During my years of struggle with depression, I learned to pay close attention to my thoughts. Often I discovered that I wasn't really interested in anything. Someone would ask me if I wanted to go to a movie, and I'd reply, "I don't care."
"Would you like to go out to eat?"
"I don't care."
At such times nothing seemed important enough to care. I learned to spot this frame of mind as deepening depression, and I knew I had to fight it. But how do you fight apathy? These are some of the methods I found helpful.
DO SOMETHING! One of the hallmarks of depression can be extreme fatigue, and it can seem like the last thing you want to do is expend energy, but I found that if I accomplished something--anything--my mood lightened. I'd pick a task--it could be as small as organizing a desk drawer or loading the dishwasher--and tell myself, "I'm just going to get this one thing done." Usually by the time I'd done that little job, I'd find that I could do one other little thing--water a couple of plants, sweep the floor, or read an article in a magazine I'd been saving. The key was to concentrate on small tasks. The satisfaction in accomplishing them would diminish my apathy.
KEEP ON GOING! When my father was sixteen, the Great Depression was in full force, and jobs were hard to come by. He joined the Civil Conservation Corps and worked outdoors on various projects, even in winter. He developed pneumonia and was temporarily bedridden. As soon as he recovered, he went back to work, but shortly became ill again. He woke up one morning completely paralyzed on his left side. Eventually feeling began to return, but by this time his muscles were so weak that he had to learn to walk all over again. There were no physical therapists available, no equipment to rebuild muscles, but the beds in his barrack were so close together that he could pull himself from one to the next. He kept exercising until he could walk again, and then went back to work.
Whenever my depression deepened, my mantra became, "One foot in front of the other--even if you have to drag it there!"
BE NICE TO YOURSELF! This one can be tricky, because we often try to make ourselves feel better by doing things that are self-destructive in the end--spending too much money, eating too much of the wrong kind of foods, turning to alcohol or drugs, etc. There are plenty of things you can do that make you feel better without making your situation worse. Here are some that I found helpful:
Pay attention to your grooming and dress, even when you are alone.
Listen to music. Discover what kinds of music lift your mood. Beware of music that agitates you.
Go for a walk (even if you have to drag one leg!). Pay attention to what you see. There is beauty everywhere, if you look.
Remember what you enjoyed when you weren't depressed, and do that.
CONNECT WITH OTHERS! This can be as simple as smiling at everyone you meet, or complimenting someone. Be sure you don't say anything that could be misconstrued as harassment or a come on. No one is going to be offended if you say, "That's a cute dog, " or briefly comment on the weather. Don't forget to say, "Please" and "Thank you."
Remember that when you're depressed, the world can seem threatening and hostile. Know that helping someone else can change the way you are seeing things. A simple act like opening a door for someone can make the world seem friendlier.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.