Giant’s Causeway, Ireland, June 2011
When anxiety and depression shatter your life, you lose all sense of direction. Last month, I hardly registered it was October. I barely noticed Thanksgiving and Halloween. Making sense of my day has been one of the difficult tasks of my healing process. When I was at rock bottom, unable to sleep, eat, or even think, filling my day was an awful process. Now that I’ve started to gain back a bit of myself and my energy, it’s a little easier, but it’s still a struggle. I never thought that just getting through a day would be so difficult. There were times, in the past, when I had a day off and I’d get a little bored and restless, especially in the afternoon. But nothing like this.
Here is what I’ve figured out through trial and error works for me.
Plan for the day – somewhat
Confession – I don’t usually jump out of bed the moment consciousness hits. That was never my thing, and it just doesn’t work for me. The trick for me is not to use the 15-20 minutes I usually take before getting up not to ruminate or obsess over the nightmares I’ve had. Instead, I’m using the time to think about my day and things I could do or accomplish.
Depression gives me brain fog, so I’ve started making lists: lists of things to do at work, and lists of things to do at home. That way if I’m sitting there stumped about what I should do next (and I often am), I can look at the list and pick something – anything – from it. It’s especially helpful when you lose track of the days to remind yourself to buy a birthday present for someone or pay your credit card bill.
Get out of bed
I talked about this in my last post, but getting out of bed is 90% of the struggle of my day. At this stage I still feel like every minute of the day I am just eager for it to be bedtime when I can get back in and relax into oblivion. That feels awful to say when life is so short, but it feels true right now.
Get ready for the day
Easier said than done, right? This is especially hard when I don’t even know what my plans for the day are going to be (ie, not a workday). But there’s something about just taking a shower and brushing your teeth that makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something.
I’m actually learning to appreciate this part of my day more. Before, when I was stressed to the max, I would grumble about the time it took me to do my hair, put my makeup on and pick out an outfit.
Now, my life has slowed to a snail’s pace. I’m not sure if it’s a feature of depression, or some bodily-imposed backlash against years of stress, but I’m finding I can’t hurry or rush anything anymore. I’m physically incapable of it. So I’m starting to cherish the structure I’m getting out of my morning routine. As I’m searching for my identity, I like styling the longer hair I’m growing out, taking time to carefully apply my make-up and choosing outfits that reflect my sense of style. Dress for the life you want even if it’s not the life you have, right?
I’m not going to be some health guru who tells you to eat a raw vegan diet to heal your anxiety and depression. That would make me 1) a hypocrite and 2) annoying. I don’t have to tell you that eating crap all day will probably make you feel like crap. But I do think you need to eat regularly. When I couldn’t eat anything at all, I subsisted off Ensure, bananas and a daily Flinstones vitamin. Eat what you can manage. However, when you’re confused and can’t make decisions, it doesn’t hurt to have easy fruits and veggies around, like baby carrots and apples. I am like a bear when I get hungry, so I eat pretty regularly. Lately I have been craving a lot of carbs, so I’ve had a lot of bread. There will be times when you just want to veg with some chips in front of the TV. If it makes you feel good, go for it and don’t feel bad.
Again, I’m not some fitness boot camp trainer. This is a bit easier for me, because it was already part of my regular routine. I’ve talked before about walking, and I still think it’s one of the best and easiest ways to start exercising. I try to do it every day, and I really notice when I lapse. Last week, I was feeling really grumpy, irritable and depressed at work. Out of habit, I grabbed my headphones on my lunch break and went for a walk around the park. Without even trying, I felt my mood life within minutes. Almost all my senses were engaged. I crunched through the leaves, smelled the crisp fall air and felt the music move my feet. I came back to work to face the afternoon in a much better frame of mind.
Engage with others
This is the hard lesson I learned this summer: I cannot isolate myself. I can and must connect to people throughout my day. If I find myself ruminating at work, I am now trying to make conversation with people at work. If I’m ruminating at home, I try to make plans to go out and be with others, meet a friend for coffee, send an email, or call someone. Staying in touch with people is so important for me right now. Even if the only thing I can talk about is how I’m feeling, I’m okay with that. I find once I work through how I’m feeling, my mood starts to life and I’m able to talk about other things.
Maybe you can’t afford therapy. Maybe you don’t want to. Regardless, you can find some exercises online or get some books from the library that will help you figure out what you’re feeling. Personally I’ve found doing my homework exercises extremely beneficial in figuring out just what is going wrong in my life. I’m also learning how to combat negative thinking, which is a crucial part of healing depression.
Now, more than ever, is the time for you to be doing what you enjoy. So many times in the past, I’d say I didn’t have time for fun, or I had too many other more “important” things to do. I was denying what I really wanted to do, which was to write and create art. I’ve started to explore ways to add more of those activities into my life, and they have helped immensely. I think when you’re depressed, you should give yourself permission to just do the things you love to do without making excuses. Even if you don’t feel like it, just pick it up and say you’ll do it for a few minutes. You’ll probably find you want to do it longer than you expected.
Those are my suggestions, but feel free to add yours if you have any!