The news appears dark today, and I am sure it will grow darker still before the dust settles.
Unfortunately, while I write this morning about a particular tragedy, the words will likely be relevant tomorrow, the day after that, and many more days after that.
We live in a world where evil prowls with impunity. We occupy places where justice does not prevail. We endure in environments where equality does not exist. And no matter your level of privilege (or lack thereof), pushing aside this curtain of endless calamities is burdensome, at best. But to find hope amidst the horror? That's downright Herculean when you're also battling the formidable foe that is depression.
Today, you will turn on your TV. You will browse the headlines. You will log into your social media account. You will stand by your work's water cooler. Everywhere you turn, you will be faced with the terrible thing. You will hear repeatedly about the lives lost, the lives forever altered, the lives that may or may not matter.
Under this onslaught, you can't help but soak up the sorrow. Depression will try to drown you in the despair of today. I know. Because I tried to kill myself. And I try to be pretty open about it, because stigma is bad and all that shit, and one of my friends saw me post about my depression and confided in me that her husband suffered from depression and asked how I manage mine.
I spent hours compiling a list. I typed and then deleted and then typed and then deleted. I was sure I was getting the words all wrong. What if my advice did more harm than good? What if something that lifted me up long enough to catch my breath would be the thing that anchored him down?
But I did it. I wrote the list. And now, months later, as we face yet another tragedy that can trigger our depression, I feel that it's finally time to share what's saved me:
1) Tell someone you trust that you are going through this. Tell them that you need their help. Tell them that you need them to hold you accountable to taking the next step.
2) Schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist. One who has been trained in and offers counseling (sometimes called cognitive therapy.)
3) Walk into that doctor's office with the knowledge that this doesn't have to be the one. Think of this consultation as a meet-and-greet. Don't be afraid to INTERVIEW those shrinks. Show up with a list of any question that will help you determine if somebody is worthy of your trust, and ask every single one of those questions.
4) If you don't feel sure about the person, move on to the next. You wouldn't let just any person babysit your kids. Why would you just take the first person that comes along to babysit your feelings if they're not the right person?
5) Once you find the right psychiatrist, actually visit them. Go to that psychiatrist. I'm serious. This is easily the most important part of my recovery, BY FAR. Go often at first. Like, once a week, if you can. You can always taper your sessions as you improve.
6) Do the work. I know this sounds obvious, but the work is what matters. When your psychiatrist asks you questions, really think about them. Don't dismiss things just because they don't initially speak to you. Consider things carefully. Be open to the process.
7) Take the medicine. Depression does not mean you are lacking in character. It means you are lacking in serotonin. And medicine will get it back in your system.
8) But don't take the medicine mindlessly. If you're not feeling better (or, heaven forbid, you're feeling worse), tell your doctor ASAP.
9) Along those lines, tell your doctor everything. Don't conceal information. If you've already vetted this person, if they've proven trustworthy, then you needn't be reluctant to to tell them the things that affect you.
10) Consider keeping a journal. It doesn't have to be a long-form thing. I have an app on my phone, and when something bothers me (i.e. "phone call with Mom"), I type it into the app, and when I see my doctor, I pull up that journal and I address those experiences with him, and he helps me understand why it upset me or what I can do in the future to prevent feeling that way.
11) Ask yourself daily how happy you were on a scale of 1-10. Again, there are apps to do just that. This log will provide concrete data to help you gauge whether or not you're improving.
12) Build a team. This builds on the concept of my first two tips, which were to tell somebody and to have them hold you accountable. For me, this was everything. I crafted a support structure that consisted of my shrink, my husband, my best friend, my sister-in-law, my hypnotherapist, and my blog people.
13) When you build that team, remember not to rely too much on any one person. I say that not because your person don't have your best interests at heart, but because they're too close to be objective and they're not trained for this. Your doctor should be your most concrete resource.
14) For those with life partners, remember that while you don't want to drain your significant other, you also want to keep them in the loop so they know how they can help. Something I found helpful was to call my husband after every single therapy session and tell him the pertinent parts. This way, if I forget something my doctor said, he remembers for me.
15) As much as I hate to admit it, eating better and exercising does help. As does getting sunshine. So, for me, a big boost is getting outside for even a 5 minute walk. Just that breather. Sometimes I take my husband. Sometimes I need the alone time.
16) Meditate. "Peace Is Every Step" by Thich Nhat Hanh is the treatise about how to live in the moment. It sounds simple, but it's more complex than you'd think.
17) Back to meditating. I have an app on my phone (my phone seems to be pretty key, apparently) called InsightTimer. It's free, and it has a ton of meditations on it for any and all situations/emotions. My personal favorite is just 5 minutes long. Length doesn't matter. It's all about having a daily practice that reminds you that you are worth self-care.
