Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue: 12 Lessons of Depression

Five  years ago I almost gave up.

After trying 23 medication combinations, 7 psychiatrists, two hospitalization programs, and every form of alternative therapy available–from homeopathic remedies to yoga, I assumed I was one of those unfortunate statistics with treatment-resistant depression, a Humpty-Dumpty type that would never recover from the fall of a nervous breakdown.

There was no magic that happened between then and now, the day my book about my recovery hits the shelves. I just kept on getting out of bed. Even on the days where my thoughts were cemented in the black stuff, in negativity and toxic emotions, I tried to pick up one foot and place it in front on the next.


Here are the tools I picked up along the way, the 12 basic lessons that help me in my mission to stay “Beyond Blue,” or at least out of black for as long as possible.

1. Laugh.

From my 12 years of therapy I have learned at least one thing: I use sarcasm as a defense mechanism. But I’m keeping the jokes and the acerbic tone because Abe Lincoln and Art Buchwald, two of my mental health heroes, said wit was essential to sanity, that comedy can keep a person out of the psych ward (not really). And if you’re laughing, you’re not crying … even though the two look similar from 10 feet away.

2. Sweat.


As a recovering addict, I love any buzz I can get. Working out–any exercise that gets my heart rate over 140 beats per minute (into the cardiovascular zone) does the job. And in a safe way, so I don’t have to cheat on my sobriety. I’m probably as addicted to exercise as I was to booze, but this is one mood-altering activity that doesn’t deteriorate my marriage and my other relationships.

The right kind of exercise actually acts like an antidepressant: increasing the activity of serotonin and/or norepinephrine in your brain and releasing those coveted endorphins and other hormones that reduce pain, induce euphoria, have a calming effect, and combat stress.

3. Eat the right stuff.

The more I investigate–both through research and nonscientific experiments with body–the more I realize how my diet affects my mood.


Here are the bad boys: nicotine, caffeine (it’s a drug, which is why I’m addicted to it), alcohol, white flour and processed food (what you live on when you have kids who won’t touch tofu and spinach); and sugar … that’s a whole other blog post.

Here are the good guys: protein (eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, fish, chicken, seeds, nuts); complex starches (whole grains, beans, potatoes); vegetables (broccoli, spinach, squash); vitamins (vitamin B-complex, vitamins E and C, and a multivitamin); minerals (magnesium, calcium, and zinc); and omega-3 fatty acids.

4. Sleep!

Sleep is crucial to sanity. Let me repeat: Sleep is crucial to sanity.

Because sleep disturbances can contribute to, aggravate, and even cause mood disorders and a host of other illnesses. You see, if you’re not sleeping, your brain doesn’t have an opportunity to do all the stuff it needs to do without the constant interruption of your thoughts. The brain works night shifts. And when it doesn’t get all the work it needs to do done … well, it gets a tad irritable, like you do when you can’t get your work done. And it takes it out on you.


According to one recent study, sleep deprivation can cause a decline in cognitive performance similar to the intoxicated brain. That’s right! Drunks can reason and judge better than you if you’ve gone too long without getting some zzzzs.

5. Light up.

Have you ever noticed all the crabby behavior in November and December?

Changes in the amounts of daylight a person gets alters circadian rhythms, the internal biological clock which governs fluctuation in body temperature and the secretion of several hormones, including the evil one, Cortisol. When a person gets less daylight than she needs, her circadian rhythm starts to act like a high-maintenance houseguest – getting all flustered over small stuff (i.e. the wrong kind of soap). That’s why light treatment is so effective for fragile human beings like me. If I can’t get outside for at least a half hour a day, I try to sit under my mammoth HappyLite, a lamp with 10,000 lux, and think happy thoughts.


6. Rely on friends.

I used to be a loyal support-group kind of girl. But since I’ve had kids, getting to meetings is much more difficult. So I’ve found my support in other ways–in phone calls and e-mails and visits to friends and relatives who also suffer from depression or bipolar disorder. That lifeline kept me alive during my suicidal days, and continues to empower me every single day.

