Battling Depression and PTSD has been a lifelong struggle for me. The symptoms had been so normalized for me that it wasn’t until college that I finally decided to speak to a psychologist who diagnosed that I in fact had a severe case of depression and the mental anguish was not normal.
It’s taken a lot of work. From unlearning traumatic and toxic thinking, to doing a lot of self-care and evolving.
And I still have a long way to go.
In the last few years I’ve developed a few self-care techniques that have proven beneficial in combating depression and PTSD. Some of these you may already practice, some I’ve put a personal spin on. I will share them, firsthand accounts, and pearls of wisdom from some pretty awesome people. It’s my hope that some of them may benefit you if you or a loved one is suffering from mental health issues.
I’ll also be sharing some firsthand experiences and wise words from some pretty extraordinary people to illustrate
As I say when I give critiques to fellow authors, adopt whatever you can utilize and disregard the rest.
- Take A Selfie
About a year ago, I began an experiment where I took a selfie as a daily photography/visual art exercise. The results? To date, it has become one of the most affirming and cathartic undertakings in recent memory.
In addition to my photography skills improving dramatically, I’ve become more comfortable with my looks and my body overall. I know this because I know longer apologize for it.
As an artist, I’m reminded of what I learned in art school. Beauty comes in all colors, ages, shapes and sizes.
By being comfortable with myself, feelings of insecurity and inadequacy no longer plague my thoughts like they once did.
And when I capture that one perfect shot, there’ s only one word for it. Magic.
- Exercise But Only Do Activities You Will Enjoy
Yes, we all know exercise is good for you. Every self-help guide, nutritionist, athlete, model, and anyone with a modicum of wisdom, intellect and common sense will stress this. But here’s the thing most people won’t admit to. For some of us, exercise is painful and it is torture. Correction, for a lot of us, exercise is painful and it is absolute torture. I say this as someone who committed to working out 3 times a week because I was at one point going to go into the military.
Doing the repetitive exercises such as deadlifts and running the treadmill was too much to bear and eventually I stopped altogether. No matter how much mental strength you have, you can’t motivate yourself to do something you truly hate especially when it entails paying for a gym membership.
The answer came while chatting with my buddy, John. Tending to horses and working on a farm, he pointed out that even though he doesn’t work out in a gym, he stays active. With a great physique, it definitely shows.
That’s when I realized I could do the same. I didn’t have to work out in a gym to work out. More than that, I could have fun. When it’s warmer out, I enjoy a good hike and rollerblading. During the summer I can swim or partake on a long hike. When it’s cold, I try my hand at boxing (see what I did there) and martial arts.
The more I enjoy the activity, the more confident I become and the more I look forward to doing it. The sense of accomplishment is a wonderful counter agent when I’m going through bad bouts of anxiety or depression.
- Dress To Impress (Yourself)
Maybe you work fulltime. Maybe you work multiple jobs. Maybe you have children. Maybe you’re going to school. Maybe it’s all of the above. As a result, you’re living to work and not working to live (as it should be). If you’ve been like me, it’s a personal victory to leave the house not looking like a complete slob.
One day I decided to spontaneously dress up for no reason at all. Okay, impressing a cute boy at work may have been a factor. But in doing so, I realized that dressing up lifted my mood and boosted my confidence. You don’t even have to put on your Sunday best if you don’t want to do so. A new pair of sneakers and a new hoodie have had a similar effect in making me feel like a new man ready to take on the world.
But why stop there?
Experiment with different hairstyles and new looks. If you’re pleased with the result, repeat step one.
- Walk On By
While walking could certainly fall under exercise category, it warrants its own category. In addition to exercise, walking reduces stress, boosts the immune function, improves memory and cognitive thinking.
Walking is also ideal for people who aren’t gym bunnies but want to get in some form of shape. It allows them to exercise at their own pace without pressure or hassle.
Working in a call center for five years, I dealt with more than my share of abuse, gaslighting, and stress. A few laps around the parking lot during lunch, on breaks and after my shifts saved my sanity.
For my fellow auteurs, walking provides an additional benefit. According to a study conducted by Stanford University (https://news.stanford.edu/2014/04/24/walking-vs-sitting-042414/)
Or to quote one Nia Frazier, “If life is a runway, walk it out.”
