How To Overcome Depression Without An Rx
How I dragged myself out of the abyss that is depression without an Rx. (original title)
So, I’m no stranger to depression. Genetic predisposition aside, I think it actually became so familiar that I welcomed it. It still seems like part of my personality to be perfectly honest. Depression is like a portal that follows me around.
Now, this is my experience and everything I’m sharing is what worked for me. Basically, I found myself in a familiar place and for the first time in my life, it occurred to me that I might have it in me to get myself out of that hole. I’m not here to pontificate on depression as if I hold all the answers Sway!
It is my hope that what helped me might help someone else. If I can do it, so can you! Hey, maybe you’ll just say screw this list, and it will inspire you to come up with your own checklist. If so, I hope you write about it one day. Maybe I’ll learn from you the next time I’m going through something.
So, here it is, the “Drag Yourself Out Of The Abyss Of Depression” Checklist:
Give it time — The first thing I had to do was recognize what I was feeling and why I was feeling it. I had to observe it, feel it, and face it. Sometimes this meant crying, sometimes it meant writing, other times it meant staying home and not speaking to a single soul for at least 8 hours. I turned down every single invitation to socialize or collaborate. This was a crucial time. It would’ve been pretty typical to throw myself into more work or nightlife and drink until I forgot the pain, only to wake up with it still there the next day. I had to deal with myself, and it was important for me to treat myself with a little kindness, patience and a lot of realness. How would you be there for someone you love during a hard time? I practiced giving that to myself. Funny, it’s so easy to do it for others. Don’t hate on yourself for not being ok. Give yourself a chance to process what you’re dealing with. Did it feel good? No, not for a while, but this was self care and healing. Self-care isn’t just rest, palo santo sessions, massages and beauty services. Sometimes it’s self care is a fight for you. This was something I needed to do for me. It took about 4–5 months before I was even ready to try living again. Even then there was still so much more work to do.
2. Mental & Spiritual Feed — Every day I would read something comforting, or inspiring. Even if it was just a single sentence. A book called “Healing After Loss” was especially helpful. I accepted that my logical mind wouldn’t be able to connect what I understood about what I was reading with what I was feeling in my heart. At the same time, I knew if I kept at it, it would all eventually catch up. There’s a name for this. Maybe it’s the power of suggestion? Listen, all I know is the mind can work that way, at least in my experience. I’m almost positive there’s research out there that supports/explains this. Over time, I would search for audio of positive affirmations, and guided meditation. This daily practice took discipline. I would put my headphones on first thing in the morning and either meditate or listen to an hour of positive affirmations while I started my day. Sometimes I would roll out my yoga mat at night, and first thing in the morning, I would go right to it and start my day there with some sort of practice. At times I had to remind myself that once I start I’ll be happy that I did, but if I skipped it, I would hate myself for not being dedicated to my own wellness and mental health. It’s like you have to make a deal with yourself, and keeping it was part of healing.
There were days when I felt like the person I want to become was taking care of the person I was at that time. Frame it the way you need to frame it. This worked for me.
3. Pay attention to “the shift” — This was tricky. It’s so subtle, one could keep going as if the depressed state is as intense as ever, but really it’s the stain of depression. I suspect that this requires quite a bit of self awareness. I had to recognize the almost imperceptible difference between “I can’t” and “I just don’t feel like it.” After months of feeling like I simply couldn’t get going, it did start to feel like a part of who I really am. One day I noticed I was choosing not to make an effort. That was when I knew I had to crack the whip a bit. It felt like a dangerous place to be. If I kept down that path, I’m positive I’d become everything I had always been afraid of becoming. This was a critical moment, because I had to get very real with myself. Had that not happened, I’d be stuck going back and forth between steps 1 and 2. I couldn’t break through until I cut through my own B.S.
4. Get Physical — There’s a saying that goes “The best exercise is the exercise you’ll actually do.” Everything isn’t for everyone. It is my belief that through steps 1–3, I was able to hear my own inner guide. Yeah, I know, maybe that sounds corny or woowoo. The fact is, the more I tried things, the more I felt like I knew what I needed next. At this point, what I needed was movement. You may find you need something different, but I believe in this.
