I have wanted for a long time to do a series of blog posts on depression, and how I have coped (or not) with it through my life. It's not something I could have written about even five years ago, and even now is difficult to share.
But because I am in the middle of a 50, 000-word novel writing project for the month of November (NaNoWriMo), I don't have the time to do the series right now. Maybe after the holidays.
But for now, I just want to share a few ways I am trying to cope with a depressive illness. It is particularly important right now for me as I have, in the past few months, gone off anti-depressant medication, medication I have been on for the past eight years since I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder.
It is important for me to monitor myself closely (and under a doctor's supervision). The jury's still out as to whether or not I will go back on meds. My mood has definitely ratcheted down a few notches, but I have lots of really good days, and so far I'm doing okay.
Lots more info to follow if you are interested. I have loads to say regarding the stigma surrounding mental health, attitudes toward medication, unhelpful comments from people of faith, and more. (In fact, I think I could write 50, 000 words on this rather than agonizing over a novel where my characters are refusing to do what I want them to do!)
So, here is a list I have made for myself to check off each day in order to keep my mood as stable as possible. I share in hopes that maybe it will be helpful to someone reading this.
1. Exercise. Every day. I hate it and have to drag myself kicking and screaming to do it, but if there is a Magic Bullet for depression (non-pharmaceutical), this has been proven over and over to be it. Saturday I missed my Zumba class, but I worked up a good sweat vacuuming and mopping. Another day I raked for an hour. Most days I'm down on the treadmill. Sometimes I just dance by myself in the kitchen! Whatever works.
2. Omega-3s. Especially those blends having lots of DHA. I'm trying to get around 1, 500 to 2, 000 mg per day of DHA in the mix.
3. A light box. I've been using one of these for years. Every morning, for about 45 minutes, from September to May. This is especially important in cold, cloudy northern climates. We can go weeks in Michigan in the winter with no sunshine. It can depress anyone, but especially those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
4. Get outside. Not hard at all right now, with the beautiful weather we've been having. But even a little fresh air in the depths of winter is a mood booster.
|We enjoyed a picnic here on Saturday.|
5. No caffeine. I've given it up before, but I'm going on six months or so without, and I think it's now the new normal. It helps with my sleep to be caffeine free and also with the anxiety that accompanies my depression.
6. Low sugar intake. Um, still working on this. I know I will just feel better all around if I can minimize the sweets. (I didn't say eliminate; that would be too depressing!)
7. Good protein and fats. When you're depressed and it's cold outside, nothing spells comfort more than carbohydrates. Bread, potatoes, pasta . . . but I have to remind myself that some good protein and fat will make me feel lots better.
Here are a few other things I've come up with over the years.
1. Do something kind for someone every day. It's easy to withdraw and become wrapped up in myself when I'm not feeling well. I try to look for opportunities to do something for someone else; it helps them out, but really, it blesses me even more, and can lift me out of a spiraling downward cycle.
2. Do something creative. One of the hallmarks of depression is that it can leave you feeling like a failure. It's wonderful how just the process of creating something of beauty can remind you that you are a competent person with something to offer. Whether it's whipping up a special dish or knitting a sock, it is definitely therapeutic.
|I finished the toe today -- my first sock! After several frustrating attempts, I did it!!|
3. Cry. Sometimes you just have to sit and have a good cry. There's a chemical that's released in tears that is actually healing.
4. Divert and distract. I used to feel that I needed to analyze my feelings whenever I was depressed. This is very helpful to do at some point, and I would advise doing it, notebook and pen in hand. And with a trained professional, if needed. But sometimes in the middle of a depressive episode, you can just be spinning your wheels and spiraling further downward if you try to analyze it all. I've discovered that I need to just shelve all the stuff; it will still be there later. Now's the time to watch an episode of I Love Lucy or a cheesy Hallmark movie. Anything that will take you out of yourself for a while. I don't recommend taking a bath or doing any of those nice self-care rituals that still give you time to think at this point; you want to find an activity where you aren't able to still ruminate on things.
5. Challenge your thinking. The old messages, the old tape, the old story. This is a huge one. You may need professional help. Don't be afraid to get it. You're not embarrassed to go to the dentist or the doctor or the hairdresser on a regular basis. Your mental health deserves the same kind of attention! (Just be sure to get someone good; like anything else, do your homework before trusting someone with your health.)
6. Think of 10 things to be grateful for. I started doing this years ago. It doesn't fix things, but it does help keep things in a little bit better perspective. And there's always something to be thankful for, no matter how bleak. I avoid listing broad categories of things to be thankful for like family, food, health, etc., and instead concentrate on small blessings right around me. Over the years I think this has helped me to more truly open my eyes to all that the Lord has given me.
Let's say you're slumped over the kitchen table, feeling blue and wondering whether you're even making a difference anywhere. Lots of things have been going wrong lately, and you're discouraged. A start might be to take a breath and say to yourself, as I have many, many times over the years, "okay, ten things . . . " and then you look around and think:
I have a hot cup of tea in a pretty china cup to drink
The chickadees at the bird feeder are so cheerful
There's dinner cooking in the crockpot
I got a text from a friend this morning
I'm wearing a cozy warm sweater
The kitty lying in a patch of sunshine makes me smile
My son called me last night
I overheard my husband compliment me yesterday
There's gas in my car for when I go out later
The colors of the trees outside are beautiful
I can easily get to listing 30 or more blessings when I get started. There's always something beautiful to notice.
7. Pray. And trust that you are loved no matter how you feel about yourself. Read passages of Scripture that remind you of your worth. Read the Psalms. David was often depressed and yet he was "a man after God's own heart." Don't believe the lie that you are depressed because you aren't a good enough Christian! I could write a book on this one.
One caveat, and this is something I hope to write more about. This list is meant to help me try to stay balanced. Sometimes we can do all we can to try to take care of ourselves and it isn't enough. That's when professional help and medication can be invaluable. Don't neglect getting help if you need it. And for those of you who don't suffer from clinical depression, I'm sorry, but this isn't like one of your down days. Don't tell your friend or family member to "look on the bright side," etc. That only makes them feel more of a failure. Understand that your loved one is dealing with an illness, just like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. A simple "cheer up" isn't going to cut it. The best thing you can do is just listen and love.
Well, I'm getting on to a whole other topic.
What do you think -- would you like me to blog more about this?