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by Jennie M. Xue
With the recent passing of beloved Hollywood comedian Robin Williams at his home across the San Francisco Bay, the world has a new understanding about depression. It is a term often overlooked and misunderstood as a character flaw, ungratefulness and inability to “snap out of it” with positive thoughts.
People get clinically depressed more often than you think. More than just being “stressed out” and suicidal, it is a silent global epidemic with 350 million sufferers that causes millions of dollars in economic costs every year. Existing in a wide spectrum, depression comes in many shades, and every face of depression is different.
Depression is caused by differences or changes in the brain. Some individuals have biological differences at birth or ones that develop later in life. Others have brain chemistry and hormonal changes. Environmental changes and traumatic life events can trigger these imbalances.
Mine belongs to the second category: changes in brain chemistry and hormones due to a traumatic event. When my (now ex) husband divorced me after confessing an affair, I felt a crushing pain on top of my head. It was a physical pain, not figurative. I was surprised by the sensation, as I couldn’t breathe normally like moving in thick liquid. The air felt so dense that I had difficulty inhaling.
At that moment, I realized that I was suffering from depression. Being a mindful person and having read many books about mental health, I took antidepressant soon after. Vitamins and supplements like Omega 3, B12, Magnesium, and Vitamin C are keys to physical wellbeing, so I keep taking them and make sure to replenish the supply. As physical exercises can boost natural serotonin, an uplifting hormone, going to gym for a quick cardio exercise also helps.
I believe that our physical and mental bodies have the capacity to heal themselves. After turmoil we always return to the state of equilibrium. I was drowning and now I’m using a safety floatation device. Still, I’m the one who must swim to the shore. With my limited mental energy, I’m swimming one leap at a time. The finish line would be when I’m no longer depressed and can enjoy the good life without painful memories hanging over my forehead.
Healing from depression takes more than taking antidepressant medicine and health supplements undoubtedly. It also requires environmental stimulants that are self-healing in nature such as writing, drawing, reading and meditating. Expressing gratitude, which is the core component of positive psychology, is another important daily therapy.
Enjoying art pieces and soothing music is another way to go. Whenever there is an opportunity, I visit galleries and listen to calming music with my Bose background-noise cancelling headphones. Pampering myself is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for survival.
As a failed atheist and an unabashed believer of “The Force” and Compassion, the belief that there is something bigger than myself as guidance has been truly useful in this trying time. God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). God is healing my broken heart and binding up my physical, mental and emotional wounds (Psalm 147:3). Spirituality brings us back to our inner self and floods it with a sense of peace.
Cognitive restructuring would be beneficial whenever dark thoughts and memories surface. It may take a lot of efforts to replace bad thoughts with good, positive and encouraging ones. The thing is, people we live with and our friends may not be the positive influences we need. It is good to put an emotional shield to protect ourselves.
Above all, self-encouragement is the most important therapy we can provide to ourselves. If we can still encourage ourselves to live another day, we’re good enough to live many more years to come.
Depression comes and goes. What matters is how we take good care of ourselves when darkness comes, and let the Universe takes care of the rest. I will be good to myself. I will be compassionate to myself.
I’ve just gone through hell and back, but the burn will dissipate. Eventually.
About Jennie M. Xue
Jennie M. Xue is an award-winning author and columnist based in Northern California. Her columns can be found in Forbes, The Jakarta Post, KONTAN Daily and Weekly, and TravelWorld Asia. Her blog is jenniexue.com. Follow @jenniemariaxue on Twitter.