During the darker days of my depression, I walked around with six phone numbers in my pocket. Because I didn’t want to wear out any one friend or relative, I’d call two people a day, and rotate the numbers. I spent hours on the phone and writing e-mails and visiting friends because I needed constant support.


7. Get involved.

Positive psychologists like University of Pennsylvania’s Martin Seligman and Dan Baker, Ph.D., director of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch, believe a sense of purpose–committing oneself to a noble mission–and acts of altruism are strong antidotes to depression. I used to think that meant that I needed to carve out two hours in my schedule every week to serve soup at the homeless shelter. But in the three years that I’ve written Beyond Blue, I’ve come to think of my blog as my special ministry or contribution to the world. And yes, it does fulfill me more so than I ever dreamed possible.

8. Keep a gratitude journal.


Based on her research findings, University of California psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky believes that keeping a gratitude journal is one of the most effective happiness boosters. According to psychologist Robert Emmons at the University of California at Davis, gratitude exercises improves physical health, as well–including raising energy levels and relieving pain. During my suicidal days, I’d write in my journal that I was thankful for a bagel and cream cheese in the morning, a husband who held me when I cried, a literary agent who didn’t dump me once she found out about my vacation at the psych ward. Today I record things like: full-day kindergarten, getting paid to whine online, and a spouse who knows how to cook (because I sure as hell don’t).


9. Go to therapy.

In her classic, “An Unquiet Mind,” Kay Redfield Jamison says that therapy and medication are the two pillars of her mental-health program. Yep. Agreed. Even as therapy is totally inconvenient to my hectic schedule, I make myself go. Because issues left unattended have a way of smelling after a few weeks. And even when I think I’m in a good spot … fooling myself into thinking that I can just coast for a little bit … a resentment will make an uncanny surprise visit to remind me of the many character defects I could work on.
10. Work on my thoughts.


This one is the toughest: directing my thoughts somewhat like a traffic policeman standing out in the middle of a highway during a storm. Some of the drivers (thoughts) get a tad agitated when the dude in the neon vest tells them they can’t go a certain way … that if they do, they will regret it. Oh yes they will. Because getting their brains out of the gutter (where toxic emotions live) proves more difficult than you think. I have a bunch of creative ways–much like the policeman’s hand signals–in which I like to untwist my distorted thoughts … such as differentiating between fiction (fantasy) and nonfiction (reality) in my busy noggin.

11. Pray and meditate.

Sometimes this is easier than other times. And I do it in many forms–as mantras (“I am enough,” “I am loved,” “Peace …”) during my run, or a quiet ten minutes in my walk-in bedroom closet with a lit candle and a Bible verse, or singing “Alleluia!” with a congregation of Catholics at church on Sunday, or meditating in lotus pose at a yoga class, or simply as a vague consciousness of the divine presence as I’m folding the laundry.


12. Surrender.

When all my tools have failed, there is nothing left for me to do. I must surrender. I have to tell my neurotic brain that I give up trying to make it happy. And I wait … sometimes a day or a week, other times a month or more, to feel better. But I eventually do. I always do.

Click here to subscribe to Beyond Blue and click here to follow Therese on Twitter and click here to join Group Beyond Blue, a depression support group. Now stop clicking.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Razz2

    QUOTE: “But in the three years that I’ve written Beyond Blue, I’ve come to think of my blog as my special ministry or contribution to the world. And yes, it does fulfill me more so than I ever dreamed possible.”

    We often don’t see the contributions we make to the world at large, especially when we’re severely depressed and yet they are there. Your blog does help more people than you’ll ever know. It ripples out into a world of others who suffer…. a link being sent to a friend, to an acquittance, a verbal recommend…. and on the ripples go. You don’t see these readers and you probably will never hear from them but not only are they there but they are finding comfort.

