Down and Out
Depression is not something that just happens to other people. It is a natural reaction to life events. Depression, because it is considered a mental illness, has gotten a bad rap. It should be recognized as one of the ways we react to stress. I for one think it can be a positive sign of your expectations. For instance, if someone backs into your car, a certain amount of depression is going to occur, especially if there are arguments with insurance companies or resulting injuries. After all, only a pessimist would have left their house expecting to be involved in a car wreck!
The key to battling depression is to recognize it for what it is and then react in a positive manner. All too often we tend to hide. We do not feel we can deal with life and certainly not more unpleasantness. We isolate ourselves from future pain. That is also one of the worst things one can do if depressed.
Now, you might be asking yourself why a blog series about making the ordinary extraordinary is talking about depression. Isolation does not cure depression. Volunteering, though, just might help you. At a time when you feel you cannot take care of yourself, it does seem contra-intuitive to offer to help another. Depression is only crippling when we allow it to become that. By volunteering, we help another but also ourselves.
Let’s really look at what volunteering really means. It is not giving your entire life over to an organization. It means donating an hour or two on a schedule to help another or a group accomplish something. One of the best things to combat depression is an improved sense of self. So maybe you parked in the wrong slot but you were great at helping out at the soup kitchen. Everyone had value and volunteering helps a person discover theirs.
Being a volunteer means you have a purpose. That someone is counting on you can really be a life-changer for a person who feels worthless. Perhaps you might have to paint a smile on your face for the first half an hour but then life takes over and the community you are helping will begin to unknowingly help you.
Depression is often called the silent killer because no one can tell you have it. There are no bumps like measles or chicken pox. Your hair usually does not fall out and those bags under your eyes might be from binge-watching a cancelled show on Netflix instead of sleepless nights due to depression. Your renewed sense of self is going to make you feel better and soon you really will be better.
Depressed people often lack the vision to see their contributions to society. None of us is perfect but we do all have something to offer. Maybe your strength is in volunteering at a local library. Shelving books, working at a used book store, or reading to children are all ways volunteers improve their local library. Local museums use volunteer guides or docents to help people understand their purpose and the history of the area. Animal shelters all rely heavily on their volunteers I providing services like petting or dog walking. Hospitals might seem an unlikely place to go to improve one’s depression but they also use volunteers. Whether answering the phone or escorting patients or working in a gift shop, volunteers are really the backbone of many agencies.
To begin to volunteer is not easy. It means you have to get up off the couch and get dressed. For many people, that takes effort. However, so does laying in bed and frowning. It really is true that it takes more facial muscles to frown than to smile. It also means writing your volunteer times down on a calendar and then following through. Little by little, your helping others will help you to help yourself.
Volunteering gives a person a sense of purpose and will provide new connections. These positives provide benefits that cannot be found by staying home and hiding under a pillow. You will develop new acquaintances and possibly make some new friends for life. Volunteering is a gift that you give to others by sharing your time. It also is a gift you give to yourself.