I have depression.
I have been terrified of saying, let alone writing, those words for a long time. But, given the shifting public climate around personal wellbeing, I feel it is time to add my own voice to the conversation.
My entire life I have been incredibly self-motivated towards achievement. I have been graced with a mind that has opened many doors for my future, and I feel strongly that it is my obligation to use it to make a meaningful contribution to society.
When I was at university, I realized that feeling of obligation comes with a price. Challenging academics and a drive to be socially accepted led to an increase in anxiety. As I looked around me, I started to recognize that I did not handle this stress as well as my peers. My friends baseline happiness was equivalent to my highs, and my lows might as well have been in the Mariana trench.
As I struggled to silence the demons, I started skipping class regularly, laid in bed for entire days, and tried to hide my battle through late nights at the bar. Each failure became a vicious cycle of self-deprecation, only deepening my challenges and numbing my happiness. But then, after graduating college, this feeling of failure went away. I was cured! Or so I thought.
Over the next several years, the monster would reveal its ugly head every few months, sending me back down into the hole I had just climbed out of. But I would always climb out again after a couple weeks, reborn anew to face the world. Until two years ago.
After several years moving up the corporate ladder, I decided to get my MBA at Kellogg - a new place, with different people, and greater challenges. It was an opportunity to really push myself to a new level and determine where I could have the greatest impact on the world. However, before I even stepped foot on campus, my anxiety turned into a paralyzing fear. I knew it was time to do something about it.
Now, I finally feel in control. Depression is not something that can be cured. In some ways, anxiety can be a great motivator as long as it is not overwhelming. I have accepted the fact I will face this challenge for the remainder of my life. However, it can 100% be managed - I know that now. I hope my suggestions below can help the millions of you who suffer in silence every day. Now is also the time when I say, I am not a doctor so please only use this in accordance any clinical advice you may receive. Here is what has worked for me:
Ruthless Prioritization of Self
This is not a playful disease - it must be fought. As such, it requires energy, and it requires discipline. Many people view the prioritization of self-care as a barrier to time spent driving towards personal and career goals. This is wrong. Self-care is the only way that you will be able to achieve those goals over the long term - it is an enabler. This was a major mindset shift for me. Taking time to do the things that I know will improve my mental state are a non-negotiable so that I can be an goal-crushing machine every day.
Get Off the Couch
I hate working out - absolutely hate it. But, it is an unwavering requirement if you have depression. Getting your body moving is one of the best ways to help increase production of happiness-causing chemicals in the brain. For people with depression, I understand how hard it can be to get motivated to move. Just remember, the first step is the hardest. Plus, the self-confidence that comes from an improved body image is unmatched.
Turn Off Your Phone and Go to Bed
I used to suck at sleeping - averaging around 3-4 hours a night. When I was very little, my mom tells my I used to stay up late “planning my day” because I couldn’t turn my mind off to go to bed. But now, sleep is a priority. Anything less than 6 hours and I have a noticeably worse disposition the following day. This isn’t always possible, but the more days I achieve this goal the stronger the cage holding the demon at bay.
Open Up and Talk About It
This one was terrifying for me. But then I met the most incredible person in the world - my wife. When I have an off day, I tell her about it and she provides me the support and reassurance I need. While I used to feel guilty adding an extra thing for her to think about, I have realized that I am a much better partner when I feel happy. I am lucky to have her in my life, and it is almost certain that you have someone like her in yours. Find them.
Find Your Triggers
There are certain moments that I know trigger negative thoughts. My mind is constantly working on overdrive, analyzing every moment to the deepest degree. By tracking my mood using an iPhone app (I use MoodNotes), I am able to quickly discern when I may experience a challenge. You will never be able to cut the triggers out of your life. It is important you learn to recognize them, so that you can manage the emotions when they arise.
I use the Calm app religiously. 10 minutes a day of focusing on a simple concept like happiness or gratitude in quiet solitude results in an improved ability to see through the noise of daily life. At worst, it is 10 minutes of reduced anxiety.
This is a controversial topic given the justified fear surrounding long-term medication. For me, I have found it helpful as an added supplement to the items listed above. It helps me sleep better at night and it evens out my emotions so that my lows aren’t quite so low. If you decide to pursue this route, know that the first one you try may not be the solution. Unfortunately, the best approach we have right now is trial and error; but, I encourage you to stick with it if you decide it’s right for you.
With rates of depression skyrocketing, it is up to all of us to kill the stigma associated with this disease. If you don’t face it yourself, you undoubtedly know someone who does - if not multiple people. Being open about it is a major step towards management, and that is why I have decided to share it here. I will not let it control my life, and I hope you won’t let it control yours. No more excuses - join the fight.
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