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What To Do when you’re Depressed and Can’t Afford Therapy

I overcame a 6-year-long depression. I use my example to raise awareness about mental health and show that depression can be healed.


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Justyna Cyrankiewicz

2 years ago | 8 min read

Eleven Things (+one) That Can Help.

I overcame a 6-year-long depression.

I had written about it a couple times. Here I shared the things that helped me the most in hindsight and the methods I used to manage anxiety and panic attacks. 

I use my example to raise awareness about mental health and show that depression can be healed.

Sometimes I get messages from people asking me what to do when they can’t afford therapy.

A message I got on IG the other day (published with the consent of the author).

Unfortunately, our world hasn’t recognised mental health care as a burning and basic need yet (we are on the way there tho), and professional care remains unavailable to most.

That’s why, although it’s not easy, I will try to answer this question here, based on my own experience — because, for the most part, I couldn’t pay for therapy either.

Things that can help when you can’t afford therapy

#1 Don’t judge yourself

Refraining from self-judgment when things are bad was a massive relief for me.

Sometimes there are days when you won’t get out of bed. Taking a shower will feel like a massive effort, and you will cancel all meetings even though you cried yourself to sleep out of loneliness the other night.

And while you’d obviously prefer things weren’t this way, it’s just how it is for the time being.

Try not to judge yourself for it.

Two important things to keep in mind:

  • It’ll pass.

It is like that just for now. Things will get better.

You might not feel like it atm, but you will find strength in yourself and use it to find a way out or help yourself a little. One baby step at a time.

  • It’s not your fault.

You’re not being lazy, you’re not pitiful, you’re not worse than others if you spend a week in your bed.

What’s happening is not entirely up to you; your brain is ill now, and that’s just how it works.

While you ultimately want things to improve, remember you can only do so much.

#2 Reach out to a trusted person

A friend, a family member, a partner, a trusted stranger on the internet.

Tell them how you feel, and ask them to keep an eye on you.

I used to send my friends a graphic I found on IG that listed warning signs of things getting bad again.

I’d tick off the ones I recognised in myself and ask them to keep checking on me in case it gets out of my hand, and I spiral down into the dark hole.

The infographic I used to monitor my mental health.

Now, your trusted person might not know precisely how to help you.

While it’d be great if we all were educated about mental health and the basics of crisis intervention, in reality, very few people are.

But just knowing that someone is aware of what’s going on can be helpful and reassuring to you.

Plus, if you don’t trust yourself at this point, make sure they know that too.

In case your mind tries to manipulate you: No, you’re not being overly dramatic, you’re not an attention-seeker for asking for help.

That’s what two of my friends received from me in October 2020. The only thing I wasn’t doing was snapping at others because I didn’t have enough life energy left in me.

#3 Limit the time you spend on social media

Or get off it entirely for a few weeks.

Keep only those apps that allow you to stay in touch with people you need and who support you.

If these are the apps that also harm your mental health, ask the people you want to stay in touch with if you could use WhatsApp or Signal instead.

I’m skeptical about sharing and watching content on social media.

I know that watching colorful videos full of happy faces gives a serotonin boost for a minute; reading uplifting self-help posts does too.

What sucks is that after that minute, you’re left on your own with harmful comparisons and self-pity.

It’s too short of exposure for your brain to get something actually beneficial out of it.

That’s why it’s better to spend time reading books or listening to podcasts that give more specific and elaborated tips on coping.

#4 One thing at a time

While the internet can provide some handy tips on coping, it also feeds your brain with massive overstimulation and over-information.

Too much information from too many sources at once can be very quickly overwhelming and lead to decision fatigue, so try to focus on one thing at a time.

I know it’s hard when your mind is in constant panic mode— but possibly you can pick a book and tell yourself that you’re only sourcing tips and help from that one place until you finish reading it (no other articles, no IG reels, no youtube videos, etc.).

Once you’re done, you can move to another source.

Approaching it this way will take some load off your mind and give you a better sense of progress.

#5 Try meditating

I say try — not meditate, because you really don’t need any more tasks when you feel terrible.

I used to meditate with an app called 1 Giant Mind.

It guides you through the whole learning process step-by-step in an easy and approachable way.

It’s free, and after each session, you can watch helpful videos that will likely answer any of your doubts about the practice.

Other apps I also like using are Insight Timer (great guided meditations) and Enso (a simple meditation timer with a ‘ding’).

I used to meditate up to 3 times a day when things were getting really hard, and it was helping.

#6 Journal

Letters to a person you wish you could contact but can’t, thought dumps, describing your feelings, throwing questions, ranting — anything and everything troubling your mind atm.

