I have written several articles about overcoming depression and the most popular is this one about how talk therapy didn’t work for me and how I eventually found other ways to manage my depression.
I’ve gotten lots of feedback for that article, most of which has been positive. But every now and then I get comments and emails from people telling me I should have done this or should have done that differently. I should have selected a different therapist or type of therapy. Or I should have behaved differently as a patient.
These comments usually completely ignore the fact that I actually found a way out of depression. As if somehow my recovery is not valid because it didn’t come the way these commenters expected? As if somehow my recovery is not worth celebrating because it wasn’t a result of therapy or anti-depressants?
But the fact is that there are many possible causes of depression and no one-size fits all solution. According to a 2017 article from Harvard Health Publishing, “two people might have similar symptoms of depression, but the problem on the inside, and therefore what treatments will work best, may be entirely different.”
And another fact is that science doesn’t have all the answers yet when it comes to depression. The simultaneously frustrating and beautiful thing about science is that it’s constantly self-correcting and evolving. The current consensus is that certain types of therapy and/or anti-depressants are the best treatment for treating depression, but who knows what it will be 10 years or 100 years from now?
Given how complicated depression is with its varied causes, what is someone struggling supposed to do in the meantime?
Well, here’s my advice as someone who has made it to the other side:
1. Seek Multiple Points of View
I saw the same therapist for several years without making much progress. Over those same years, I tried a gazillion different combinations of anti-depressants, some of which helped with anxiety, but all of which made my depression worse because of the side effects.
I stuck with it for so long, because I fell for the “at least you are not suicidal” and “sometimes this process takes a long time” arguments.
But when I actually figured out what the solutions were to my depression, I got better in weeks.
Not months. Not years.
Now I fix most of my lows in less than 24 hours.
So if you have been struggling for a while and you are not getting better, my advice is to try something different. Try different therapies. Try different psychiatrists. Try different natural remedies. Try self help books and articles.
Don’t put your precious life in just one mental health provider’s hands. Seek other opinions.
2. Consider Multiple Causes of Depression
The reason I was stuck with depression for as long as I was, was that the causes of my depression were misidentified.
I had a traumatic childhood and my therapist latched on to that as the most obvious cause of my depression. So that’s what we talked about. Every week for years. And then I guess it was just assumed that there was some brain chemistry issues as well since the meds were thrown into the mix.
But in hindsight, I now know that my depressive episodes have always been triggered by stress. Stress from asking my highly sensitive body and introvert brain to lead an extraverted lifestyle in an extraverted society. Stress from too much people-pleasing and not enough tending to my own needs.
So it didn’t matter how thoroughly I processed and analyzed my childhood or how many combinations of meds I tried, because childhood experiences and chemical imbalances were not the root cause of my depression.
It wasn’t until I started addressing my stress levels in the present and changing how I was living my life on a daily basis, that my depression lifted. And then it lifted fast.
According to that same Harvard article I referenced earlier, possible causes of depression include:
- faulty mood regulation by the brain
- genetic vulnerability
- stressful life events
- various medical problems
So keep in mind that the cause of your depression may not be the most obvious one. If treating one cause doesn’t make you feel better, consider other possible causes.
3. Don’t Assume That Someone Else’s Solutions Will Automatically Work For You
Whenever I read one of those “What To Do When Depression Strikes” articles online, the chances are about 99% that the list of tips will include something like “don’t isolate yourself” or “talk to someone”.
And maybe that’s good advice for 99% of people, but guess what my first aid response is when I start feeling low? I go to my bedroom, close the door, and ask everyone to leave me alone. And guess what else? It works like a charm. Every time. Because my lows are a sign that my brain needs a break. Because my lows are a sign that I need less peopling and more peace and quiet.
I still think it’s useful to read about other people’s experiences and sometimes you’ll pick up tips that apply to you. Just know that sometimes the tips might not be good for you at all. Sometimes you might need the exact opposite of what someone else needs.
Try different things. Keep what works and ditch the rest.
4. Be Open To Change
I’ve had to make a lot of changes in order to make a life that I actually want to be in – including changes that some would describe as drastic. I have abandoned people-pleasing, learned to love myself, and prioritized my own needs. I have changed the way I eat and sleep and exercise. I have ended draining relationships, including some with close relatives. I have changed careers twice.
Depending on what is causing your depression, this may not be necessary of course. But sometimes it’s not that you are too mentally ill to enjoy your life. It’s that you need a different life in order to enjoy it.
5. See Depression As A Puzzle
Depression is complicated. And what makes it even worse is that one person’s complicated is different from another person’s.
It’s like we each have our own unique puzzle to solve.
But even if it’s a 1000-piece puzzle with all ocean, it CAN be solved. One piece at a time. By trying each piece this way and that. And trying another piece when that one doesn’t fit.
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