New year, new me—that’s usually how it goes when January rolls around, isn’t it? People make resolutions, tell the entirety of Facebook how they’re gonna do better (as if anybody cares), and use all kinds of hashtags on Instagram to show just how #blessed they were in 2018. But maybe that’s not you.
Maybe for you it’s more of a “new year, old me” kind of vibe. Or a “new year, same old” kind of thing. Or even a “new year, tried to do better but fuck, it this is all I got” kind of shit. Because not only have you not gotten anywhere with your New Year’s resolutions, but to make matters worse, the unwanted houseguest you thought you got rid of has come roaring back with a vengeance, and now you’re just about ready to cancel 2019.
Well, since this isn’t January anymore, let’s skip through the “new year, new me” bullshit and get straight to the business of actually fixing stuff. Here goes!
1. So you’ve relapsed, now what?
Don’t beat yourself up over it. Shit happens, and sometimes, despite your best efforts, depression just doesn’t go away. Or it comes just when you think you’re better. And that’s okay. All you have to do is accept it’s here, it’s back, and even though you may not like it, this is how it is now.
Don’t wish it were gone. Don’t blame yourself for being weak—you’re not. This kind of thinking only digs the depression in deeper because not only are you depressed in the first place, you’re now even more depressed for having depression, and so the cycle of viciousness goes on. This isn’t easy, but you must accept it.
Have you accepted it yet? Good. Moving on.
2. Why did you relapse?
Now that you’ve made peace with yourself over this, the next step is to figure out why you relapsed. What caused this? Did you do something you knew was going to trigger your depression, such as read the news? Or did something unexpectedly horrible happen, like an accident or a death? Perhaps you were waiting for the other shoe to drop, and now that it’s dropped, you wish it hadn’t.
Don’t rush through this step. You want to be as familiar with your reasons as you are with the back of your hands so you can find the right solution, and hopefully lessen the chances of relapsing again, and if you don’t do this properly, all you’re gonna find are incomplete or even wrong answers that don’t really help. And more relapse. Maybe even a downward spiral! And we all know how downward spirals go…
So take your time, go through everything methodically, and don’t beat yourself up if you find things you don’t like. This is just the process of getting to know yourself, and it’s a very intimate process. You can do this with your therapist (that’s what they’re there for anyway) but if you’re poor like me and can’t afford one, try journalling or any other method that allows you to get your thoughts down uncensored. Uncensored is the key word here—you definitely don’t want to lie to yourself when you do this, otherwise you won’t find the solutions you need, thus rendering this entire process moot.
Have you found your reasons yet? Great! Let’s keep going.
3. Take care of yourself
Next up, take care of yourself. I suppose it sounds unintuitive that I’m telling you to skip the solution-finding part since that’s the rational thing to do next, but bear with me here. You can’t find solutions when you’re in a depressed state of mind, so we have to fix that first. And how do we fix that? By taking care of ourselves.
Take a walk, write a journal, scream into a pillow—anything you can to raise your mood. Refer to the self-care checklist if you’re stuck, there’s a lot of good stuff there. Get therapy if you have to, but don’t self-medicate! What you want to be is a little more comfortable, not numb. Never numb. So take care of yourself. Go do it now!
Feeling better? Awesome. Onto the next step.
4. Find a solution that works best for you
Okay, so you’ve accepted your relapse, you’ve figured out the reason(s) why, and you’re sufficiently comfortable enough to deal with whatever comes next. Now, and only now, can we find solutions. I could write an entire article just on this alone (and I probably will, but that’s an article for another day), but since this is already running long and I’m all about keeping it actionable and fluff-free, I’ll keep it short and simple for today. Straight to the core, like usual.
Here’s a truth that most people don’t know about—the majority of your problems generally fall into these two categories:
- Things you can control, and
- Things you can’t
Things you can control include your own behaviour, your own actions and oftentimes, the decisions you make. For example, you control whether you get up in the morning to face the day or hide under the covers until the cows come home. Your depression may influence to varying degrees whether you pick one option or the other, but ultimately, it’s you who decides what to do. And on that note, you don’t control how people will react to what you choose, period.
Things you can’t control include other people’s behaviour, other people’s actions, and stuff like the weather or what numbers get drawn in the lottery etc. Very obvious, right? All this is very well and good, but it’s when we confuse or mix the two up that we start seeing problems.
For example, most people have it the other way around when it comes to reactions. They try to control how other people react to themselves via behaviour modification all the way to outright manipulation, and while you can influence to a certain degree how somebody perceives you, how they actually react is up to them. On the other hand, these same people forget that they can control how they themselves react to others, whether it’s by letting a shit friend ruin your day or choosing to let their shittiness slide for peace of mind (and then never hanging out with them again).
How you react is your choice, how others react is not
You have complete control over how you yourself react to things (contrary to how most people spin it, your reaction to stuff is a choice you can and absolutely should consciously make), but zero control over how other people react to things (you can influence to a certain degree yes, but you cannot force somebody to react in a way that suits you better).
So what does this mean for people experiencing a relapse?
Well, this all goes up to the first step in this article—to accept things as they are. When you accept things as they are, not only are you seeing things with more clarity, you’re also seeing a much more realistic picture of the situation, which of course allows you to deal with such situations better. This also means you’re less likely to try to control things you can’t (which is a recipe for disappointment 100% of the time) and to blame outside circumstances for things you can (which keeps you in a victim’s mindset, a mindset that is not conducive to problem-solving). And when you figure out how much of your problems are within your control, you can change the way you do things and eliminate as much of them as humanly possible.
As for the problems that aren’t within your control? You actually have a few choices here:
- Let those problems consume you entirely while you wallow in your misery,
- Blame other people for causing you problems and resolve never to trust anybody ever again, or
- Accept that this is the way things are and try to work through it nonetheless
That’s right, even with circumstances that are beyond your control, you still have the choice of how you react to it, and as we’ve discussed above, that’s something you can actually control. Before someone calls me a dick for it (and someone ultimately will), let me remind you that having depression is not a choice—nobody chooses to be depressed—but what you do with your depression is entirely up to you. That’s the premise this website is based off on after all, and I stand by it.
So, if you’ve chosen to react in a way that’s most beneficial to you, what’s next?
You work through it
That might include things like avoiding social media if you know it triggers or worsens your depression, switching off the TV or unplugging the internet if it distracts you from stuff you’re supposed to be doing, or getting rid of everything that, in the words of tidying expert Marie Kondo, doesn’t “spark joy.” It might be talking to a therapist, changing the medication you take or starting medication (discuss this with a licensed professional please), starting an exercise routine, or hanging out with a friend. Whatever works best for you.
Bear in mind that depression is a complex illness and what works for one person may not work for another. There truly is no one size fits all solution for depression. That being said, if you follow the steps outlined in this article, I think you’ll find your chances of relapsing decrease and your problem solving skills improve, which is always much better than being handed “solutions” on a platter imho 🙂
So, to sum up:
- Don’t beat yourself up over your relapse
Shit happens and you’re not weak.
- Accept it and figure out why you relapsed
Take your time until you’re sure you have everything. Don’t half-ass this or you’ll get incomplete solutions.
- Take care of yourself
You can’t find solutions when you’re in a depressed state of mind.
- Find a solution that fits your needs
Most problems come down to two categories: things you can control, and things you can’t. Your reaction is the former, other people’s reactions are the latter, and you always have a choice in how you react to any given situation.
- Work through it!
Implement your chosen solution to the very end, keeping in mind that depression is a complex illness and there’s no one size fits all solution.
Here’s to a less depressing 2019,
Your friend in the trenches, the depressed duck