6 Tips For Overcoming Depression When I Feel Like Nobody Cares or Understands.
(If you’d prefer, watch a video version of this article.)
One of the most difficult parts of working alone as a solopreneur is dealing with the daily struggle of depression. I sometimes call depression “a monster” because, like a monster, it’s scary, it’s dangerous, it’s really good at lurking in the shadows, hiding, and a lot of people like to tell themselves it doesn’t exist, but they’re still secretly afraid that it might.
I have been working either remotely or completely alone, off and on, since 2006. In those 16 years, I’ve heard a lot of influencers and industry professionals talk about “staying inspired” or “keeping your skills sharp” and the value of continuing education. But I have almost never heard people give presentations on “how to deal with depression” when you’re self-employed or work from home.
Why don’t people talk about this? Why do people pretend it doesn’t exist? Since the COVID pandemic, I’ve read articles and heard news stories about how people are suffering from “remote work burnout” or “Zoom fatigue” from being isolated at home and having to sit through so many virtual meetings… but I still rarely hear or see anything about actual, real depression as a daily battle that some people have to struggle through.
So let me state clearly right here and now: depression is real, depression hurts, and it’s easy to ignore and pretend it doesn’t exist or pretend that you don’t have it. And, as I learned when a friend of mine committed suicide in 2018, I’ll say this too: depression kills.
…depression is real, depression hurts, and it’s easy to ignore and pretend it doesn’t exist or pretend that you don’t have it
It’s not just a matter of having a bad attitude or feeling sad: depression is like a dark raincloud of misery that hovers over you every day, making it hard for you to get out of bed in the morning, remember why you chose the work you do in the first place, or feel good about yourself and the work you do.
I don’t know whether depression is caused by working alone and feeling lonely or not, but I do know that they’re correlated. Working by yourself, all day, every day, can be absolutely depressing. It can make you feel like you’re lost out at sea on a tiny little boat that no one is ever going to find: no one will ever rescue you, and you’ll always be isolated and alone.
Depression is not a joke, and it’s not something to laugh off. And if you struggle with depression, it’s not something that you can just “deal with” or “get over.”
Let me state here: I’m not a doctor, a therapist, or a counselor. But I am intimately familiar with the monster of depression, I’ve read a lot about it, and I have personally spoken to professionals about it. And over the years I’ve spent working alone, I’ve found some ways to keep that monster at bay.
Here are a few things you may find helpful if you find yourself alone, working from home, and wondering how you can rise above the misery.
#1: Get Out Of The House and Meet People You Know.
As much as your schedule allows, get out of your house and go meet with people you know (and who know you). When I was in one of the most depressing seasons of my life, one of my friends came up with a great idea: a lunch group. He invited a few different men out to lunch every Wednesday, and each time, they visited a different place. If my schedule allowed, I was welcome to come. If I couldn’t make it, I didn’t have to. Genius.
Calling something so simple a genius idea might sound ridiculous, but man, I’m telling you: it was. I had an opportunity at least once per week to meet with people who knew and cared about me, and because someone else had scheduled it, I didn’t even have to do the work to make it happen. Plus, introverts like myself are deathly afraid of calling people and asking them to come to something in-person, and I didn’t have to do that. I could just go or not go.
It was very helpful and healing to know that I was always welcome to join these guys at lunch. And if I couldn’t make it, sometimes people would call me or email me and check in to make sure I was doing all right. I cannot overstate how helpful having a simple standing lunch meeting with friends was for me.
#2: Get Out Of The House and Meet People You DON’T Know.
Another thing I did when I was extremely lonely and low was go to Meetups. This was a good way to meet people who worked in my industry that I didn’t already know, which was nice. It helped me see that there were people like me, who do the same kind of work I do, and that I have things in common with. It also helped me professionally: I could learn more about industry trends, hear the latest news, and see examples of work done by people who are better than me, which is inspiring.
But it wasn’t just industry-specific Meetups that were directly related to my work either. I went to some other Meetups that had nothing to do with work: a German Language Learners Meetup, a Wine Appreciation Meetup, and more. All of these helped accomplish the same thing: meeting new people and learning new skills. This also gave me the added bonus of something different to focus on that’s above and beyond my current circumstance and emotional state. It’s hard to feel mopey and think, “Woe is me,” when you’ve got homework or assigned reading in another language.
#3: Ask your family how you’re doing.
This is really embarrassing to do, but it’s very important. There is nobody in my life who knows me as well as my wife. And she is the one who knows (before I do) whether I’m thriving or struggling. So sometimes, I’ll check in with her and ask, “How am I doing?” Or, alternately, she’ll check in with me and ask, “How are you doing?” And I have to just be honest and tell her the truth. “I’m bored… I’m lonely… I’m struggling… I’m feeling (insert whatever the answer is here).”
If you live with your family, there’s no one better qualified to help assist you through this struggle than those family members because they love you. They care about you. And if you’re working from home, they see you more than anyone else. As I mentioned, it’s embarrassing (especially for men, I think) but it’s so important to listen to them and rely on their advice and counsel, whether you like it or not.