18) Speaking of self-care, when I'm depressed, I don't shower. I don't brush my teeth. I don't change my clothes. If you can make yourself, do them all. The big hurdle for me is starting the routine. Once I'm in the shower, then I'm fine, and I have no problem finishing getting ready. But getting myself into that shower? It takes every ounce of willpower I have.
19) Speaking of self-care some more, don't be afraid to tell people how you feel or what you need. Another book I recommend is "Boundaries" by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Yes, they're Christian psychiatrists, but if faith-based theories aren't your thing (and I assure you, they're not mine), don't fret. The base of this book is solid, and you can easily skip the spiritual stuff. This book made a huge difference in how I manage my emotional resources. Learning to say "no" or "not now" is the most freeing thing. It helps me focus on me. And you know what? If I'm not well, then I'm not truly in the best position to help others.
20) Every single night, I tell my husband 5 good things about my day. And then he tells me 5 good things about his day. This is gratitude at it's most basic. Even on my absolute worst days, I can still think of 5 funny or good or kind things that happened. And they can be small things. "I saw a leaf fall from the tree, and it was really pretty, and that moment just was nice." Or "The cat tripped over her own tail and fell in the food bowl." Or, if you're really struggling, go to the very, very basics: "Today was good because I am still breathing."
21) When you determine the source of your depression, address it nightly, alongside your gratitude points. Low self-esteem is the root of all my evils. I feel absolutely worthless most days. I'm not smart enough. I'm not funny enough. I'm not successful enough. I'm not financially stable enough. I'm not pretty enough. I'm not a good enough writer to be published. I'm not enough. That's my Achilles' heel. So, every night, I tell myself something I like about myself. Take time daily to counteract your negative thoughts with relevant, positive affirmations.
22) Be honest. The day that I stopped pretending that everything was okay was the day that I started getting better. I told people I was depressed. I wrote about it (casually, at first) on Facebook. It's like cancer. How are you supposed to get the support you need when you're ashamed of it?
23) Keep your house clean. This may sound trivial, but it's a big deal for me. Clutter upsets me. It makes me feel like things aren't in order. I can't relax when the apartment is a mess. There is study after study after study that shows that clutter and mess can throw off positive brain waves (to completely paraphrase.) When my house is clean, I have to focus on me. And focusing on me is what gets me better.
24) Make a list of things that lift your spirits. My list includes such things as my nieces/nephews, learning something new, writing, reading, my cats, my husband, traveling, trying new things, thrift shopping, art, history, and chatting with friends. And then, every single day, I try to focus on hitting one of those areas. So, for example, when I'm making my to-do list for the next day, I'll write: "Look at pictures of the kids" and "Ping a friend" and "Spend 10 minutes reading on the deck" as action items. You have to have at least 2-3 things DAILY that you enjoy. But you have to identify what really makes you happy in order to do them. On the not-so-fun flip side, make a list of things that make you unhappy. For me, that list includes talking to my family, cooking, not getting ready for the day, and doing stuff for other people before I take care of myself. (BTW, these lists I've included are not exhaustive.) The first thing you do with that list is show it to your doctor. If he/she is any good, they'll help you figure out why you don't like those things. For me, my family is a constant source of stress and guilt (for reasons I won't get into here.) My doctors has helped me recognize WHY they are sources of these emotions. Mindfully minimize the time you spend doing those things that make you unhappy. I now ration my phone calls with my family. Instead of talking to my parents daily, I talk to them two times a week (of course, this is flexible and can be changed if the situation demands.)
25) Forgive yourself. Give yourself a pass. Every. Single. Day. If you're anything like me, you take the depression thing to heart. You wonder what you did to deserve it. You think you should be better by now. Bullshit. This is like any other disease/injury. Every single day, ask yourself, "Would I say this/feel this if I had broken my arm? Or if I had cancer?" If the answer's no, then recognize that you're emotionally self-harming. For example, if I was crying because my arm was in unspeakable pain, I wouldn't apologize. I'd take the medicine I needed and then rest and recuperate. Same with depression.
And that's my list. That's what I sent my friend for her husband. And maybe it'll help you today. And maybe it won't do you one wee bit of good right now. Because maybe today's tragedy isn't the one that amplifies your mental anguish. But maybe tomorrow's tragedy is the one that leaves you gasping for air, that makes you realize that it's not normal to internalize this pain as intensely as you do, that reveals to you that you need to start a journey that brings you out of this unnatural darkness. And then, maybe on that day, you'll want a nudge in the general direction of healing.
Please, when it comes to this, when it comes to grief, when it comes to depression, when it comes to the self-care we need to employ to overcome whatever bad thing we are facing today, we can't afford to bury our heads in the sand.
Be well, my friends. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
True story: Life would be super swell if we all embraced our OMG side instead of living a Facebook-friendly existence. So, let it out. What are your tips for coping with depression? What are the things that have helped you survive? What do you do when faced with a huge joy suck like the high-profile shootings this week? Do you avoid the Internet entirely? Or do you take an extra few minutes to meditate? Feel free to disclose details. You're safe here.