(apologies to those of you who are uninterested in this topic, I will be done with this series of posts before next Friday, promise.)
1. If you've stumbled on this through Google or whatever, and you're really seriously depressed, and especially if you're suicidal, please get help. You're worth it. Depression fools you into thinking that the world would be better off without you, but it isn't true. If you need a place to start, look in your phone book for your local helpline, or you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is staffed 24 hours a day, at (800) 273-8255.
2. If you've never had depression, or if you have and you've never thought about it much, you'll understand much better if you watch this TedTalk by Andrew Solomon. My favorite line: "The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality." Thanks, Karen for sending me the link a few months ago, and for reminding me again yesterday. I read the transcript instead of watching; if you'd prefer that, there's a link under the title.
3. He also mentions, as Karen did in the comments yesterday, that depression lies. What they mean by that is that when you're depressed, certain things seem clearly to be true (I'm better off alone, no one wants to be around me, nothing matters), but they're not. Here is an excellent list of Lies Depression Tells You, and you can google Depression Lies to see a bunch more.
4. Meds. Here's where I'm really not an expert. My personal experience is: I've tried them several times and I don't do well on them. Typically they make me feel worse, because they add an entire list of physical side effects to the mental and emotional distress I'm feeling, and they don't improve my mood much. But here's the thing: I'm still glad I tried them. The past two times I've tried anti-depressants (a few months ago and about five years ago), I felt so much worse when I was on them that I cheered up when I stopped. Seriously. It was like being let out of a closet. So don't rule them out. If you're not getting better, and especially if you're seriously debilitated by your suffering, be willing to try something different. You can always wean off them if you don't like them.
5. For the opposite perspective, the reasons you might consider not taking medication, read this article. Unfortunately, nobody but you can figure out what is the right treatment for you. I hate that. I want the solution to be the same for everybody so I don't have to mess around with it. But there's no way you can assume that what's right for somebody else will be right for you. (and because I don't have any place else to put this, here's a link to another article about an innovative treatment for depression.)
6. One of my emotional traps is that I start carrying other people's burdens for them, and then am mystified as to why I get exhausted and depressed. Our culture is so all about the individual, sometimes we forget that our mental health is significantly impacted by the mental health of the people around us. If you're one person out of ten in an office, you only have to carry 1/10th of the responsibility for the office problems. If you're one person out of seven billion on the planet, you only have to carry 1/7 billionth of the world's problems. Don't bury yourself under problems that aren't yours.
7. Depression is a mental disease, but it has physical components. It's easy to forget the physical things we can do to feel better: dance, stretch, move, belly laugh, make love, dash across the backyard the way you used to when you were four. Andrew Solomon mentions getting out in the sunshine. Jumping on a trampoline gives me a rush. Google the top 100 funniest movies of all time and find something that will make you laugh. Get out the dance music from your high school years, close the blinds (or open them?), and move. Your body may remember how to feel joy even when your brain doesn't.