If they say something like: “You should go get help,” — listen to that. There are mental health professionals out there, like therapists and counselors, and your family is not suited to take on that role, but they are perfectly suited to letting you know when you need to see someone like that.
#4: Pets: If you don’t have one, get one! If you have one, get another one!
One simple way to keep your spirits up is to get a pet! Pets are fantastic: they’re fun, they make your life interesting, they need your help in order to survive, they’re (usually) a welcome diversion, and, depending on the pet, they may even be happy to see you. Many pets need a little bit of care and feeding, but not too much. Most only add a marginal amount to your grocery bill, and I think it’s worth the extra cost.
When I was in my most depressed state, I was working from home and living in a rental house that didn’t allow cats or dogs, so I bought a baby Russian Tortoise. I named him Stravinsky. He was such a fun addition to our family: he was fun to bathe, feed, and take on walks. During my lunch breaks, I’d wrap a long string of red yarn around one of his legs, take him out into my backyard and let him chow down on dandelions. That was a calming distraction, and it got me outside in the fresh air and sunshine.
A while later, during the COVID pandemic, my kids were going crazy being stuck at home, and their craziness was driving me crazy too. They weren’t as fond of Stravinsky as I was, and they wanted their own pet. So I went to the local animal shelter, and we adopted a cat. Bingo! That solved so many problems, both for the kids and for me. We now have a furry friend who will drop whatever he’s doing and come running if it’s snack time or if we want to pet him.
If you don’t already have a pet, get one: you might be amazed at how much taking care of a small living creature puts some joy into your life.
#5: Find a “third place” that isn’t your house and isn’t your office.
Many years ago, I heard someone describe this concept of a “third place” — it’s a place that isn’t your home and isn’t your office. It’s a separate place where you can have your own personal time, or you can have business time and get some work done.
A third place can be anywhere: a Starbucks by your house, an Einstein Brothers’ Bagels, a public library, a coworking space, a brewery, or anything else that works for you. I have done all the above and have benefited from all of them. Ideally, a place like this would have WiFi, but not necessarily. It can be indoors or outdoors, and it could require a membership fee or be completely free. It doesn’t really matter: what matters is that it’s a place where you are always welcome to go and where you can work, meet people, hang out, or be alone — all at your discretion.
Some people want to “be known” at their third place: they want to go to the same coffee shop at the same time a few times each week, see the same people behind the counter, be recognized by name, and hear the staff say something like “Hi Joe, the usual?”
Personally, I don’t want to be known that well. I don’t want people to know me by name. Most of all, I don’t want to have “a usual.” I just want to quietly walk in the door at a time of my choosing, be greeted but not recognized, not be asked how my wife and kids are doing, and then go find a place in the corner where I can think or get work done. But that’s just me.
The simple fact is, at least for me, being around other people — even people I don’t know or come into contact with — lifts my spirits. If I hear burr grinders whirring at a coffee shop, smell fresh espresso being pulled, and see smiling people greeting each other and chatting over the din of clanking silverware and background music, that really makes me feel alive somehow. It makes me feel thankful to be alive. And it gives me something to do away from home that changes up the scenery just enough to keep life interesting. As I mentioned before, keeping your mind busy and distracted helps keep your thoughts focused on productive things rather than destructive negative self-talk. At least in my case.
If you can, find a third place where you can be yourself and get what you need out of it. It may look different than mine, but that’s the whole point.
#6: Go To The Gym and Work Out!
When I first met with a therapist a few years ago, this was one of her strongest recommendations: to go to the gym several times a week. Not just to “take time” to work out, but to “make time” to work out. For most of my adult life, I’ve always been focused on staying active and keeping myself fit, but as a business owner, I had always struggled with the thought that spending several hours at the gym was “selfish” because it meant time away from work, not making money, and only focusing on myself. Every hour spent at the gym, I thought, was an hour lost in terms of being responsible, working hard, and staying productive.
But I had it all wrong. For some reason, it took an outsider to notice this in me and tell me, “No, it’s not selfish. It’s absolutely essential. You have a family that relies on you. That’s why you need to take care of yourself.”
So at least three days a week, I go to the gym, and I try not to stress about it anymore. I don’t rush myself, and I try not to feel bad if it takes an hour or even longer out of my day. For me, getting on a treadmill and running a few miles and puffing and getting hot and sweaty helps melt away the stress better than just about anything else I know. And it has certainly helped me with my mental fitness as well.
I hope you find the tips above helpful if you’re struggling with depression. One thing I’m certain of is that there is no magic pill, and you can’t just be “cured” of depression if you have it. But these are some ways I’ve tried to deal with it over the years.
Above all, the most helpful thing I’ve found is just being able to talk about it and admit it with other people. If anybody reading this is having a tough time, just reach out to me, and I will be listening. You can talk to me.