• Erika Record-Sparks

My Depression Diagnosis + Coping Strategies

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

About a year ago, I started to experience mental health difficulties for the first time. But, if I'm being honest, I've experienced mental health difficulties for much longer than that. I was officially diagnosed with depression about two months ago, and, thus, finally conscious of my own mental illness. Since the diagnosis, I have been struggling and learning how to cope.


I'm an academic at heart, so my first instinct with any significant event or information is to research it to understand it better. It wasn't until diving deep into several articles about mental health that I realized my own stigmas toward mental illness. This manifested in shameful thoughts.

  • "What will people think of me?"

  • "I am broken."

  • "No one will trust me to handle things anymore."

  • "Everyone will think of me differently."

  • "I can't be a depressed yoga teacher. I'm a hypocrite!"

These are just a handful of the millions of negative statements that I would repeat to myself after receiving my diagnosis. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of guilt and self-criticism.




WHAT IS DEPRESSION?


Depression is more than just feeling sad. In fact, when I received my depression diagnosis, I was shocked. I don't feel like I am a "sad" person. Sure, maybe I cry more than the average person (water sign, hello!), but I have never felt that I am profoundly sad. Depression can take many forms. It manifests not just in one's emotional state, but also one's physical and mental states. See the below list of depression symptoms.


Physical and Emotional Symptoms

  • Sleep disturbance: either not sleeping or ‘over’ sleeping

  • Changes in eating: either not eating or ‘over’ eating

  • Changes in weight: unanticipated loss or gain

  • Headaches

  • Churning stomach

  • Loss of motivation

  • Loss of interest in sex

  • Not wanting to be intimate with others

  • Loss of energy

  • Tired all the time

  • Empty and depressed mood most of the time

  • Continuing feelings of sadness, unhappiness and tearfulness

  • Irritability and/or agitation

  • Tension pains

  • Feelings of anxiety

  • Feelings of heaviness

  • Feelings of isolation


Thoughts

  • "I’m a failure"

  • "Everyone would be better off without me around"

  • "I feel so guilty"

  • "It’s all my fault"

  • "Nothing good ever happens"

  • "I’m worthless"

  • "Life is not worth living"


Behaviors

  • Withdrawal from social situations

  • Less pleasure/interest in activities

  • Loss of interest in personal appearance

  • Drug and alcohol misuse

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Panic attacks

  • Hopelessness about yourself, the future and the world

List sourced from https://jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/mental-emotional-health/depression.


Note: I was diagnosed by my therapist after completing screenings for both anxiety and depression. If you think you have depression, please seek out help from a medical professional. This blog is not intended for self-diagnosis, and should not stand in place of a medical visit or diagnosis.




HOW I'M COPING


Transparency

After I was diagnosed with depression, I notified the most important people in my life. My mom, my partner, and my best friend. I knew that I needed to continue to lean on these people for support, and I wanted them to know what kind of struggles I was facing. I have slowly become more comfortable with sharing my mental health struggles with people, and I have taken my time to let my inner circle know. I am going way out of my comfort zone by sharing this information publicly to whoever reads this blog. But the power of connection is strong. Like a trust fall, I'm hurling my truth out there in hopes that someone somewhere will read this and catch me. Someone will connect. Someone will have a similar story and know that they are not alone.


I'm exhausted with pretending that everything is fine. Sometimes, when people ask how I am, I want to abandon my typical "I'm fine/good" response and say "Today is kind of hard and shitty, but I'll be ok." Experiencing ups and downs is normal, and it's ok! We live in a time where we witness consistent highlight reels of people's lives through social media. Let's be real and admit that, sometimes, life kicks our asses. Vulnerability is beautiful and necessary. We shouldn't be afraid or ashamed to share the lows of life. That is when connection is most important.


Therapy

I started going to a therapist in October 2018, and I am still going to this day. This has been monumental to my healing process. I started going to therapy for a different reason, which I will detail in a separate post at a later time. But, I can't imagine facing depression without the professional guidance of my therapist. She is my biggest advocate for my happiness and wellbeing. Unlike my family and friends (who usually have the best intentions!), my therapist provides an unbiased response to the challenges I am facing, and helps me to navigate them with as much clarity as possible. I like to think of her as untangling my mess of thoughts that have been knotted by my depression and anxiety. I used to be ashamed of admitting that I was in therapy, but I am shifting my attitude on that. Therapy has done so much for me, and I urge anyone who is struggling with mental, physical, emotional, and/or spiritual health to seek out professional help if you can.


Meditation & Journaling

I once heard meditation described as a "daily brushing of the soul." I have started and stopped a daily meditation practice so many times, but I am hopeful that it will begin to stick soon. Typically, I try to incorporate meditation into my morning routine. Giving myself some mental space before the day gets going helps set the tone for my day and allows me some valuable quiet time with myself. Research suggests that a regular meditation practice can change how the brain responds to stress and anxiety.


