• Trigger warning: this article mentions suicide and depression.


This article is part of a series:

Talk about mental health

Addressing people who are dealing with mental health problems, and those who want to help them.

  1. Let's talk about mental health
  2. It's OK not to be OK

This is a follow-up to "Let's talk about mental health"

Encouragement

I know that some days, it's a struggle to leave your bed, or to put on clothes, or to eat, or to drink, or to face yourself in the mirror. Some days, your mind spins every simple action into a monumental task.

I know that some days, your house can be a right mess, your hair impossible to brush from neglect, your nails damaged from biting, your plants dead, your curtains closed.

I know that some days you don't care about anything, that you ignore friends, family, coworkers. That some days you can only cry, and that some days you feel guilty for having happy thoughts.

I know that some days, dark thoughts fill your mind, and death becomes a relief rather than something to fear; that you wonder whether you want to die or which objects you could use to end your life.

I know that "some days" is sometimes "some weeks" or even longer.

I know because I have experienced some of these things and know others who have too. I also know that most of them saw their lives improve over the years or learned to better deal with their feelings.

And I want you to know that countless others share your thoughts and problems. Because you may feel like you're alone, but you are far from it. On the internet, you can find groups and stories of like-minded individuals.

Knowing what's wrong, however, is only part of the solution. You deserve better than to be in pain. You deserve to be happy, to be a functional part of society, and you should remind yourself of that.

Your mental state does not and should not depend on other people.

Mental health issues don't make you a lesser person. Everyone has their strengths, weaknesses, and problems: it's how you deal with them that makes the real difference.

You may never fully recover, and that's fine. It's OK not to be OK.

You've made it this far, and you can make it even further. Accept the past and walk towards the future. Scars are old wounds; they should remind you of all you've survived and not of weakness.

Life is unpredictably filled with many good and bad things, and not every step you take will be forward. Sometimes letting go of control is the hardest and also the most rewarding thing to do.

The first steps to a better life are perhaps also the hardest ones. You need to know what is ailing you before you can learn how to deal with it. And most importantly, you need to accept that this is a part of who you are.

I cannot promise that you will be all right; no one can. But I hope you will find the strength to continue getting better. Make yourself proud and a better being.

Practical tips

A few weeks ago, I asked several people what helped them get through periods of depression. I've consolidated their answers, including my own, into several pieces of advice. While there is no guarantee they all work for you, it doesn't harm to give them a try.

Get professional help:

If you take one advice from this list of practical tips, let it be this one:

Get specialized professional help if you can.

When your body fails, you visit a doctor, so why would it be different when your mind falters? You can start with a GP visit to determine what type of therapist or medication you need.

When it comes to therapists, keep in mind that they are still human; not all of them will resonate with you or "get" you. You're not there to please them, so you're free to ask for another professional until you find one that works for you.

NB. Unfortunately, getting access to professional help is not an option for everyone. I am very sorry if you are in this position, and I hope the following tips will give some handles.

Tell other people what's going on:

Don't hide mental health issues: they're too significant for your environment to ignore. Let other people help you feel better: pull you through bad moments, encourage you to work on getting better, help you savor the happy moments, and keep tabs on you in case you fall silent.

Keep supporting people in your life and cut out those who have a negative influence.

Employers need to know what's going on. A non-functioning employee without good reason hurts business. You may get away with hiding issues for a while, but eventually, reality will catch up to you, and that's usually not pretty.

Force yourself to take (baby) steps:

Solving a problem is a task that becomes a lot easier to solve when you split it into several smaller ones. Work on small achievements and go on from there. For example: putting on pants, eat a simple meal, catch some sun outside.

Several respondents mentioned that they forced themselves to go and do something useful, which takes much willpower but becomes easier every time you do it.

Find an activity that makes you happy:

Find something in your life that cheers you up. Cuddling with animals can be very relaxing. There is also mindfulness, yoga, sports, arts and crafts, music, books, games, internet forums (beware of the trolls), to name a few.

You can also hack some happiness into your brain. Hold a pencil or other stick-like object horizontally between your teeth, and it will make you laugh. Laughing triggers a release of endorphins, which has a positive effect on your mood.

Take care of physical health too:

Being physically fit is good for the mind too. So go for a walk outside, or perform sports in another way, to blow off some steam.

Be kind to yourself:

A positive mindset can be powerful. Reflect on your work, tell yourself you did well, or take a look in the mirror and tell yourself you are amazing.

Work less, if you can:

If you have the luxury to do so: don't work full-time. From personal experience, I can tell you that having extra money does not warrant feeling bad because you can't handle all the pressure. A lack of money causes stress as well, so be very considerate about this.

You can also discuss with your employer what to do in case of a bad mental health day. Some consider it perfectly fine to use sick days to catch up (in a way, you are ill and not very productive on the worst days), but not all are.

Create a tool belt in case things go south:

The person who gave the following advice phrased it perfectly, so here it is verbatim:

What I've done for myself is preparation- create yourself a tool belt of sorts. I make a list (either mentally or literally) of things I use as my go-to when hard situations arise... numbers of friends I can rely on when depression hits, simple phrases that help calm the anxiety down, accounts on instagram that make me laugh when all I can muster to do is stay in bed. I know these rough spots come unannounced, but having something there that I can lean on when I'm unable to keep my own head up offers a peace of mind and helps deal with the symptoms as quickly as I'm able. (An advice a psychologist gave me a few years ago.)

I have a partner and a select group of friends who know how to deal with me and a song therapy playlist on Spotify with songs that soothe my mind.

Depression and sadness are not the same:

Many people equate depression with sadness, which is not a valid comparison. Sadness is a primary human emotion, and there is nothing wrong with it. Depressed people are not always sad, and they may even present as being very happy—some report having no feelings at all, which makes them feel empty.

Depression itself has many causes too. Causes include—but are not limited to—hormonal imbalance, (long-term) traumatic experiences, or neurodiversity. Consult a mental health expert or your GP on setting a treatment course.

Recognise that everyone is different:

Just as there is a vast array of "things that can be wrong with you," there are so many different people. Bottom-line, every human wants to be loved and recognized, but the devil is in the details.

Even when you have the same complaints as someone else, you may respond differently to the same treatment. Prepare for some trial-and-error when you're getting started on the road to recovery.

Suicide creates more problems than it solves:

Depression does not always lead to suicidal tendencies. However, it happens that people think they don't want to live anymore, even if it's just for a moment.

If you are suicidal, please get in touch with a local suicide crisis line as soon as possible!

To the helpers

If you are reading this as a family member or friend of someone going through depression or another rough patch, I can imagine this hits home for you as well. Try to help the other person to work on the practical tips mentioned above.

Having several depressed people in my social circle, I know it's heartbreaking to see someone suffer. It's even more complicated when this person refuses to communicate with you. So far, my friends have all come around relatively unscathed, but the risk is always there.

It's hard but rewarding to help someone get better if it works. But in any case, remember that you are not a mental health professional (unless you are). Also, remember that their problems should not become your problems. You can have your own; take care of yourself first.

Writer's note

My hope for this article is that it helps someone cope with a dark situation. I know talking about this subject has been beneficial to others in speech and person, but I've never written about it to the general public. I'm curious whether it works the same.

Writing this article was more difficult than expected in multiple ways. If you have feedback to help improve it, please let me know!

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