My problems with depression seemed to slowly and quietly twist their way into my life for years. At points it was so subtle I would be able to ignore it, or push it away, or think that it was just another bad day, nothing out of the ordinary. Somehow day after day grew, and without even realizing how it had gotten there, I began to carry a burden that felt like the weight of the world on my shoulders.
While I was always a worrier, always an anxious person, I could still find happiness very easily and I didn't think depression would ever be a problem for me. I wasn't expecting it to become a daily struggle, I never expected it to escalate so far. By the time I truly noticed how badly off it was, I was already far gone. I lived in denial of it for too long, I realize that easily now. I think the most important thing is to acknowledge it, to accept it, because once I was able to do that, some of the burden lifted.
I can still remember the time I first realized that depression was a real issue for me. While I had always had other mental illnesses and always knew others that had to deal with depression, I could never truly understand their thought patterns, what they had to go through. But one day, it suddenly clicked -- I could understand how they could think the way they did, I could understand being afraid of facing the day, I could understand why one wouldn't want to face the day ahead of them. I think that was the first moment that I realized that I truly did have these thought patterns and symptoms to deal with myself.
My symptoms would greatly vary. That was the first thing I noticed, and then I began to notice how truly hard it would be to get up in the morning, how hard it was to look forward to anything. I would feel isolated from everything and everyone at times. I would feel like I could never face the days or nights, I would feel lonely and needy. I would also have physical symptoms, as if I was in so much mental pain that my body was in pain as well. This was perhaps the most upsetting thing to me, which would only make me even more depressed.
I eventually did get diagnosed with my psychiatrist, but even making that initial visit was hard. I hope there is a time where it is easier to be open about such matters, but even in that setting, I feel like there is still so much of taboo. I would be afraid of saying too much about my symptoms and seeming too much of a mess, or not saying enough and seeming as if nothing was wrong. I was very lucky to go to someone who knew my mental history and was able to be understanding and come to a quick diagnosis.
Considering I always had other mental illnesses (mostly anxiety disorders and phobias), it seemed to me that the depression followed after them. Like one couldn't exist without the other. I will never know for sure, but what I do know is that they all absolutely would feed off each other for me. I don't know if I would know one without the other, they all follow so closely together. The worse my depression would be, the worse the anxiety, and vice versa.
While it has deeply affected my life in so many negative ways -- missed chances, lost days to depression, etc. -- I also feel that it has given me an even greater appreciation for every good thing. I feel like the most important thing for me in dealing with depression on a day to day basis is to look for the good things, no matter how small they are, and to hold onto them and to appreciate them with every fiber of being. This alone has saved me many times. I also find it very important to have things to look forward to, be they big or small.
If I am truly having a terrible time and can not see the good at all, I make sure that I keep lists that I can refer to. Lists of good things, good memories, reasons to keep dealing. I also keep lists of things that can distract me. If I find that I am not able to do this on my own, I ask for help from an understanding person in my life.
With depression, I often worry that I am a burden to those that I care and love in my life. I know that it has affected these people, which can make me feel worse and guilty. So I find keeping an open communication helps me a lot with everyone I know. I try not to hide what I have to deal with, or to make excuses for it. I am usually pleasantly surprised by how understanding people can be. I find support from others to be so important. Be they family, friends, therapists, groups online, anything and everything helps. Even just reading from others who also have depression can help some of the loneliness and isolation. I've found various books and various places on the Internet wonderful to keep me from feeling that isolation.
Those are the steps that truly help my recovery, as well as changing any environmental things that may help. Whatever I could do to help my external environment be calm and happy, I would do it. Meanwhile, I would work on accepting the things that I can not change. Built together, this can truly make a difference.
I know many people have been greatly helped by anti depressants. Sadly, I went through about half a dozen to a dozen (literally!) medications, none of which worked for me. I seemed to only get the side effects. I tried very hard but in the end the best decision for me was to stay away from anti depressants. It is so hard to deal with, no matter if you are on medication or not, and I admire everyone for dealing with it, no matter what road they go down with the medication decision.
In terms of other professional help, I have found that therapy has helped me at times as well. Of course, the most important thing was finding the right person. After that, I find it's important to explore what kind of therapy works. I find personally that talking about older issues, childhood issues, and things of this nature does not really help me... but working in therapy on what I go through here & now, day to day helps. At times the skills you can learn in DBT therapy or CBT also helps me greatly.
A combination of acceptance, support, knowledge and understanding has been the help for me. I didn't choose to go down this path by a longshot, but feel as if I have learned and appreciated more now because of it all.