Brief Bio: wife, mother, blogger, walker, crafter, teacher, traveler, friend
I am very excited to share this weeks story in our “Journey To A New Normal” series with you! This week’s author is a very close friend of mine. Cindy and I have known each other for over 16 years. Over these years I have had the privilege of learning so many things from Cindy. I have witnessed her account of her journey with depression and I have had the honor of watching Cindy grow and embrace her “new normal”. Cindy is truly an inspirational individual.
I hope that Cindy’s story will help you to see that YOU too can create an amazing and fulfilling “new normal”and that you have it WITHIN yourself to create your “new normal”. Cindy has a very powerful story to share and I hope that her story will inspire you!
Here is Cindy’s story of survival, of finding ways to cope with depression, learning to embrace living a new normal with depression and finding a little bit of Hope along the way!
Cindy’s Story of Survival and Living With Depression
I offered to write about depression because there is a long history of depression and bipolar disorder in my family and depression is something that I have battled with since I was in my teens.
It is hard to make others understand depression. A lot of well-meaning people honestly believe that it is just a matter of being happy or being sad. They will say things like, “cheer up, it will get better” or a host of similar suggestions. I have even been accused of being a drama queen and of over-reacting to certain situations. Outsiders think they are being helpful, or they might even think it is all “fake”, but the truth is that no one knows what it’s like to have depression until they have it themselves. And even then, it can manifest in different ways for different people.
My Experience with Depression
I once had a friend who described her depression as “wanting to crawl under a rock and stay there” or “wanting to go to bed and sleep and never wake up.” I have had other friends who were suicidal. That’s not what depression is like for me. I have never wanted to die. I have never wanted to disappear or to separate myself from the outside world. For me, depression is about hope, or rather, the lack of it.
Living without hope is not an easy thing. I question everything I do. I cry a lot. I worry excessively about the smallest things, but I feel so hopeless that I just cannot bring myself deal with the big things. Bills don’t get paid. Work doesn’t get done. The house doesn’t get cleaned. I do a lot of procrastinating when I am depressed. Did I mention that I cry a lot? A commercial with a sweet mom will remind me of my terrible relationship with my own mom. Or maybe it will remind me that my own children are grown and those sweet younger days are gone. I know this can’t be normal, surely others don’t feel like this? I spend a lot of time wondering why all these terrible things have happened to me of all people, and why God would think I was such a bad person to punish me so. And in all this, there is always no hope. No hope that it will get better. No hope that things will change. No hope that I will ever be happy again. No hope that I will be normal.
My worst episode of depression started in 1997, and it lasted several years. It came on the heels of a move from our hometown in West Texas to Dallas, some 350 miles away from the only life I had ever known. We gave up everything. We moved my daughter who was in Junior High – something I swore I would never do to my kids. My son was just four. We had no friends, no family, and no money. When we got here, the job that was going to make us rich didn’t even pay enough to cover all the bills. The rent was three times what we were paying before. On top of that, I had a car that would simply refuse to start for no reason at all, and I was terrified of being stranded somewhere with no way to get home. I became a hermit. I didn’t go anywhere. I was lonely. I couldn’t even call family because long distance phone calls were expensive. I lost hope.
Have you ever heard of a functioning alcoholic? It’s someone who drinks every day and is constantly in a state of drunkenness, but they have become so good at hiding it that no one realizes that’s what’s going on. They can keep up their job, their home, their marriage, and no one in the outside world is any the wiser that they are drinking more and more and more.
Over time, I became a functional depressive. I learned to smile at strangers and to avoid personal questions that might require me to answer how I really feel about my personal life.
How I Created My New Normal & Live My Life With Depression
Eventually, with time, my depression subsided. Why? I am not sure. But I do know that I have not had a similar depression since. That’s not to say I haven’t been depressed, but I have not since had a depression that lasted so long or that was so deeply felt. If someone were to ask me how I got through it, I would have to say it was a number of things, and I think these same things are what help keep the darkness at bay to some extent. I think part of what helped me was finally making friends. Getting involved in our community, volunteering at school and with scouts, just continuing to function – even though it felt like I was just going through the motions at the time. I also developed a few healthy habits that I think helped turn my life around. Now, whenever I start to feel myself becoming depressed again, I have some ways to cope with it, so the depression does not last as long and it is never as intense as it was in 1997.
