If you’ve ever experienced depression, you know exactly when your worst moment was, your rock bottom. Some of us hit rock bottom more than once. Sometimes we feel like we are always at the bottom of the well, begging for someone to pull us out.

But sometimes, we don’t realize we are depressed because we aren’t that depressed.  We aren’t rock bottom depressed, so this “functioning” depression doesn’t feel like depression.

We remember that hellish feeling of rock bottom. When this functioning depression hits, especially if it is a constant “low-grade” depression, like dysthymia, we often don’t realize that’s what’s happening. We just think that’s our normal. But that’s not “normal.” It often masquerades as “OK” or “fine,” but is really low-grade depression.

Functioning depression feels like there’s not enough coffee in the world in the morning to wake you up. Functioning depression feels like there’s not enough sleep in the world to cure your exhaustion.

Functioning depression sounds like “I’m OK” when everyone asks how you are doing, hiding that something is a little off. Functioning depression sounds like everything is “fine.”

Functioning depression looks like making yourself presentable, but only just barely.  Functioning depression makes everything you do seem like you are in slow motion. Functioning depression is making it to work every day, but maybe a few minutes late. Scraping by, counting the minutes on the clock until you can go home. It can be burying yourself in the day just to make it pass, but most often, it’s just the idle passing of time, waiting for that magic hour when you have lunch and then can start your next countdown to being off.

I remember telling one of my roommates that being low-grade depressed was just part of my life; it would never be gone.

But one day, after a little tweak to medication regimens and some lifestyle changes, I suddenly didn’t feel that low-grade depression anymore. I suddenly was lighter, freer — I was, dare I say it, laughing and smiling.

Low-grade depression does not have to be a part of life.

And you would think after all the articles I’ve written on mental illness, I would suggest medication. But for low-grade depression, the kind that affects millions of people without them knowing, exercise has been shown to be effective, too.

Functioning depression, while it may require medication, can also be treated with lifestyle changes, therapy and my favorite healer, the sunshine. (Disclaimer: Always go to medical doctor to rule out medical issues.)

You must think I’m ridiculous, recommending the sunshine as a treatment. But the sun provides valuable nutrients to our body, specifically vitamin D, which is useful in boosting our mood and giving us energy. Plus, nature is beautiful and if the weather is right, being outside can do your soul good.

You don’t have to live your life in a low grade/functioning depression. You can find it a little easier to laugh; a smile may be coerced without as much effort.

Depression is not a choice; it is a disease. It is a mental illness. But especially for those of us who have experience serious, even life-threatening depressive episodes, hopefully, this serves as a reminder that depression doesn’t have to look like that. It can be much milder, but still have an impact on our lives.

And for all of those people out there going day to day, trying to make it one day at a time, maybe you don’t even realize you are depressed. Maybe you just think this is “normal,” and it’s just how you are.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Life is joyful. Life is beautiful.

Yes, life is hard sometimes. In fact, life is hard a lot of the time. But that does not mean there is not beauty in it. We have to go through the bad to appreciate the good.

But the good is there; the good is all around us. Find the good. Even if it’s just one moment in an otherwise crappy day, find one good moment.

If you, as I do, struggle with functioning depression and self-esteem issues, try making a grateful list every day. Even if it’s only three things long. Then maybe try to do five, 10. Or, alternatively, you can list as many as you can think of each day. Find a mantra you can repeat to yourself.

By realizing the good we have in our lives, we can change our perspective on what our life is. That can aid in lifting the cloud that so often hovers over millions of us around the world, day in and day out.

I know this all sounds like BS. Look at this girl, preaching about the sunshine and being grateful. But as someone with bipolar disorder, someone who has been hospitalized for suicidal ideation, and someone in the mental health field, I do believe this works. It has worked for me. I also require medication, but for those days, those moments when I’m just a little Eeyore-ish, I try and lift myself up through the ways I mentioned above.

It doesn’t always work. In the beginning, it may feel like it’s not working and you have to fight your thoughts every moment to counteract the negative thoughts. But that’s cognitive therapy, plain and simple.

You have a bad thought. You look if it’s distorted. You challenge it with a more accurate thought.

And if you can learn to do that, if you can learn to talk back to that little voice in your head, that tape, you can open a whole new world of perspective.

And most importantly, be as kind to yourself as you would be to anyone of your loved ones if they were struggling. Yes, it’s hard, as we are our own worst critic, but be kind to yourself. Don’t say anything to yourself you wouldn’t say to 5-year-old you.

 

This article appeared on The Mighty,  published by me.

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