When challenged with our mental health we can often retreat into ourselves and rely on a lifestyle which best suits our state. As humans, we are animals and part of nature, born to survive. Depression leaves us closing our petals in for safety and retreating into our shells. We’ve spiralled down the rabbit hole and have laid out a blanket on which to rest until we feel ready for the climb. We find safety inside the last vestiges of our comfort zone.
For me, I would retreat into my flat, sleep late, wake to transfer myself to the sofa, exist on a diet of junk food, watch television, and go to bed in the early hours of the morning. When my mind wandered, it was mainly to the feelings of overwhelming guilt for feeling like this and wasting my life. Often so overwhelming my mind would think it best to focus on the television and continue my way through the packet of bourbon biscuits. Ironically finishing a packet has been a goal I have never failed to achieve!
Much like the often misquoted Greta Garbo, I would utter the words,
‘I want to be left alone.’
Anything that threatened this survival status quo would send me into a panic whether that be a knock on the door, a text from a well-meaning friend, or a change to the TV schedule.
I was in stasis, a no man’s land from which returning felt like a long journey and one for which I did not have the correct equipment and certainly did not have the energy.
As I look back on my relationship with depression, and through my work as a Life Coach with other people who have experienced this challenge, I have identified a common approach to overcoming it. Analyse how you ‘do’ depression and then identify what the opposite to your depression is. Once you know the opposites, commit to small steps each day that counter how your brain understands you to survive while in depression.
You are going to need to learn to adapt, and adaptability is one of the key skills to not only push you from depression but support keeping it at bay in the future. Charles Darwin said,
‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.’
Here’s the key, when depressed we often try to think or plan our way out of it, and there may be a simpler approach, muster every ounce of strength you can to do something different. Even if it’s just one thing, and it’s going to be uncomfortable. As I say to my clients,
“This is going to be a battle, but it’s a battle worth winning.”
Here’s the good news, if you’re open to reading the rest of this article, you’re already halfway there as one key to adapting is to be open to new ways of doing things.
Initially, if you are currently depressed, this means understanding your route out of depression is not to continue to live each day as you currently are and hope that enough time will pass for you to improve. Focus on thinking about new approaches you can take to revise your current living pattern, arguably, ‘existing’ pattern. While we’re told that diet, exercise, mindfulness, etc. are all useful to alleviate symptoms of depression, and they are, we are often overwhelmed when we think about starting here. My recommendation, start with quick wins. Let’s take my depressive lifestyle as an example.
- I retreat into my flat, so I’d head outside, even if it’s just to buy more bourbon biscuits.
- I sleep late, so one morning I’d wake up early and force myself out of bed.
- I transfer myself to the sofa, I’d jump in the shower first.
- I exist on a diet of junk food, so I force down an apple a day.
- I watch television, so I pick up a book and read.
- I go to bed in the early hours of the morning, but I’m exhausted from being up early so I go the bed before midnight.
Now, if you’ve not experienced depression, congratulations for reading this far and the above adaptation responses must seem pretty lame, but I promise you, for a person with depression these are the cracks we put in our current routine which once they begin to open up give us the strength to break through.
You see, you’re already adapting to your illness anyway. You’re giving up on your life in favour of existing. This is about a decision to adapt in a way that gives you the most opportunity to overcome your depression quicker. Once you’re out the other end, use your triggers as red flags for the potential for depression to return and re-engage with self-care activities which work for you. I’ll do more on those in another article. In the meantime, download a Vitality Checklist from the resources section of my website.
Now you’ve returned to the land of the living and have completed the grieving process for a lifestyle which on reflection would be pretty damn fine without the depression and guilt part; it’s time to focus on continuing to adapt.
The primary key to adaptability is regularly opening your arms to and embracing, being uncomfortable. If you’re uncomfortable and doing it anyway, you’re adaptable. In the 7 Skills for the Future, author Emma-Sue Prince lists the following as ways we can adapt:
- keeping calm in the face of difficulties
- embracing uncertainty
- persisting in the face of difficulties
- taking on new challenges at short notice
- saying ‘YES’ to challenges
- dealing with changing priorities and workloads
- bouncing back from setbacks and showing a positive attitude
- keeping an open mind
- seeing the bigger picture
- coping well with the unexpected.
The world around is changing at a pace at which our brains have not evolved to comprehend; therefore, I believe our ability to adapt is directly related to our ability to maintain mental well being. When experiencing challenges, not only can adapting daily lift us from the bottom of the rabbit hole it can help us to move forward in a world which might increasingly start to feel like a Wonderland.