"I'm so happy cause today I found my friends ... They're in my head."
-- Kurt Cobain
Several years ago I met a women with a very "don't worry be happy" disposition. After several conversations and cocktails she admitted that she was taking the antidepressant Prozac. I thought to myself, "Wow, your happiness is a manmade chemical. A fraud. So what are you really like?"
Fast forward to my own life, circa 2009-2011. After jumping very hastily into marriage, my own mental state of happiness and spiritual well-being was spiraling out of control, turning me into a person I did not recognize. No longer did I have my same zest and happy-go-lucky attitude, I had days of not getting things accomplished, feeling overwhelmed and angry and -- I hate to use the word -- depressed.
My mood was up and down, like a roller coaster, and I just wanted to get off and hit the rewind button. I began seeing a therapist to work on some root issues and I enjoyed our weekly sessions together. After several months with a therapist as well as a psychiatrist, we all agreed that maybe I should consider taking antidepressants to better cope with the issues I was having in my life. I was so happy that such an option existed. I barely take aspirin but I thought "hallelujah, pop the wellbutrin." I wanted anything that would lighten this dark cloud. And with that I eagerly filled my prescription.
A funny thing happened once I got my magic pills home. Looking at them motivated me to figure out an alternative way to handle the issue. I don't know what will happen in the future but, here is what has been helpful so far:
1) Put first things first. We live in a day and age where everything is continuous. I just slowed way down and took care of the things that where priority. Everything and everyone else I put on the shelf, with an expiration date to examine later.
2) Watch what you eat. This is very important in the high-stress times of life. Our bodies are designed to want healthy food, but by feeding it the wrong things, we deaden the senses of what is right. I also watched my alcohol consumption. Consumption of alcohol during depression can progress into a serious problem, and instead of having one problem you can be left with two.
3) Get active and stay active. As busy people know, exercise can become secondary when you have a packed schedule. But I made exercise a priority, every morning, regardless of weather. I hopped on my bike, ran around the track or took a class that I enjoyed. TIME magazine, in 1999, wrote, "Duke University researchers demonstrated in a randomized controlled trial that depressed adults who participated in an aerobic-exercise plan improved as much as those treated with sertraline," which is the drug marketed as Zoloft.
4) Help yourself by helping others. People who help others are shown to be significantly happier and less depressed than those who don't. Depression, anxiety and stress involve a high degree of focus on the self, but focusing on the needs of others literally helps shift our thinking. Jill Niemark, co-author of the book "Why Good Things Happen to Good People," says, "When you're experiencing compassion, benevolence and kindness, they push aside the negative emotions." I made a commitment to volunteer at a soup kitchen, and I must say I never left feeling depressed.
5) Engage in silly time. I made sure I had a designated "silly" time. It was not always daily, but I made sure not to let two days go by without my silly time. I heard that a man cured cancer by watching Laurel and Hardy for 10 hours a day. I don't know if this is true, but laughing releases endorphins which make you feel good and helps fight the blues. So I started doing Laughing Yoga and watching cartoons.
6) Communicate with the God of your understanding. Talk, laugh, vent, pray, meditate, whatever it takes to realize that you are not always in control and that the universe has a divine plan for us all, even if we don't always understand it or even like it.
7) Allow yourself "crazy time." Do things that are offbeat to get out your frustration. My favorite thing to do when I was really pissed off or about to lose it was to put on my headphones and sing at the top of my lungs. It was usually something really obnoxious like Jay-Z and Linkin Park. I would either go in my bathroom and close the door or jump on my bike. Yes I did get some looks and I'm sure it annoyed my daughter to some extent, but it beats the nervous breakdown alternative.
In closing I would just like to say that I recognize depression as a serious life-debilitating issue. This is my personal experience, and how I chose to battle my own depression. It is not meant to discredit recommendations by a professional psychiatrist or lessen the experience of those that take antidepressants. Be well.