I first learned that I was *clinically* depressed after I took Burn’s diagnostic. It was a bit of a shock, frankly. I had thought that I was mildly depressed, not severely depressed, and I was terribly confused about treatment, resources, and just what to do, period.
Now that I’m recovered, here are the first actions I’d recommend you take if you learn that you’re depressed. I did these things or variations of them, and they helped me. Note that none of these are long-term solutions, but rather IMMEDIATE, REMEDIAL steps you can take to get yourself moving in the direction of happiness.
Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a therapist or doctor. I am sharing my personal experience recovering from severe clinical depression.
1. Find THREE people to support you
Reach out to 3-4 people for moral support. These people need to be caring, compassionate, understanding, patient, and forgiving. More,
- they need to obstinately believe in your worth despite your best efforts to convince them otherwise
- they need to BE THERE when you need them, and
- you need to trust them.
These people can be friends, classmates, family, relatives, religious leaders, community members, etc. Find 3 people that have these qualities and then COME OUT OF THE DEPRESSION CLOSET. If you think you can recover alone, YOU WRONG. Break the cycle and CONNECT YO-SELF.
I suggest (demand) that you talk with these people once per week minimum. I did this with 3-5 people throughout my recovery.
If you can’t find people, talk to your dog/cat/iguana until you find a human. Or paint a face on a volleyball. SERIOUSLY. I took a hint from Tom Hanks and hung out with a stuffed dinosaur for months. AND IT HELPED. (Yes, I KNOW —WTF!!)
2. Order a Copy of Feeling Good and Begin Reading
Just do it.
3. Call Your Insurance Company
Ask about coverage for therapy, antidepressants, and acupuncture.
4. Make appointments
I’d say with a doctor/psychiatrist, an acupuncturist, and a Network Spinal Analysis practitioner.
Big Caveat: I’m honestly very reluctant to recommend traditional doctor/psychiatrists for recovery. This is because most of my experiences with western doctors have not been awesome: they have been antidepressant-happy, diagnosis-quick, and therapy-ineffectual. Take diagnoses with caution, research antidepressants thoroughly, and if the therapist doesn’t help after 1-2 sessions, fire them.
I say this because psychology is essentially being revolutionized right now. We’ve learned more about the brain in the past 20 years than the past 200 years (maybe even 2000). And because of this, younger doctors are learning different things about psychiatry than older doctors did. More, many psychiatrists are not up to date on the newer technologies (brain scans, biofeedback, genetic testing, hormone panels, etc.) that will soon add greater validity to diagnosis and greater effectiveness to treatment plans. Because of this, question everything, and don’t hinge your self-worth on a diagnosis. Almost all diagnoses are based on symptom clusters rather than irrefutable ‘facts’ about your brain.
5. Create Safety Plan for Suicidal Urges
Think about it this way: for fires, earthquakes, or zombie apocalypses, many people have contingency plans. A suicide safety plan is for the same purpose: keeping you alive in case of life-threatening shittiness. Thinking about a safety plan may sound morbid or uncomfortable, but creating a contingency plan for life will protect you and can even reduce your chance of acting on suicidal thoughts in the first place.
Here is a safety planning worksheet, and there are even some newly developed apps for that (which seem glitchy for now, but look promising). The authorities suggest designing a plan with a mental health professional, but you can definitely start off on your own or with a friend. I’ll write more extensively on safety plans later, but for now, I recommend you compile:
- Numbers of 3 supportive people to call
- The suicide hotline number
- A reminder to call 911 or report to an emergency room
- The statement: YOU ARE WRONG IN YOUR BELIEF THAT SUICIDE IS THE ONLY SOLUTION TO YOUR PAIN. EVEN IF IT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE IT RIGHT NOW, YOU ARE LOVED AND YOUR LIFE MATTERS IMMENSELY.
I kept a list of those numbers in the favorites list on my phone, and I re-read chapter 15 of Feeling Good (“Choosing to Live”) many, many times. You can format this in several ways: download the app, stick it in your wallet, or put it in the notes on your phone.
6. Make a Happiness Toolkit
Make a “Happiness Toolkit” list on your phone and add to this over time. This is a list of things you can DO to make you feel a tiny bit better. This is totally personalized to YOU. For me, some of these things have included:
- Go to a coffee shop, get a latte, and WRITE. (Whatchu think I’m doing right now?)
- Go for a 3-5 mile run or hike
- Take one action to make 1 millimeter of progress
- Read about recovery/psychology/happiness
- Call a friend
These are actually all rather strategic. All of these involve some combination of:
- going to places where I feel safe/happy
- doing things that make me feel safe/happy
- taking action to move forward
- creating rather than consuming
- being physically active
- LEAVING THE HOUSE
7. Find Community
Find 1-3 supportive communities you can engage in weekly. For me, these have included trail running, songwriting, Buddhist meetups, friend hangouts, etc.
Ideally, find activities with happy, supportive people that are fun, active, or creative. You don’t have to come out of the depression closet to these people, but you DO have to go be around people. Board game nights? Music? Beach bonfires? Find stuff that speaks to you, and do it. (Bonus Tip! A lot of people get depressed on weekends when they have nothing to do and no one to be around. If this is a thing for you, opt for activities on weekends.)
Summary: Find ways to NOT BE ALONE. No excuses.
8. Keep Track of Down-Swings
Each time your mood plummets, start taking notes. What places, people, activities, and situations are negatively impacting you? What memories, thought patterns, and images go through your mind? DOCUMENT THIS. Understanding your mind patterns is insanely important for your recovery.
Personally, I found my mood went down when I:
- interacted with specific people (depression) or a new person (anxiety)
- had to ‘choose between’ friends, reject people, or say no (anxiety)
- had to make a decision (anxiety)
- was not making progress towards my goals (anxiety/depression)
- had no weekend plans (depression)
- thought about failing (anxiety) or ‘failed’ (depression)
- focused on danger/risk (anxiety)
- couldn’t fall asleep or woke up after noon (anger/depression)
Understanding and deconstructing these triggers helped me MASSIVELY during my recovery. I had an ongoing entry in the notes on my phone for this.
You now have 7 actionable things that can get you started in a positive direction. (Woohoo!!) 🙂 However, I must emphasize that NONE OF THIS WILL HELP YOU IF YOU DON’T DO IT. So I kindly demand that you pick one and execute. NOW. Cut the bullshit and give me some results. ❤
Thanks for tuning in. More to come! If you’re impatient for more tips, you can check out my other recent post. As always, would love to hear about what works/doesn’t for you. And would love to know: What are the first actions you took for your recovery that made the greatest positive impact?
Big hugs. ❤