Coping With Depression
Guest Interview with Therese Borchard
Therese Borchard is Associate Editor of Psych Central, where she contributes to the award-winning blog, “The World of Psychology.” She also writes the daily blog, Beyond Blue – A Spiritual journey to mental health on Beliefnet.com.
Therese is the author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes and The Pocket Therapist: An Emotional Survival Guide.
Her work has recently been cited in The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, USA Today, Guideposts, and on Time.com, CNN.com, and Yahoo! She has been featured in O magazine, Psychology Today, Parenting, More, Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, and the Washington Post.
I first ‘got to know’ Therese when I subscribed to her blog. Several people in my family have mental health issues, so I was very interested in her approach to the topic. I found her posts to be inspiring, humorous, and compassionate. It is very obvious that Therese cares about the people who read her blog.
What I most admire about Therese is her candid, honest discussion about what it is like to live with depression on a daily basis. She does not ‘sugar coat’ the subject and she shares her struggles and triumphs. I respect her so much for her willingness to take mood disorders ‘out of the closet’ and to let others know that they can still have a full life, even though they are living with a mental health diagnosis.
I am honored to share my interview with Therese Borchard on Coping with Depression.
You write a blog about dealing with depression. What motivated you to start writing this blog and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
Interestingly enough, I didn’t set out to write a blog. I didn’t even know what a blog was when an editor at Beliefnet asked me to write one. I had just begun to publish articles about depression because I was inspired by Douglas Duncan, who bowed out of the Maryland governor’s race because of depression.
Many articles were published at that time about prominent people who had gone public with mood disorders in order to educate people about mental illness. Voices like Kay Redfield Jamison and William Styron led me through the worst of the darkness, and I wanted to join these missionaries of truth.
There is a mind, body, spirit component to each of us. How do you feel that depression affects the physical and spiritual aspects of individuals?
Absolutely. You can’t treat one without the other, which is why I try to involve all three in my recovery. Just like you can’t concentrate after chugging down 30 ounces of Coke (I can’t, at least), it’s hard to pray when you are in mental anguish. It can be difficult to know where to begin.
From my experience, I think it’s easier to tackle the physical before you can approach the spiritual. Not to say that you can’t attempt to pray when you’re depressed. But I believe that if you go along with the motions, your mind and spirit eventually catch on.
Many people who are depressed are interested in holistic ways to help themselves. What are some self-help for depression strategies that you have used to feel better?
I adamantly believe that you need both traditional medicine and alternative therapies to best treat severe mood disorders, like bipolar and schizophrenia. I’m not sure if you count exercise as alternative therapy, but it is one of the most effect antidepressants in my therapy. I exercise intensely five times a week, or else the death thoughts come back. It’s that simple.
I also take Omega 3 capsules – I order them from OmegaBrite to make sure they have the doctor recommended 7:1 EPA to DHA ratio. If I had more money I would get massages. I try to mediate every morning, and throughout the day I will repeat mantras to myself like “You are enough.”
Some studies have indicated that depressed people who are involved in some type of spiritual practice or community have better outcomes than those who don't. Have you used spiritual practices with depression and, if so, how did they help you?
Yes. My faith is the glue that holds me together. I am painfully aware that my faith has saved me from suicide. If I didn’t believe in a creator who loved me and carried me in times of despair, I would have certainly taken my own life.
Every morning I read the scripture passage for the day and two meditations or reflections. Lately I have also been praying a rosary every day. When I can squeeze it into my day, I will go to church and light a candle and sit in an empty church and just jabber to God about this and that.
Sometimes people with depression feel so awful that they don't want to do anything. Yet, when they get themselves to do something (take a walk, speak with a friend, etc.), they often feel better. Can you offer any suggestions as to how someone can take some positive actions when they are feeling really down?
That’s really hard. I’ve been there, and I know how hard it is. Again, I guess I know from patterns in my past that if I go through the motions, eventually one day I will realize I’m walking without much effort.
I guess you just have to trust that you won’t always feel miserable, but the steps to get there require your doing something that feels so counterintuitive. You have to steer right to go left, in other words. So if you can just say to yourself, “This feels like the worst possible thing I could do right now … but I’m going to try to do it anyway in the hopes that it will, one day, make me feel better.”
You put a penny away every day in the hopes that one day you will be able to buy a small treasure with your coins.
What are some of the subtle warning signs that indicate that someone is slipping into a depressive state? What are some self-help measures that people can use to prevent themselves from going into a major depressive episode?
The classic signs are:
- Depressed mood with overwhelming feelings of sadness and grief
- Apathy—loss of interest and pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed
- Sleep problems—insomnia, early-morning waking, or oversleeping nearly every day
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Noticeable changes in appetite and weight (significant weight loss or gain)
- Inability to concentrate or think, or indecisiveness
- Physical symptoms of restlessness or being physically slowed down
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
- Recurrent thoughts of suicide or a suicide attempt.
Some self-help measures are:
- Make sure you are getting good and consistent sleep. Practice sleep hygiene, meaning go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time. Keep a sleep/mood journal. I consult mine every day. Next to the bible, it’s the most important book in my house.
- Watch your diet. Stay away from sugar, processed flour, caffeine, and fructose corn syrup. Eat foods that boost your mood like salmon, citrus fruit, spinach, almonds, and long grains.
- Try yoga or some kind of meditation. Pray. Get on your knees and ask God for a little help.
- Reach out to friends. Don’t isolate. Get involved in your community. Join a book group, or a swim club, or some other kind of organization that supports your interests.
- Help people. Gandhi said that “the best way to lose yourself is in the service of others.” Find someone who is in greater pain than yourself. My blog helps me in that respect.
- Distract yourself. Many things go away in time if you ignore them. (Not always, of course, but some minor bouts of depression or anxiety, yes.)
What is the most important piece of advice that you could offer to someone who is struggling with depression?
I guess that you are not alone. You feel terribly alone, like no one could possibly understand the crap that is germinating in your brain. But, believe it or not, many of those distortions are familiar to us with creative wiring. I felt like the most neurotic person on the planet until I started going public with my thoughts and I realized that I wasn’t so unique!
The second piece of advice (sorry you just asked for one) is that depression goes away! You won’t always feel this way. My mom reminded me of that twice a day in the darkest of my days. Even if you don’t find the right medication combination or the right therapist, depression will lift on its own. You won’t always feel this way. I am proof of that.
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