What it really looks like to climb out of a depressive state

Recently I was just pretty sick. It was a quick virus(or food poisoning, I’m still not sure), but quick is no consolation when you’re up all night puking, sure that the next time you’re going to throw up an organ. I was sick into the next day, and right now it’s two days after and I’m still recovering. My stomach feels raw, my body still aches and my face is still red from popped blood vessels. But I’m getting better. Like I knew I would. Because that’s the way  it works it’s supposed to work.

But when it comes to the mind, things are different. One of the biggest things people don’t seem to understand with mental health issues is that you don’t just get better. There are good times and bad times just like with anyone else. Except the bad times don’t compare to regular stress, or a temporary setback in life. Our bad times are the symptoms of a disease. It may go into remission, if we work hard to fight it and our minds decide to allow it. But it’s never gone. Not completely. Sometimes it takes years to even find remission.

And then there’s the time in between wellness and sickness. When you aren’t at your worst, but you’re fighting to get to your best. You know what you should be doing to get better, but it’s not working right. I’m exercising, I’m seeing friends, taking my medicine. I’m writing and eating right and trying to stay positive. But right now I’m stuck. I’m inches away from slipping back into the pit of depression. And I can’t stop it.

So what is one supposed to do? That’s the big question that everyone seems to have a magical answer for, and by everyone, I mean everyone not going through it.

“You should exercise more.”

“Get out of the house.”

“Happiness is a choice, just choose to be happy!”

“It’s all in your head.”

And the one I hear most often, “Just pray about it.”

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but there is no magical answer. For someone going through this, it takes hard, hard work to fight it. Often it’s work without much progress. And the longer it takes, the harder it is to have hope you can win.


Imagine you spent months stuck in a hole. It’s dark, wet and cold. It’s lonely and you keep hearing things that make you feel terrified. You can’t get out. Until one day, something changes. You find a root that you can step on, then another. And another. It takes days but finally you reach the top. You step out of the hole and right in front of it is a mountain. Your spirits sink and you almost fall back into the hole. Once in a while you do fall back in. But this time, you regain your balance and go on with determination. You start climbing. It’s steep, but there are rocks you can step on, and trees you can use to steady yourself and help your ascent. You start feeling hopeful that you can actually reach the top.

Then the trees start thinning out. You can see past the trees and look up to see your progress, to find that you’ve only made a small distance. But you haven’t slipped, and you can keep going. Keep fighting. You climb with the top of the mountain in sight and your progress is slow. The rocks are getting smaller and there are less trees to help you along. Instead of stepping on the stones to help you climb, you’re reaching pebbles that make you fall. You climb for days and every time you look toward the top, it doesn’t look any closer. You are making progress, but you can’t see it.

You are now about halfway up and you are falling as often as not. When you slip, you slide a few feet down before getting up. You keep getting up, because you know you should. But you are starting to forget why you should. Each time you slip a bit of hope dies, and your memory falters. Sometimes you know that you must be making progress and that you should keep going, and other times you just sit down because there’s no way you can ever reach the top. You start to doubt yourself. Maybe I’m not strong enough. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I don’t deserve to reach the top and get better. You sit there, doubting yourself, for days. Weeks. Months.


This is what it feels like. When you aren’t at your worst, but far from your best. Some days I know that I’ll get better and I’ll be fine. But some days I can feel myself slipping backwards. And I’m scared. No matter which way I go, I’m scared. But there’s only one thing to do.

Keep fighting. Keep doing all those things that make you stronger. Even when you don’t want to. Keep seeing loved ones, force yourself to engage in a hobby you know that you love, even if you want nothing to do with it. Wake up in the morning, take a shower, make yourself look presentable. Tell yourself that you are fine. Lie. You know you aren’t fine. But lie. When you continue to live your life, you aren’t “faking it”. You are arming yourself so that your ascent gets a bit easier. Everything you do to help yourself can give you a boost up that mountain. So keep fighting.

So when someone is stuck, like me, they haven’t given up. They aren’t defeated. But they could use a hand, some encouragement, and a whole lot of patience. Knowing that there’s something up there waiting for them makes the climb just a bit easier.



2 thoughts on “What it really looks like to climb out of a depressive state

  1. Hi,

    I just wanted to tell you how much I admire you for pulling off surviving with depression, PMDD and an autistic child. I myself am suffering from depression and PMDD and find it hard enough already.

    I agree with you on the “keep trying” thing. But I think sometimes, you have to let go.
    I think sometimes, you have to find a soft place and let yourself fall. (This comes from a book I read many years ago, which I found very comforting, and it’s called “When you eat at the refrigerator, pull up a chair” – it’s about eating disorders, but I think its mentality fits to many problems.)
    I think many times this “letting go” is a luxury, but other times I’ve found it helpful. (And you surely shouldn’t beat up on yourself for not being able to continue the climbing as scheduled. – This is something I’ve been struggling with lately.)
    Also, I think in some rare cases, you need to let go altogether. I don’t know if it’s something you can decide, or something that happens by itself at your really worst. Once I had a talk with a multiple suicide attempt survivor who told me that after he survived his last attempt, when he got suicidal again he thought that this time he was going to let himself on the hands of God and from that moment on he never again felt like suiciding (I don’t think we was or got very religious at any point, but that thought seemed to have helped a lot). He gave me the same advice when I was really suicidal (he helped me cope with that for a few days) – he told me I was trying too hard and had to stop.
    (He also told me another unconventional thing… When I told him I never ever wanted to feel bad or depressed ever again, he didn’t reassure me that I wouldn’t, he just laughed and said I had a lot of sad times and depressions in front of me ahead. Because that’s how life is. I think it helped, because I didn’t get out of that particular depression with a puristic need for everything to be perfect or an unrealistic expectation for life to not be a roller coaster. I ‘m sure though that the fact that it helped me had a lot to do with the person the advice was coming from. I knew he had gone through hell and wasn’t speaking from a supposedly higher point looking down on me.)

    I don’t know, maybe sometimes our mind has to take over (when you know you can’t trust your emotions), and other times we just have to let ourselves feel the present without any mental obstacles. I am mostly able to do the latter when I am with other people (they are my main source of happiness, when I can find someone engaging or comforting enough).

    And something else (again from the same book I mentioned). “When there are tigers above you and tigers beneath you, eat a ripe strawberry”. It’s from a story about being chased by tigers and dangling from a cliff, and seeing a ripe strawberry right there on the edge, and eating it while death awaits above and below. I think this story is also trying to make us focus on the present.

    Anyway, I hope I didn’t sound like I think I know how to get out of a depression. Because I am still well into it. I just had a few ideas and wanted to share.

    Hope you have a really good day. 🙂


    1. I think you’re completely right. That never ending struggle of trying to get better is exhausting and if it takes a long time, you miss out on a lot. I have been recently trying to slow down and concentrate on everything else. Just like you said, taking a seat for a while. Sounds like you have a good handle on finding ways to cope. Hang in there, we are all stronger than we think 🙂


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