By Steve Crowley
I’m going to try and keep this piece relatively short but I can’t make any promises. Once I open up and start writing about things like this, I’m not exactly sure what will come out or where it will lead. For starters, I’ve been dealing with depression and slight anxiety for as long as I can remember.
Coupled with that, I also have cerebral palsy. Mine isn’t as bad as a lot of other cases but I do walk with a significant limp and have difficultly performing certain tasks that most would have no trouble with. This might surprise some but if I had the choice of getting rid of the palsy or the depression, I would eliminate the depression, hands down.
The cerebral palsy is obviously visible. People can tell I’m dealing with something. They most likely don’t know what, but they know something isn’t as it should be. But more importantly to me, it’s the same day in and day out. It’s not like I woke up one morning and was like, “Shit, I can’t run a mile today because my leg is fucked up.” That’s always been the case and it always will be the case. I know what I can do with it and I know what I can’t do with it. Many things I do in my own way. Sure, I get some strange looks if I’m a crab walking down the side of a hill during a hike because it’s the easiest and most efficient way for me to get to point B. I couldn’t care in the least. It’s one way I deal with what’s been given to me.
The depression, on the other hand, is a totally different animal altogether. No one can see it, no one knows I’m dealing with it unless I say something (which I never do) and the worst part is that it can show up unexpectedly at any time. And on top of all that, there are varying severities of it as well. Some days I have very little energy (that’s the worst of it) and on others I want to keep to myself and not be around anyone. At the worst of times, I constantly think about taking my own life. But with a lot of conscious effort, those really bad days don’t come around so often any more. And that’s what I want to focus on in this piece: explaining some of the things I do to make my depression not as formidable as it once was.
For years I tried battling it the “traditional” way with counseling and medication with very limited results. Part of the problem was that, for whatever reason, my cerebral palsy leaves me with odd sensitivities to certain foods and most drugs—both the fun ones and the prescribed ones. So while some medications would make it even more difficult for me to walk, another might make it nearly impossible for me to get it up and to me not being able to walk and/or have sex is more depressing than having depression. The best results I had were when a drug would work great for six months and then be absolutely worthless after that. So needless to say I needed to find something other than prescription drugs to help me get through or prevent these low points.
After some time (and trial and error), I came across a combination of things that really help keep me happy, build self-esteem and fight off these funks. I know people aren’t robots or machines so everything that works for me won’t be the exact things that do the trick for someone else, but I still thought it could be beneficial to share them. For the sake of length and simplicity, I’m just going to list the items and give a brief description if I feel it’s necessary.
- I’m kind to myself. I don’t beat myself up for making mistakes.
- I’m kind to others. It doesn’t do anyone any good to judge others and put them down.
- It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s helped me tremendously.
- I like to help my friends whenever possible with no expectations of anything in return.
- Continuously volunteering in my community has had an enormous, positive impact on my life
- Eating healthy.
- Not spending a lot of time on electronics (phone, TV, etc).
- Spending time outdoors.
- Deep conversations.
- I try my best not to give a shit what others think of me.
- Consuming very little alcohol and no other recreational drugs.
- I try to quickly dispel any negative thoughts, and not dwell on them.
- This one can be tricky but it’s might be the most important. I try to always be doing something that I love. I’m not crazy about my job, it brings me no joy whatsoever so I do projects here and there that do make me happy. I work on my writing, I brew beer and am trying to open a brewpub, I also want to open a place where kids can come and meditate, no matter their experience level.
- Lastly, I’m always trying to make myself a better person. The key is I don’t put overwhelming pressure on myself to do so. I just give myself little, encouraging, mental nudges when I need them.
That might seem like a lot but it’s not as difficult as you might think. If I slack on a few of them, it’s not the end of the world. It’s when I’m doing almost none of those things that I find myself in trouble. I’ve followed this guideline for nearly two years now and have only had one bout of depression the entire time and that’s because I allowed it to happen. I was drinking heavily almost every day. I wasn’t meditating, I was eating like garbage, my heart wasn’t in my volunteering, and all I was doing with my free time was watching TV and playing video games. That’s basically a recipe for sadness and self-loathing. But I slowly put the pieces together and got back on track.
The key is that you have to play with it. I didn’t come up with this list overnight; I had to look deep inside myself and really analyze practically every move that I made. The things that brought be down, I slowly cut out of my life and that unfortunately included some people I used to be close with. The things that brought me happiness, joy and raised my vibration, I slowly kept incorporating. I imagine you’ll have to do the same. There are many tools and support systems to help you with your fight against mental illness. As cliche as it may sound, you just have to keep your head up and know that you’re not alone.
It can be overcome.