Before you read any further; if you're suffering from depression I encourage you seek professional help. If you're in the UK, book an appointment with your GP and get on that waiting list as soon as possible because it is long. Even if you're feeling just the beginning thoughts of something dark creeping in, it's best to nip it in the bud and get a handle on it as early as you can, with the help from someone who has been trained professionally.
These tips are… tips, and they come only from my personal journey. Mental illness is complex and difficult and so personal and different for every person. These are good things to practise, but a tailored plan is definitely the best thing for you and your brain. In 2013, I asked my boyfriend at the time if he ever felt like he was in a dream. He replied, "sometimes." I told him I hadn't been able to open my eyes wide enough, and I was forgetting which day of the week it was and how I'd woken up in the morning. He told me I'd feel normal soon. Spoiler alert: I didn't.
Four months in to feeling spaced out, I decided to move to a completely different town in hopes it would kick start my brain in to feeling awake again. So I packed up my small bedroom and moved in the middle of freezing November to a house up a hill with wooden floors, too much space for my stuff, and malfunctioning central heating. I woke up in the dark to walk an hour in cold wind to town, working as a sales assistant for a soap shop.
I'd spend evenings getting shouted at by my angry boyfriend for something that was always my fault and feel guilty and scared. I had a very small handful of friends who were mostly busy and who had other friends in the town, when I did not. My granny had recently died, my family was an absolute mess, I had no money, and worse of all I still felt like I was living my life drunk. The point I'm trying to make is I basically had the ripest f*cking petri dish on which to grow mental illness.
Obviously, I started to feel a very hopeless and numb kind of sad creep in to my feelings. I pushed it down and kept on, confused as to why I couldn't cheer myself up like I usually could. I eventually moved back home, reached out to older friends and looked forward to moving away from my problems and feeling better again. But sadly, my dark brain moved with me; and it grew. It woke me up at night, and I sat, nauseous and headachy from my dark thoughts. I started self-harming. I was consumed by suicidal thoughts, and I was absolutely convinced that there was no way out, and this is just how life would be now. I had opened the door to seeing life in the worst way possible, and now that I'd seen "the truth" I'd never be able to feel as ignorantly happy as I was before.
Over five years, I have been my depression, I have grown from it, sank back down into it again, come back up and learned more about it and about myself, and eventually, fingers crossed, got a handle on it. Let me share with you some vital things that have led me to this point.
Firstly, I learned to separate myself from my illness. Depression for me at first felt like Truth, with a capital T. It was a cynical, angry way of looking at the world, and since learning that my hopelessness is actually a symptom, it helped me to view my thoughts objectively and understand that perhaps my view is skewed by my bad brain. Though in the moment, you will feel as though the bad feeling will last forever — that this is just the way you are, you are sad and life is not worth it — I learned to push those voices aside and understand that sometimes, I can't trust what my brain is telling me.
Secondly, I learned to get out of the habit of black or white thinking. One therapist challenged me, when I told her every day of the last year had been awful. She asked about every moment. I reluctantly said that, I suppose, there were some good moments — but that still didn’t make it worth it. She told me I was sorting my days into "black or white" — good or bad — and labelling everything as black was not helpful. I needed to add some grey into my life, and take note of good moments. Over time, I allowed myself to feel small amounts of joy, even if they felt tiny and pathetic compared to what felt like giant, dark patches of awful; they still built up over time, and I was able to look back and see some lighter shades.
Which leads me on to finally, practicing healthier thinking patterns. Depression is where you have buried a deep groove down an unhealthy path in your brain; and a way out of that is to practice new, more positive ones. Basic CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) teaches you to do this by collecting evidence to prove your depressed brain wrong. For example, take the idea "I will never be happy again." I learned to halt that thought and remind myself that my breakfast and tea this morning brought me a good feeling, and therefore I already have felt happy today. At first it will feel silly; but over time, bit by bit, the gratitude you practise will be the new go to grooves in your head.
This mindfulness helped me to stop spiralling and eventually built me up to a place where I could say I was okay. And once I had that proof that I could get out of something I had convinced myself was terminal, I held on to that for the next time a bad bout of it came around. Every time I sink back, I remind myself that it's temporary. I'm strong, I'm capable, and I know there is always some good to find. I promise you — you too will find it.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Samaritans on 116 123 or email email@example.com. You can also reach out to Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on 0300 330 0630.