Coping with depression

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

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?

43 comments :

  1. Very good Deborah and I thank you for sharing from your heart and life on this subject.

    Love, hugs & prayers ~ FlowerLady

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  2. This is a beautiful list, Deborah. Thank you for sharing this hard thing here in your blog. Although I don't deal with depression per se, these are lovely ways to create beautiful moments in any life.

    Wishing you His grace for the journey...
    Brenda
    xox

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  3. I have been fortunate not to have suffered with a depression disorder and for that I thankful but my heart goes out to those that do. I appreciate your candid courage to put this out there...you may never know how many you are helping. The things you listed are ALL great and wonderful things...most of them are things that we should be doing anyway, right! Thank you for sharing your heart with us and if I was knitting those socks, I would leave the toes out of them. LOL! My feet get hot :)

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  4. Nodding with you here. Christians can be some of the worst people when it comes to any sort of a problem because they think they know all the answers and it is true that The Answer is in the cross, but clinical depression is no cake-walk. Gosh a lot of Bible characters were depressed. God doesn't seem to get alarmed about it. Some depressed people are the most courageous folks I know. I think you can help a lot of folks, Deborah, as The Lord leads.

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  5. My goodness Deborah - I feel that you wrote this just for me! I too have had the "black dog" snapping at my heels for so much of my life (now 66). I have also ceased long term medication this year due to horrible side effects and your wonderful words have given me such a boost and reminder of what helps. Thank you and Peace be with you. Looking forward to further blogs.
    SueH in Australia

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  6. Such a wonderful, wonderful post. Thank you for writing it. Every word resonates with me.

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  7. I am opposite of you, Deborah. I coped (or, rather, didn't cope) with depression for years without meds. Just last November I got on them, and my world is completely different. Quite honestly, I think I would be dead without them.

    We spent many years in a church that used to preach regularly that "there is no such thing as mental illness, that it is just sin in the life of a believer." In fact, that teaching is among their "what we believe" items on their website. Of course, since there is no such thing as mental illness, there is no reason to take meds. Those in the congregation on meds were encouraged to go off "cold turkey." Many did, some with disastrous consequences.

    Thankfully, we were set free from that teaching, and we now attend a different church, where medication is not "sinful," and where I find encouragement from others who also walk the path of depression.

    Blessings,
    Patti

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    1. Patti, that is appalling. Thankful that you got away from that. Medication saved my life, too; I struggled with depression for years before getting help, unfortunately partly because of that kind of thinking. I will not hesitate to go on meds again if I need to.

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  8. Hello Deborah, I must say that you are doing a favor for many people men and women and even some children that deal with this very hard thing. Almost everyone has a had a bout of depression, but what you have described is a real health issue, not all in your head as some like to look at it this way. I think your approach is a very powerful tool! And as Vee said many people in the Bible seemed to deal with some form of depression also. Being open about it can be good, but I think being cautious of who and where we share this information is a must. But even if you need medication to truly enjoy your life is the way to go in my opinion. But you are very strong and have wisdom so you will walk and not stop doing what is best for you and yours. Much love, Roxy

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  9. I so appreciate your willingness to share. I think any of us would benefit from the info you shared here. I will be praying for you, especially during these dull weather months coming up. I have no doubt that the Lord will use you in a mighty way. Hugs.

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  10. I applaud you for sharing something very personal with us, Deborah, and on top of that, discussing what helps you in living with depression from day to day. I think we are all learning to be a bit more open about mental illness, especially we women, but where, when and how (outside of a therapist or doctor's office) to open up is still difficult to determine. People like you who are open and courageous make it easier and are forging a path.

    I hope being off the meds continues to work for you. Who really wants the worry or side effects? For me they work. I've gone down and up. I think I know I'll probably always need them. Still, it's 5% meds and 95% hard work to enjoy and embrace every single day!

    jane x

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  11. I am blessed that I don't have this problem but I am more than aware of some of its outcomes, having my sweet young nephew take his own life recently. We are still struggling to come to terms with it. I applaud you for writing this post today and urge others to write about it too. The stigma attached to depression would be lifted and more could be done to help those that suffer. You are a very brave and well loved woman.

