Depression has a nose longer than Pinocchio, but it can be difficult to see this when you are in the midst of its lies. I thought that because depression was inside me, that it was giving me accurate messages about myself and the world. But thirty years of living with it has shown me that it is nothing but a big fat liar. Depression would fall apart faster than a sandcastle in the Sahara if it ever took a lie detector test.
Lie 1 – “Depression is reality”
When I first experienced depression at the age of sixteen, I thought it was just ‘me’. I didn’t know I was ill or that there were help and treatments available. I thought that the way I saw the world was how it actually is. I believed depression was my personality. Separating depression from my sense of identity and the world has taken a long time. I’ve learned that depression is something I experience, but it isn’t ‘me’, it isn’t reality and it doesn’t define me.
Lie 2 – “Talking about it won’t help”
Making sense of my depression started when I began to talk about it. It wasn’t easy and at first, I couldn’t see why talking would help. But in therapy, I learned how to articulate the terrible dark sensations and feelings of worthlessness. Bringing the inside out was crucial for me in realising that this was something other people could understand. Not only did they understand, they had advice and suggestions. Talking made my depression tangible, plus externalising it lessened the power I felt it had over me. It has been the most helpful treatment I’ve tried.
Lie 3 – “There is no hope”
Depression messes up your belief system. I firmly believed there was no hope, but depression is an illness that likes to chat about a lot of negative things and it is ace at shattering hope. Accepting that depression was an illness helped me to see it as something that can be treated and managed. At first, I needed other people to give me hope and belief, but after realising I always come through a depressive episode, I saw that hope and belief were instrumental in giving me the will to carry on. Of course, there were many other factors involved in each recovery, but if you don’t have hope they will work, they probably won’t.
Lie 4 – “You are a rubbish human being”
Depression lies through its teeth and tells you that you’re a worthless, stupid and pointless human that doesn’t deserve to live and who no-one will miss if you were gone. It is important not to believe these big fat lies because they are depressive bile. They are a by-product of the illness and not based in fact. I found it helpful to make lists of my good points and abilities to counteract the lies. So you don’t forget, it can be useful to frame them and put them on the wall.
Lie 5 – “I will never feel any better
During my worst period of depression, I was convinced I felt constantly at rock bottom and also that I would never, ever feel any better. I would have bet huge sums of money on this if I’d had any. Then I discovered a mood tracking website called Moodscope. Through answering questions and tracking my daily feelings, I received a daily score to mark my mood. I was amazed to see that in fact, my moods oscillated and improved at various points and I never did get a score of 0%. I wasn’t seeing my mind or my feelings in an accurate way and Moodscope proved it. I could record what had happened that day too and began to notice if certain things triggered a very low mood. I realised that depression is like a dirty pane of glass and Moodscope helped me to shine it up a little so I could see things more clearly.
Lie 6 “There is something wrong with me”
People can suffer depression for lots of reasons, but I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes depression is a normal response to an abnormal situation and there is nothing ‘wrong’ per se. Or sometimes you can be depressed just because you are. Finding reasons and working through them is definitely a good idea, but sometimes I can’t find any and I have 30 years’ experience of looking.
Lie 7 – “It can’t get any worse”
It took me so long to realise that this was garbage. I discovered that I was unintentionally making my depression a lot worse by doing the following:
- Believing the lies depression told me about myself and the world
- Isolating myself
- Not talking about how I felt
- Hanging around too much with people who had worse problems that me who were not prepared to do anything about them
- Using unhelpful coping mechanisms like drinking and self-harming
Lie 8 – “There’s nothing I can do that will make me feel better”
This is more extreme garbage than thinking you have no control over it getting worse. I’ve learned that lots of things help:
- Admitting I am depressed, no matter how hard that is
- Seeking help, therapy, and medication
- Talking to people and forcing myself to interact with the world
- Keeping a routine. Routine is the backbone of my sanity
- Having helpful coping mechanisms. These are like a toolkit for the mind. Building up my toolkit enabled me to feel prepared when the next bout of depression came along. What works is an individual process of learning, but you can steal some of my tools if you like. I find that writing, walking, listening to music and watching animals being ridiculous on YouTube can really take the edge off.
Lie 9 – “I should trust my intuition when I’m depressed”
Your natural intuitive barometer is broken when you have depression and you don’t always act in your own best interests. Depression is counter-intuitive, it leads you towards unhelpful choices or thinking you have no choice at all. You can easily spot depressive impulses as they will always be the ones with the negative vibes emanating from them. Depression should not be allowed to decide anything and certainly not anything important like whether you should carry on living. I find that doing the opposite of my depressed intuition usually helps. For instance, if I don’t feel like eating, I eat. If I want to stay in bed all day, I get up. You have to force yourself, but it works.
Lie 10 – “I’m a weak person for needing medication”
I resisted medication for many years as I felt it was ‘admitting defeat’. However, when I did try it as an experiment and found that it worked, I saw it as an important tool in managing depression. Now I can see that depression is an illness just the same as heart disease or diabetes. There is no shame in taking medication for it. It can be helpful to see your brain in the same way as a computer. Depression lies, it re-wires your brain so that it malfunctions and crashes. But you can re-boot and hard-wire it with new updated software such as therapy, medication, and self-help which is then permanently installed and does not run out after a trial period.
Challenging the lies the depression tells you requires discipline, vigilance, and effort which is not an easy combination to find in the midst of a depressive hell. But I find that damage limitation in the form of employing the lessons learned above is so much easier than dealing with the minefield of devastation that your life can become while you are ill.