- Be Content With Being Alone
Mandy Hale once said, “Until you get comfortable with being alone, you’ll never know if you’re choosing someone out of love or loneliness.”
As someone who is an unapologetic misanthrope and introvert, even I have struggled with being comfortable being alone. I eventually unpacked and deprogrammed myself from the garbage society heaped on me.
Whether it’s the media or social convention, we’re taught to believe that being alone equals failure. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been asked, “Why are you still single? You’re young, smart, attractive, and nice. What’s wrong with you?”
Because if you’re single or have very few friends, that means you’re deficient or broken. Needless to say, such a mindset is harmful for anyone. More so if you suffer from mental illness.
A guru by the name of Osho explained it best: The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it is not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of the other person –without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.
What society often neglects to tell us is that many people are single because they DO have it together and are the ideal catch. They’re usually single because they aren’t settling or wasting their time on those who don’t appreciate what they have to offer. That isn’t to say they don’t get lonely but they know real happiness comes from within and if they’re forever single they’re still going to have a full life.
Eventually, I learned that some of the most extraordinary people aren’t alone because of failure. They’re alone because they choose to be. They’ve learned to be complete and content within and they know external forces won’t do for them.
- Be Willing To Make The Cut
As you continue to grow and evolve, you’re going to outgrow a lot of people. This is a good thing. In fact this is a wonderful thing. Especially when you realize that some people are toxic and potential triggers for stress, anxiety and depression.
Some people are on your journey for a season, some for a reason, sometimes both. Some people in your life are lifelong treasures, others are cautionary tales.
Joss Whedon gives the best advice when it comes to not suffering toxic people.
“Really toxic people I avoid. I cast for sanity, but toxic people are different from divas. Divas are complicated. Truly toxic people are about trying to tear something down whether it’s somebody else, the story; they’re about power. Those people have no business in my life or the industry.”
Or for that matter, they have no business on the planet.
- Pay It Forward
Many times I’ve been able to weather many of my darkest periods by being a glimmer of light to others. The acts of kindness don’t have to be grand gestures either.
Whether it’s holding a door for a pregnant mother, donating to charity, or even offering words of encouragement, the sincere tokens of compassion remind me that even in my worst moments, I’m genuinely trying to be a blessing to others. And that knowledge reminds me that I’m extraordinary and someone who is worthy of being loved. By walking the talk and living as an example, it gives me hope and sometimes that’s all you need to survive the day.
For me, the testament of true character is not only someone who makes a good faith effort to evolve and improve themselves but also someone who tirelessly and selflessly strives to empower and uplift others. As cheesy as it sounds and I’m sure no one will believe me, the biggest reward for me is when my art empowers people, makes them feel good about themselves and helps them be better versions of themselves.
- That Which You Truly Need, You Already Have Within
A true storyteller can often have the best insight on human condition. After all, in order to tell our stories, bards must have an intimate understanding of the forces that drive us. Within most of us, there is a struggle, an arc, a journey that is ruled by an internal conflict.
Often the key to said conflict can stare back at us the entire time. The solutions we often search for outside ourselves, that semblance of completion, the resolution to that internal conflict, can usually if not always be found from within.
Case in point: For years I kept trying to find Mr. Right. That Prince Charming who would save me and make my life complete. So of course when he was nowhere to be found, I found disappointment and despair instead. What I would eventually learn is that if I wanted to find Mr. Right, I would have to evolve and become him instead.
After all external forces will never do for me what I’m not willing to do for myself internally.
- Disrupt The Monotony
The truth is sometimes a bad mental health day isn’t affiliated with any cataclysmic catastrophe. The monotony and stress of day-to-day commitments might be the source of those blues.
If that’s the case, the best solution is a very simple one. Treat yourself. Do something spontaneous and fun.
Go to Starbucks after work and treat yourself to a pumpkin spice frappuccino. Go rollerblading in the park. Hate Mondays? Treat yourself to a movie after work. These activities may seem menial but I’ve found that the outcome may have an unexpected benefit.
