Today, and every day, I fight depression. And I am winning.

I’ve never really been sure how to say “I have depression”. It’s not like I have it. It comes and it goes, and usually it has me, not the other way around. I could say, “I’m depressed”, but right now I’m not. Depression is just an illness that I live with every day.

Most people would never guess my extroverted self could struggle with such an illness. I try to show my brighter self in public. Most people don’t see depression in others, and that’s often by design. We depressives simply spirit ourselves away when we’ve dimmed so as not to stain those who live in the sun.

Even if people see depression as an illness, they often expect individuals to get over it quickly, like the common cold. The myths and misguided expectations people have about depression only add to the stigma and perpetuate the pain of depression. There are no fevers, no rashes, coughs or sneezing - practically no visible effects that others can see. But inside there is a chemical imbalance that causes not just mental anguish, but physical pain as well.

Sometimes I ache all over. It is frustrating because my life is good, yet I feel no control over feelings of overwhelming sadness that make me want to cry, feel helpless, and have disassociated thoughts. I want to stay under the covers because every thought and every movement requires immense amounts of energy. Sleeping means I won’t hurt anymore.

I’ve lived with depression long enough to know that I’ll never completely “snap out of it”, and most likely I will take medication for the rest of my life. I’ll have a severe episode, and when it’s over, it’s like it didn’t happen. I live knowing that the cloud can come back and dump on me again and rob me of my relationships, social life and my career. But a severe episode will end, and I will feel better. It happens every time, and I have developed a few tricks to remind myself of that as best I can when I’m buried deep in a depressive episode.

GET UP AND OUT OF BED EVERY DAY. I try to get up at the same time every morning. Make the bed. Have a shower. Get dressed. Take my medication. Hair and make-up. Eat breakfast. Merely getting up in the morning is sometimes the hardest thing to do, and is an act of triumph when you are buried in the deep hole of depression.

MAINTAIN A TO-DO LIST. Even the little things. This gives me tasks to do each day, and a sense of accomplishment when I complete them. Sometimes I might only be tricking myself by writing things down like, wash dishes, laundry, pick up my shoes or wash my hair. But it seems to work for me.

 GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AT LEAST ONCE A DAY. This often feels like an impossible task. I may stand at the window looking at the outside and wishing I could go there. If I can, I make myself do it. If I can’t, my husband will usually talk me into it.

EXPRESS YOURSELF. For me, that means painting or sketching. For others it might be journaling, cooking, sewing or running. Whatever it is put it on your to-do list. Having a hobby that allows me to show my creative side helps keep me balanced. Personally, I don’t let myself create pieces while in a deep depressive episode. I find I tend to focus on negative thoughts and images.

HAVE SUPPORT I am fortunate to have a great support team. This includes my husband, close friends, my doctors (my general practitioner and psychiatrist work together) and many others. Not everyone is so fortunate, I know. But find someone you can talk to and lean on.

BE RESPONSIBLE FOR SOMEONE ELSE. Whether it’s a person, pet, employer or friend - having a feeling of responsibility to someone other than myself makes a big difference for me. I care for my cat, cook dinner for my husband, and go to work each day. I don’t want to let these people (and my cat) down.

GET HELP. I’m begging you, if you think you have depression, get help. Although it’s true that not every case is as successful as mine, around 80% of people who have depression can be helped. I’m not advocating medication for everyone. I have a friend whose outlook on life has been changed by psychotherapy as much as mine has been changed by medication. Every case is different.

Depression is a terrible, soul-stealing illness. I don’t know if we will ever be able to eradicate it, but from my own experience I know that the tools to defeat it are there. You owe it to yourself to give those tools the chance to rescue you from the pain and emptiness of depression.

While I was preparing to write this, I had my yearly physical with my general practitioner that I have gone to for almost 15 years. At the end of the appointment I explained to her what I was planning to do. She encouraged me to write about my own illness, in the hope it might help even one person. Then I asked her how she feels I handle my illness day to day. Her response: “You own it”.

And that’s the best I could ever hope for. She’s right. I have learned to accept my condition and take control of it. I am winning.

5 Ways to Support Someone with Depression

Help them keep clutter away. A little help with dishes, laundry, sorting mail, etc. will help them maintain a calmer environment.

Offer a healthy meal. Depression may cause a person to eat very little, or overeat. Neglecting healthy eating only worsens a persons overall health and can cause deepening depression.

Get them outside. The benefits of going outside for a person with depression are huge. However, this may be the last thing a depressed person wants to do. Even a short walk or sitting in the sunshine can elevate a person’s mood.

Laugh with them. Tell a silly joke, watch a funny movie, make faces - laughing releases endorphins which can counteract some symptoms of depression.

Remind them why you care. Talk about all the positive things that have happened, and will happen. Reinforce that they will get through this, and that you care about them.

What not to say: “You just need to think differently. Remember, happiness is a choice. You just need to suck it up. Be strong! Why aren’t you trying harder? You don’t even have anything to be depressed about!”


What it is, what it isn’t, and where to find help

It’s natural to feel down sometimes, but if that low mood lingers day after day, it could signal depression. Major depression is an episode of sadness or apathy along with other symptoms that lasts at least two consecutive weeks and is severe enough to interrupt daily activities. Depression is not a sign of weakness or a negative personality. It is a major public health problem and a treatable medical condition.

Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Each year about 6.7% of U.S adults experience major depressive disorder. Women are 70 % more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime. The average age of onset is 32 years old. Additionally, 3.3% of 13 to 18 year olds have experienced a seriously debilitating depressive disorder. More than 80% of people get better with medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two. Even when these therapies fail to help, there are cutting-edge treatments that pick up the slack.

If you think you or a loved one may be experiencing signs and symptoms of depression, there are many places you can turn for help.

•Talk with a friend or relative

•Contact your primary care -provider

•Talk with your pastor or priest

•Contact your community health center

•If employed inquire about employee assistance programs

•In South Dakota dial 211 for support and resources

•If you believe your loved one is at an immediate risk for suicide,

do NOT leave the person alone. Dial 1-800-273-8225 if you or a loved one may be in a suicidal situation or go online to

•For support and resources for teens and young adults dial

1-800-273-TALK or go online to