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  12. Good Morning Deborah, I wanted to say how brave you are to share your story. I really feel that by having the courage to tell your story, you will be helping so many people who suffer with depression.
    Someone I know suffers with depression and she just will not talk about it. Only a few of her family members know about the depression.
    I am going to ask her to read your post to help her understand that she is not alone.
    Thank you so much for your honesty.
    By the way, I love your socks.... they are fabulous.
    Best wishes to you.
    Daphne

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  13. This is a wonderful post, Deborah, full of practical wisdom. Someone I know has suffered with depression and it is a wretched thing. Thank you for sharing your story. I agree with Brenda that many of these suggestions are great, not only for coping with depression, but for living intentionally.
    Hugs.

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  14. What a beautifully written and heartfelt post, dearest Deborah. I really do think you should write more on this subject, and it could be your mission and the start of a new book. I admire you for sharing what has worked gand not worked for you. You are beautiful inside and out and your words shine forth. I am reading the Mayo Clinic Handbook on Happiness right now, and gratitude is right up there in having a happy life, among other things. God bless you, sweet friend.

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  15. P. S. Great job on those socks...they're gorgeous!!!

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  16. Deborah, I too applaud your writing this to pass on what you've learned. Of course, post more but I'm super impressed with this beginning list and will print it out as there is much wisdom there. One thing that kept me going this summer was that two dear blog friends listened to me constantly, never making me feel foolish, always being compassionate, which ties in to your last caveat.

    In my devotional book the other day they dealt with depression and talked about how just loving and accepting someone who struggles with this is often the very best thing a person can do to help.

    Blessings and a hug to you, beautiful Deborah,
    Dewena

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  17. Thank you for this post! I needed this since I just restarted taking antidepressants. I had been off of medication for 3 years but felt myself slipping into a "dark hole." Please write more on the subject.

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  18. Excellent post! Depression is like drowning when everyone around you is enjoying the swim. It takes a lot of effort to beat it, however natural solutions can be really helpful. For those having difficulties with depression, I highly recommend the http://destroydepression.com/info.html system. Written by James Gordon, a major depression sufferer who struggled with his own depression for 3 decades, it teaches 7 natural steps that he implemented to heal himself and has helped thousands, including me.

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  19. Deborah, this was an excellent and beautifully written post. You may never know just how many people you might reach through sharing your own heart and story. Your helpful tips were wonderful! Thank you.
    My mother is going through depression right now after losing dad and I'm going to send her your blog post as I believe your helpful tips may encourage her.
    I believe you should post on this in the future and I know God Wil use you for His glory.
    Your socks are gorgeous!
    What a lovely place you had a picnic at.
    Much love to you

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  20. Hello Deborah, I really admire you for telling us all the truth about what you have been going through. this has been a very helpful post and I love all of your suggestions on trying to cope with this. I hope your situation improves for you. Take care and big hugs. Julie xo

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  21. Bravo to you, Deborah, for sharing your struggles and offering helpful, realistic options for coping with this affliction. I so applaud your honesty. My dear friend suffers with an anxiety-depressive disorder and I have witnessed its ravages over the years. New medication and therapy have recently made a difference. Your suggestions are extremely helpful for all of us when life and its challenges seem overwhelming. I look forward to more of your thoughts. Take care and feel the affection and respect that your followers have for you. Rosie

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  22. It's never easy taking that step to share something personal on our blogs. I applaud you for sharing what you've been dealing with and most importantly these helpful tips for someone suffering with this disease. I think sharing more on this topic would not only help those who suffer from depression, but also help those who are ignorant of what a depressed person goes through. A little enlightenment can go a long way. Best of luck in keeping off the meds and staying in a happier place. Hugs to you!
    Wendy
    PS socks look incredible and make me (for the millionth time) want to knit a pair myself ;)

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  23. Clinical depression is a real thing and needs to be talked about openly. I have a family member who has dealt with it most of her adult life but she does well on medications. Knowledge is power. To family members, learn all you can and then be supportive.

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  24. Thank you for the informative post, Deborah. I agree with the other comments that this important topic is worthy of a series.

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  25. I am so proud of you and your courage. If more people talk about these things it would be so healing for so many. God bless you, Martha

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  26. Blessings to you Deborah for being so transparent and honest in this disease and ways you've found to deal with it. It is so hard that many in churches are so quick to judge, point out, offer advice etc; while I haven't had to deal with this issue, I've been married to an unbeliever for 38 yrs and have found many of the same bits of advice thrown at me-which doesn't help at all. Many times, the very best thing is to hug someone going through a trial and tell them we love them and are praying for them. I know many will be touched by this post.
    God Bless you.
    Noreen

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  27. Deborah this is a wonderful list and even for folks that don't struggle with deep or constant depression but have it off and on ( LIKE AT 5:30 This Week When it is Dark Already! ) it is helpful.
    Girl you have some mean knitting skills..that sock project is beautiful!!