    When I’m in my darkest moments and have to force myself to put one foot in front of the other it’s often because I feel the need to respond to the request of someone else who is hurting. I lead chats on another forum for women with addictions. I try to be a visual presence on that forum as well. And on those deep dark days… it’s the women who respond back to me that give me those rays of sunlight. I get so much from being there for them, of having a purpose I guess.

    Thank you Therese for what you do to send out ripples of sunshine for those of us trying to chase away the dark.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shelly

    Well put, Razz2, I agree with all of your points. I consider sharing my experiences online, in group or with individuals a ministry that God has put on my heart also. I glean so much from Beyond Blue. It’s the first bipolar blog I read every single day. Thank you Therese!

  • Beyond Blue

    Thank you very much, guys! t

  • Solace Counseling

    Great article. These are 12 great lessons of depression. If you or a loved one are suffering from depression make sure to seek professional treatment. These 12 great lessons should also be used to prevent depression relapse. Best of luck!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Caitlyn

    Thank you, Therese. Thank you so so much.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Irene

    Therese, I’m on the last few pages of your book ‘Beyond Blue’. It has been so good for me to read. I’m coming out of a depression that’s lasted for months. The stress in my life isn’t going to go away but you have made me aware of ways to respond that are healther for me. I’m recommending your book and blog on beliefnet to everyone I talk to who could benefit. Keep writing and may God always grace you with stability!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Catparent

    I am not, nor have I ever been, bi-polar. But I have experienced depression, over and over again. And Therese, every single day, you teach me so much! You do make a difference, if only just to this girl!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Susan

    Thanks for these. All very helpful. I get stuck especially at #4 – Sleep. I actually felt afraid when I got to that one. You see, I went through terrible insomnia while I was going through my divorce. Then my thyroid shut down, I had two separate operations over a year to have my ovaries removed (instant menopause). A sleep study revealed that I was having alpha intrusions many times per hour. Hence I was put on an anti-anxiety med, plus two anti-depressants. So I am addicted to the benzo now for 11 years. And I feel guilty about that. I am ashamed. I know how important sleep is, but I’m afraid to go off the meds. Does anyone relate to this?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Skylark

    Therese…In light of your ministry, your bipolar depression can be
    seen as one great gift!! for us!! if not always for you!! Your is a noble cross you bear! Believe!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mary Morin

    Our church nutritionist Ronda Nelson Phd in biochemistry, says the #1 issue she sees related to all types of mental illness is gluten intolerance. I have found that since I eliminated it from my diet 4 months ago, my depression and anxiety have dramatically decreased. Our 17 yr. old with adhd is also a new kid. Number two issue is not only forgiving those who have hurt, abused, abandoned, or rejected us but also letting to of the bitterness, and right to judge them. Jesus said if we don’t, we will be tormented, and victims of other people’s sins commit sin themselves when they judge, and bring all kinds of destruction into their lives.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Cynthia

    Terese, you are a godsend, truly. Please know the impact you have on those of who suffer right along with you is HUGE. I try to read your blog as my first step of the morning to start my day off right. I am so grateful for you. Every day.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Eileen

    Therese, I want to thank you so much for sharing your struggles and successes. As a therapist, I have learned so much from you what it must be like for some of my clients, and I share your wisdom with my clients through handouts, or by telling them about your website. I truly appreciate your wonderful gift of being able to articulate so well what has helped you on your journey.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment roanne

    it’s my first time to comment for months or even a year of subscribing into your blog. i can relate very well to all that you feel as i got post natal depression and depression itself. it’s very helpful and i wanna thank you.. but this blog of your really gave a lot of laughs..thank you again for contributing all your thoughts and experiences to us and big hugs…

  • Beyond Blue

    Thank you, all, for your very kind comments. I am going to try to do a better job of commenting here on the combox of my posts. Thanks again. Therese

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment susan

    Therese: I am another woman who battles the black dogs. I hide it well though, and unfortunately most people interpret my lack of socialization at times to a kind of snobby behaviour.(I would rather they think this then know I am battling depression.) I do rely on your writings. Your efforts have helped me through some dark days. I am going to save this particular column and re-read it when I have those dogs barking at my heels. And please do a blog about sugar. I would love to hear what you have to say, having becoming stuck on pink wintergreen mints in the past few months.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Suzz