"Stress and anxiety are major triggers of depression, and meditation can alter your reaction to those feelings. "Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude — which happens a lot when you feel stressed and anxious," says Dr. John W. Denninger, director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital." (source: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/how-meditation-helps-with-depression)


Journaling has also been helpful in recognizing my day-to-day moods and thought patterns. I used to have a consistent journaling practice, but it has since slipped to the back burner. I am working on reinstating this practice back into my daily routine. Even a brief, one-sentence journal entry helps so much.


Balancing Rest and Social Time

One of the symptoms of depression is isolation, and I have definitely been isolating myself over the past few years. These days, I prefer to stay home, sit on the couch, and watch and re-watch The Office and Mad Men. I'm disconnecting. While resting is important, I am trying to make a point of seeing friends/family and connecting with people more often. It already takes so much energy for me to go to work and teach, so reserving energy for social time is tough. As I continue to work through and understand depression, one of my goals is to set aside more social time - maybe 1 or 2 times a month to begin.


Better Work Boundaries

I am a workaholic. Lately, I have been experimenting with creating better boundaries from my jobs. I used to answer emails and grade assignments in the middle of the night. I didn't know how to turn off "work mode." This kept me in a constant state of stress because I could never fully relax. People began to expect me to work more quickly and to respond more immediately. One of the best things I ever did for myself was to take my work email off of my phone. This was a game-changer! I didn't know how much my email was crippling me at home. Even when I tried to set a rule of not answering work emails after 5:00pm, I would still see the emails in my notifications. I would problem-solve the email in the background while I was trying to rest. I finally got fed up with this, and deleted work email off of my phone entirely. The freedom is amazing. I only check work email when I am on my computer and actively working. This has been a huge help in maintaining proper work/home boundaries. It has also "trained" people in communication with me to know that I am no longer immediately available via email. I now feel more capable of actually enjoying my down time.


Releasing Perfectionist & People-Pleasing Tendencies

I am a perfectionist and a people-pleaser. I am highly self-critical if things don't end up how I expect them to be. I become overly apologetic. I blame myself for details not entirely in my control, and I fall into what my therapist calls a "shame storm." Here's an example of how this manifests. I work at a yoga studio. I recently got sick with a virus, and needed to get subs to cover my classes. Reasonable, right? First of all, I felt that I should not ask for subs because I should be a reliable teacher. When I did finally get the subs, I over-apologized for being sick and asking them to cover. Then, while my classes were happening and I was at home resting, I sat through a shame storm of my own self-criticism for not being there. I questioned my worth as a yoga teacher. I told myself that I am replaceable and not worthy of being a yoga teacher and that someone else could do a better job than me. Anxiety crept in. This is what my mind does at every scenario like this - particularly when I need to ask for help or when I need to take a step back for my own wellbeing. I can't escape the guilt and negative self-talk. Some instances are more extreme than others. Being in this mental state is paralyzing. To navigate these storms, I try to utilize my yoga training and apply mindfulness to the situation.


Mindfulness

mind·ful·ness

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.

  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique

As a yoga teacher, you'd think that this comes naturally to me right? Well, yes and no. I'm very mindful about my body. My mind, on the other hand, is tricky for me. I have spent almost my whole life in damaging mental patterns that will take time to deconstruct and repair. When I notice that I am spinning out into a depressive state, I start by naming that situation. I tell myself, "This is not you - this is depression." I am trying every day and every moment to re-train my thoughts into empowering, self-compassionate words. This is very challenging for me because one of my obstacles is the belief that I am not worthy of love. But as my therapist always tells me: "What we practice grows stronger." So, I practice.


Mindfulness definition courtesy of Google.




MOVING FORWARD


I did not write this blog as a cry for help. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me or think that I can't handle life. My intention in writing about this is to bring awareness to depression and its indicators. After receiving my diagnosis, I couldn't help but wonder who else in my life was struggling with this and needed support. If that's you, feel free to send me a message. I'm not a therapist, but I'm happy to discuss and share my personal healing tactics with you.


I can't yet say that I have "figured out" depression or that I ever will. While I have been employing better daily strategies for my symptoms, I still have a mood disorder that sometimes affects my ability to experience joy and happiness. I deserve a life free of my paralyzing, self-critical mental state. I am continuing to go to my therapist. I am learning to be okay with asking for help. I am working to disconnect my identity from work and how much people depend on me. I have other qualities worth cultivating. This is a process, and I will get better.


I know that this journey will continue to have its ups and downs. There will be days where I feel like I have conquered my depression and days where I feel buried by it. Healing is not linear. With mindfulness and support of loved ones I hope to be able to overcome my depression and fall into the lovely flow of life with more ease and joy.


Remember:

  1. Depression is common.

  2. It is not a sign of weakness.

  3. It is nothing to be ashamed about.

  4. It can be treated.

For more information on depression, visit https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/ and https://jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/mental-emotional-health/depression.


National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Available 24 hours a day.


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