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10 Ways to Walk Away from Depression

This is Part 2 in a series on depression in creatives.

Part 1: 10 Signs of Walking Depression
Part 3: When Medication Isn’t Enough: Rethinking Depression with Eric Maisel

When you have walking depression, it’s possible to hide it from your family and friends, your boss, your kids.

Even from yourself.

You forget what it’s like to wake with a sense of sunshine, to laugh from your belly, to grin at the thought of tomorrow. Or you never knew what that felt like in the first place.

And you convince yourself that things are not so bad, you’re managing. If you can just get through this next rough patch, you’ll be okay. You see people around you suffering more and you scold yourself to count your blessings.

Until one day you turn the corner and come face to face with the truth. A friend shares her own struggles. You read a memoir like Lit or Eat Pray Love or The Water Will Hold You. You come across a website like In Good Company. Maybe, like me, you drink a glass of wine and realize that it’s been a long time since you felt this good. And you can’t deny it any longer.

You are deeply unhappy and it’s affecting your whole life.

And without your ongoing denial, coping with your unhappiness just got harder.

So you face a decision.

Will you do something about your unhappiness, or will you allow it to continue?

I don’t blame you if you turn away and put your head down, keep trudging. Doing something takes hope and courage and energy and self-love ~ the very things that depression has stolen from you. You may need to bide your time until action is possible again.

But when you are ready to do something, there are many ways to walk away from depression.

Before I share those ways, a brief note on the nature of depression. Some conceptualize it as an illness, a state caused by hormonal imbalance, some deficiency of the brain, a tendency passed down in the genes. Others, like Eric Maisel in his book Rethinking Depression, see it as the emotion of profound unhappiness, “a normal reaction to unpleasant facts and circumstances.”

Which definition is true? Which is more helpful? These are interesting questions, and I’ll get into them further as part of Eric’s book tour post here on April 1. But for now, I’ll tell you the premise I’m working from.

I believe that the physical and emotional aspects of depression create a kind of chicken-and-egg dynamic that is hard to untangle. Bottom line, I think it is essential to address the existential questions that underlie depression: What’s the meaning of my life? Am I doing what I was made to do? Does my daily experience reflect what is most important to me?

Treating just the physical symptoms still leaves us open to depression creeping in through our thoughts and feelings. As Eric writes in Rethinking Depression, “Even if you believe that there is a “mental disorder” called “depression” and that certain treatments work to minimize it or “cure” it, you must agree that you will not have cured life once you have cured your depression.”

Answering those existential questions is not easy. In fact, it can be disorienting, scary, and exhausting. But I believe it is rewarding and necessary for our long-term happiness.

Alright, enough preamble. Let’s get to the good stuff.

10 ways to walk away from depression

The first 5 ways I list here are about accepting reality, the “things we cannot change” mentioned in that old saw, the Serenity Prayer. These are often our first steps away from depression. Please remember that I’m not saying any of these things are easy or overnight cure-alls. But they are a place to start.

Rest. Take the day off. Take a week off. Call a babysitter. Go on vacation. Go to bed at 9 pm and sleep in. Take a sleeping pill. Whatever you need to do to get some rest. Then find ways to make proper rest a regular thing instead of just an emergency measure.

Make use of medication and other physical treatments. Antidepressants, light therapy, exercise, diet changes ~ all of these can have a noticeable effect on your mood, your thought patterns, and your energy level.

Caution, rant ahead: I really wish there were less shame associated with medicating depression. I took antidepressants for 3 years, and I don’t mind telling you that. There is no moral superiority in recovering from depression without meds, just as women who have natural childbirth are no better than those who have an epidural. Yes, the rising rate of antidepressant use is a concern, but we’re not talking about statistics here ~ we’re talking about you. Do what you need to do to cope in this moment, and bugger the hand-wringers.

