One of the many symptoms in what I call the PTSD Party Bag – is depression. It’s a doosey too. Depression is a thief and a bully – it takes precious moments of my life from me and it tells me horrible things about myself.
This is what I want to talk about; depression and how I am learning to manage it.
The Depression Diagnosis
I am quite certain I have lived the majority of my life with major depression. The level and longevity of my childhood abuse coupled with the neglect and abandonment made it near inevitable. I had childhood PTSD.
Through my life I have demonstrated all the signs of what I refer to as depressive cycles: sadness, lethargy, fatigue, brain fog, lack of motivation; just a general disconnection from life. These cycles can last for multiple weeks, even months.
There were times during my early 20’s when I saw therapists here and there in a moment of mental chaos – but I never stuck it out with any of them. Some of it was safety and trust issues – mostly, I just wasn’t ready yet to truly face my realities.
And none of them were pushing me to. Instead each of them jotted down depression in their notes, telling me that is their diagnosis.
Too bad for me, only treating my depression wasn’t going to help me. My depression is because of childhood trauma, and until I dealt with the trauma, the depression wasn’t going anywhere.
Trauma Informed Care
Three and a half years ago the wall in my head fell, and my childhood came crashing back. It took me some time but I found an amazing counselor who created the safe space I needed, she has created and kept the trust necessary, and she recognizes my trauma.
As she began treating my trauma and working through its effects on my thought processes, my emotions, and my mental responses I began developing trauma informed awareness of my mental injury and the illness it is causing me.
With the tools, the understanding, and the awareness that my counselor has equipped me with over the years I noticed during a recent bout of very heavy depression – I managed to pull myself out of it within a couple weeks vs. getting sucked in for an extended period of time.
I am going to share the 9 things I did differently this time to help me handle my depression and get back to living again. Hopefully it can help you too.
The 9 Steps
There is no easy button for depression. Moving through these following nine steps isn’t going to suddenly make your feelings of sadness go away, but they do aim to help you live more fully in spite of your struggles. Countering depression and choosing to move through it takes work and it requires intention. Be patient with yourself.
When you are in the midst of a depressive episode the first thing you need to do is acknowledge it. Being aware of where you are (even if it is a state of disconnection) is the first step to any type of healing. Try to reflect on the things going on in your life right now and what is going through your mind; see if you can develop an awareness of what your depression is connected to.
Or maybe it isn’t connected to anything, which happens. Just be aware.
Being aware of your struggles and actively working to identify the energy flow behind it is the first step.
#2 No Judgement
Now that you are aware you are in a depressed space and it is affecting your everyday living – pass no judgement on yourself! If the laundry has been sitting all week and there aren’t any clean dishes in the house – that’s okay!!
You are more important than the house chores. I understand fully the guilt that comes with depression as a mom and wife – I feel like my responsibilities to the house and family never end yet when I hit a funk, those are the first things out the door.
In those moments, compassion with yourself is crucial; practice being understanding and compassionate of your mental injury and the illness it has caused, give yourself the day or two of rest that you need – just don’t get stuck!!
Ask your partner or a friend for help if there is something pressing that you can’t get too.
#3 Recognize Your Own Personal Responsibility
We have a responsibility to ourselves to heal. We deserve it!! It isn’t fair the work we have to put in, we didn’t ask for the childhood’s we had – but we are still responsible for the life we have now.
Healing is a daily choice, it is not a final destination. Our trauma doesn’t go away, we learn to live with it and integrate it into who we are now. In some ways it can be a superpower, in others it can feel like a curse. Regardless – your life is your responsibility now; now is the time for you to dig deep and tap into your own resilience. It’s time for you to take back control and take the lead on your own healing.
#4 Set Small Goals with Intention
Now that you have realized you are in a depressive cycle, you’ve allowed yourself time to rest without judgement, and you have begun to realize your own responsibility to healing – it’s time to set some small goals with intention.
Simply goals, one day at a time. A load of laundry, a shower, a walk with the kids, cooking the family’s favorite dinner – you decide what you feel is achievable.
Once you have a goal in mind, set it with intention. Tell your partner, your journal, or a friend, and don’t forget to write it down.
#5 Personal Accountability
You have set your goal – now hold yourself accountable. Not to be confused with punishing yourself if you don’t accomplish your goal – but definitely hold yourself accountable. If you don’t keep a goal and you feel let down, let yourself feel it for a moment, recognize the potential consequences of your actions and then set another goal and try again.
This is why I suggest telling a friend or your partner. Having some extra support can make this process easier.
#6 Have Counter-Conversations with Yourself
Have you ever made a plan and then watched the clock tick away the day, never once laying a hand to the plans you made because you simply don’t have the motivation? I think we all have, this is literally what depression does to us, right?
In these moments, I need you to work hard with yourself. Remind yourself of the consequences of not accomplishing certain goals, remind yourself how you felt let down when you weren’t able to meet a deadline. Then counter your internal dialogue with the positive reasons you should keep your plans/goals and do your best to push through.
This step can feel like the hardest but it is pivotal!
#7 A Sense of Accomplishment
It has probably felt like days of brain fog, sadness, and guilt from feeling like you are disappointing everyone in your life. However, if you have moved through the 6 steps I just laid out: you have gotten out of bed, allowed yourself to feel without judgement, held yourself accountable to some small goals, and countered yourself when you tried to check out leading to completion of a task – I promise you will feel a sense of accomplishment.
Accomplishment is empowering.
You will feel like you have regained some control of yourself back. You will find yourself in that darkness and guide yourself back towards life again.
As the sense of accomplishment and personal control returns to your life through these small accomplishments, you will begin to feel the fog lift.
One small goal at a time.
#8 Good Days Will Return
I am not going to sit here and tell you that a run through these steps will suddenly take away any challenges you face or sadness you feel. Even when I am feeling my best, I can still have bad days, let’s be honest – triggers are everywhere we look.
Bad days happen, sometimes in the middle of a good day. This is sadly part of PTSD, but I assure you – if you can learn to maneuver these steps when you feel depression knocking, you will be able to get back to living a little bit sooner.
Good days are right around the corner.
#9 Patience and Compassion are Key
The key to all of this is patience with yourself through your process, your healing journey is individual and has no timeline or set path. Allow yourself the space and the time to heal what needs to be healed, on your own terms.
Through this process, be compassionate with yourself. Don’t punish yourself for the symptoms of your mental injury – instead learn how your injury is affecting you and figure out how to manage that.
Loving yourself through this process is paramount.
I wish you all the best as you heal.
Mood journals are a good way of tracking depressive cycles so you can find patterns and parallels to help you gain perspective as you move through your healing.
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Trauma as a superpower — I haven’t heard that before but I really like it. Also, you mentioned ‘letting yourself feel let down,’ which was a nice reminder that it can be an act of love to let yourself feel difficult emotions. I tried to feel some uncomfortable emotions todady on my walk 🙃