When I realized that I needed to work out the stagnant energy I was carrying through my body, I looked for gym alternatives. What I found was “Heels”. Yep, I started taking dance classes in heels. Now I’m from Brooklyn, and I started wearing heels when I was 12, so this made sense to me. Totally normal. To each her own. By this time I had put on a few pounds and really wasn’t feeling like myself. I managed to go for something that required everything I needed to feel but couldn’t access at that time (See, this is what I mean by cracking the whip).
At some point you have to throw yourself into the fire and feel ALL the uncomfortable feelings. It was awkward, and I felt naked. Luckily I found classes taught by two powerful women, Shernita Anderson and Olivia Cipolla. Each taught in very different styles and helped me work through things in their own way. I had no interest in going pro or in going on a world tour as a dancer, but I was there to be present in my body and to experience it, while challenging myself. Then there was the added benefit of simply being around other people. My only rule was -DO NOT walk out of this class, go to the end!
This gave me a small personal goal. It gave me something I could manage each time I took class, and helped me get back in touch with my own confidence. I started to apply this concept daily. (This is a bonus tip. Set a small personal goal, something you have to work for.)
These classes took me outside of my own head, outside of my sad bubble…even if it was just for 90 minutes.
By the way, movement is so important! It can be dance, yoga, pilates, jumping rope, walking, volleyball, tennis, cycling, anything that you can get excited about doing. Trust me on this! Be consistent and you will feel a difference. I rediscovered a deep appreciation for my body and what it’s capable of. It was a special experience, and I got to thinking — why would I take this for granted?
Whenever I felt an excuse coming on I’d think “do I want to continue feeling like this, or do I want to feel something new?” Again, you’ve gotta crack the whip. I had to check myself. A lot. I still do. Remember the portal? Yeah. That. It’s there, waiting for me to slip. I have to remain alert.
5. “Let food be thy medicine” — Hippocrates.
An extension of self care was what went into my body. When deciding what to eat, the answer had to be “YES” to most, if not all of the following:
a. Is this of the Earth?
b. Is it organic? (Whenever possible)
c. Do I recognize the ingredients?
d. Will I feel great about putting this in my body?
e. Is this consistent with the lifestyle I want to live?
Easy stuff. Does this mean I don’t enjoy an occasional chocolate & salted caramel sorbet or pistachio ice cream (dairy free) or fries? No. It was about the difference between an indulgence and a lifestyle. The best part is, once I started thinking this way, “eating anything I want” became synonymous with eating what will help me to feel great and be happy. You don’t have to change everything at once. Be patient with yourself. Be kind.
6. Find Your Love — Connect with people, connect with your passions, connect with yourself. I really got into an at home yoga practice. I think it was just a form of meditation. After a long day, I’d work out, stretch and finish with yoga. Sometimes I’d fall asleep on my mat. For me it was the act of choosing what to do with my time as opposed to simply crashing at the end of the day. That was a practice too. I practiced being proactive, being consistent, and being disciplined. This was the part where I was connecting with myself.
I sought out and spent more time with people I love, people who inspire me, as well as inspiring content and EXPERIENCES. I tried. I made an effort. Personal projects also shot back up to the top of my priorities and I found myself looking for opportunities to challenge myself.
Something as simple as renting a car for a short trip to a new place, going for a hike, going to a museum, to the park or catching a movie had the potential to energize me in a new way. I found that there was plenty to discover on Netflix, Youtube, and Amazon too. I don’t mean binge watching a series, I mean beautiful and inspiring content. Be careful with what you take in, especially during this time, I definitely feel like if I filled my time with empty entertainment, I’d probably feel a bit empty.
7. Take it one day at a time.
Is it necessary to rush through a checklist and force yourself into spaces you’re maybe not ready to explore? Absolutely not! This simple list took me over a year to work through. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I can truly retrace my steps and analyze what happened. I learned that no one else could do it for me. There was no room for self pity or excuses. I had to want it for myself more than anyone and more than anything. You know what? It was a good place to start. There’s no perfect way, just your way, in your own time. As long as the destination is towards the light, I think you’re going the right way.
Wishing you the best on your journey! Please share this with someone you think it might help. Much love to you.