Do talk therapy. Doesn’t matter if you see a therapist, a social worker, a psychiatrist, or a psychologist. Doesn’t matter what modality they practice from. What matters is that you talk and they listen and respond. “Countless studies have shown that ‘successful therapeutic outcomes’ in therapy are related to the therapist’s warmth ~ not the therapist’s theoretical orientation, not her training, not her experience.” (Rethinking Depression) So find someone you like and just talk. For more on this, check out my article at TalkTherapyBiz, Why therapy is awesome for artists.

Practice gratitude. Oprah started the craze with gratitude journals. Writer Ann Voskamp infused fresh life into the practice with her book One Thousand Gifts and the community that has grown around it. Saying thanks for what you notice cultivates a cycle of positive thinking that lifts your spirits.

Make connections. Therapists aren’t the only people you can talk to. Seek out people you can be authentic with and spend time with them. Join an online class or community ~ often the relative anonymity makes it easier to open up. Reducing your isolation will erode your unhappiness.

The last 5 ways listed here are about redesigning reality, “changing the things we can.” Once we are on firmer footing, gaining resolve and resources from taking those early steps, we can tackle the harder ones.

Reduce your responsibilities. Chances are that you’re tired and stressed and sad partly because you’re doing too much. So stop doing some of it. Find a new volunteer to replace you. Get some childcare or join a babysitting co-op. Cut back your hours at work. (Believe me, I know all of this is simpler said than done, but start small and you’ll grow bolder.) For more on quitting stuff, see my post The kind of help we all could do without.

Spend time creating. Step away from the grindstone and allow yourself to play. Remember the way you created as a child ~ purely for your own pleasure. Noch Noch has just published an inspiring article about how depression rejuvenated her creativity. (If you’re a writer, Story Is a State of Mind is a fabulous program to ease you back into things.)

Change your thoughts. You may think that you are stuck with the morose ramblings in your head. You are most emphatically not. You can “get a grip on your mind,” as Eric puts it, and replace the downer monologue with confident and encouraging self-talk. Learn this through cognitive therapy, or by practicing The Work of Byron Katie, or reading Eckhart Tolle.

Develop a meaning practice. You can intentionally instill more meaning into your life by understanding and doing more of what matters to you. Most of Eric’s book, Rethinking Depression, is devoted to describing such a meaning practice, and I highly recommend trying it out.

Change your life. This is what designing your art-committed life is all about. Slowly but surely you weed out the activities that drain you and fill your days with deliciousness. And you do this because you know that you are entitled to the best life you can imagine.

You have probably already heard most of this advice. And you may be gnashing your teeth and saying, “I know what to do, I just can’t do it!” But perhaps it helps to have it laid out and categorized like that. Perhaps you will be able to keep your eyes open for things you can do.


I appreciate the importance of accepting what we can’t change.

But what really fires me up is changing the things we can, and finding the wisdom to know the difference.

That’s what I’ve sunk my teeth into as a woman recovering from depression. That’s where I focus my work as a coach. I am not willing to settle for coping, tolerating, getting by ~ not for myself and not for the bright creatives who come to me for support.

If you’re ready to redesign your reality for more artistic happiness, look at my Enter the Labyrinth coaching services.

Which of these ways have you used to walk away from depression? Have I missed any that you’d like to add?

Photo credit: ItzaFineDay

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{ 20 comments… add one }

  • Jenn Miller March 21, 2012, 10:18 am

    Love it. Shared it. Thank you!

  • Stacy March 28, 2012, 5:28 am

    Fantastic post. Especially, “There is no moral superiority in recovering from depression without meds …. we’re not talking about statistics here ~ we’re talking about you. Do what you need to do to cope in this moment.” Absolutely!! I volunteer as a patient advocate for women with chronic illnesses, and I see women *all the time* not doing what they feel is right for them because of the stigma or the judgement of their family or friends.
    I’ve also struggled with depression, and I can’t put enough emphasis on how important it is to have a plan – to feel empowered because you see a way out, and can begin taking small steps towards the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s when we lose hope that things really get bad (I’ve been there, and it’s awful). Creating a plan and doing whatever I could to implement it really made a difference.

