Dealing with Depression: Cultivating Joy

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

And then, there it finally was, in black and white on the doctor’s note: suffers from … depression. For any of you who’ve been reading this blog for the last few weeks, it will come as no surprise that I haven’t been in the best mental state lately. I had myself convinced it was more of a burnout than anything else, but to be fair, the doctor had mentioned the d-word during the last visit, too. This time, together with an extended sick leave, she prescribed an anti-depressant as well. My feelings about taking it are somewhat conflicted, but more on that in a later post.

For now, I want to shine a little light in this darkness, because that’s what seems to keep me afloat.

One of the questions my doctor asked me when I first went to see her was when I remembered last experiencing joy. At the time, it took me a while to come up with a moment I could remember. In the state I was in (and am still in, with ups and downs), it can be hard to recall what joy even feels like. It almost seems as if all joy I experience(d) is a thin layer of fake glitter covering a gigantic black hole.

Yet, I count myself lucky because there are still times of joy that feel real in the moment, and even though it’s hard to motivate myself to go out anywhere or do anything, these sparks of light show me that I still get a say in my emotional wellbeing. I can take steps to regain some control of how I feel. I get the choice not to be a victim.

So one of the things I do is look for bits of joy throughout my day. Some days there are a few, some days there are none, but looking for them and noticing them gives me something to hang on to, a way forward. They can be watching a comedy show with my partner, or reading something beautiful, or seeing a surprise

I agreed with my therapist to start out each day by dancing to some music. It’s pretty obvious that not exercising at all for the past few months (due to a broken toe at first and bad mental health afterwards) is not beneficial to healing. Plus it keeps you stuck, quite literally. So I put on some music, and move, in any way that feels right in the moment. Some days it’s a chore, but there have been times when I’ve really enjoyed it, too. I get into it, and have genuine fun. It makes me feel light, even if it’s just for few minutes.

Today I visited a friend with her absolutely delightful 7-month-old baby. The trip over took so much effort, but once there, with this beautiful, happy girl in my lap, I couldn’t think any dark thoughts or feel unhappy. She was so herself, in the moment, completely in love with life, that it made me fall in love with it again, too.

And then tonight, while cuddling with my son in his bed until he fell asleep, he sang a funny song and got the giggles. He laughed and I laughed. I am reminded of his dentist’s visit yesterday in which a 5-minute procedure turned into 2 hours of agony, and am so grateful for the intense joy he also feels despite the many trying moments in his life. I feel grateful, and inspired: if he can do it, I sure as hell will figure out how to do it together.

My depression sometimes feels like there are no feelings at all (numbness), or like there’s only rage, anxiety or desperation. When I notice how other feelings find their way into my life as well, such as joy, calm or curiosity, I know there is still so much in this world that is amazing and that there will be a time when I’ll have the drive to explore it again. I know it, and for a moment, I can even feel it.

To minimize the risk of depressing all of you with my tone of late, I want to leave you with a song that’s been responsible for quite a bit of joy and some of my better dance moves in the past week. There’s something about the beat, the absolute nonsense text and the bright colors that just brings a smile to my face…

Without further ado, here’s BTS with Dynamite:

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