By definition, depression causes us to lose energy, engagement, and activity. Depression often feels like a gray, unmovable lump that’s going nowhere. Whether you’re working by yourself or with a therapist, it can be hard to find a starting point.
The good news is that any time you can find something worthwhile to do, you start to feel better. So here are ten suggestions for doing something about those dark and hopeless feelings. Is there an idea or two here that would work for you?
1. Look for images that describe what you’re feeling. Is your depression wet or dry, rock-hard or drenched in seawater? Do you picture yourself as a depleted battery, an out-of-control tractor trailer, or a piercing arrow? Do you see yourself wrecking, tumbling, falling, or drowning? Images can help you get in touch with what your psyche is experiencing and trying to share with you.
2. Identify a feeling and follow it as far as it will let you go. If it’s sadness, for example, what have you lost, and how is that loss changing your life? Do you feel like a victim, an alien, an avenger, a lover?
3. Draw pictures. Create characters, sketch them, and put dialogue into balloons. Paint landscapes, buildings, animals, and people and places from your dreams and daydreams.
4. Keep a journal. If the writing doesn’t flow, try again without capital letters and punctuation: Editing can block your thinking. If you’re having relationship issues, draw stick figures and get them to talk on paper. Find a picture that moves you, paste it onto a piece of paper, and write about it.
5. Submit to the inner process. The soul has its own wisdom, its own pace, and its own agenda, if only we can learn to accept it. When life goes wrong or we’re crawling back from a loss or a mistake, we naturally want the process to be over as quickly as possible. But worrying about being stuck in an old hurt or loss doesn’t help. Say yes to the healing, and stop thinking that you’re sick and wrong because it’s going slowly. Mysteries and secrets are unfolding inside you: Give them time.
6. If you’re having trouble with a relationship, ask whether substance abuse is involved, and don’t limit your survey to romantic relationships: It could be a family member, co-worker, boss, minister, or friend. Many substance abusers are masters at creating confusion, manipulation, and guilt. Often depression is the result. If all your relationships are healthy except one, suspect substance abuse, and consider a few visits with an Al-Anon group.
7. Have fun, especially if it involves physical activity, which can be a powerful antidote to depression. This suggestion probably sounds counterintuitive: During depression, who wants to have fun? But it’s worth the effort to find something you enjoy doing, especially if it involves other people. You quickly discover that the depression is only one part of you, even if it often seems overwhelming. Other parts of you are healthy and hungry for life. What can you do to support and strengthen them?
8. Listen to music. If you don’t have any favorite pieces, begin with the music you listened to in your teens. Strive to rediscover parts of you that have drifted into the past and been forgotten. Even sad music (for example, a song that evokes a past love affair) can sometimes help you travel around the rock of depression to see what else life has in store for you.
9. Connect. When you’re depressed, it’s tempting to either avoid other people or load them up with your problems. Look for other ways to relate. Volunteering in a setting you enjoy (or used to enjoy) can have enormous healing power: You’ll be affirmed for gifts you’d forgotten you had–or never knew about.
10. Love yourself. In depression, we often feel that no one cares and no one is there for us. Remember that the first person whose love and care you need so desperately is you. If others are causing you to feel that you’re worthless and wrong, start asking if something is amiss with them. (Therapy can be helpful here.)
Depression is such a hideous experience that no one would ever choose to go there, even for a minute. But sometimes it is the only way our souls can get our attention: Our manic pace stops, our usual activities seem dry and meaningless, and we start looking elsewhere for a reason to live. In the end, is it possible that’s exactly what our souls are asking us to do?