(This article was published in Woman’s Own Magazine from Karachi, Pakistan, in June 2011.)
I’ve just updated this article while posting it for you.
Recently, I met a lovely young girl who mentioned that she was depressed for three years. This inspired me to re-write this article and put it on my blog, just for her. It is something that I wrote in 2011, not realizing that hell will break loose in November of same year, for me! I can truly say, that thanks to this article I did not get into any depression though life really got very tough after that.
Life, sometimes has a knack of getting you down. And I mean REALLY down. And boy, does this world know how to treat you when you’re weak! Like a cheap shot to the stomach; the kind that takes the air out of your lungs and double over in pain, to make sure you stay down! Do I sound horribly pessimistic? Yes, and I should be. After all, I am talking about depression. And let me tell you, it is not a very nice experience.
Take it from someone who’s been there (who hasn’t?). Being depressed is more than just being ‘down in the dumps’. It is a perpetual state of pure angst and misery combined with a complete loss of self-worth. And I have some news for you – on the road of depression, you are completely on your own. You will find that many of your so-called ‘friends’ either abandon you or take you down lanes where you get further entrenched in this awful situation.
What is one supposed to do? For one thing, if you wish to take yourself out of this situation, then make an effort yourself. Otherwise, it can get worse especially if you keep depending on others to do something. It’s perfectly okay to ask for help, but one has to make sure its sought from the right person. People who love you and truly care about you are the only ones who can help you get out of your depressive state.
Another key factor during depression is that you become reactive, rather than proactive. You also have a tendency to feel like not doing anything at all. That is lethal. You are alive therefore be alive. Once you have decided to turn your life around, it then becomes important to keep track of improvements on a day to day or week to week basis in order to stay on the path to recovery.
Steps to Recovery
Step 1: Document your progress every few weeks by asking yourself:
Are things improving for me”?
Am I on the right track?
Am I feeling all right?
Step 2: It is quite common for you to go to your doctor in the case of psychosomatic symptoms developing during this phase such as claustrophobia, or panic attacks, persistent headaches, palpitation or even stomach problems like diarrhea or ulcers. Your doctor may eventually send you to a mental health specialist who might then put you on medication.
The benefits of anti-depressants notwithstanding, one has to take into account the possible side-effects caused by such medications, especially if the dosage is meant to last for more than just a couple of days. One of the attributes of anti-depressants is to numb the pain brought about by depression, which is absolutely fine by any standard. The problem arises when not only are you numb to the pain but are also incapable of experiencing typical human feelings related to joy and happiness.
Welcome to the ‘zombie’ state!
I recently conducted an interview with leading psychiatrist of Pakistan, Dr. Muwadat Rana, on the possible side effects caused by medication tailored to counter depression. I asked him the reason he prescribed certain medicines when he knows that each medication possesses side effects that could potentially harm someone. To that, he replied, ‘Why do you step out on the road, knowing you can have an accident at any time?” There are many things that don’t evidently look like they’re good for us but in reality are the best options we have. A situation such as this can somewhat be equated to a bitter-tasting medicine one has to take as it is the only way to recover from an illness. There are a total of six factors that affect a given situation which also have the potential to improve it. Medication is just one factor. As that is the only one in our hands, hence we try our best to prescribe it to our patients in the hopes of helping them recover.
Medication is indeed one of the factors that can help you get out of depression. However, certain medications are addictive as they instill a feeling of contentment and a sort of reprieve from the pain of depression only upon taking them. There are, however, other ways through which one can escape the blues and get back on track.
For starters, take your life into your own hands. By the way, only you know what the other five factors are; they could most probably be your family members, colleagues at office, and certain habit patterns of your spouse, in-law problems, wanting something that you cannot have or health factors. The point is you can’t deal with anything, until you are your normal self.
Paying attention to the following aspects of your well-being will help enormously:
Physical: Eat well. It is important to have a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and yogurt. Look up the Food Pyramid on the Internet and follow it religiously. Have plenty of water – at least eight glasses daily. It will help remove toxins from your body. Exercises for half-an-hour daily, and for one hour if you are over-weight. The key is to just get up and DO IT. Doing so will really make you feel and look better. Include vitamins in your diet to make up for any lack of nutriition. And take at least one glass of milk daily. Eat foods which have serotonin (the happy chemical) , in them like dates, bananas, and other foods. Eat walnuts and almonds every morning along with a teaspoon of honey and seven grains of ‘kalonji’.
Intellectual: Make sure your mind is occupied for most of the time. Healthy activities like reading a nice book or meeting lively people who generate positive energy and make you feel great about yourself are sure to banish the blues for good. The solution to anyone who makes you feel ‘down in the dumps’ is to just dump him or her! Watch movies and dramas you never had time for and simply enjoy them. Listen to good music and inspiring lyrics. All this is bound to lift your spirits. The moment a depressing thought comes, say “stop!” to yourself, get up and don’t let yourself get into that self-pitying and miserable state from the beginning.
Spiritual: Pray five times a day. Recite the Quran daily, read translation too. While reading, be sure to note down any ayats or verses that click or really inspire you. You will gain special strength from reading the struggles and sacrifices of prophets through the ages. Also, benefit from the many ’duas’ or ‘prayers’ found in different parts. Do this as often as possible and see your life transform. Do meditation by reciting the word “Allah’ for at least five to twenty minutes daily, preferably after every prayer. Abida Peer, a spiritual guide who used to reside in Islamabad, (now she has gone back to South Africa,) advises this practice and claims it to be highly effective in making one’s life better. Align yourself to Allah, as opposed to being focused on only humans and all your troubles will automatically fade away.
Emotional and Social: Do things that make you feel happy, whether it’s eating ice cream, making tasty dishes, inviting friends over or watching movies. Every morning, write, five to ten things that make you feel good about your life. Keep that list in your purse or pocket and read it whenever you feel low. Every night write five things you did well and five things that didn’t go as well as you ‘d hoped. Then note ways to correct them, next day.
Financial: Even experts agree that if your finances are not in order, you just cannot feel happy. So, read up some good books by Suze Orman to help get you on the right track and get on the road to financial independence. Take charge of your finances and of your life from this day onwards. I cannot emphasize this point and its importance enough!
Special solution cards. Take a few chits measuring three inches by two inches. On one side, write down your greatest fear or problem. On the other side, write what you should do to get out of that fearful situation. Do this with all your fears and problems. Now you’ve got it all on paper. You can pick one of these or more and deal with them as you start feeling up to it. Meanwhile, do not take any challenging projects until you are up to it, but keep raising the bar as you start to feel better.
At the end of the day, nothing is worth spoiling your mood so keep smiling!