Depression is an Illness: 7 Steps Toward Healing

Depression is an Illness: 7 Steps Toward Healing

It is imperative that we view depression as an illness in order to effectively treat it, live with it, and recover from it. Otherwise, our attempts to heal from or to manage depression won’t work.

When we view depression as an illness, we are more likely to be compassionate and understanding toward ourselves or our loved ones. We are then more likely to take steps that support healing. Our thoughts tend to be kinder, and our actions tend to be nurturing and gentle. Our expectations of ourselves when we are ill are often more inline with the limitations of the illness. When we have the flu, we typically know that we won’t be at our best. We try to get plenty of rest, drink fluids, and hope to get better quickly. As frustrating as it may be, we understand that the flu will need to run its course. The same is true of depression, and it serves us to be kind and caring when the illness flares up.

When we do not view depression as an illness, we do things we would never expect to be effective in treating physical illnesses. We blame ourselves or our loved ones for not getting better, or for not trying hard enough. We beat ourselves down with thoughts of self-loathing for not being able to do what we can do when we are not depressed. We focus on treating whatever symptoms we can identify, without also acknowledging the complexity of what causes those symptoms. We have a general lack of compassion and understanding for ourselves, and often try to do more, rather than give ourselves the kind of care and respite we would seek for other illnesses. As a result of not viewing depression as an illness, we end up feeling defeated after years of trying to feel better with minimal success. Self-love, including self-compassion and self-care, is more likely to lead to healing, whereas self-hate will never lead to healthy well-being.

Symptoms of physical illnesses like diabetes and thyroid conditions are often more visible and more easily recognizable than symptoms of depression. When you suffer from depression, what you think and how you feel are skewed by the illness. Depression painfully influences your perceptions and thoughts. Depressed thoughts are not true, and they are not yours; they come from the illness. These are often the main symptoms of depression. If you did not have depression, you would have different thoughts. To realize and accept that your reality is not completely true, is a hefty notion to swallow.

Imagine that you have a physical illness that causes your leg to swell. Someone with depression has many thoughts that are equivalent to the swollen leg. Think of them as, “swollen thoughts”. It’s extremely difficult to recognize “swollen thoughts,” because unless we do therapeutic work on ourselves, these distorted thoughts feel like reality to us.

Depression has its own voice, opinions, beliefs, and ideas. Most of what it tells you is negative, painful and narrow. Until we develop the skills to recognize our, “swollen thoughts,” we believe that what depression tells us is true. Depression takes over, just as any illness will.

Effective treatment for depression can help people learn to identify their depressed thoughts, to stop believing them, and to discover what they really think. One can go from being consumed by depression’s counterfeit reality, to figuring out what reality is without depression’s impact. It’s no easy task, but it is doable. With treatment, you can find your way back to a healthy reality.

There are many stigmas about depression and mental illness. To be clear, people with depression are not insane, dangerous, or psychotic. I have suffered with depression myself, and I am not psychotic or insane. Maybe a little eccentric, but not in a bad way, and not because of depression ☺.

Practicing the following tips will help you survive and feel better from the pain of depression:

  1. Don’t believe what you tell yourself when you’re depressed. Know that you are struggling, and that there may be more to the story than you can see when your depression is at its worst.
  2. Write down coping thoughts, or positive thoughts that you would like to have, if you were not depressed. Put the list of thoughts in your wallet, or hang it up where you can see it. Read the list of positive thoughts over and over. If we tell ourselves something enough, we will believe it. When depressed, your thoughts won’t be positive, optimistic, gentle or kind. Having a list of pre-made thoughts is a way to support yourself in thinking kinder thoughts when you can’t do it on your own.
  3. Begin to practice mindfulness and meditation. This is the key to identifying thoughts, and giving yourself a chance to choose what you want to believe. Learning to observe your mind is key. Your thoughts are not always what you really think, and they certainly don’t have to be. How many times have you said you hate something when it’s frustrated you, only to return to it over and over again because really, you love it, but were having a bad day?
  4. Learn about depression. Read books, articles, and blogs. Check out online forums or groups in which people discuss their depression. Part of living with and dealing with depression is understanding it. Once you grasp the complicated ways it affects you, you can let go of self-blame. You can also take steps to care for yourself when you’re down, rather than beating yourself up for not being able to do more than you can. Remember, if your leg is swollen, you don’t expect yourself to perform at the gym the way you would when the swelling goes down. The same should be true for yourself when you’re depressed.
  5. Lessen vulnerability to depression. There may be ways to keep yourself from falling deeper into depression’s hole. Getting enough sleep should take priority. Taking care of your body will lessen your vulnerability. Know that when you’re deep into your depression, the kind of care you can give yourself is very different.
  6. Be gentle with yourself when you’re in the most pain. When you’re feeling your worst, you must care for yourself the best you can. This will look dramatically different from how you care for yourself on better days. On your darkest days, just trying to be kind to yourself may be all you can d Allowing yourself to be sad feels better than layering on the self-loathing thoughts about being sad.
  7. Eliminate toxicity from your life. We can be wounded and remain wounded in toxic relationship Don’t underestimate the impact of your relationships on your wellbeing. If you are in toxic relationships, it will be much harder to feel better. When you create healthier friendships, it is a little bit easier to deal with depression. You are worth saving from toxicity.

Depression is physically debilitating and mentally painful, and it can be deadly. Depression makes EVERYTHING harder. If you’re depressed, you may feel isolated, disconnected, alone, and misunderstood. I assure you there is hope; there are therapists like me who will be there for you if you seek help.

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