Coping with a Depressive Episode : How to Get Through

December 4, 2023

You wake up to the soft light filtering through the curtains, but it feels dimmer somehow, as if the world has lost its vibrant hue overnight. There’s a weight on your chest, a heaviness that anchors you to the bed, making it difficult to rise. It’s as though a leaden blanket has settled upon you, tugging you back into a realm where everything feels heavy and sluggish.
You try to push it aside, this cloak of despondency that clings to your shoulders, but it’s stubborn, refusing to budge. Each movement feels like wading through molasses, every thought a struggle against an invisible force dragging you down. Breakfast used to be a ritual of delight, but today, even the aroma of coffee fails to stir any joy. The warmth of the mug in your hands doesn’t chase away the chill in your bones. It’s like trying to light a fire in a rain-soaked forest; the sparks fade before they catch.
You glance at the window, where the world awaits, but it might as well be behind a glass wall. Birds chirp outside, trees sway gently in the breeze, but they seem distant, almost like scenes from a movie rather than tangible parts of your reality. You feel disconnected, an outsider looking in. Tasks that once felt manageable now resemble mountains to climb. Getting dressed feels like adorning yourself with layers of cement, making every step a wearying effort. Each decision, no matter how trivial, carries the weight of a monumental choice.
The day passes in slow motion. Time, usually a fleeting companion, drags its feet alongside you. Conversations seem distant, laughter a faint echo in a tunnel. The world continues its hustle and bustle, but you feel suspended in a vacuum, caught in the grip of this unseen force.
You yearn to shed this shroud of melancholy, to step out from under the suffocating weight. Yet, it clings on, a persistent companion. You remind yourself that this heavy fog will eventually lift, that brighter days will come. And though it feels like an eternity, you hold onto the hope that the sun will pierce through these heavy clouds once again, and you’ll feel lightness return to your steps.

The above excerpt is a story that I asked AI to write about waking up to a severe depression. I wanted to see if it could catch the poetic heaviness of the symptoms of depression alongside the loss of interest that we feel in life during major depression. After reading that I personally felt a bit of a heaviness in my chest, not just from the visualization that comes with a story such as that, but because of the fact that I have held that experience myself. The wondering of why I ever adored the things that I once found to be life giving. The knowledge that people cared for me and that there was a light on the other side of this depressed mood, but questioning if that was just a temporary lie I was telling myself.

I'd heard people use the phrase "I can't get out of bed" but never knew what it meant until I experienced that feeling myself. And if you are telling that to people and they are not understanding what you mean, or offering advice about how to get rid of your negative thoughts, you can let that go. It's okay to recognize that friends and family members are not mental health professionals and for the most part they want you to be happy again. They just don't know how to communicate it. It can be hard to extend some more grace to others when you yourself are going through a hard time. but I would invite you to see that this is not about letting them off the hook, but rather not using their missed sentiments as further evidence that you are alone with your depressive symptoms. You are not.

When it comes to the ocean of depression, I like to use an analogy that is just that: the ocean.

Now, let's say I asked you to picture yourself in the ocean. This already is a huge task with a lot of variance because the ocean is enormous and there is a big difference between being in waist high water where you can see your feet and being surrounded by 100 foot swells.

I use this analogy because I think it serves to help us look at a few factors that play in to how we treat depressive disorders.

The Situation

The first thing that I like to assess is what situation the person is in. For the sake of our analogy, the person is wanting to swim a bit more freely and not get thrown about by the waves so much. It can be easy to tell someone to be a better swimmer or to ask them to get stronger. But what if they are in the situation where they are surrounded by tsunamis? Even Michael Phelps isn't going to be able to withstand that type of environment and thus it's not really a matter of strength or will power. It might be a matter of the part of the ocean we are in is unsustainable.

Thus when we are experiencing the symptoms of a depressive episode, we should first begin with the life circumstances that somebody is in. Perhaps there is a very good reason to experience depression in this season of life. If we have recently been through major grief than it might even be a health sign to be experiencing the weight of sadness on a higher level. We should also look to if the person has a solid support group in their life. Are they able to pursue meaning in their life to some regard? Are the daily activities that they are engaging in fueling depression symptoms? It is very difficult to avoid looking at substance abuse, excessive sleep/not getting enough sleep, and a sedentary lifestyle. Each of these factors play an important role during an episode of depression.