  • Karen Reddell May 24, 2013, 6:26 pm

    I know that I need someone in my life willing to love me through this to help encourage me. But there simply is NO ONE. What can I do alone to fix me. I have lived with this monster for as far back as I can remember. A child….I suffered with severe bouts of depression and anxiety and was plagued with nightmares and severe night terrors. I always thought that perhaps my ordeal would finaly come to an end and I would oneday be a normal person c
    apable of happiness. But I continued in the same way as I grew into an adult which I have never even felt like. I chose to be with an abusive mate and believe I loved them and then I went through two more abusive realationships that ended in divorce because they fell out of love with me and am now a burden on my kids and they ignore me completely and I cant blame them even though I have to say hat I have become the petson that will except whatever I can get ib the way of love from. My kids. They are all I have left on this earth other than a sister that lives far away.
    I just need soneone to show me how to live with this alone. Please help me to help myself.

  • Jamie Smock May 25, 2013, 12:03 pm

    The word should be all right- two words.

  • Doc Robby June 9, 2013, 9:44 am

    Hi Karin,

    Dear woman I can feel your pain through your words and just want to say that you are not alone in your agony and grief. The simple fact that you have bothered to write on this beautiful forum about your problems says that you are reaching out for help, and when there’s a reaching out there is also always, and I do mean ALWAYS, a way through. It may not happen in the way you think it should, for Life often knows better than us, and it will always come on God’s time and not our own, so the process cannot be pushed although we may be greatly suffering. Our task during these times is simply to polish the mirrors of our hearts and do whatever it takes to make it from day to day or even moment to moment. Often then, when least expected, lo and behold, there comes a day when the pain is much better or gone.

    Please don’t make the healing of your depression dependent on someone being in your life to give you close personal love and support. Do you really believe that you can accept love from someone else when you can’t accept for yourself? Bad relationships that happen in our lives are just a reflection of the strife that we are already experiencing within. Until we have a certain amount of healthy self love for ourself it is unwise to try seek fulfillment outside of ourselves as this is just a distraction from our pain and prolongs the process. Love and support are important from others but not the kind where we think someone can rescue us from ourselves. It takes great courage to go through a depression when alone. The deeper truth however is that you could be surrounded by loads of people who love you and still be very depressed and feeling utterly alone. For some this is even worse as there is the depression compounded with the guilt of thinking that we ‘shouldn’t’ be depressed since we have so many around us who love us and we ‘should’ have it so good.

    A few questions:
    *Are you in a therapy that challenges you in a good way?
    *Are you taking the appropriate medications if necessary?
    *Are you aware of the specific food supplements that can really help when medications don’t help or one decides first to take a more natural route before taking meds?
    *How is your eating pattern? In my practice I’ve had numerous occasions when patients who always suffered from physical pain, depression and anxiety suddenly come up to me and say that they’re feeling much much better. When I asked what caused the change the answer is/was always the same: A low carbohydrate/low dairy diet. After hearing this around 50 times and seeing the miraculous turnabouts in the overall health of these patients I decided to look into it myself, and sure enough, there is a scientifically proven healthy brain-body connection that a low carb, low dairy diet explains very well. It is not for everybody but I’ve found that at least 75% of my patients experience a significant improvement in their complaints when this diet is properly implemented. If you’d like, look up Paleo Diet on the net and see if it may mean something to you.
    *Do you, exercise, exercise, exercise… 5x a week of 30+ minutes of say, fast walking, swimming, weights, etc…? This is actually equal to, if not better than, taking a Prozac everyday.
    * The use of mantras. This may not be for everybody but it is one of the most ancient methods from various cultures used to heal a broken heart and mind. A manta is simply a word or a phrase of a high spiritual vibration that you sing or repeat to yourself over and over. My favorite is the HU song (pronounced Hue or Hugh) sung in a long out breath, like Hhhhhhhhuuuuuuuuu…. It’s simply a way of saying, “God, I need help!” It’s not telling God what to do or how to do it but simply saying, “God, here I am and I need help.” This is something that you’ll have to prove for yourself and it may take some time to get an answer, but be persistant without pushing the process as the doors of the heart open inward and pushing only makes it worse. A suggestion would be to sing this or another word/phrase that appeals to you 10 minutes before going to sleep and increase from there to maybe 30 minutes max unless you are having some kind of inward experience. Be persistant as nothing in life comes for free and we may have to work hard for our freedom from the parts of ourselves that are remarkably attached to pain and a negative view of ourselves.
    * There are many more things that you can do to change your circumstances for the better but I’ll leave it up to you to look them up if you choose to do so. Remember: We may often need to take those first lonely and uncertain steps towards a healing before life takes our hand and walks with us. Once we have given 100% of what we can, that’s when the miracles occur.

