Ten years after I was diagnosed with depression, I finally feel as though I’ve got a handle on it. I’ve accepted the fact that I will never be “cured”. My depression is never going to completely go away. It comes in waves, sometimes disappearing for months at a time and then crashing into me. Although I can’t stop the waves from coming, I’ve gotten better at managing them. Through trial and error I’ve figured out what I need to do to stop myself backsliding too far when a depressive episode hits.
I’ve come up with my own personal “depression checklist”. These are the things I know I need to do when a depressive episode hits. These things make the depressive episodes a little easier to bear, and often shorten the duration of the episodes. Some of them are designed to keep me safe, and others are designed to help me heal.
Everyone is different, and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. depression is a sneaky beast. Sometimes a certain technique will work for me most of the time, and other times it barely scrapes the surface. Over the years I’ve built up a kind of “depression toolbox” that’s full of tools I can use when the depression sneaks in. I don’t always need every tool in the box, but it’s handy to have a selection to choose from. The reason I wanted to share this list is to offer these things as suggestions. This is not a must-do checklist. It’s simply a list of tools that you may wish to try to see if they belong in your own toolbox.
So here is is, my Depression Checklist.
- Tell somebody
For a long time I wasn’t very good at noticing when I was beginning to slide into depression. I’d go weeks or even months before I realised why I was feeling so low. Back then I used to feel really ashamed and I didn’t want to tell anyone how I was feeling. I was much more inclined to keep it to myself, which only made me feel more isolated.
I’ve gotten more skilled at noticing the warning signs that I’m starting to slide. And when I notice them, one of the best things I can do is admit to myself that I’m feeling depressed and then tell someone I trust what’s happening. Getting it out in the open makes it more manageable, and sharing it with someone close to me makes me feel less alone. It also helps to keep me safe, because that person can check in with me and help me to get assistance if I need it.
I can sense your eyes rolling at the mention of the word “mindfulness” and I totally get why. It’s often touted as a magical cure for any and all mental health problem. For a long time I wrote it off as very woo-woo and not super helpful. I had tried meditating a few times and got so frustrated. Trying to make my mind shut up was impossible, and I was convinced that I simply couldn’t do meditation.
And then, about a year ago, someone told me something that changed my entire perspective. They said “meditation isn’t about emptying your mind, it’s about experiencing your mind”. She taught me to accept that my mind wasn’t going to be quiet, that thoughts were always going to come up. She showed me how to simply notice the thoughts as they arose without latching on and following them. Some days I find it easy and some days it’s really hard, but practicing noticing the thoughts and letting them pass through my mind has been so helpful. Not only is it calming, but it’s made me more skilled at noticing what’s going on in my mind and body. When I’m depressed, my body’s signals are dulled, and I don’t always recognise if I’m hungry or cold or achy. Scheduling a ten minute meditation each day helps connect my mind and my body and calms my nervous system.
3. Go outside
When I’m feeling depressed, I want nothing more than to stay at home in my pjs. Leaving the house feels like a gargantuan effort. And even though it’s the last thing I want to do, going out is often the best thing for me. I know that a lack of stimulation can make my depression worse, and push me deeper into lethargy and isolation. I try to get myself out of the house each day, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Even if all I can manage is drinking my coffee on the front porch. On days when I can’t face other people, I try to get up early and go for a walk before the world is buzzing. The fresh air, seeing different things, experiencing the world outside my bedroom is so therapeutic and it really does help me to get back on my feet.
4. Move my body
Exercise is such a powerful tool in my depression arsenal. Again, it’s often one of the hardest ones to put into practice, but it has a huge impact. Getting the blood flowing and my heart pumping increases endorphins which naturally raise your mood. Exercise helps me to get into my body and feel more grounded, which is so important if I’m stuck in my head. My favourite types of exercise when I’m depressed are yoga, walking and dancing. None of them are particularly intense, they don’t need any equipment and I can do just a few minutes if that’s all I can manage. Moving my body helps me to let go of nervous energy and lifts my mood. It can be a real struggle to make a start, but I find that once I’m moving I can keep going.
5. Musical therapy
Music has always been important to me. When I’m feeling low, listening to some of my favourite tunes can help give me a lift. If I’m feeling a bit of sensory overload, putting on my headphones with some soft music can be soothing. And if I want catharsis, I can choose a playlist of emotional songs that I can cry along to. Singing in the shower can be a way to release my emotions and get the energy flowing. I can’t understate how helpful music can be when I’m feeling low. I have a couple of playlists for different occasions and moods that I can just throw on when I need them.
I hope that this list offers you some ideas that might be helpful to you. Once again, these are suggestions only. I really encourage you to give them a try, take what resonates and leave behind what doesn’t.