Here’s what helps me:
1. Practice your faith, whatever it is. I have a very strong faith in God. I consider myself a Christian, and although I do not go to church, I do pray. I know many people think it is not possible to lose hope and have faith at the same time, but that is what depression is like for me. I feel like nothing is right, nothing ever will be right, and I just have to suffer through this miserable life until God grants me the grace to let me leave it. That is one of the reasons that suicide is not ever a consideration for me, even in the depths of my depression – my faith in God won’t allow it. For me, there is a reason for this misery in my life and by faith in God, I will come out of it. As a result, I find myself praying a lot, multiple times a day, and often down on my knees. It is a humbling experience to get down on your knees to pray. I ask for forgiveness, for guidance, and for clarity – nothing more. When I pray, I find a bit of inner peace. I really do think this helps keep my head above water and restores my hope. I firmly believe that my 1997 depression lasted as long as it did because I sort of lost that faith.
2. Get a good night’s sleep. I can’t ever stress this enough. Good quality sleep does wonders for the body. It’s the only chance the body has to heal and repair itself. The mind, too. Studies have shown that lack of sleep causes all kinds of chemical disturbances, and it can cause depression and anxiety. I used to be a terrible insomniac, but some easy changes to my bedtime routine have made all the difference. I’ve been practicing good sleep habits for more than five years and I sleep better than I ever did before. I try to get on a regular schedule of sleep and stick to it – even on weekends. If I can, I go to bed early and try getting up without using an alarm. Studies have shown that when a person has gotten enough sleep, they will wake up naturally. I also turn off the TV, the cell phone, and the computer at least an hour before bedtime. I recommend that you switch those caffeinated beverages for some nice chamomile tea or a glass of milk, and pick up a book that’s just interesting enough to want to read, but that puts you to sleep. Stay with this routine every day, and it will become a habit. I think you will find you are much more rested than before.
3. Make good food choices. If you have a hard time falling asleep, take a look at your food choices. A bad diet can wreck everything. A well balanced diet will help keep your brain chemicals in check. Comfort foods are comforting because they affect brain chemicals. Foods that are high in fat or sugars cause chemical reactions in the brain that make you feel good momentarily, but cause a severe dip when they are gone. In the end, you wind up feeling worse than you did before you ate them. So stay away from them. Try to eat lots of fish, chicken, fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods, white breads, and too much dairy. Over time you will notice that you not only feel more physically well, but mentally, too.
4. Drink plenty of water. No. Sodas do not count. Drink water. Slam down a couple of glasses in the morning when you get up. Drink more at lunch. Make sure you are getting at least 64 ounces of water per day. You can even drink more than that. A recent study showed that women have a higher tendency to be dehydrated even when they drink 8 glasses of water every day. Dehydration is hard on the body and it is even harder on the brain. It can cause lethargy, fatigue, irritability, memory loss, and confusion. So drink more water. It washes out toxins, helps curb your appetite, and makes your brain work properly.
5. Stay away from drugs and alcohol. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but these chemicals are not your friends. They aren’t going to make you feel better; they will make you feel worse in the long run. So just don’t.
6. Exercise daily. Daily exercise causes your brain to release endorphins. Endorphins feel good. If you keep exercising, you will continue to feel good. I find that a daily walk is a mild exercise that I enjoy very much. It doesn’t require a lot of equipment or a lot of time, and almost anyone of any physical capability can do it. I have an iPod full of music that I enjoy and I set out to walk at least 3 miles or about an hour. Walking through my local park gives me some beautiful views and I love the solitude. It gives me time to meditate. It is a very personal time, and it can become quite addicting.
