You’ve seen the commercials where it says depression hurts and then they show people lying in bed and not doing anything or sitting around the house joyless. Those commercials resonated with me when I first saw them one million years ago, because they’re right, getting stuff done when you’re depressed is hard. I’ve had clinical depression (major depressive disorder) with some equally fun mental illnesses for about 18 years and it’s annoying having this stupid illness but I try to not make it a focus of my life. Just like any other illness you put up, shut up and get on with getting stuff done. I’ve got a great family, insanely amazing husband and a supportive Dr. that has always been an advocate for making sure that I’m on the right meds and doing what I need to be better.
There are many, I call them, annoyances with clinical depression but my Achilles heel is the heaviness and the inability to get stuff done when I get a flare-up. Anyone with clinical depression will tell you that the weight you feel is exhausting. Getting the most basic thing accomplished is an absolute nightmare. It takes forever to do anything because it feels like you’re wearing a lead vest, like the one when you get an x-ray, except this lead vest is 1,000 pounds. When you realize that it’s 4pm and you’ve not even been able to put the dishwasher on despite several attempts throughout the day (you’ve managed empty the dishwasher, but only got the top rack filled) there’s the guilt and the disappointment and feeling of utter uselessness.
Having a job when you have a depressive flare-up can be a real killer on your self-esteem. You’re part of a team and want to accomplish everything. When you’re your normal self you’re the typing cat gif getting kids forms filled out and remembering to take them to soccer. Letting your team down isn’t an option because you’re a go-getter, a hard worker and then…. fizzle…you’re staring out the window, staring at your computer screen checking Facebook for the millionth time that day and accomplishing absolutely nothing. The guilt creeps in again. You’re going to get fired, demoted, your co-workers think you’re lazy and bizarrly you justify this! They’re right, you’re late with your work and it’s half-assed at best because your ability to concentrate is at zero.
Me on a good day via GIPHY
Those are the days you wish your depression was something actually people can physically see, like a flu. If you were sniffling and coughing if would be easy for people to see that you weren’t feeling it, you’d be excused from working and it would be ok. Feeling depressed, although has a very physical component to it, can’t be seen like boogers, and you want to press on, move along, get shit done and not let it take over your day/week. The irony isn’t lost on me. I don’t want my depression to take over my life but sometimes it does.
I’m not pretending to have a solution because I don’t. Depression sucks and it’s complicated. I do know that there are things I can do to prepare for a flare-up or try to prevent one. Stress is a major factor in a depression flare up for me, and I’ve had to take a good long look at my career and make the difficult decision to take a step back & slow my life down. I try to make sure that I’m not taking on too much that would cause too much stress, but sometimes life is stressful, especially as a working mom… so I’m working on figuring that out.
In the meantime here are some things I try to do to keep my brain in order or at least survive a depressive episode:
- Tell someone (anyone) that you’re not feeling well. Tell your partner, your mother or your best friend, someone that will understand. Ask for help if you need it. It may feel defeating to ask but do it anyway.
- Accept help!!!!! When people offer help, take it. Let them take the kids to the park, to take a lead in a meeting and give you an hour to have a brain break.
- Say no. Part of simplifying my life and reducing stress is to say no to projects. It’s like the Koni Mari method for your brain. Does this spark joy? If the answer is “Nope”, then sayonara b*tches. Note: This won’t always work when your boss passes you a new project, but the projects that you get to pick and choose, pick and choose wisely.
- Make a list. When you’re feeling depressed things can get overwhelming FAST to the point where you spend more time stressing and less time doing. Make a list of things that need to get done and then break down that list into small pieces. Get cracking on the smallest items on the list, the easiest ones. Then cross those items off your list. Items could include:
Make a list of things that need to get done: ✔️
Have a shower:✔️
Send an email that’s been sitting in your brain:✔️
Little accomplishments are MASSIVE.
- Delete Facebook, candy crush etc. from your phone. This one is SO hard for me, but when I’m not feeling well, Facebook becomes my rabbit hole where I can literally spend hours. When I’ve done nothing but reading Mashable articles, I feel like a pile of garbage as I think about my to-do list. Guilt rises, depression worsens. Facebook is an easy go-to when physically moving is hard, but making yourself better is key. Re-install when you’re feeling better.
- Have a shower when you wake up. As you know, the little things are the most important. Having a shower when you wake sets you up for your day. If you’re hating on yourself all day and can’t getting the littlest thing done, at least you’re clean and smell nice. Bonus points because you’ve accomplished something today.
- Eat, sleep and exercise. Depending on your depression symptoms, eating and sleeping can be hard, either you’re doing neither or you’re doing too much. I sleep too much and eat too little. I haven’t found the magic key to fix this and my exercise regime is barely existent. Don’t hate on yourself too much but, keeping a schedule has kept me partially sane. Get up, shower, eat breakfast. I also have rules like no napping during the day, unless of course, the kids kept me up all night. If I’ve had a full nights sleep (8-9 hours) I don’t need a nap even though my body tells me I do.
- Tell your brain NO. When the bad thoughts come in, tell your brain no, let yourself know you’re doing the best you can. Today sucks but tomorrow will be better, that you’re trying your best (even though it doesn’t feel like it). Negative thoughts will bring you down further. Fake it if you have to. I routinely have to tell myself that I’m doing my best even if I don’t feel what I’m saying is true.
- Write it down. Write down all the feelings and emotions and symptoms, and then be pragmatic. Are you really a horrible person for not getting the T24 report in? Nope. Will it get done eventually? Yes. Will the world explode? Nope (unless you work in a job where you can destroy the planet with a nuclear bomb). These notes are good to bring to your Dr. as well and see if there’s a pattern in your flare-ups.
- Know when you need more help. Be self-aware. Do you need more help? Do you have feelings of self-harm or suicide? It’s time to get more help than telling yourself you can’t have a nap today. Go to the Dr.’s call the helpline, do this before it becomes all-consuming.
This is my account of my life with my depression flare-ups and is absolutely not the same as everyone else. Things that I do to help myself might not work for you because no depression is the same. Make your own lists (all the lists) and know your own limits. Make some tough choices and re-evaluate your values around what’s important to you and what your triggers might be. Try to be kind to yourself, because it’s not just physically exhausting living through a bad patch of depression, it’s tormenting you emotionally too.
If you have any other tips or tricks that you do to get you through a bad patch, let us know! I’d be particularly interested in any and all tricks!
Author: Erin is a mother of 2 and lives in Lethbridge, Alberta and is a reluctant maker of supper (why every night?!!?!) and is thankful that the meds work because they don’t for everyone.