I want to preface this by saying – not all depression is created equal. When I was in my early 20s, no amount of helpful advice was actually helpful. My depression was like a never-ending monsoon. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to manage my depression much better, to the point where I can go months, almost an entire year, without feeling depressed at all.
When I do enter a period of depression it hits hard and fast and is usually triggered by an outside source, though not always.
The last time I was depressed I slept for almost two days. When I wasn’t sleeping I was laying in bed crying. Or in the shower crying. Or eating, while thinking about crying. I felt despair so intense that it scared me. It’s weird because when you go months or a year with your mood being pretty steady with a few dips here and there when you fall into that pit of depression it’s terrifying. You forget how all-encompassing it is. You forget all of the things your brain tells you that make you feel hopeless.
With at this point, 20 years of depression, I can fight my way out of it. I know that doesn’t work for everyone, it wouldn’t have worked for me a decade ago, but sometimes I’m able to do the things that pull me out of it.
And that’s the sometimes impossible part – finding the will.
When people tell you that if you get outside, or exercise, or eat right to help fight depression they’re not exactly wrong but it’s way too simplified. Sometimes and for some people depression is triggered by outside events. For others it’s hormonal, a side-effect of medication, neurological, or systematic. Often it’s a combination. (Check out the Biopsychosocial Model for Mental Health which shows how many factors actually contribute to mental health).
So yes, it’s great to do all the things to make yourself feel better but it’s hard to find the energy/will/motivation to do those things – so the cycle repeats.
But I’ve been able to make myself try.
I make a to-do list. A very specific to-do list. “Get out of bed. Take a shower. Put on clean pajamas. Get something to drink.” Everything I want/need to do in my day.
I start small. Small is usually listening to a comforting song while I’m in the shower instead of the sad songs that will make me cry more.
Sometimes I finish about 50% of the list. But even if it’s only half – I feel just a little bit better because it shows I’ve made some progress. I love seeing things checked off that list. (I use Trello, it’s the same platform I use for Choose Your Own Self-Care Adventure)
But the next day, depression feels like it’s lifted a little bit.
So I start the process all over again. Trying to do things that make me feel marginally better and having success sometimes and not much others.
Making this list helps.
x Sleep: Just not in huge quantities. I set multiple alarms and try to force myself up.
x Journal: It’s a non-judgmental way to sort out my feelings
x Talk About It: Depression thrives on silence and no one else knowing what you’re going through. Talking about it helps remind you that you aren’t alone.
x Read: Reading helps my brain escape into more pleasant places. At least temporarily.
x Adjust My Routine: I can’t do the things I normally do and deal with depression at the same time. Less pressure means more time to heal.
x Sit Outside: Fresh air reminds me the world is big and this too shall pass.
x Have a Long Shower: With not-sad music. It’s relaxing and listening to something comforting/soothing can wiggle its way into your heart.
x Try to Meditate: I love the PC game Playne. It’s an awesome way to meditate and easily see your progress.
x Cry: Because sometimes you need to cry – just not all day.
x Eat: But not everything in my house because over-eating never really helps me feel better.
x Watch a Comfort Show: Golden Girls is my go-to because it reminds me of my childhood and makes me laugh.
x Make a To-Do List: Put basic things too.
x Tidy my Room: Even clearing off my nightstand feels like a major accomplishment
x Cuddle my Pets: Because they’re cute and cuddly and love me no matter what
x Find Something Funny: This is why Golden Girls is my go-to. Laughing helps.
x Play a Game: I play a lot of mindless games. It’s better than lying in bed doing nothing.
x Create Art: Like writing this. Or doodling something. It’s a different way of speaking.
What do you need when you’re dealing with depression?
*Also don’t be afraid to reach out for help! Therapy helps! Meds can help! Talking to someone can help.
The National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
The NAMI HelpLine 800-950-NAMI (6264)
Crisis Text Line | Text HOME To 741741
LGBTQ+ Trevor Project 1-866-488-7386