Depression is a life-long struggle. As my grandmother told me when she first recognized the sadness in me, “It never gets any easier.”

As a bi-polar manic depressive (redundant, but I’ve always like the sound of that diagnosis), she saw the same blessing/curse in me and delivered strange advice. But she wasn’t wrong. She prepared me for the inner struggle. “It never gets any easier” doesn’t mean life sucks but rather, “Enjoy this moment, now is the greatest time!”

I’ve found activating certain hormones can help lift me from a depressive episode. For that’s just it: one minor episode in a long television series. And activating those hormones DOES work.

Thus to the question: “What should I do when I’m feeling low & depressed?”

The answer is: DOES. Dopamine, oxytocin, endorphin and serotonin. We can do activities that stimulate these helpful hormones. 

Dopamine – the reward chemical.  Released when we complete a task, engage in self-care, eat enjoyable/healthy foods, and celebrate a completed task.

    (I do this every day. I have a daily calendar with an empty box that gets a check mark if I have written that day. Even a few sentences into my manuscript offers the reward of a check. A simple action with a great daily reward.)

Oxytocin – the love hormone. Released when we play with pets and hold babies, when we cuddle and hold hands, when we receive a hug and give a compliment

    (I find fascinating that oxytocin is not created when we receive a compliment.  It’s when we GIVE a compliment that our own spirits are lifted!)

Endorphins – the pain killer. Released when we laugh, use essential oils, watch a Romantic Comedy, nibble on dark chocolate and exercise.

    (Maybe pushing through the physical pain of exercise helps prevent emotional pain.)  

Serotonin – the mood stabilizer. Released when we bask in sunshine, meditate in the grass, walk in nature, and swim in cool water.  

Sounds so easy but it’s not. Engaging your hormones to work for you requires you to DO something and the hard part of depression is that sometimes, you can't DO anything. Crawling out from under the table seems impossible when all I want to do is lie on the floor and stare at the carpet.

So, I simplify the actions. I’ve created a routine, the same actions so I don’t have to think about what to DO. I just go through the motions even when I don’t have the energy.

SHEM.  I’ve named the actions shem like a gender-expressive pronoun for men and women, a combination of she and him (I could use they, but the acronym doesn’t work).

SHEM is a good friend of mine, shem gets me off the floor and kicks me out the door.

SHEM attacks my depression and activates those happiness hormones. 

   Self-care   (dopamine) 

   Hugs   (oxytocin) 

   Exercise   (endorphin)

   Meditate   (serotonin)

What does SHEM look like? First, I eat a bit of chocolate then give somebody a hug then dance in the park then meditate under a tree. 

Doesn’t always work. Sometimes I bite an apple and give myself a hug then walk once around the park because I’m too tired to dance and pass right by the tree to fall back asleep on the couch. But at least I made it out of the house once.

Because it never gets any easier.


P.S.  I really want to leave it there, but I can’t. I have to end on a high note so . . . this I know: Life might not get easier, but it certainly doesn’t get harder because we are prepared. We’ve survived hell and we are still here. And each passing depression makes us stronger. Depressed maybe, but not sad. Nietzsche said that, right? “That which does not sadden us makes us stronger”.