Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Art of Breathing: How to Fight Depression and Win

Someone reading this is struggling. This is for you. If you're not struggling, read anyway, so you can help someone who is. I'm not a doctor. I'm just a guy who struggles, too. And I've found the secret to getting through. It's called "breathing."

Life is life. We can't explain it, we can't predict it. It is what it is, and sometimes your world just gets rocked. And by that, I mean not in a good way. It's in those times when you get leveled by a boxcar from above that you re-evaluate your priorities.

My daughter had to say goodbye yesterday to her dearest and closest friend. The lady got married, and they will be living in Alaska. I'll miss her, too. She's a good kid, and those two were thick as thieves. But life is life, and life is what it is. It's not like her friend died or anything. But then again, maybe it feels pretty damn close. Alaska may as well be another universe for a friend that close. The point is, my daughter is very down right now.

I've found in storms like this that it boils down to the basics. Situations hit, like atom bombs in our lives. A loss by death. Your friend moving away. That lab report that changes everything. One moment that can destroy your freedom. So many things can knock us right down, and so many people have no idea how to get back up again. The wallow in depression and just fade away.

I knew a woman several years ago who struggled with depression. My best friend was recently floored by a perfect storm in his life, and we spent a good deal of time scraping him off the floor in pieces and gluing him back together. It's horrid stuff, depression. It can steal away your ability to function. If you let it.

As one who has been run over by a few freight trains in my life (like the sudden death of my brother, loss of my father and younger sister to cancer, a son with severe disabilities, and a daughter I nearly lost before she was three, among other storms), I can speak from experience. I still fight my own depression once in a while.

There once was a time I could languish in my depression and give the circumstances time to immobilize me. I could lay on the couch for hours and just corrode, mentally. That was before I became a dad and husband. I could afford the loss of time. But now things are different. I had to learn how to work through and remain functional.

Yeah, it makes me sound like a machine. But when you're floored with circumstances, "functional" takes on a whole new meaning. "Functional" is where you're at. Look at it this way:

Okay, right now you're helpless. I get that. But you're breathing, right? I'll prove it. Take a breath. Good, yeah, you did it. Don't space out on me, some people don't realize how big a step it is to willfully take a breath. Okay, now take another one. Who cares if you're still lying on your side on the couch with a mountain of snotty, tear-soaked  Kleenex on the floor under your face. You're breathing. So breathe. Don't worry about your heart; it'll handle beating all on its own (in most cases). Just breathe for a while.

Once you get the hang of breathing, things actually get easier. Believe me, they do. If you can breathe, you can sit up. You have to go to the bathroom anyway. Sitting up is right on your way. So sit up. Now, if you can sit up, you can stand. Not "you may." You CAN. If you need help, get some. But you need to get that standing thing down before you go ay further. Note that by "standing" I include those among us who need wheels as well. Standing is a relative term. I don't care if you hate your chair, especially if that's the cause for your depression. Mobility is the next step. It takes an act of will. If you can't handle a step, don't worry about it. Just back up to the previous one. Breathe. Sit. Get mobile. Those are the basics.

Now, look at what's next: eat and drink. I know, things are getting to be a challenge now. We're getting into areas that require action.  Willful action. By "willful" I don't mean wanting to do it. I mean taking action by an act of your will. Crying isn't an act of will. Eating is.If you're still crying though breathing and sitting up, that's okay. You can address that later.

The key to breathing is to keep doing it, and take each step at a time. You don't go from the couch back to work in one huge quantum leap. I can remember when eating and drinking to me was a sign of things actually getting better. First, it meant I had food, and the utility companies hadn't cut off my power or my water. Yay me. I already had the first three steps under my belt, and I was eating. All on my own, too. I'm not being funny; it was that bad.

Next was keeping the utilities on. That meant work. It meant functioning as a profitable member of my company team. I'd get up, go to work, come home, and most evenings would find me back on that couch with the pile of Kleenex. But you know what? I was functional. Kind of like when you really need a car and you buy a '78 rust-bucket with no muffler and a busted windshield, where you can see the road through the holes in the floorboard and the trunk is falling out and there's no rear bumper because that rusted off a long time ago. BUT, it starts in the morning (even if you have to pump your leg furiously for the first five minutes just to keep it running), and when you push on the gas it goes, when you push the brake, it stops. And when you turn the wheel, it turns, hopefully in the same direction. That kind of "functional."

See, you can do it. It's one step at a time, and you don't have to lie to yourself (unless that's what it takes to get you to sit up). Do what you have to do, when you have to do it. Tomorrow doesn't exist. There's only This Moment and how to get through it.

And you can do it. Just start with breathing. Because it will get better. You will win.


  1. Excellent, Cyrus!! I agree that this is the best way to go and breathing is an excellent first step. Great blog:)

  2. You said step at a time...great advice

  3. Great post, Cyrus, and "keep functioning" is great advice.

  4. Breath is life!! Each intake of air reaffirming!!! Keep at it!! I applaud you!! Great blog post!!

  5. You know, your words remind of a line from a song I used to listen to. It goes: "the trick is to keep breathing." Thank you for sharing, Cyrus. Great post, as always :)

  6. Cyrus, you wrote an important blog. Thank you.

    Susan Bernhardt

  7. This is brilliant writing, Cyrus! You so nailed the depression thing, but you didn't stop there. You offered small, concrete steps we can take, beginning with that first one: breathe. With a little humor thrown in. :) Thanks. I'll be sharing.