After a recent bout of depression I thought about a post that one of our members, David, wrote to describe how he felt during a particularly difficult depressive episode. In his post entitled, A Lesson Never to be Forgotten, David describes his experience in a way that so many of us can relate to:
"I won't soon forget that awful state that consumed me. I laid in my hospital bed the first three days watching it rain as a hurricane blew through. I felt very much like that storm, my insides were in turmoil and thoughts raging..just like the wind and rain."
The lesson that David had learned and wanted to pass on to us is that these internal storms finally do end just as real ones do. They don't last forever. We simply have to ride them out. Of course that is the hard part. I also found this storm analogy on the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance website where they depict the feelings of depression as being as strong as a flood, a tornado, or even a hurricane. Following this analogy we are going to talk about ways to cope with these mood storms so that you can survive and get through them intact and in one piece.
If you go to any website about storm preparation one of the first suggestions is to pay attention to warnings. This is true for our depression storms as well. We all have early warning signs that our mood may be changing for the worse. Some of the more common warning signs may be a lack of sleep or too much sleep, changes in appetite, greater stress levels and irritability. But your early signs of depression may be unique to you. Don't let depression sneak up on you. When you sense that your mood is beginning to darken, this is the time to act, before it becomes a full-fledged storm.
Another tip on storm survival is to take shelter. One of our instincts when we feel depressed is to do just this. We hunker down where we feel the most safe. In the extreme, taking shelter can mean shutting out other people. But this is not the type of shelter which is healthy for us. Taking shelter, in a healthy way, means that you leave the door open for connection and help. But it may mean shutting the door to known stressors, toxic people, and emotionally distressing situations. When you feel a depressive episode coming on it may be wise to pare down to the essentials of living. This is not the time to take on extra responsibilities or other people's problems. Feel safe within the confines of the boundaries you set up in order to protect your mental health.
"Stay calm" is another suggestion given to anyone who is facing a pending storm. Knowing that your depression symptoms have returned may cause you to feel anxious or even panic. This anxiety only perpetuates the depression and may cause it to become more deeply entrenched. One of my coping strategies during such a time is to think about my successes. For anyone who has survived a depressive episode in the past, this can be considered a success. You need to remember, as member David suggests, that these mood storms do not last. Yes it will be rough going during this time but there is always hope that in time you will feel better. One of my mantras during a bout of depression is, "This too shall pass." Another way to stay calm is to surround yourself with people who are supportive and reassuring that you will endure this storm.
The literature on storm survival also reminds us to plan ahead. For those of us who suffer from chronic or recurring depression planning ahead can be vital for our mental health and well being. Planning ahead may mean that you seek the help of a mental health professional. It may mean making sure that you are getting enough exercise, healthy foods to eat, and a variety of creative outlets to express your feelings. Think about what you do in preparation for a weather storm. You may stock up on essentials like food, water, battery powered lights and radio. In the event of a depression storm you stock up on mental health essentials-those things which help you to emotionally survive when times are tough. This list of mental health essentials may be different for everyone.
Lastly, the experts on storm survival tell us to develop an emergency communication plan so family and friends know who to call during a severe storm. Not only is this essential during weather emergencies, it is also critical during times of emotional crisis. I would advise writing down the names, email addresses, and phone numbers of at least three people you can call during a severe episode of depression. This is especially important if you have a history of feeling suicidal. You may want to have the numbers for your therapist, doctor, or suicide hotlines also available just in case your family member or loved one needs to make a call on your behalf. It may also be helpful to tell trusted individuals the signs and symptoms of when you are depressed and in need of help and what they can do if that situation should occur.
We all hope that storms do not occur, yet regardless of our hopes, they happen. Just as we cannot control the weather, we also cannot control our moods during a relapse of depression. But we can develop strategies to cope with a mood storm when it happens. If you are currently feeling depressed know that you can always come to Health Central's depression site to share your experience. Most of us are very familiar with depression and how to ride out the storm. Let our community help you to get through this bad time.
We would love to hear from you now. Does your depression sometimes feel like a storm in your head? What coping strategies do you have for getting through a severe depressive episode? Your story could help someone else who is going through the same thing. Thank you for participating in our community discussions. It really helps.