Thus, sometimes when somebody is experiencing clinical depression the first step needs to be "finding a different part of the ocean." Essentially we are saying, this isn't just a matter of you becoming a better swimmer, nobody is going to be able to thrive in this environment. It's also very difficult to learn to become a better swimmer while you are constantly getting pummeled by the waves. It is very difficult for people to heal from traumatic events when they continue to be in the place where the trauma took place, such as still living with an abusive partner.


I've already mentioned "becoming a better swimmer" multiple times and as therapists, that is our job: to help you become a better swimmer. When we try to become a better swimmer, we might additionally try to make lifestyle changes and make changes to the situation that we are in, but getting some professional help might be a big part of the equation.

For year, cognitive behavioral therapy was one of the first line treatments when it comes to counseling. But in the past twenty years we have found more effective treatments such as acceptance and commitment therapy, internal family systems, sensorimotor, and EMDR. Going through any of these treatment options is about gaining more skills and techniques to combat the waves that are coming through. We take a both/and approach in this instance, that we learn to accept and tolerate the pain of life, while also recognizing where we need to set boundaries and what we cannot accept. We learn mindfulness skills to return to the present moment. We utilize cognitive defusion to learn how to get space from our thoughts. We understand what the body is communicating with us and learn how to make valued choices in response to those stimuli. In essence, we find new ways to navigate the waves.

The Life Jacket

Imagine you are flailing about in the waves. Your friends are cheering you on telling you you can do it and perhaps you can even see the shore. But it just seems impossible and the more you try, the more hopeless you get. And then somebody throws you a life jacket. It doesn't swim for you per say, but it makes it easier. You can handle much stronger waves when you're wearing a life jacket.

This part of the analogy is about psychopharmacological intervention, such as antidepressant medications. I am not here to tell you whether or not you should be taking medication, that is something to discuss with a psychiatrist or healthcare provider. But you are a biological being with limitations for how much you can do. This is not so we can be quick to put a cap on ourselves, but rather to recognize what it means to be human. You might even be in a part of the ocean that "most people" would be able to tolerate okay. And perhaps you've put in the work to become a better swimmer, but biologically it just isn't happening for you.

Personally, I have a predisposition to anxiety. It runs in my family. What most people not deem as a very anxiety provoking situation often feels like one in my body, and in my life I've leveraged therapy, medication, and life style changes. If you have a family history of depression it might be worth looking at if talk therapy will be enough. We are all born with different capabilities and different ceilings. Some people need a life jacket until they can swim better, and some people need one indefinitely. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are one of the first lines of defense in this area, but there have been pushes in psychiatry to pursue other treatments such as ketamine infusions, electroconvulsive therapy, and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

What To Do

I hope that this analogy has given you a bit more of an understanding on how to combat depression. I believe that all three of these areas need to be explored any time we are in the middle of a major depressive disorder. As for some more acute action steps when you are experiencing episodes of depression, here are a few tips that I have for you.  

For the sake of simplicity, I am going to ask you to consider in the midst of a depressive episode if you need to go up or down. What I mean by that, is understanding if what you need is some more relaxation or if what you need is some more stimulation. To answer this question, I would look at what brought you to this place. If you arrived in a state of depression because of overloading yourself and a number of bigger emotions that your body could not handle, you probably need to come down. Meaning you should focus on slow breathing exercises and increasing some comfort. At times, our bodies tell us that we need to stop and reset.

If you have gotten to a place of depression from living a daily routine that breeds depression, such as through excessive sleeping and lack or purpose, you probably need to "come up." This is one of the more overlooked forms of caring for ourselves because when we feel depressed, the last thing we want to do is go to the gym or take on a new task. But this might also be what your body needs. You can engage in some active Wim Hof style breathing or find some ways to get your heart rate up through cardiovascular activity or strength training. Additionally, you can look at taking on some projects and reengaging with your body, letting it know that it's good to move and get some blood flowing.

Either way, finding emotional support is also key during these times. Feelings of sadness can convince us to isolate, but this tends to feed the low energy that comes from depression. Simply put, talk about it. Call a friend and say the words "I've been struggling with some depression recently." Choose a friend who is safe and generally responds openly to you.


When it's time for more help than what you can manage at home we are here to help. Many of our therapists specialize in depression and you can take a look through there profiles HERE. Our online membership has additional resources as well for you to keep up with your mental health work, there are many free courses as well as some more in-depth work in our paid resources. Find some accountability with someone you trust, and dive into the work, it will be worth it on the other side.

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