A prime example was one fateful Wednesday in October some years back. I got off from work early. I was about to head back to my dorm when I decided to be “adventurous” and attend a function I had been invited to. The outcome? Through a chance encounter, I met someone else there who had the same idea. His name is Will, my best friend of 13 years. One of the best decisions I ever made.
If nothing else, treating yourself reminds you that you deserve to be rewarded and to embrace life.
- Find The Passion That Drives You
A great visionary by the name of Cindi Mayweather once said, “Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable. I didn’t have to become perfect because I’ve learned throughout my journey that perfection is the enemy of greatness.”
I’m a bard, a storyteller, bard, writer, griot. It is my art, it is my blessing, and the curse I’m burdened with. I have to write to stay sane. Whether it’s penning a blog entry, formulating an essay speaking out on the issues of minorities, utilizing visual art to convey a story or share a profound truth, or writing another novel, this is my power. Like a shaman who uses his gifts, words are my tools to build, to aid, and in certain cases my weapons to protect. I share my story and the stories of others. Whenever I write, I write to enlighten, empower, and entertain. If I manage to do all three, that’s a very good day. I share my truths in an effort to make the world just a little bit better.
Perhaps cooking is your gift, or being a teacher. Maybe you enjoy being a comedian because you enjoy making people laugh and smile. Whatever your talents and passions, embrace them and pursue them. Those gifts will not only help you while suffering a deep bout of depression but they can also help others who may also be in serious need. Not only will you be a benefit to others but you’ll evolve into a better person while pursuing them.
- A Song For The Soul
Despite the fact that I can’t play an instrument to save my life, I love music. In fact, my iTunes is on full blast while writing this article. From Johnny Cash to Michael and Janet Jackson to Kasabian, to Ladytron, to Beethoven to Janelle Monae, to the Prodigy, to Django Django and countless other acts, their art fuels mine. I’ve lost count of the number of pieces I’ve written which was inspired by a song.
For me, listening to music is a form of meditation. I’m able to place my headphones on and allow my mind to wander.
Music can often convey ideas, emotional content, and stories when even words fail.
Music can also help in times of tragedy.
A very close friend of mine passed away last year and I was in a dark place for quite a few months. Listening to music allowed me to grieve in private and while I’ll never fully recover (I don’t think anyone truly does losing a loved one), I have been able to move forward. Some days are better than others but at least now I’m able to cope one day at a time.
- Make Learning To Love Yourself A Top Priority
Last and certainly most important, making self-love your first priority. For many, if not most of us, it’ll be the most difficult challenge you will ever face. But on the plus side, it will be the most rewarding. My friend Nabila Farhat summed it up eloquently when she stated this:
We talk about self-love as if it’s something easy to attain. Read a motivational quote, post a fierce selfie, dismiss anyone who treats you less than you deserve & indulge yourself in life’s little wonders. Do all that and you’ll be basking in self-love, right?
As I’ve taken this journey to come to terms with myself throughout the last a few years, I have learnt that loving myself isn’t something that happens overnight, nor something that is always consistent.
At best, I find myself enjoying certain parts of myself, while being frustrated with others. Never really enjoying the whole. Always trying to one up myself. Wanting to better myself. Maintaining the expectations I’ve set for myself, all while trying to uphold the ones enforced upon me. I am constantly battling to create a perfect pendulum of balance. And in always trying to do better and plan ahead, I forget that the core of self-love is being able to appreciate that I grow from my actions, the good & especially the bad.
Self-love doesn’t come easy.
It requires dedication, patience & thought. Self-analysis & self-criticism. To push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. It requires us to show up each day and do so authentically. But most of all, it requires us to be forgiving of ourselves & to have compassion for our short-comings. And on a day that’s based on showing love, I hope that we all get a little closer to that, so that we’re a little closer to receiving the same acceptance & kindness from others.
Some of these steps are easier than others and if they don’t take on the first try, guess what? That’s okay. Try again. It took me years to develop these steps for me and as I said earlier, adopt whichever ones you can utilize and disregard the rest.
But no matter the outcome, in making the effort to fight for your mental health, you are taking your power back and that is a major victory in and of itself. As the old adage goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Here’s to you and a most successful journey.