I had a friend at University who suffered with depression. When I asked him to describe how it felt, he spoke of being gripped by a soulless darkness, with no way out. That grip was so strong, he said, that there was no possibility of fighting. He couldn’t break free; it felt like his mind was controlled and held in that dark and entirely hopeless place.
The look in his eyes as he talked was numb with despair. Even when he hadn’t had a bout for a while, it took very little to get him back facing the void once again.
He described it as you would the nightmare that regularly wakes you sweating in the depths of the night, and with the same dread and powerlessness. When he was in it he couldn’t see anything ahead; there was simply no way forward. His life had no purpose, no meaning. There was no future for him; nothing mattered or could ever matter. There was no escape, no cure, no solution. He was lost in the fog of despair, entirely enveloped by a black cloud.
I was young at the time, and gaily involved in the round of lectures, parties and friends. I didn’t really understand much and hadn’t encountered the full extent of human suffering. But his account still stopped me in my tracks.
How many people suffer from depression?
Those of us lucky enough to have escaped its grip can empathise and try to understand, but we have hardly an inkling of the darkness and despair that those with depression endure. Yet it is likely that you have already encountered depression, if not personally, then perhaps through a partner, relative or friend who struggles with the disorder.
The statistics in this country are staggering. 70 million workdays each year are lost to stress, depression and anxiety. 1 in 6 people suffer from depression and anxiety each year (not just in their lifetime, but each and every year). That’s a vast 16 million of us in the UK alone, and, despite the help sought from doctors, medication and mental health experts, the symptoms return regularly. Often, sufferers are left unable to get out of bed or function normally, hiding under the duvet to wait for the dark cloud and the suicidal thoughts to pass.
Depression – what to do about it
I have talked to many people struggling with depression and also to those who do their best to support them. I asked them specifically for their views on how best to deal with depression, not after or before a bout, when you can think more clearly, but in that specific moment while you are submerged, caught deep in its grip and simply don’t think you have the strength to go on.
These are their thoughts. In a nutshell: if it feels like the whole world and everything in it is failing, find something, however small, that you can succeed at. One tiny step can break the mental negative patterns and interrupt the feeling that you are unloveable and the end is looming, unchangeable and black.
Take one tiny a step at a time and the darkness should shift. Step by tiny step you will move on, up and out of the darkness. And once you put one foot in front of the other and begin to move in that direction, the possibility arises of taking another, and then yet another, each one moving you away from the darkness back towards normality (or what could pass for it).
Depression | 6 steps to recovery
1 Nothing ever stays the same and this state is not permanent
One of the rules of this universe is that everything changes, continually and eternally. It is simply not possible for it to stay frozen and unmoving. So it is entirely certain that in a period of time the suffocating darkness will shift, and the world may not seem quite so black or quite so bleak. Hold on tightly to that thought and you will get through.
2 Remember that depression can be interrupted
And so, however you can, interrupt it. In the mind of someone suffering from depression, despair is a certainty so the point of interrupting it is to disrupt and challenge that certainty. It IS possible to break the emptiness and do something, anything, to distract your mind. As an initial attempt, try setting an alarm to break your thought patterns.
3 Direct your mind elsewhere
Open a gripping book, which will take you into another world. Listen to an audio tape that will capture your mind’s attention. Anything to direct your mind away from dark thoughts. One excellent suggestion is to download a yoga nidra app. This balances your brain, gets you to scan every part of your body, bringing your mind back to the physical, calming your autonomic nervous system and balancing your emotions. Cling to its words and the directions and it will take you far away from the dark cloud.
Whether you want to or not (and you probably don’t), go for a brisk walk, force yourself on to that running machine or just walk up and down the stairs. Exercise boosts endorphins and brain chemicals that lessen anxiety and negative thoughts, meaning every step takes you one step further out of the darkness.
5 Reach out for help from your doctor
Drugs can act as interrupters, too. If you need to, ask for a prescription for anti-depressants and stick with them until you find yourself in a different place. One person I spoke to said that the day she was formally diagnosed with depression by her GP was the happiest day of her life. Until that moment, she hadn’t realised that she had a disorder. Finding out made her feel less alone, and knowing that there was a reason she felt the way she did gave her the hope there might be a way through after all, a way to feel like everyone else.
6 Sign up for a session of CBT
Unlike other talk therapies, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on the present rather than the past, looking at issues and feelings you are dealing with right now. The therapy helps you to identify your internal narrative (those words that run constantly through your head), changing your negative thought patterns and re-interpreting things that make you feel bad, anxious or scared. Adjusting your mental imagery can positively affect both your emotions and your body. Several CBT users said the therapy gave them the first glimmer of a realisation that the black ending that they so clearly saw for themselves might in fact not be the only possibility after all.
Keep these techniques at your fingertips, so that despite everything, you remember what to do when the dark cloud comes again. There are lifestyle changes that need to be made for a more permanent solution but never despair, because depression can be beaten.
More posts on depression:
Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's largest breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health.
Sign up to our free newsletter for fortnightly holistic health tips and a regular dose of get-well advice. SUBSCRIBE NOW!