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  28. I didn't realize you struggle with this, Deborah, but know that I empathize with you. My father suffered clinical depression, and I have extended family members who have suffered very severe cases of bipolar depression. While I have only had a few instances of fleeting, situational depression, I know it can take a toll, both mentally and physically from seeing those around me. Your path to wellness is solid, and I endorse all of it! Btw, your socks are absolutely adorable! When you said you were knitting socks, I never dreamed they'd be so intricate in pattern and color! You go, girl!

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  29. Deborah,
    This really is a discussion we need to have more often....and it is so well written. Nearly everyone knows someone (or is that someone) or has a family member who suffers from depression. These are all great tips that we can pass on to our loved ones. I agree that it is often difficult to hear someone diminish your feelings/illness with thoughtless remarks. Gratitude and prayer is important in any struggle with chronic illness....you are both brave and strong for sharing your struggle with us. We all struggle with something....and I love those socks! Sending hugs to you,
    Linda

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  30. Hi Deborah, what a beautiful post sharing your heart on a delicate subject. We all know someone suffering from depression in some way. It is a real disease and it's time it be viewed this way. Your thoughts on Gratitude and thankfulness to deal with depression are excellent. Thank you for sharing. I think you should really write more on this subject.
    Your socks looks fabulous. You really are doing a wonderful job. Love the color.
    Have a nice weekend. Blessings. xo

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  31. You are brave to admit on your blog that you have a problem with depression and you have done well to be under a doctor's supervision to do the right things. I think depression touches us all at some point in our life, more so for some like yourself and you've given some good ideas to consider for self help.

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  32. Hi Deborah,
    It must of been very difficult to share this personal aspect of your life. I appreciate it very much that you did. I wish you the best in your dealing with this struggle. You impress me as a positive individual and what you are doing to help yourself is certainly an encouragement to those who are sharing the same struggle.
    Keep up the good work and yes, you definitely should write more about this subject.
    Please consider yourself hugged. I will keep you in my prayers Deborah. I really enjoy reading your blog. I so look forward to your posts. Take good care of yourself and let your family share this aspect of your life. God Bless you always.

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  33. Sweetest Deborah, what a beautiful inspiration you are! Thank you for opening yourself up with us, your blogging friend, and other people that will read your post....YOU are being quite the encouragement and testimony to many.

    I appreciated what you had to say and the helpful tips. I am truly amazed at what exercise can do for one....there are times when I am tired and have no energy {I mean none!}, but when I workout I feel alive and I get through my day with energy and excitement.

    You are such a precious lady and I am very thankful for you. Remembering you in my prayers, dear one. Much love to you!

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  34. Deborah,
    I love your blog, but not being part of the blogging community, I have never commented before. However I just had to comment today. I do suffer from anxiety and panic and my doctor recently prescribed antidepressants because he felt I needed just a little help. I have never thought of myself as depressed because I do not feel helpless or hopeless. However, I have noticed now for some time that I don't do the things I used to do and I often have to force myself to do many things. Unfortunately after reading the side effects of the antidepressants, I chose not to take them and I'm not sure that is the right choice. Strangely I do take medication on the rare occasion that I feel I need help with panic but I'm apprehensive to take an antidepressant. Your post today brought tears to my eyes and I truly hope you will continue the conversation. Thank you.
    Susan

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  35. Please DO continue to write on this subject. For years I was tough, trying hard not to be "depressed" like some members of my family - they could hurt me so much with their acts and words and then just walk away - saying they were depressed and that was why - I NEVER wanted to be like them! I can't understand hurting other people deliberately, when you are feeling so miserable yourself - I tend to withdraw completely. But had a nice doctor who said sometimes we just need some help. Having experienced panic attacks among other symptoms for the first time in my life in my late 40s was not good and so I took up the pills. Like you, I came off my medication this year. But after three horrific months (I have a very stressful job which doesn't help), I made the decision to go back on them and I am not ashamed. I am lucky to have an absolutely wonderful, supportive husband. And have just found out that two of my friends are on medication - something I never was aware of. But if that is what it takes for some of us, then that is what it takes. I don't believe in being a bleeding heart and telling everyone your problems, nor constant navel gazing feeling sorry for yourself. I just want to live my life to the absolute best of my ability, without hurting anyone else, or myself! Love and prayers to you and your family. I am sure your words will touch many people (Christian and otherwise!)