    I wish you all the love and success that you need in order to heal.

    Rob

  • Running On Fumes July 11, 2013, 7:43 pm

    If I had the money to afford a counselor, or a vacation, or cut back my work hours, I would gladly do those things and more. I know exactly what makes me happy, and I’m not getting those things because if I’m awake, I’m working. Period. 365 days a year.

    That’s the source of my walking depression. I have to keep slogging on, no matter how much I want to curl up and cry, because if I don’t, we don’t eat. We don’t have internet (my only source of contact with any of my friends) or gas for the car. Without my efforts, my family has no future or hope. If I stop, it all falls apart. So I can’t stop. Ever. And it’s killing me. And there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s like Speed, and I’m the bus. I stop moving, and it’s all over. And I’m running out of gas.

    • Running on Hope July 19, 2013, 5:06 pm

      Dear Running on Fumes,
      I truly know how you feel. I’m in exactly the same position. I only pray that the family that your doing it all for is sincerely appreciative of your efforts. That is their actions, not just words, reflect their appreciation for your sacrifices.
      My experience sadly, is that my family doesn’t, and nothing runs you out of gas faster than a one-way love. I do it because I love my kids, and know that if I walk away to escape the depression to be happy, everything falls apart and I will probably never see my kids again, and live with the pain that their futures are being ruined by their upbringing…I hope its all worth it in the end, and that their lives are better than mine.
      I pray that your partner & kids show their appreciation to you. You can’t always control your financial situation…but gratitude & love from your partner & kids will keep your gas tank full to keep going on. I pray that you can get them to understand this. Best wishes.

    • running on expectations November 16, 2013, 3:17 pm

      Dear Running on Fumes (and Running on Hope),

      I know how you feel and I am in the same position (x2) -after (sometimes 8 hours) of lessons I have to work every day and then find the strength to go back home and study some more. People say these should be the happiest days of my life, yet I have not felt happy for years. But if I stop I don’t eat, I have no future.

      Believe me, it may not be now, but what you are doing will be truly appreciated. You are a strong a brave person and I truly admire you, because I can’t even handle myself, let alone children. Keep hanging on and in the future it will be worth it.

    • Pamela Rylah April 2, 2014, 1:56 am

      I get what you are saying

  • Julia Derek October 14, 2013, 7:21 pm

    I can’t help but feel that this blog post is only for financially independent people, and thus, a little silly. I mean, obviously we would all like to just go on a vacation, cut down on our work hours or get a fabulous counselor. It is all very helpful. I used a few therapists when I had insurance and found some of them very helpful. Tell everyone how great therapy can be. I also took antidepressants for a while when I felt my depression was so bad I couldn’t deal with it otherwise. I was never ashamed at all for taking antidepressants and told everyone. My issue is I’m having a hard time meeting someone to share my life with even though I look good–used to model and still look good for my age, which is early forties. Have lots of friends, so it doesn’t seem to have something to do with my personality either. Being with someone–that I’m physically attracted to–would mean I didn’t have to struggle as much financially and give me the emotional support I need. But it’s not happening and I do lots of social stuff. Anyway, enough of my rant. Just wanted to add my two cents.

    • Pamela Rylah April 2, 2014, 1:57 am

      Boy do I relate to you !

  • VM December 5, 2013, 4:03 pm

    I think this helped me a lot so thank you though I don’t think my age will permit anti depressants I will Ty the rest of this thanks so much again I couldn’t really go to anyone right now without dragging their mood with me and that would be selfish so I think this will help very much thanks.

