After teaching in public schools for 21 years, I decided to retire in May with the hope of launching a new career in the mental health field. It was such an exciting thought! But within a week, doubt and depression crept in.
All the pillars of structure in my life were gone: a daily routine, deadlines, responsibility, accountability. I missed my students and the engagement that brought me satisfaction.
In a few short weeks, fear became my constant companion and suicidal ideation took over. All I could see was that I was incapable of managing myself and that there was absolutely no reason for me to go on living. I even formulated a plan and wrote goodbye letters in my head to two close friends.
In order to survive, I knew I had to reach deeper into my toolbox and stop myself from hitting bottom. And thankfully, I did.
Here are 5 tools* that helped me through my own depression:
5 tools to help you through depression
1. Move your body
I truly believe that our minds and bodies are inextricably interconnected, so healthy movement was great for me, especially with other women. This might not be right for everyone’s recovery (e.g. if you struggle with exercise addiction), but for me it was very healing.
Exercising with other women lifted my mood tremendously. Even a short walk with friends can be a great way to bring you out of your own head.
2. See a movie (or at least get out of the house)
I also started going to movies. Now let me say, I don’t even like movies—one of my many idiosyncrasies. But I had to get out of the house.
So I went to Disney movies, funny movies, dramatic movies, anything to distract me from my desperate, dark thoughts.
Movies are a great way to change your pattern of thinking as you get lost in a story. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a “movie person,” just give it a try!
3. Surround yourself with uplifting things
Try surrounding yourself with things that uplift you.
Watch a light-hearted game show or search for funny videos on YouTube. Put on some uplifting music as you go about your day. Find little things that can bring a smile to your face, and continually build them into your day.
4. Connect with others
As horrible as I felt, I reached out to other people. I visited a neighbor battling illness and offered to walk someone’s dog. I even found out that another neighbor was also struggling with depression and reached out to her.
So send a text to that friend you haven’t talked to in a while, or make plans to meet up with a group of friends. Try going to that party even when you don’t feel like it. Find something you’re passionate about and ask if you can volunteer to help. Make a point to reach out to others, even when it’s hard.
For me, every minute spent with someone else meant one less minute of suffering for me.
As much as possible, I meditated.
Connecting to your inner self can be really healing. And meditation doesn’t have to be complicated, anyone can do it! Find some helpful tips for getting started here
H O P E
After 61 years of living, I now see that my life’s journey is full of ups and downs. There will be dark days, but also days filled with joy.
Now, I love myself enough to acknowledge that it’s okay to be vulnerable in days filled with despair and darkness. But loving myself also means I will commit to life and am quick to reach for my trusty toolbox.
Without judgment, I can observe my ups and downs as a natural part of the road to recovery. Depression isn’t something to be ashamed of. But I’m wise enough to know I have gifts to offer the world and to never give up hope. And it’s my greatest joy is to share the gift of hope with others who struggle.