That’s me! Well, it’s not “me”; I’m not defined by depression, but it is a significant part of me that I have to manage the best way that I can.
What’s there to be depressed about?
I can’t decide if this is a fair question, or one that shows a complete ignorance of mental health issues that affect millions of people. On one hand it is a fair question and the answer is “not much”; I have a great home, a great husband, beautiful pet bunnies, a loving family, a fantastic coffee shop down the road, good food all around me, decent clothes… What is there to be depressed about? On the other hand the question is the wrong question because depression often has little to do with current circumstances.
Depression can be triggered by life circumstances — usually by long-term struggles such as unemployment, illness, long-term stress 1 — or it might have no identifiable cause at all! Depression can be genetic: it can be caused by biochemical imbalances in the brain and doesn’t always need an external trigger.
For me, the first major episode of depression in my adult life 2 had no trigger that I know of. In fact, I was actually the healthiest I had even been! I had lost 24kg (so I was a healthy 58kg at 5’2″), I was exercising, I felt great. Gradually though I became less active, less motivated, more stressed, sad, angry, irritable, tired, lethargic, isolated… I couldn’t motivate myself to cook so we ate a lot of take away, I couldn’t motivate myself to work and I tended to spend a lot of time watching TV or sleeping on the couch. My Mum, who has had depression too, recognised these signs and told me to see a doctor, which I did. With a combination of medication and psychological therapy to identify unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours and learn to manage them I got a lot better. I was able to go off my medication and live quite well.
About a year later I noticed myself slipping again, and as much as I tried to implement the strategies I’d learned I was anxious, angry and wanted to sleep and cry too much of the time. I went back to the doctor, back to the psychologist and things are going a lot better again. Still, some days are fantastic, some are not. It’s a continual balancing act and sometimes struggle to do the right thing for myself and for others.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Well, while some behaviours and feelings are a lot more severe and prolonged in people with depression, many of them are still just as much a part of the human condition. So I think some of these strategies, mantras and challenges could be just as useful for you as for me.
- If it takes less that a minute, do it now!
This is something I got from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Lack of motivation, laziness and procrastination can be significant in the mentally ill and the healthy alike, sometimes it’s just a part of life. If you stop putting everything off and just do it now, it makes things a lot easier! Put that document away now, put that rubbish in the bin now, rinse that glass now… if it takes less than a minute, just do it now.
- Is it interfering with what you need to do?
Sometimes I wonder if I am spending too much time on a particular task that isn’t necessarily important. E.g., finding a new watch when I had lost my old one, or finding the right task manager tool rather than just getting my tasks done, or finding project management tools instead of just managing my projects in the simplest way I can. Sometimes you do need to invest a bit of time in structures that will help you get on with what you need to do, but sometimes you just need to pick a method and start getting things done.
- I might not be able to control everything around me, but I can control [insert personal behaviour here]
The thing that you need to control might vary from person to person. For me it is usually what I eat. I am trying to shed the weight from my previous depression episode, but when things are tough it is even more difficult not to succumb to laziness and just get take away, or just eat the high-carb option, or drink too much wine. On a bad day I might not be able to control everything around me, but I can damn well control what I put in my mouth.
I haven’t got these things down pat, but I am trying to remember them in my day to day. I need to keep going. Keep doing. Keep being.
Do you have any tips or mantras that help you when things get tough or everything seems overwhelming?