  • Kc rain February 5, 2014, 3:11 pm

    I loved your blog and truly thought these were great suggestions! I don’t think this for financially independent people, but maybe someone who is just tired of being that depressed person. I finally said enough after 13 years of being with my boyfriend, bought a plane ticket and moved to Oregon from Alaska! And before you say you don’t have kids, yes I do, I have two boys 13 and 10. Its hard at first of course but least I am getting away from my source of depression, which was my boyfriend, who constantly yells. If someone reads this and thinks that could be me too. It can you can make your own reality!

  • Anne April 5, 2014, 5:03 pm

    They would choose to believe that I have become a recluse, angry and bitter (“him”), self-involved and would rather work 7 days a week then spend time with them (kids). They have fallen for my act of self sufficiency and strength. I wonder if they ever talk about me. Is Mom alright? Have you seen her lately? Do they stop and think about who I am. Notice how I’ve changed? They want nothing from me, need nothing from me, until they do and then I get a call, “just checking in to see how you’re doing?”
    I always say I’m fine. I know they don’t want to hear anything different than that as they rush through the social chatter either to soothe themselves from the guilt of not calling or until they catch their breath to ask for what they need this time.
    I understand as this is the normal evolution from childhood to adulthood.
    I know there is love there. I just wonder how they can’t “see” me. My fear is that one day they will. My mantra is, “I am invisible. No one knows.”
    But you do. You know what I’m talking about. You know how this feels.
    I am so tired. So tired I made myself schedule three days off from work in a row. This is day two. I haven’t had a day away from clients in months. I am not doing well with myself in the room.
    Finding this site helped me through a couple of dark hours. Thank you.

  • lianne April 13, 2014, 8:25 pm

    unbelievable…….this web site…..I had no idea that so many others……it brings tears….it brings hope…..has helped to restore my faith….to believe in myself again. I am in the process of using all of the 5 steps……struggling painfully….finding it impossible to take those very steps that I know are the very thing that may help me. Doc Robby, god bless you!!! Thank you for your kind wonderful words of wisdom! I have found in the past that diet and supplements have helped…how I managed to implement them at the time had to have been with the help of god sent angels…..for I have no memory of having had the ability to do it myself. Unfortunately I have found myself starting all over again……working very difficultly on not giving up on myself for allowing myself to fall back into this pit! And yes…I am very tired…..but I will not give up! I will figure this out again! I only wish I could help you all to find your way out of it too! Because I can feel your pain…and know it only to well. Good luck and blessings to us all…..Please don’t give up. Lianne

  • Francis C April 14, 2014, 6:55 am

    I understand perfectly about loneliness, unhappiness and depression, as I too was once a victim and for many years. I have good news and its from someone who has been there and come out of the darkness. I am a 52 year old woman. I have twin boys given to me with Gods Blessings not long ago. I never thought I would be a mother, having waited so long for meet the right man. And that wasn’t all, I was also without a job, unwell, no money to my name and I was heavily overweight. I thought my life as I remembered it as a young girl, was over, finished and that in time I would die a depressed and pitiful woman. I use to smile during the day and at night cried myself to sleep for years. I had been treated unfairly all my life, first at home my mother wasn’t close to me, and my father who I was close to, died very young. When he died part of me went with him and stayed there. At work as a young woman, I was often ganged up on, harassed, bullied and abused. In the end I tossed in my jobs. I didn’t know how to communicate to anyone what was happening to me, as I wasn’t close to anybody. Then one night two months shy of fifty years old, I did something unusual. I got down on my knees and I asked God to take me now. Obesity had also caused my whole body to swell up in pain and I could barely walk or bend my knees, yet somehow I mananged to stay on them while I said a prayer. I didn’t want to wake up tomorrow. Strange that after my prayer I felt very tired and went to sleep. I have to say it was the best sleep of my life and it changed me, because all night I was sitting next to a man who was holding my hand and I continued to feel such a warmth and calmness I would never forget. The words I needed to hear were very simple; “do not give up, not now not ever”. The next morning something in me changed, I felt lighter and relaxed. For once I wasn’t thinking about what I didn’t have, but what I could have. Approximately six months down the track someone called me about a temporary job that needed to be filled right away. Three days in my new job a man walks through the office door asking directions as he was lost, we struck up a conversation, and four months later, he became my husband and seven months later, I become permanent in my job and then with pregnancy finally became a mother. The mother I always wanted to be. To anyone that is thinking of giving up in life, don’t, because the best part comes after the hardest obstacles life can deliver.

