Friday, July 14, 2006

Dr. Chaffin's Tips for Enduring Depression

An old friend asked me to post my tips for enduring depression. I developed these for the Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association, where they were published in various newsletters. Here goes:

1) Accept your depression. Do not fight it. Do not think of yourself as a failure but as sick. You are in the grip of a serious illness. You can only do what you can. If that means lying in bed all day, that's fine. Just because you don't have an amputated limb to show the world does not make you any less sick.

2) It's better to do something than nothing. For instance, it's better to go for a walk than sit, paralyzed, thinking about going for a walk. It's better to take a nap than blame yourself for being tired. It's better to go downstairs than stay upstairs all day long.

3) It's better to do something active than something passive. It's better to wash the dishes than watch TV. It's better to drive than sit in your car. If you can stomach it, it's better to go to work than stay home on sick leave. If you have to stay home, however, that's OK. This is a debilitating illness.

4) It's better to be with or around people than to be alone. I have found just sitting in a mall surrounded by the motion of strangers more comforting than staying home.

5) Try to set a small, achievable goal each day. Mine is, "I'm going to try not to hate myself too much today." Make sure the goal is attainable for a depressed person. Don't saddle yourself with cleaning out the entire garage--that will just bury you under a sense of hopelessness and failure. But you could consider sweeping out one corner of the garage.

Note that these principles are meant for enduring depression, not necessarily improving it. The best treatment for depression, short of ECT, is medication and cognitive/behavioral therapy.

Right now Kathleen makes up a list for me when she goes to work--simple things like wiping the refrigerator shelves. Doing the tasks enumerated doesn't necessarily make me feel better, but I do feel slightly more useful. In the worst depths of depression, I'm always amazed I can do anything. For instance, when washing dishes, it seems like each dish I wash is a miracle--I can't believe I did it! And the same reaction obtains with every dish.

For those who fear ECT but may need it, the memory loss from ECT, in my experience, is much less than the memory loss induced by a soul-destroying depression.

I hope these tips may prove useful to the afflicted.

Thine in Mood and Madness,



  1. I find number four to be key to my keeping on top of myself-

    it works until you get to be known, then people want to engage you-

    then I have to find a new place

  2. The tips are helpful. You have praised ECT in several posts and even called it a miracle, yet you still suffer from severe depression. Did ECT only lessen the severity of symptoms and make depression endurable? Did it alleviate most of the depression for at least a while? Those outcomes alone would make it worthwhile, but I hope it can do even more. I start ECT Monday, and I have high hopes. Do you still have "maintenance" ECT periodically?

  3. I like your list. It would have helped me that first year when I was trying to survive a chronic illness. Movement always helps.

    I remember that I would not let my husband do laundry because if I did it... I felt useful instead of a lump of flesh.

  4. Good list for anyone. It's hard too, when I'm down, I don't want to be around others - so it's a battle to get outside and interact even alittle with other people. I just want to sit in my room and of course, this only makes it worse.


  5. Good to hear from you all, but I want to address startdancing: I had a complete remission of depression after ECT for four years. Good luck to you.

  6. Where have all the Melicans gone?/Long time passing/Where have all the Melicans gone?/Long time ago...

    Well, if it isn't the grand pooh-bah Melican that I've stumbled across this morning!

    Maggie here.

    I am about to complete the book

    The Best Day The Worst Day--Donald Hall's book about his life with Jane Kenyon. I've always loved her work (not Hall's so much). He discusses her mood swings, but the book is largely devoted to the love and life they shared and her illness.

    I am better in some ways (now that I am post-menopausal, 47, and slowing down a bit). In my thirties, I don't know how I managed to stay out of the hospital. Mostly I was manic, and when I did bottom out, it wasn't for long. But mania is such a dangerous state of mind. You do and say and live and love and eat and drink with such intensity that you don't realize the harm you bring to yourself and those who love you. I am calmer now, but deeply saddened and still suffering from panic disorder. I lost my father in April and miss him so terribly I can't describe the constant longing and disquietude and despair I feel.

    I'll start grad school in the spring--Psych--Mental Health Counseling or MSSW (Social Work)...can't quite decide which direction I want to go. Having lived with mental health issues my entire life, I would like to be a help to others who suffer so.

    Good to read some of your thoughts on the matter, C.E.

    Although you generally bashed the hell outta my poetry, you did provide a forum for me to hone my craft, and I did get better, and I have written some fine poems over the years (I've been told they are a bit Kenyonesque). I thank Melic for giving me a place to get started.

    Thanks for that.

    Take care,

  7. Dear Maggie,

    So good of you to stop by. If I "bashed the hell out of your poetry," I hope I did it fairly. I never meant to be cruel. And I never knew you were another lurking bipolar.

    This blog didn't start about mood disorders, it really began about our misadventures in Mexico. Now that we've returned, I sank into a depression. So I started writing about that, partly for therapy, and I'm a little bit embarrassed about it, but people have written me that it has helped them, so on I go.

    We closed Melic, including the board. The board was dying anyway. But we did have some glory days, didn't we? And I always appreciated your participation, and frankly don't remember "bashing" you; then I'm often unaware when I may appear cruel. Good to hear you've written some fine poems.

  8. Another think I like about your blog, CE, is that so often I find others here in the comment area that are going through the same thing. The sense of commeraderie is comforting.
    Maggie, I am considering going for the same graduate degree! I haven't enrolled anywhere yet, but I have decided to finally follow this dream of mine.


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