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"See a Doctor, Get it Fixed"

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I was recently discussing the challenges of blogging with my dear friend, Laney, who has been successful with it for sometime now. "Write what you know, and know what you write" was her advice. After becoming a mother, there were many topics on which I thought I knew a lot: diaper rash, upset stomachs, scraped knees, lost homework, and boyfriend problems, just to name a few. However, these problems were solved as an onlooker, learning from others who had dealt with the same problems before me. I could consult a nurse, another parent, google, or even my own mother for advice and solutions.

So what was I to do when I was no longer the onlooker, the bystander, but rather, the participant in the problem to be solved? I'm talking about depression. This is one topic with which I have first-hand experience. I call it The Pit. For me, depression feels as if I am in a dark hole, trying to climb my way out toward the light. Perhaps for you it's a long dark tunnel, growing ever darker as you look at your life. Whatever description you have for it, I have dealt with it off-and-on during my adult life, and following the untimely death of NFL- great Junior Seau, I want to offer some practical tips that have worked for me as I learned how to avoid making a permanent solution of an often temporary condition.

1. First and foremost, ADMIT THERE IS A PROBLEM. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to actually confront the fact that things are different within yourself: you don't feel "right" or "normal", you become emotional at the least provocation, and sleeping the day away, every day, is the most inviting thing you can imagine. Focusing on the task at hand is extremely difficult, because thoughts and weariness with life dominate the waking hours. I just described what my life was like when I was in the grip of depression. I kept thinking that my feelings would pass with time, or that if I just ignored them, they would go away. It wasn't until I finally admitted to myself that something was wrong that I was able to begin the healing process. Honesty will facilitate the path to feeling better.

2. DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE. Cook a meal for your family or take a meal to a neighbor. Visit someone in the hospital or nursing home. Tutor a child. Send a birthday card. Make a grocery run for a new mom. For me, it was making sure I did at least one thing for the women with whom I was working at the time. Each day, I called at least one of them, or I sent one of them a note just to have contact with someone else. Just one thing, on a daily basis, that focuses on someone other than yourself will often get you through the day as you begin to climb out of The Pit.

3. EXERCISE. During that time, I started my day with 30 minutes on a bike in order to get some oxygen flowing to my brain. I now walk, run, and do interval training, not only for my physical health, but for my emotional well-being. I know it has to do with endorphin levels, and increasing oxygen levels in the blood, but I'm not a doctor, so I can't explain the scientific reason why this works. Just trust me: it WORKS. Run, walk, bike, kick-box, lift weights, do interval training (my fave), Pilates, yoga, you name it! Just do it, as the ad says. Even a short walk outside can help clear the fog in your mind. A little sweat = a lot of feel good.

4. ESTABLISH A ROUTINE. When my depression was at its worst, I was sleeping the day away. I worked from a home office, so I would get up and do the things that absolutely had to be done that day. Afterwards, I would curl up on the sofa, or go back to bed, telling myself that I would feel better after a "short nap". Hah! That "nap" would regularly turn into sleeping for 4-5 hours. Late in the day, I would get up, cook dinner for my husband and myself, and then try to spend time with him in the evening, all the while worrying about when I would get the work done that should have been done that day. What ultimately put me back on the road to being productive in my life again was to adopt a healthy work routine. Doing the same thing every day sounds stifling for creatives like me, but a routine can be our salvation. A routine keeps us from going back to bed mid-morning. It provides us with a sense of place and time. IT GIVESUS SOMETHING TO DO THAT WE CAN COUNT ON. If you don't have a regular 9-5 job, like me, make a schedule for yourself that reflects the things you need to do on a daily basis, including housekeeping. And stick to it. Making yourself observe the schedule is half the battle.

5. AVOID THE TEMPTATION TO SELF-MEDICATE. It's easy to think we will feel sooo much better with one more beer or an extra glass of wine, hours on the internet, or spending time with people who, in the end, are just toxic relationships. Because I was sleeping through lunch, I would wake up hungry. So I would grab a bag of cookies to satisfy the rumbling tummy. Ten or twelve Oreos later, I felt guilty for eating so much junk food. While my self-medication was mild, overall this type of behavior can lead to life-altering actions, and are usually not for the better, especially when it involves alcohol, drugs, and/or the wrong people in your life. Stop before you hurt yourself or someone else with what could be a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

6. ENGAGE IN SPIRITUAL RENEWAL. Remember, I said these are tips that work for me. My faith is an integral part of my life. Being a Christian doesn't make you immune to depression (or divorce, or the flu, or cancer, for that matter). But it does provide a base from where one can start. Reading Scripture and praying on a daily basis gives me an anchor to hold when I feel I am drifting in the black hole of uncertainty.

7. LUNCH BUNCH. For me, depression thrives in solitude. So even though you feel like shutting yourself off to the world, MAKE YOURSELF do things with others. Go to lunch, join a Bible Study, take a class at the local gym, go to the grocery store with someone else, walk up the street with your neighbor. It provides fellowship, friendship, and the knowledge that you aren't alone in this world. And many times, you learn there are others with problems bigger than your own. I was able to accomplish several objectives (as I look back on it) by joining a Bible Study. It provided me with a way to be with others on a weekly basis, do service projects in the community, care for others within the group by providing meals and errands when needed, and kept my mind engaged in both a spiritual AND intellectual pursuit.

8. "SEE A DOCTOR. GET IT FIXED." Ifyou feel you can't do any of the above on your own, GET HELP!!! I did. You can, too! It was such a relief to sit down with someone who said, "I can help you." There is NO SHAME in seeing a therapist, a counselor, a minister. Let me say that again: There is NO SHAME in seeing a therapist, a counselor, a minister. One more time: There is NO SHAME in seeing a therapist, a counselor, a minister. Remember that getting emotional help is just like getting physical help. If you are physically hurt or sick, you don't hesitate to see a doctor. Your emotional health affects your physical well-being, as well as your relationship with others. So don't wait! If you don't know who to call, start with your physician, and she/he can refer you to trusted and trained professionals who can help you begin the climb out of The Pit. They can also help you discover your "depression triggers" as I call them, so you can avoid them down the road.

I am emotionally healthy now because I stopped ignoring my symptoms and sought help. I don't ever want to live in that place of desperation again. Does any of this sound familiar? Then I strongly encourage you to begin taking steps to get healthy. There are times in life when you must make yourself your priority, in order to focus on those in your life you are trying to serve. Junior Seau was obviously caught in a Pit of his own. Unfortunately, for his family, friends, and many fans, his solution was a permanent one. Help is available. You CAN get out of The Pit.


Special Thanks to Lenore Doster, M.A., Psy.D, and The Summit Counseling Center, Johns Creek, GA. For confidential help in the Atlanta area, check out their website: http://www.summitcounseling.org

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