was easy, other days it felt like a pain, and other days I just felt numb, as if I was waiting for my life to pass and get to a better place all on its own. Then I would remember once again: I will never get this time back; this time might be all I have. How do I want to spend it?
Do I want to be numb, full of pain, or full of fear? Or do I want to live it to the fullest, to enjoy every moment as much as I can, to be kind and loving?
I don’t know if I laugh in my sleep, but I do wake up smiling. My dreams are back, my desire to live life regardless of the challenges and circumstances thrown at me is back, and my sunny sky is real now.
It’s not always easy, and the days when depression rears its ugly head can still show up when you least expect it. But if you’re kinder to yourself, if you set healthy boundaries and allow yourself to be happy and sad, then you’re already winning.
Editor’s note: This post represents one person’s experience and lessons. If nothing seems to help you move past your depression, please consider consulting a professional. You can find a number of helpful free resources here.
Woman with scarf image via Shutterstock