Oscar Award winning actor and comedian Robin Williams took his life today. A talented man decided his demons were too strong. He was 63. Mr. Williams and I have one thing in common. Depression.
I was diagnosed with severe depression and moderate anxiety in 2006 while going through my separation and divorce. Depression is one of those invisible diseases where people always say, “Funny, you don’t look sick.” They mean well, they just don’t understand. People try to be empathetic by saying, “I know. I’ve been down too.” Or even worse, “We all have problems, you just have to put on your big boy pants and suck it up!” Depression is still a social stigma. We treat it like the crazy uncle that gets invited to Holiday dinner. Everyone knows he’s there, but no one says anything.
I liken depression to alcoholism; both are diseases that cannot be cured only managed. You can still have a good quality of life living with depression. Think of depression as a condition like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Neither of those conditions will stop you from enjoying your life but they do need to be monitored and managed. It’s the same with depression.
I would like to share with you some ways you could manage depression and ensure you still have a full, rewarding life.
First. The most important thing in managing depression is to take control, control of your thoughts and control of something around you. Very often a depressed person feels like they no control. They are a leaf being buffeted around by storm winds. We cannot control external events but we can control the meaning we give things.
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl describes how he survived being a prisoner at Auschwitz. While most of the prisoners gave in, gave up, and eventually died; Victor took control of the only thing he could, his thoughts. Instead of concentrating on the beatings and cruelness of the Nazi guards, he chose to concentrate on finding beauty in everyday things and the love of his wife. “Everything can be taken from a man but one last thing,” he wrote. “To choose one’s attitude in any set of circumstances.”
It’s also important to take control of something physically, no matter how inconsequential. I took control by making my bed every morning. I couldn’t control whom my wife was sleeping with or what was going on at work but I could keep my apartment clean. It made me feel as if I was in charge instead of living at the whims of the fates.
Second, you are going to have to move. No I’m not talking geographically. I mean exercise. Walk, jog, dance, swim, bike, lift weights, and perform yoga, anything to get you to move.
When you exercise your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are a natural “happy pill” that dulls the brains perception of pain. In addition to reducing feelings of anxiety and depression, exercise has been proven to reduce stress, boost self-esteem and improve sleep.
Lastly, but certainly not less important, you are going to have to remain vigilant. According to the National Institute of Health 50% of people who suffer a major depressive episode will suffer another and 80% of those who suffer two will have additional recurrences. On average people with a history of depression will suffer 5 to 9 separate episodes in the lifetime.
You are going to have pay close attention and to listen to your body and your mind to discover how depression affects you so you may take steps to prevent it before it blows up.
For example, I know that too much caffeine will trigger my anxiety so I have drastically reduced my soda and coffee intake. I know the difference on how my body and mind feel when I’m upset or sad and how it feels when the bleakness of depression starts to descend. I also know how long sad feelings stay so I can take measures to break depression’s grip and stay level.
Oh, one more thing. Don’t judge yourself. Remember that every feeling you experience is neither good nor bad. It is simply true for you in the moment you are having it. Give it a beginning, a middle, and an end.
You can live a happy, healthy, rich and rewarding life with depression. If you are suffering from depression or think you are, please find a professional, go see a therapist. They can help design coping mechanisms that will work for you.
You don’t need to suffer in silence.