How do you ‘weather the storm’ in depression?

Life’s circumstances can trigger symptoms. And depending on the trigger, the resulting hit – or storm can be mild and short-lived; or it can feel relatively more extreme, like a tsunami of depressive symptoms passing through, leaving a trail of mental destruction and chaos.

In the case of the latter, it goes without saying: it’s all about survival.

Since my diagnosis, tsunami-like impacts affecting my mental health have grown far and few between. But they do happen. And when they do, I get hit hard because firstly, my depression embodies the majority of medically-defined (neurovegetative) symptoms – which remain “active” throughout my daily life (I liken this to an active volcano which in its dormant state, may not pose much of a threat, until it erupts). Secondly, because of conditioning – meaning, I’ve been living with symptoms for most of my life so when adversity hits, symptoms get triggered automatically – and to the intensity at which I’ve grown to live with (kind of like 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds).

All this to say, when the storm hits, it can be incredibly difficult to hold on. I don’t know of any easy way to get through when the eye of the mental storm is over you, but I do “tie” myself to a few pillars that help me stay grounded during the turmoil:

Pillar #1: Awareness. This is where you must brace for impact and be prepared to leverage the human endowment of “self-awareness” in order to maintain perspective about what you’re about to go through. This is one of those crucial but very difficult conscious acts where you need to stand outside yourself and self-coach your way through the suffering. During hardship, we need to acknowledge that it is okay to hurt and suffer in this moment, but we need to be assured that the pain is temporary and that we will get through it. We need to believe that surviving this storm will make us stronger.

Pillar #2: Family. Leverage the people in your life whose love you share unconditionally. During the worst of the storm, you may not be ready to talk or reach out – and that’s ok, but you must hold on and survive. And if you can reach out, then embrace a loved one and allow them to console you through this difficult time. In my book, I talk about a strategy to help build strength when feeling weak: put yourself in your family’s shoes and imagine someone you love suffering like you are. How does that make you feel? Wouldn’t you feel considerable joy knowing they are trying – and not giving up? When you reverse the role, you should have a clearer perspective as to why you need to keep fighting.

Pillar #3: Goals. In my book, I’ve identified setting goals as a single step to overcoming depressive symptoms. Long story short: as long as you have a goal to strive for, you will have something in your life to look forward to, despite how difficult things get from time to time. The strength of this pillar is only as solid as the conviction you have for your goal.

There is no easy way to get through a difficult depressive episode, but these are some of the ways that help me weather the storm. I know it’s going to hurt, but I also know I am going to survive it and become stronger because of it.

If at any point you doubt your ability to survive, please read this.