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Outdoing Depression

Older gentleman sitting on a bench by a riverDepression is like gray paint over the canvas of my life. I’ve lived with it since childhood and no amount of wishing or sleep has made it go away, but there are things I can do to ease the burden it lays upon me. By reading this article, you’re opening yourself up to finding a tidbit that will lead you to think or do something that’ll improve your wellbeing, too. If you agree, then you have hope.

Hope is one of the five key concepts of recovery as developed by Dr. Mary Ellen Copeland and her colleagues when they created WRAP, a Wellness Recovery Action Plan. It’s an evidence-based self-help life management system whose premise is that through hope, personal responsibility, education, self-advocacy, and support, we can live the kind of lives we want, even as we encounter difficulties like those associated with depression. If you don’t feel you’ve got much hope, don’t fret. Just a little bit can take you as far as you need to go. Hope is like a personal pilot light. We can’t cook if the light in the stove goes out and people are like that, too. With the flame on, though, all kinds of things can be accomplished, even with depression.

If your hope flame is totally dark, you might have to give yourself permission to take a hopeless leap of faith. It’s funny how that can sometimes get things started. In wrestling with depression, tricks are necessary when we’ve got nothing else to move us. If you have to pretend you’re a person with hope on a day when you know you don’t have it, I’m asking you to try pretending so you can do things that are likely to enrich your wellbeing. If that doesn’t work, believe in hope that others can hold for you. Try using the next four key concepts and you are likely to notice positive effects and hope can re-enter your life as a result.

Personal responsibility means claiming ownership of your recovery. It can feel easier to say, “Oh, the doctors are taking care of it,” or, “There’s nothing I can do,” but that won’t get you to a better place. When we feel in charge, we can act in ways that reflect that and make changes that will be life-enhancing. For example, a doctor might give me a prescription that works for many people, but makes me feel sick. I know it’s not the right one because I’m the expert on myself. Likewise, you are the expert on yourself. With that acknowledgement, the next step is self-advocacy. Before we go on, though, you might need to repeat the words, “I am the expert on myself,” aloud. Say it. I encourage you to do so, to make it feel real, if it doesn’t already.

Speak up with your concerns and needs. Your voice is the one that matters most when it comes to your own wellness. Use it. It might feel rusty if you haven’t tried it in a while, but it will become stronger with use. Sometimes life feels like exhausting work. Fortifications are necessary along the way. Don’t forget to take care of yourself as is right for you. Maybe laughing over a show makes you feel good. Maybe a twenty minute rest and a cup of tea helps you. I like to snuggle with a cat and sing. Feel-good energy is restorative and gives us strength and positivity. By acting to support your recovery, not only are you heading towards your goal, but you’re also experiencing a better today.

There are countless ways to learn nowadays. I can ask friends if they know doctors I might like. I can google reviews of doctors in my area. I can find a support group through local listings. I can attend a talk at the library. I can ask the pharmacist a question about my meds. I can read a book or listen to a lecture online. Education comes in a variety of forms and it is empowering.

Have you noticed that though I’m responsible for myself, others play a part in my wellness journey? Support evolves over time by need, desire, and opportunity. I add good people to my life whenever I can. The day I moved into my house, I couldn’t open the back door. I would have been outside all day if I didn’t accept help from my neighbor. Besides help for practical matters, support brings us a feeling of connectedness. A community choir, a senior center, or a social worker might be part of your support network. You decide what works for you! Good support supplies peace of mind. We can improve our quality of life by doing more for ourselves, and sometimes that “more” means being vulnerable and asking for help. Best wishes to you as you paint on top of the gray.

The author, Bec Belofsky Shuer, and Lee Shuer, from Easthampton, will facilitate a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) group to support you as you develop strategies for making the most of every day, even when things are tough! The group, offered by LifePath, will meet on Mondays and Wednesdays Apr. 29-May 22 from 1—3 p.m in Conference Room B at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. Call LifePath at 413-773-5555 for more information or to register.