I live with chronic depression.
It started in high school. I thought it was situational as my environment wasn’t the best but as I moved out of survival mode, the depression only got worse. Through years of therapy I have been able to see that I have had a proclivity towards depression even as a child, when I rewrote the words to the poem, Please Hear What I am not Saying and that it’s hereditary, as I remembered the mornings my own grandmother kept the blinds drawn, leaving the door and phone unanswered. In years past, I have used medication, I am happy for those for whom medication works wonders. For me, it wasn’t a good match. During my sessions with various therapists, I have discovered a few factors that keep my depression in check.
I have to have a routine. One I can do with my eyes closed if need be. On those days where putting one foot in front of another is achingly difficult, I find if I jump into my routine, I start to move on my own again. It keeps me moving forward.
I never know how I am going to feel in the morning, it’s the blessed curse of depression, so each night before I go to bed, I make a list of my schedule for the next day. I list everything in order so that if I am not feeling good in the morning, I can jump back in mid-day. Somedays, thankfully fewer and fewer, the day can seem too over whelming. Those days I will look for one task on my list that I think I can handle. Sometimes just doing one thing, instead of laying on the couch will give me strength to move on. Sometimes it’s the only thing I end up doing that day. Somedays are just like this.
I can’t stress enough how exercise keeps me even. I have to do it shortly after I wake up or as Eminem says “My OCD's conking me in the head” paralyzing me with fear the rest of the day. If exercise is always in my morning routine my body just naturally goes there. I run or walk outside each morning, getting me out of my house, breathing fresh air, gets me out of my own head. If I wait until later in the day, I probably won’t do it. Incorporating exercise into my morning routine gives me the confidence I need to move through the rest of the day.
I am not necessarily an extrovert. I am not necessarily an introvert either. Yet I have noticed that when I go a long period of time without seeing a friend I start to believe absolutely odd things about my place in the world. I need to see people to know that I am loved and connected. It’s harder to schedule these things when you are in the midst of a depressive episode. At those times, you don’t believe that anyone would ever want to be with you. I work hard on being proactive. I schedule coffee dates or power walks before and after drop off/pick up at my children’s school. I realize I really don’t need much about 30 minutes a week is enough for me. If I have a weekend party or another event, I’m golden.
When Depression Still Strikes
Inevitably depression still rears its head. I feel it scratching its claws on my backdoor when I begin to obsess over an unsolved issue from the past or I’m edgy, jumping at every sound or feeling claustrophobic in a small crowd. I start believing lies I tell myself. That I am alone. That no one cares about me. That I am unlovable. I know depression is there, ready to devour me.
I’ve started sending out a help message to a small group of girlfriends when I feel this happen. I make this list on either my text, email or as a Facebook filter when I am feeling good, when I am clear about what is true. When I feel panic and anxiety creeping in, I send out an SOS to them. I send it out as soon as I can because if it takes over, I will start to think that nobody cares, everyone hates me and I will not sense it out. These women know and love me. My SOS will look something like this:
For my special lady friends: I am feeling depression scratching at my back door. I don’t know what I need from you. I just know I need help before it grabs me.
My friends have been trained (it didn’t take long or much) to spend that day checking in on me. A little phone call (even if they know I won’t answer). A text to check in. An email with a link to story they thought I’d love. One friend texts me “Text me one good thing right now” pushing me to get out of that space and think about the good things in my life. Sometimes my answer is merely “my blanket is cozy” or “I ate ramen for lunch” but it’s something. The best is when one of these women is local and they come by after work and make me go on a walk outside with them. It combines both my need to get out to exercise and breathe fresh air and my need for social time to let me know I’m not alone –everyone does not hate me. Each of these little efforts, spread out among 6 or so ladies, is usually enough to get the monster to leave me alone.
After these friends dig me out of the place I’m in, I look on the calendar for the next highlight to look forward to, a vacation, a party, a show I have tickets to, a holiday. If there is not one in the next month, I make one. I need something to help me look forward, just in case that monster depression is still around the corner, just waiting for me to drive out of the driveway so it can come back to steal my hopes and dreams.
My chronic depression is here to stay, but with these components, I keep the monster from visiting so often.