"I write this in hopes of giving someone a bit of hope, or coping mechanisms you might not have thought of, or even just knowing that you’re not alone going through this life. I want to preface my story by saying everyone is unique and responds to situations differently. This is what has worked for me and I go through regular restructures of my coping mechanisms to suit my daily needs. What works for me might not work for you. I am not a trained medical practitioner so I would recommend seeing a professional for proper help if you so desire.
My story: Everything started going to shit for me right around Year 9 at school through to the first year after high school (around 15/16 - 20/21 years of age). During this time, I lost 3 friends to suicide, my parents had a toxic divorce, my mother got diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in both lungs and ultimately passed away a year later. I was a wreck. I reached the lowest point of my life thus far, and attempted to commit suicide twice. Nothing can prepare you for the death of your primary caretaker. Nothing. Top that with having no concrete coping mechanisms and still trying to process the loss of my friends. A true concoction of fuckery. One quote that I found really eye opening was that ‘grief is the process of unlearning the space that person filled for you in your heart’ (although it literally is unlearning the space inside your brain and the neural connections that would fire off together when around that person). It really helped me make sense of my surroundings and understand the process of loss, grief and depression by learning about them from a scientific point of view.
Right, so what has worked for me so far? Well, as discussed above, I first began by learning about the brain and I would read self-help books, listen to podcasts, and digest youtube videos.. I would consume as much information to help me make sense of it. I would find maybe 20-40 minutes in my day to dedicate time to this. Most often at breakfast when I would sit down and eat, or perhaps listen to a podcast whilst out walking/running or at the gym. One thing I want to stress here is there is no golden ticket out of depression. It’s hard work man. A lot of hard work. You literally have to shift learned behavioural patterns that you establish during depression and change the internal monologue inside your head. No easy task. The point here is doing small incremental work that will build up overtime.
Another thing I had was an incredible support network. Huge shoutout to them because without them I wouldn’t be here today. Let me stress another critical point here. IT’S OK TO REACH OUT TO PEOPLE FOR HELP. You are not a burden. For people that are on the receiving end of this, the BEST thing you can say to someone when they are seeking help is, “what do you want me to be right now? Do you want me to be a soundboard or are you seeking advice on whatever it is?”. Establishing this boundary from the start will instantly build more trust between you both, it will relax the person as they prepare to offload their emotional weight and it will give direction to the conversation. To the person offloading the emotional weight, it’s ok to not know what you want. Just communicate that. Sometimes it is a mixture of both. Be true to yourself and trust your feelings.
So I learnt about the human brain, found comfort in my support network and then I turned to my creative outlets. There's something amazing about being creative (and everyone has a bit of creativeness in them whether you believe it or not!). You can explore so many avenues of yourself that you might not even be aware of. I personally find great comfort and the ability to heal through drumming. There’s something amazing about smashing some skins when you feel angry, upset or numb. But I guess the strategy here is to allow yourself time to do the things YOU enjoy doing. Carve out the time you play video games, or watch tv, or procrastinate and direct that free time to doing something that will make you smile, laugh, learn and love. You do this regularly enough and your brain will start getting excited for these activities and it feeds into itself. A positive feedback loop as opposed to the several negative feedback loops that are so prevalent in your mind during depression.
A piece of philosophy that I love to live by, especially in difficult times, is living by the 1% rule. I can’t take credit for coming up with this as I cannot recall where I read it from. However, it basically goes like this; if you can live your life 1% better than what you were yesterday, you are 1% better than what you were yesterday! It sounds silly, but I use it as a cue on a bad day to remember all I have to do is 1% better than yesterday. So that might mean doing that meditation that I skipped that morning because I felt so tired and lethargic, or it might mean treating myself to a longer drum session today, or speaking to a loved one I haven’t spoken to in a while. Over time that builds up and shifts your mindset into positive action.
I know how shitty depression is. I know how difficult it can be to wake up and go to work with that fake smile. I know how it feels to lie to people saying that you are doing ok when deep down you just want it all to end and to stop the suffering. And most importantly, I know how hard it is to do the work to get out of that depressive state. If there’s one thing you walk away with today after reading this, I hope it is this; depression is an undesirable state of the brain. You CAN change this by being proactive, consistent and loving towards yourself. Please seek help if you need.
Here is a link to numbers you can call - the majority of them are completely free of charge:
Author: Matt, 26 - Melbourne, VIC