It has been a long goddamn winter. (At least it has here on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, i.e. the center of the known universe.) If you and your people are anything like me and mine, all your conversations over the past few months have tended towards serious discussions of the end times—which, for the naturally melancholic among us, can be a strange comfort. "Finally," you may have thought, "people get it! I'm not alone!" But now the sun has started to come out, and today you looked around and saw all the people smiling and frolicking, and the birds were singing about how much they want to have sex with each other, and you were like, "Oh, goddammit. Why do I still feel like garbage?"
Well, you're still not alone, and it's not your fault. The world is honestly kind of hard and miserable, and some of us are just built to withstand it differently than others. For some of us, depression periodically or continuously lays us really low and makes us unable to do the daily life things that other people seem to do so handily. It's super unfair, but maybe you have to work a little harder than others at staying above water.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or any sort of mental health professional; just a layperson with, shall we say, extensive on-the-ground experience. So here's a few things that have worked for me and people I know—with the caveat that everyone is different, and what works for you might end up being something else entirely.
Talk to someone. The somewhat facile message of "get help" can be pretty annoying if you're a depressed person, because the state of mental health care in most places is a real mess; getting good help can be difficult, expensive, scary, and prohibitively exhausting for a person who's having trouble just getting out of bed. But talking to someone is crucial, whether it's a friend, a family member, a clergy person, or a counselor. I know it seems basic, but saying what you're feeling–honestly and straightforwardly—can lighten your burden anywhere from a little to a whole lot. And don't be scared to ask for exactly what you need, whether it's just an ear or help with grocery shopping; people can be daunted by depression and not know what to do, but if they care about you, they'll be glad to help you out. (Don't forget to be mindful of the fact that caring for a depressed person is a lot of emotional labor, but I think most depressed people lean too little on others rather than too much.)
If you don't have anyone you're comfortable talking to, the National Suicide Prevention Line isn't just for people who are actively suicidal; it's for anyone who's in a bad place and needs someone to talk to, and it's at 1-800-273-TALK. That'll route you to a local hotline, staffed by really nice volunteers who are there to non-judgmentally listen. Give it a try. (Since these helplines are staffed by volunteers, sometimes you might not get through, or get someone whose non-judgmental listening skills you're not that crazy about—but don't give up.)
Exercise. Oh, I hate this one. Exercising is hard and sucks. But what I probably hate the most about it is that it actually works, so now I have to do it. You don't have to become a gym rat or anything, but adding just a little movement and sweatiness to your day does some annoyingly super-effective mood-boosting thing to your brain. If you're not a gym or sports person (lord knows I'm not), try to work it into your daily routine by walking to a farther transit stop than usual, taking the stairs at work, or doing an exercise video at home. The real trick, though I've never managed this one myself, is to do it often enough that you get "addicted" to it—this is what people say happens! I swear!—and then you're stuck being slightly happier forever. Good luck with that.
Stop drinking, at least for a bit. This one can be pretty hard, because alcohol is fun, tastes good, makes socializing easier, and breaks up the monotony of your shitty feelings a bit. People will tell you alcohol is a depressant, and if you're anything like me, you'll smugly be like, "Actually, that's not technically even what depressant means," and finish your delicious beer.
But you know, even if alcohol doesn't actually make you more depressed (I anecdotally think it does, though the studies tend to be bedeviled by the obvious entanglement of cause and effect), it makes you more impulsive, which is extra dangerous when you're depressed. When you don't drink, you might be way bored and awkward at social events, and have to stay brutally aware of all your feelings (I'm sorry, I'm not really selling this), but you're also much less likely to scare the shit out of your friends with your uncontrollable weeping or to make a big old mess texting your ex. Who needs to deal with the consequences of drunk behavior when you're already depressed? Plus, the dark synergy of depression + hangover is to be avoided at all costs, and I always find my mood the day after drinking is a little lousier than usual. Worth giving it a rest for a bit, just to see if it helps. (And if you find you can't give it a rest, that tells you something important, too.)
Try practicing mindfulness. The idea of mindfulness comes from Buddhist practice; stated most basically, it means being non-judgmentally present in the moment, no matter where you are or what you're doing. Which maybe makes it sound really hard and not that fun: Probably the present moment doesn't seem that great, right? But with practice it can be an astonishingly anti-depressant brain habit that makes the present much more tolerable. It's got something for everybody—you can connect it with spiritual practice if you're into that, or do it on its own, and it also has a lot of support from peer-reviewed research as a treatment for anxiety and depression.
I've been really into a PDF called "You Are Here: A Modern Person's Guide to Living in the Present," but there are lots of books and resources online that might appeal to you more. You might feel a little corny or self-conscious using a guided meditation app called "Buddhify" (my favorite), but think about the happiest people you know—they're all kinda corny, right? (Sorry, happy people.)
Hang out with some animals. I don't know what it is about animals that has such an anti-depressant effect. Maybe it's that they remind you that there's a different way to move through the world than "excruciatingly," or just that they're funny and cute or cool-looking. I like to go to the aquarium because looking at fish chills me out; either that or I play with a friend's dog. Volunteering at an animal shelter is another good way to get some quality animal time, plus doing any sort of volunteer work gets you out of the house and creates a brand new source of meaning in your life—another challenging but really effective anti-depression tactic.
Think about medication. This is a obviously a super-personal choice that requires the care and guidance of experts far more expert than me, and lots of people are opposed to taking antidepressants for all sorts of legitimate reasons, but talk to a handful of people who have dealt with depression and you'll definitely find someone who says medication saved his or her life. To me, this makes it at the very least worthy of some thoughtful consideration and discussion with a doctor. There's nothing to be ashamed of in using medications for depression, any more than there is for any other illness. They can give you the breathing room you need to get better.
Don't give up. "Easier said than done" is an understatement. But people who struggle with depression can have awesome, happy lives, too. Because if this endless winter proved anything, it's that even endless things don't last forever.
Lily Benson lives in Massachusetts and tweets @lil_mermaid.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.
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