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  36. Deborah, thank you for writing about this. I've known a number of people with depression and can see that it is very difficult to deal with. Your post (and when you can do it, your series) will no doubt help a lot of people. Your practical suggestions, as well as your encouragement, will make a difference to more people than you'll ever know of.

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  37. Yep... I think your voice needs to be heard on this topic My Friend.
    This is a HUGE one and I applaud you for doing this.
    I have a couple of close family members who struggle with this disease as well and it IS so misunderstood.
    Also, I understand only too well what it's like to be judged by our fellow believers for taking the medications we need instead of "walking in our healing". If I had a dime for the many times I've been told that one...
    These are illnesses and not of our own choosing. We must get whatever help is required. Your insightful blogging about this illness could be a lifeline for so many people. God has His hand on you...
    I am praying for you,
    Danette

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  38. Deborah I missed this post somehow and want you to know how valuable these tips are for all of us, even those who are not depressed can use them.
    Sounds to me like you are very wise and know what you need to do to be proactive about your mental health and wellness.
    Wishing you continued success on your journey.

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  39. Dearest Deborah,
    Well, as I was off blogging for a while, I also got way behind blog reading but so glad I came back to this one.
    Kudos for your courage and you really have something to share, that might safe lives; who knows?
    I've never been depressed in such a way that I needed medication but at times yes, I feel down. Like this time coming home from my 66th trip abroad to visit my Dad. It hit me only after returning that this was it, Mom was no longer there like during my previous trips. Weird, but the physical fact that she was no longer home kind of had me digest my grief for its final stage. All my siblings, including my Dad, they were all together but I had to do it all on my own. That can weigh you down in a big way but I'm out of it! Some things in life started looking better and there is hope again for the future.
    My blood work came back being positive, as my primary care doctor told me. I've not yet visited my nephrologist as they changed the appointment to the 30th but I learned that my kidneys had improved. I was over the moon with that news. Didn't even know this was possible. It has shown me also that my lifestyle choice is the right one. Deleting toxic people from my life and focussing on positive things and positive friends that do care. Like you too have learned, the physical exercise is a MUST and we both bike almost every day or there has to be something that prevents us from doing so. It makes all the difference. My sleep is more tight, even with regular bathroom stops as I have to drink plenty of water; which I do.
    No coffee after breakfast, I've really cut it out and that helped me a lot.
    Starting projects, like your knitting, is a great way for feeling satisfaction.
    You did an outstanding job, and even more so since this is your first pair!
    I will soon be completing a very special project that I've worked out and finally we found all the materials at Holly Hobby this past Friday, while in north Atlanta. We did spend the night at the Hyatt Place and we have to do this more often. The traffic is bad through Atlanta and around it, so doing the trip in one day wears me out. Pieter is not longer good at driving in big cities or heavy traffic so it comes all down onto me. But this is relaxed and by making a combination of things we both can enjoy it. Cats are easy for a one night leave, they don't need their cat sitter. They only live on dry food for once...
    Sending you hugs and oh, do I enjoy this singing as a 1st soprano. It was not easy as I'd missed rehearsals while going to the wedding in France and to visit friends and family. But I managed to learn it all (almost all...) by heart and also the dancing steps to it. Two performances done and three more to come.
    Blessings,
    Mariette

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  40. Good morning! I don't remember how I came across your blog but I just found it and am now subscribed! Thank you so much for this beautiful post....it is so helpful and encouraging. Sometimes it is helpful to know that we are not alone and others are going through the same feelings and situation. Thanks again for writing this sweet and helpful post.

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  41. Thank you for writing this! I myself do not suffer from depression, but my beautiful 22 year old daughter does. She is refusing to go on medication and in fact has not been to see her therapist for months. I plan to print this list as she may listen to someone who has lived it (instead of mom who knows nothing). I have not found a way to encourage her to get the help I know she needs so I am taking baby steps. Thank you again for sharing.

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