Write as little and as much as you feel like. Don’t worry about grammar and other shit.

It works because thoughts in our minds are like a net. Being interlinked, they jump from one to another all the time.

If we’re not controlling it, they can start jumping around like crazy, and all you know is utter chaos.

When writing, we’re enforcing a linear thought order on our minds, a more demanding way of organising thoughts.

That way, your mind is gently put to work and has to grab all scattered thoughts to make sense of them.

Even if you don’t find any new answers, you will likely feel like your mind has emptied.

If you’re an overthinker like me, I guess you can see a massive benefit of it by now.

#7 Allow yourself to cry and feel the emotions

As scary as it can be, try letting in emotions bit by bit. It’s important not to suppress them and allow them to surface.

They will pass once the energy load they carry runs out.

If handling everything at once feels too much, try dosing it.

If you need to cry, let the tears flow. It’s cleansing.

#8 Try doing something that gives you a little sense of accomplishment

It can be reading a chapter in a book, making your bed, cleaning a part of your room, cooking, ironing a few pieces of clothing, rearranging the apartment, learning something that you’re curious about, smiling at a stranger, or teaching your pet a new trick.

Small things count.

Doing that will give you a serotonin boost and a sense of progression.

You will be surprised how it can gently but surely boost your mood.

(That’s a tip I got from one of my previous therapists).

#9 Leave good notes to yourself

On the better days, write small notes to yourself in your journal or on the sticky notes you will leave around your place.

This way, on the worse day, you will be reminded that this strong and wise person is still in you, even if you don’t see it at the moment.

It can be anything that you found helpful, a pat-on-the-shoulder note, inspiring quotes, lessons from a book you read, etc.

#10 Try avoiding reality distractions and external narratives

Watching cute animals on SM is fine (to some extent).

Drinking yourself to blackout — not so much.

When things were really dark for me, I limited social drinking, and I’d stay out only as long as it felt comfortable (even if I felt lonely and the urge to get some warmth from others was tremendous).

I also stopped watching movies, listening to music, and reading novels for nearly two years.

I knew I needed to eliminate external narratives to make room for my own to start rebuilding.

You don’t have to go that far. Consider having at least breaks from absorbing external stimuli so your brain can rest and recover.

#11 Books

Binge-reading was my way of stopping overthinking and anxiety.

Below is the list of books that helped me the most. I recommend them to anyone asking me for advice on dealing with depression.

The order in which I list the books is intentional, and I’d recommend following it. But of course, you do you!

  1. Man’s Search For Meaning — Viktor Frankl
  2. The Will to Meaning — Viktor Frankl

These two were recommended to me by the therapist. I had only one session with him because I couldn’t afford more. I asked what can I do to help myself, and he gave me these two titles.

That was also the first person who told me how to meditate.

3. Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender — David R. Hawkins

That one brought a big shift for me. It’s my holy grail of mind-survival books.

4. Power vs. Force — David R. Hawkins

5. The Power of Now — Eckhart Tolle

The things I learned from this one saved me during my worst panic attack when I thought I was dying.

6. The Untethered Soul. The Journey Beyond Yourself — Michael A. Singer

I’d like to add one more point:

#0 Consider signing up for therapy anyway

I know this story is all about things you can do when you can’t afford therapy, but please hear me out.

You can’t afford weekly sessions atm, but perhaps a monthly session is something within your reach?

It’s still better than nothing.

That’s what I did, too, when I didn’t have enough money.

You can note everything happening between the meetings and count the days to the next appointment.

It gives you something to look forward to, and once you start feeling better, you will be able to provide better for yourself and increase the frequency of meetings.

Often therapists allow emergency calls out of schedule. You can discuss it so you feel more secure.

Save up for the next session, cut off unnecessary spending. I’d say no to many things just to be able to afford therapy. With every meeting, you’ll be growing stronger and stronger, and soon enough you won’t need to be so rigid with money.For now, though, consider committing to that single goal.

Summary

I genuinely hope that you will find some of these things helpful.

I know how dark and brutal it gets, but please don’t give up.

Things can and will get better.

You are stronger than you think. You really are.

Take life day by day, and if it feels unbearable, take it hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second.

You only need to survive today. Keep repeating that.

And remember, if things are getting out of hand, there are emergency lines you can call.

Prepare a list with numbers on a better day and keep it wherever you go. Trust me; you don’t want to be panic-googling when things are bad.

I’m sending a massive hug to you.

It will get better.

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Justyna Cyrankiewicz

Writing about simple things that make up overcomplicated lives.


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