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How I Learned How to Swim in the Waters of Depression

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Katharine Hartleb - Blogs
By Katharine HartlebOctober 11, 2021

Being in an episode of depression is feeling like you’re drowning. You’re struggling to get air in your lungs while everyone around you is having a great time swimming in the water. No one seems to notice your gasps for air as the water fills your lungs. Your body gets more tired as you continue to fight, and eventually you begin to think that just letting go and sinking into the water is the better or only choice. No one even notices you’re drowning until sometimes it’s too late.

I’m here to talk about what to do when you have that feeling of drowning. It is often something you can’t describe until you’re in it. Once you’ve felt that feeling, you know you never want to feel it again.

So I’m going to try to help you learn how to swim.

One thing that has been extremely effective in my recovery from depression is having frequent emotional checks on myself. I am constantly aware of the emotions I’m feeling and how they affect my behavior. Now, having a bad day doesn’t mean I’m falling into a depressive episode. But if I notice my mood has been consistently down, and the things that used to bring me joy don’t anymore, I have steps to help those feelings.

The sooner you can identify that you are heading into a depressive episode, the better. It’s a lot easier to breathe with only a little water in your lungs as opposed to your entire lungs being filled. When I feel an episode coming on, I look back on my habits/lifestyle in the past few weeks. Have I been extra stressed in work or school? Have I been choosing to lay in my bed every day instead of getting out and doing activities? Have I been keeping up with my treatment?

Thinking and answering these questions help me pinpoint a possible reason as to why I’m feeling this way. If it doesn’t, it at least lets me reflect on some areas in my life I can improve to lift my mood. Reaching out to supportive people in my life and being honest with how I’m feeling make a huge difference as well.

For example, if I notice I’ve been lying in bed every day, I will make some plans to not be tempted to do this as much. I look at my positive coping skills list and pick some from there. My previous blog has some helpful tips on this.

If I haven’t been going to therapy recently, I will make an appointment with my therapist. I may also make an appointment with my psychiatrist if I feel my medication may need to be adjusted.

I try hard to be proactive with my treatment, especially when I am starting to feel depressed. I also give myself grace during my depressive episodes. Adding on the guilt of missing out on things or not maintaining my relationships while depressed only makes things harder on myself. Instead, I recognize what I could do differently and put those behaviors into practice moving forward.

It can feel hopeless to start trying to swim after drowning for so long. Once I started swimming, I found the water is quite wonderful. You can do this. You can swim with me.




Photo Credit: Andrii Lutsyk / Ascent Xmedia / DigitalVision via Getty Images

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About the Author
Katharine Hartleb

Katharine Hartleb was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2014, at age 16. She has a passion for helping others and plans on becoming a mental health counselor. Hartleb lives in Charleston, SC, and is a recovery coach at a substance use disorder facility. She is also a young adult presenter for NAMI, sharing her personal story. Connect with her through her personal Instagram and her kat4kindness Instagram.

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