Dear Complete Stranger on the Internet,
The year 2013 was not my year. If you’ve been reading my blog a while, you know what happened. A relationship ended, one that was very important to me and a first in a lot of ways. My career was in flux as I stopped working daily with Emily Henderson to break out on my own, a decision that was difficult for both of us as we were (are) best friends and working together every day felt like being with family. My financial situation was a roller coaster, dire, and stress-filled. Basically I got dog-piled by life. I was at the bottom of a horrible, depressing heap. It happens to a lot of people. If you go through life without having a span of experiences that results in a depression, you’re extremely lucky. Or a sociopath.
It may come as a surprise but I am not a psychiatrist so everything I say here is based on my own experience and understanding of the world, but I hope my year-long depression spell and my escape from it can be inspirational for people experiencing the same thing now, so despite my lack of confidence about whether I actually have the authority to write this kind of advice, I’m going to anyway. Thank you, Internet!
Every calendar milestone that has happened this year, Valentines Day, Memorial Day, my birthday, Halloween, etc, have been a reminder of how absolutely depressed I was last year. My birthday especially. I remember throwing a party at a friend’s house, which I was house sitting for the summer because I couldn’t face living alone in my apartment which I’d shared with my ex. My ex came to the party, it was awkward. And extremely sad. About 100 people attended, it somehow turned into a larger party than I’d anticipated. Maybe I tried to make it into that to somehow feel validated that so many people showed up for me, after months of feeling like nothing. As the night dwindled, and guests tapered off, I finally was left all alone in a large, dark, echoing house in Windsor Square. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as lonely in my life. The candles had all burned out. The music was off. Dim light poured in the windows from street lights. And I was completely alone.
I cleaned up party cups long enough to convince myself that I was substantially sober and drove back to the apartment I’d shared with my ex and tried to sleep. But couldn’t. I just stared at the ceiling thinking. “How am I going to get over this? How am I going to feel better?”
So I guess that’s the reason I’m writing this. Just remembering how awful that feeling was. How incredibly heavy my body felt, as if it might sink through that bed, into the apartment below, until it reached the center of the earth. Not in a funny way like in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” when the mom falls through the ceiling (wait? was that funny? I actually haven’t even seen that movie). In a sort of out of body, terrible way that makes you question if life is ever going to be good again.
The following are things I did that ultimately resulted in me becoming happy again. If you have serious, clinical depression, obviously consult a doctor. If your depression is symptomatic of a series of misfortunate events, perhaps try doing what I did. If you’re not depressed at all and have never been depressed, stop reading this immediately and go watch a cat video or something.
1. Get Out of Your House
It’s important to remind yourself of good things, things to be glad for. So get out and taking advantage of beautiful things around you. I made a pact with myself to go somewhere new every weekend, just on little day trips I took in the car. Often by myself. I went to Ojai, Joshua Tree, Santa Barbara, all over the state. I went back to New York a few times, it’s a place that’s always given me confidence because I spent so much time there, ending up there post college was the realization of one my deepest childhood dreams. Find a place that inspires you and go there. It might not be the outdoors like it is for me, but I’m sure you know of a place you can go that you love. Getting out, appreciating, enjoying places you love (or perhaps discovering some new ones) is such a great way to revitalize your life and remind yourself that you still have an entire life to live.
2. Randomize Your Routine
Changing your routine on a daily basis is a good way to rip you out of your own life. I switched gyms and would workout at totally different times. I’d eat different stuff every day, try out new recipes, do anything to escape monotony. Being distracted by trying new and exciting things is a good way to distract yourself from your own depression. Monotony and staleness are the enemy here because they allow you to play into the story you tell yourself when you’re depressed. That nothing is new, life is boring, there’s not much to live for. Switching it up, trying new things, making new friends, helps you realize that you still have potential to grow and learn.
3. Look for New Things to Put in Your Brain to Replace Dark Thoughts
If you’ve lost your faith in yourself, humanity, your community, whatever, there are places that will help restore your faith. For me it’s art museums. Looking at all the crazy things that come out of other people’s brains is kind of inspiring. I was particularly taken by one Cy Twombly painting at LACMA (above). It’s so expressive, illogical, and beautiful. Looking at art (or watching films or reading books) is a wonderful way to remind yourself of the potential of human beings. And ultimately of your own potential. It’s a nice way of restoring hope for the future.
4. Overshare Everything All The Time Until You Feel Better
I like this tip because it’s actually not what I did at all. My approach to dealing with my breakup, depression, and anxiety was to keep it as quiet as possible, mentioning it here and there on my blog when I thought it might be useful to someone. I kept almost everything to myself. During the same time, my writer/actor/comedian friend Jeffery Self took the opposite tactic. He unleashed a rage upon the internet, calling out his ex for everything from stealing the dog to his dating choices. While his actions were admittedly extreme, they ended up ultimately being productive and led to him being able to have a friendship with his ex – they worked through their issues in public. I admired his approach, because it was one I was too worried about being responsible to my ex to take (I didn’t want to write a one-sided story while he had no voice to respond). Jeffrey definitely experienced backlash, but ultimately he got to say his piece without a filter and that was both cathartic and community building for him. He alienated some of his fans, but many appreciated his candor because it was relatable and genuine.
Sometimes you just have to scream out your feelings, get them out of you, and move on. Those who truly care about you will forgive you for not being diplomatic.
5. Rearrange Your Furniture. Daily If Necessary.
Those who know me know I rearrange my apartment about once a week. I didn’t think about it until recently, but there is something completely therapeutic about it. Moving furniture helps you see your space in a new way, makes your life feel less routine. But it’s not just about keeping the view fresh. Refreshing your space, adding new art, painting the walls, changing out lighting, is a way of showing yourself some respect, reminding yourself that you’re worth having a nice space. Making your place beautiful is the perfect confidence booster. Also, if you’re doing it yourself, the physical labor involved will likely be good for your depressed body (side note: I’m not going to give you the “exercise more” tip even though I think it’s a good one because it’s usually the last thing you want to do when you feel so depressed you want to die).
So there you have it, my tips for getting over whatever you need to get over. From the depths of a depression, it’s hard to imagine things ever feeling better. But I’d like to remind you that I am proof that they will.
Good friends will tell you that you really need time more than anything, which is true. Sometimes you just have to wait it out until you feel better. But that shouldn’t stop you from at least trying to feel better. You’re definitely worth the effort, even if it might not seem like it now.
Images: Manuel Moncayo via Filth & Wisdom, I Am Yours, LACMA, Design Boom, Nils Staffan Liede,