7. Exercise your mind. I am a firm believer that creativity is the language of the soul. There are things our speech simply cannot communicate. That’s when I turn to music, to art, to writing. I’m a pretty creative person. I have a lot of outlets. Many people think they don’t, and that’s simply not true. As a crafting instructor, I often tell my students that creativity is less about skill or talent and more about knowing how to use the tools. I think that everyone can be creative once they know how. So learn how to dance, pick up that guitar, buy some paintbrushes or start scrapbooking your family history. It’s a great way to express your feelings and to learn more about yourself in the process. On January 1 of this year, I began a 365 project where I promised myself to do something creative every single day. It’s been hard, but I’ve stuck to that promise. One of my projects is an art journal that I use to work through some of my stickier emotions. It’s been a tremendous help and is a form of therapy in and of itself. You can read more about it here:
8. Do something for others. Get out of the house and get involved in something. Even if you have to plaster on a fake smile to do it. I often find that charity work can be the most rewarding. Go volunteer at a local shelter or work with at-risk teens. Sometimes being around people who have worse problems helps to bring things into perspective. But try not to compare yourself too much because that can bring on self-pity. Just genuinely be in the moment and try to help someone else have a better life. Being around other people helps keep us from sliding into the depths of despair. And did you know that the simple act of smiling releases endorphins? So smile even when you don’t feel like it. Eventually you will.
9. Do something for yourself. This is another one I can’t emphasize enough. Often, when I am depressed, I am the last person who gets any attention. Either I feel unworthy or I simply don’t care. As a depressed person, I have to remind myself that I am worthy and I have to make myself care. A simple routine might be to allow myself to buy one new blouse from each paycheck or go get a pedicure every two weeks. Whatever your budget will allow – and you really do need to make room for this in your budget – that is what you need to do. Do it every week, even if you don’t feel like it. But be careful. Don’t use shopping to self-medicate. Abusing that activity can be just as dangerous as abusing drugs or alcohol and can get you in a world of financial trouble. Just do something small and affordable. This care of self helps fight that hopeless feeling and reminds us that we are deserving of happiness and peace. I have to remind myself constantly that I am worth it and that I feel so much better when I can attend to these small things.
10. Never give up. This one is the hardest practice to carry out since it involves holding on to hope. I just have to remind myself that there is always hope. I have to convince myself that it will get better. It’s hard to do, but faith, meditation, and doing something for others goes a long way towards helping that. That corny old saying about counting your blessings really does work. I love my children more than anything else on this earth, and the thought of not seeing them grow to their full potential is more than I could ever stand.
So whenever I start to feel down, I make a list. I don’t write down all the bad things in my life, I write down all the good. And if one of those bad things starts creeping into my head, I turn it around and find some good in it, because there is always some good if you look hard enough. Above all I just refuse to give up. I refuse to live my life in a downward-spiraling funk, and that determination has saved me from hitting the bottom.
So there are my 10 keys to coping with depression. Do these things keep me from getting depressed? No, the only thing that will cure chronic depression is medication and years of therapy, but practicing these concepts does help mitigate the depths of my depression, and it allows me to continue functioning in society until I feel better. Do I follow every tenet to the letter? No, I’m human. In recent years, I was able to start I work from home, so I have a tendency to stay up late, or I don’t have time to exercise, or I might grab some fast food for lunch. And I do still live with the fear that one day some tragic event will put me back into that downward spiral. But I also know that those low periods have taught me a lot about myself and what I think is important. I’ve learned to value and cherish the time I spend with my family and friends, and to take advantage of even the smallest joys.
Looking Forward To The Future
Using my coping skills, I have found my new normal. It has allowed me to redefine who I am. I love living in the Dallas area now, and call it “home”. Although I miss my old friends and family, I have many new friends here. To combat the depression that comes with boredom of being a stay-at-home mom, I became a volunteer with my children’s schools and with both the Boy and Girl Scouts. I met many wonderful people that way, and the service to others was both rewarding and enlightening. I used my creative skills to start my own scrapbooking and crafting company, which allowed me to meet more new people and make new friends. And then later, I used that company to launch a travel agency, which has turned into the dream job that I never knew I wanted. My goals now are to build that company and hopefully host multiple scrapbooking and group cruises every year.
I will always have depression, and I may never know when it will strike, but when it does, I know that I have an arsenal of tools to help me through it. My life will always have ups and downs, and it will never be the picture-perfect life that I planned, but it is a great life that I have learned to love, and that is my new normal.