    • lau May 31, 2014, 3:53 am

      Thanks for your input. I loved it. Miracles do happen and your story is good proof of it.

      Best wishes.

  • Lauren November 24, 2014, 9:25 am

    I am in desperate need of help. Growing up, I dealt with having a learning disability which is called process impairment. I did not allow it to label me I was able to get through middle school and was in special classes in high school well smaller groups. I applied to colleges with no luck in being accepted. One school did accept me through a program. I went there and wanted to pursue teaching but i ended up switching to psychology. So i have my bachelors in psychology. This past june i broke up with a boyfriend of 7 years. He put up with all my different behaviors but i wanted to see what else was out there. Over the summer, i was a single gal and this was almost like a high to me. Going out drinking every weekend. Then bam school started in september and i was not ready. I was going back for teaching and i didn’t like my placement as they put me in a daycare instead of public school. I feel apart from no longer having a supportive boyfriend and not taking a liking to my student teaching placement. This is when things got real bad–I have been hosptialized 3 times since september and i am currently taking medications. I have had suicidal thoughts and attempts. Each day is a struggle for me, i don’t want to get out of bed because i feel that i have nothing good going on in my life. No school, no job, no boyfriend, haven’t seen my friends and I’m not independent like a 25 year old girl should be. I feel empty. Im scared to do things alone so the fact that i myself have to get out of this depressed state alone is very difficult for me. Sometimes id rather just take the easy way out but i don’t want to hurt my family. I am starting outpatient program on Tuesday. How can i find the strength and motivation to keep going. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. I don’t smile or laugh. I have to force myself to do anything and i know life is just passing by. my parents have also done a lot for me especially my mom- she always took exceptionally good care of me so now that i feel like i have to do things on my own it feels impossible. I am told by everyone to work on myself but that seems to not work easily for me. Im 25 years old with nothing to offer except depression and anxiety. What can i do? please someone help me I don’t want to be this person anymore i don’t want depression to be my first name. Im scared and could really use some advice.

    • Alec November 29, 2014, 2:58 pm

      Lauren,

      I feel that I am am in a slightly similar position. However, I’m 21 and in community college, and am in the process transferring to a university (which is ridiculously stressful). I still live at home with my parents and it is honestly the most depressing thing in my life, especially when my brother comes home from college. My entire family is ridiculous and I feel horribly trapped. My family treats me as though I am incapable of living a normal life without them, which is extremely debilitating. My whole family are alcoholics and I have made multiple attempts myself at being sober, but it’s really hard and my family only makes it worse. I know that if I move out things will be better, but I’m extremely scared. The area I live in is also very expensive even for a studio apartment. I feel trapped in a never ending cycle of depression. I too am very scared, however I’ll try to give you some advice. Stay positive and change things positively; I will be as well.

  • Peggy Kolodny December 14, 2014, 6:36 am

    Beside “talk therapy”, there is a wide range of psychotherapy professions and modalities that are highly effective with depression. Art Therapy is a Masters level profession that utilizes the therapeutic benefit inherent in the creative process and guiding the client’s understanding of self through her/his art. Art skill and talent are not needed by the client. It uses the whole brain. Other expressive arts therapies include music, dance/ movement, drama & creative writing. Then there are psychotherapy approaches that enhance talk such as EMDR, IFS and sensorimotor. In the end, I love that you mentioned that the warmth of a therapist builds the empathetic connection needed.

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