    Its Suzz,,…,, I submitted the letter to friends and family re anxiety and depression a few years back…I get this blog in my inbox everyday as I have since I found Therese a few yrs back . Every once in awhile I take time time to read them( honesty)
    I never cancel my subscription because I have known there are days like today for whatever reason I will read it and something will help me.
    You have helped me in many ways with your honest sharing. Most of all by letting me know I’m not alone. I have been in remission from my breakdown for almost 5 years now and like you I just kept going through the motions of life fighting my way back to reality . I still have GAD but I live a functional and what people would say a normal life.
    I worry sometimes if I will go back to that dark place in life ever Again. It happened at 20 and at 32, I am now 38.
    I use alot of the same tools you do for coping. I also just got the pocket therapist . My biggest thing is in my moments of uncertainty and fear I forget I’m not alone and I forget I can do things to help me and that I am ok .
    Thanks for being there . I don’t think
    You realize the hope you give others to help them
    Get Through even 24 hrs at a time.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jim

    Thank you so much for this blog. I am a middle aged man who has had depression for about 25 years now, off and on. I have tried everything under the sun to help, medication, meditation, therapy, and at the end of the day it still seems to have a life of it’s own. But I especially enjoyed this post delineating the 12 steps. I found number 10 the most important; my thoughts are what seem to trip me up.
    I wonder if anyone here has had experience with trans cranial magnetic therapy? It is something I am considering.

  • John Crudele

    I enjoy and pass along your blogs. As a motivational speaker and inspirational teacher for 25 years it was invigorating to have a mind that worked at lightniing speed and then such a struggle to have it basically stop, fall into depression and then a hospitalization three summers ago. Several friends helped me get there and one drove me as I couldn’t function that weekend. Three days turned into nine. For months after that I sat in a chair and not knowingly followed the steps in your message. Somewhere along the way I found your blog in my google search and still read them to this day. Now I can joke and say I’m a depressed motivational speaker and that sharing helps to remove the stigma for others. Yet on the rough days I reach out to friends and try to be patient and surrender. This PTSD and possible bipolar 2 is difficult yet being treated gives hope. And on hopeless days I try to remain patient and say well this is a difficult day. Not my last day. Thank you for writing with such candor and honesty. You bless me.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Margaret

    Therese, Thank you for answering God’s Call, by sharing your own pain, to help us.



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment LeRoy


    Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” I believe depression is one of the devil’s tools to keep our minds off of the good. Your work (blog, books, etc.) Overcomes a lot of evil. Keep it up, and may God bless you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Brittany

    Dear Therese,
    Thank you so much. That is all I can say. I have so much gratitude for you. I suffer from depression, and I’m falling back into the hole again. Reading this gives me hope that I will make it through and climb out again. It is so hard when your family doesn’t really understand mental illness and what it is like to be depressed, but reading your posts and your book make me feel like I’m not alone.

    Thank you so much!!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Susan

    I can’t wait each day to read your column. It’s just a comfort to me. I have suffered 2 clinical depressions in my life where I was incapacitated and don’t ever want to go there again. At 65 I’ve finally learned what works for me and it’s all of the things you spoke about. Laughter is no. 1 on my list. I’ve surrounded myself with people who feel the same way. I will be in some form of therapy until I die or loose my ability to understand and reason. It keeps me grounded. God bless you for what you do.


  • michael platania

    Great tips. Surrender is one of the hardest for me – I don’t know how. I try but it is a struggle, which I know means I need to surrender more.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Denise

    HELP WITH #9!

    Therese and Commenters, I’m in a funk and just reached out to a therapist – seen her twice, but I don’t think it’s working out. Of course, I think it’s her, but what if it IS me…any thoughts, anyone??

  • Platinum Valet

    From where on earth were u able to come up these really useful tips for life. Its indeed a great piece.

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