I had a cat that watched the ceiling fan, and I never understood why. Then I went through a divorce, and I came to understand the fascination. If you look at it a long time, it appears to start spinning in the opposite direction. If you close one eye and open the other alternately, it appears to move across the ceiling and back. This may sound odd to many people (especially those who don’t have ceiling fans) but the fan is not the point, and neither is the ceiling. The point is that depression can have profound effects on the way we behave and the way we think.
I don’t know how many hours I stared at the ceiling fan, but they were many. The problem of dealing with depression is finding the energy and motivation to do the things that will make you feel better. And that whole “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” thing just doesn’t happen.
Having said that, once you finally do muster some strength to turn off the ceiling fan, here are a few tips for beating depression.
- Establish a strict wake/sleep cycle. Get up at the same time and go to bed at the same time every day. Stay out of bed. It’s okay to be on the couch or in your favorite chair, but the bed is off limits until bedtime.
- While out of bed, try these:
- Entertain yourself by watching your favorite funny movie
- Read a book
- Listen to soothing music, or music that makes you want to dance
- Do any other activity that has brought you joy and satisfaction in the past
Try not to “should” yourself, as in “I should be cleaning the kitchen” or “I should be doing the laundry,” This just makes you feel depressed AND guilty.
- It is possible to lie in bed and watch the ceiling fan, and move to the couch and watch THAT ceiling fan. This is not a recommendation, but it is intended to illustrate that when you are trying to cope with depression, even very mundane things seem like “activities.” And some of those activities can get you started toward overcoming depression, or lead you deeper into despair (i.e. skip the ceiling fan. I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work.)
- It is a well-documented fact that exercise can help one deal with depression. It may be difficult, but if you’re physically able, participate in sports that force you to be with people. If you have told a friend that you will meet the next day at 10:00 for a game of tennis, you are much more likely to show up, than if you tell yourself “tomorrow at 10:00 I will get on the treadmill for thirty minutes.” (Yeah, right!) Breaking a date with a friend is much more difficult than telling yourself, “I’ll do it later.”
- If you live near a community college or a university, take a physical fitness class. Raquetball, extreme biking, basketball —the activity doesn’t matter. It’s the personal interaction that will motivate you to exercise. Then the exercise will make you feel better. Even if it is only a teeny tiny bit. Hopefully, it will be enough to get you to do it again.
- I personally believe that a good martial arts class is perfect for fighting depression (pun intended, especially Tae Kwon Do. Martial arts teach discipline (which you need to beat depression). It also involves sparring, controlled fighting. If depression is just “anger without enthusiasm,” here is your chance to punch, hit, kick the living daylights out of a boxing dummy, or to actually spar with your teammates. (You will wear pads, and pull your kicks and punches so you don’t hurt each other, but it still releases anger in a healthy way.) Then there is breaking boards. Even beginners can do this after just a few lessons and it feels fantastic! Finally, martial arts teach self defense, which helps you improve your confidence, and that’s a very good way to fight depression.
If you have trouble sleeping, which many with depression have, allow 15 minutes before your scheduled bedtime to make two lists:
1) Make a list of all of the things you are worried about.
2) Make a list of at least five things that you are grateful for.
Try to think of 5 new things each night. List number one helps clear your mind of negative thoughts, so hopefully you won’t waste time going over them while trying to go to sleep, and list two helps you experience the positive side of life, that things really could be worse—if only for a moment. (You can also do this in the daytime. It can be very uplifting.)
If you have a library nearby, go see what’s available. Try reading a favorite magazine in a comfy chair. There are also some good (and some bad) self-help books at the library and bookstore. Ask your librarian or bookstore employee if he/she has any recommendations.
Finally, and I know this sounds really hokey (so hokey you will actually hope it doesn’t work) but positive affirmations, when repeated over and over, can actually change the way you feel about yourself, and about life. An affirmation is an encouraging and supportive statement you say to yourself, preferably while looking in the mirror.
Most importantly, if you begin having thoughts of suicide, get help immediately. Call a suicide hotline (in the front of your phone book). Call a friend. Get out of the house. Make an emergency appointment with your family physician. Don’t be too proud to take some antidepressant medication if your doctor recommends it. It can give you the push you need to start making positive changes.