I wrote this post on one of my other blogs awhile ago. I just re-read it and thought I’d share it here, too. My struggle to keep my mental, as well as physical, health in order is a daily one. I never stop dealing with it, so these are important reminders to me. Especially right now since I’ve had so little energy, and I can feel that things like cleaning and walking seem as difficult to me as climbing a mountain. Sigh. Anyway, here are some tips that help me to fight my inner beast:
Get up. With the sun, if possible.
We are not nocturnal mammals, we need daylight. My worst years fighting with depression were the years I was a night owl, and for those years I was severely sleep deprived. This may not be feasible for everyone, but if you struggle with depression, it’s worth it to try to get regular day hours. Shift work and over-scheduling ruined me. Working normal business hours saved my sanity and helps keep my depression and PTSD at bay. Laying in bed all day contributes to headaches and malaise.
Brush and floss.
I know it sounds stupid and gross, like, why wouldn’t I, right? In the darkest nights of my soul, even doing this small thing seemed like a pointless, insurmountable task that I wasn’t worthy of. So I repeat. Brush and floss teeth.
Take a shower.
Not a bath, but a shower. There is something physically and symbolically thoroughly cleansing by standing in fresh, running water that rinses bad feelings and germs from the day away. Don’t rush, but don’t spend too long in there, it can lead to brooding. If you’re worried about wasting water, don’t. Baths use more water than showers. Save baths for when you are content, at peace with yourself and need a good, healthy soak.
Get dressed in clean clothes.
Again, it’s sounding gross, right? Well, depression leads to habits of uncleanliness, feelings of unworthiness and the “why bother” attitude. When you’re in that dark place, doing self-care is the most important first step in climbing out of that hole. It’s often the hardest step to take, too. You are worth a clean environment, but YOU have to make it so.
Eat. Drink. And do it right.
This will be different for each person, and each person needs to find out what that is. For me this is an every day challenge for various reasons, but for some, it may be simpler than that. Pay attention to every single thing that you put in your mouth for one week, and see what that shows you. I was instructed to keep a journal of eating, sleeping and exercise habits, as well as tracking dreams and my menstrual cycle, and it helped me immensely. I’ll get to the rest in a minute, but seriously: be aware of what you’re eating, not eating, drinking, not drinking, or mindlessly putting in your mouth. Water, soda, candy, cough drops, toast with butter, medications: if it goes in your mouth, write it down. Don’t make meals something to rush through, but also don’t make love to food. You need fuel, and it should be enjoyable and pleasant, but not an addictive vice. It should also not be something you deprive yourself of, or reward yourself with. Foods and even fat is necessary to health. Period. Don’t make it any more or less than that. If you seek emotional comfort in food, or drugs (OTC, prescription or illegal), or coffee, or whatever, pay attention to that. It will contribute to your depression and the reasons you beat yourself up.
While I don’t want to be dogmatic here, and I’ve certainly lived a lot of years with a shitty diet and other horrible habits, but I’ve been on both sides and can attest to the benefits for my mental and physical health. Now that I don’t eat out at fast food restaurants or buy too many pre-packaged foods, I realize how icky that stuff is for us. It’s important, it really is, to buy good foods that are prepared when you’re ready to dine. Even if you don’t want to prepare them yourself, try to buy foods or eat in restaurants where foods are prepared from scratch by a human being, not a machine. Even getting soups or sandwiches from the deli at the grocery store is better than McDonald’s. It really, really is. You’ll learn to taste the salt and crap in that other stuff, you’ll realize there is no flavor in factory-farmed meats. It’s worth it, this step. But it’s not an easy one, I know. We’ve now switched to buying most of our meats, eggs and dairy from local farmers who raise their animals in a humane, ethical environment. We buy regular cream when we can, and I think having whole milk fat has improved my skin and overall health. I personally need meats in my diet, and it’s important to me to buy ethically raised animal-derived foods, and trust me, they taste amazingly better than processed anything. It’s my personal belief that our best diets should reflect our own blood ancestry. I’ve got a Scandinavian/European background, and I live in a cold climate, so it doesn’t make geographic sense to rely solely on a vegetarian diet, for instance. And with my low blood sugar, low blood pressure and IBS needs, too many veggies and not enough fat and salt actually make me sick. Experiment to find out what foods suit YOU. And remember, B vitamins are some of the most crucial vitamins to help manage depression. Try to find foods you enjoy that have B vitamins. (I’ll add this bit here that wasn’t in the original post: Vitamins and minerals are necessary for us, they must work together and synthesize with each other to create a complex web that heals us. Supplements are fine, but getting the appropriate nutrition is essential, and to get it from food is always preferable. I do take a daily vitamin that has helped fight depression extremely well, but I also know I need to be feeding my body with the right things to help heal itself. It’s not enough to simply take a vitamin and then eat like crap. If you want to be well, you need to assist your body in making it happen.)
We all know this one. But it is really an important one. REALLY important. But you don’t need to be an athlete to be healthy and to manage depression. You just need to get out and walk. Get outdoors for sunshine, for vitamin D. Listen to the world around you. Let your mind walk with you. Walk meditatively, listening. Listen. And I say again: LISTEN. Stop the chatter of your mind, stop the chatter of traffic and work and relationships and iPhones and headphones. Exercise increases circulation and gives you one of the best defenses against depression. Endorphins. Use this very important tool and you will start feeling better. In fact, I would even say at first just stick to walking. Now, I’m a swimmer, and nothing feels as good as swimming to me sometimes. But walking helps me in ways swimming does not. There is a trance-like quality to swimming that is important to me, but walking lets my mind take flight. It’s lets me breathe, and imagine. Even if it’s 10 minutes, get out there.
Set a schedule.
Be firm with yourself on this. Setting a schedule for the day was imperative for me to re-train my brain to not fall into the same dark habits. Kicking this is about discipline, and you won’t get that any other way than starting a schedule and doing it. No matter what. At first, you CANNOT be soft on yourself. You’ve just got to be hard. Later you can ease off a bit, but just a bit! Consistency leads to better habits of any kind.
Clean your space.
There’s something undeniably uplifting about a clean space. Even if it’s somewhat disorderly, to have a fresh-smelling, clean space to be is such an effective mood lifter for me. Pick things up off the floor, wipe the surfaces, make the bed. These three things will do enough to help the mood that you’ll feel that deeper cleaning is easier to tackle. I no longer have the energy for an all-day, all-house cleaning, so I try to break it down. A room a day, and thoroughly. I’ll clean everything in a room top to bottom, wash the drapes, vacuum out the vents, wet dust everything including window sills and baseboards, organize the closets, etc. Sometimes I just don’t have it in me to even do one full room, so I’ll break it down by task: dusting on Monday evening, then organize the closet on Tuesday. And I do small things like when I take off clothes, I make sure to take them off so that they remain right-side-out, that way it saves time when I’m folding laundry later. I’ll immediately fold my bed clothes and put them on the bed instead of leaving them in a heap on the floor. IT HELPS! I’ve also discovered the beauty of natural cleaning which is incredible for the mood. I use vinegar, baking soda (both which neutralize odor, not just cover it up) and I add essential oils that help elevate the mood. There’s utilitarian cleaning, of course, when you’re whisking through the night’s dishes, or finishing up Sunday’s laundry. But then there’s cleaning that is for your spirit: spiritual cleansing, spring cleaning for the soul. I try to do this as the seasons change, but at least in the spring and fall. I love to use a few drops of lavender & tea tree oil in water to fight dust mites and other bacteria which are great to revive old, funky furniture, and this past autumn I used rosemary & cinnamon in my water for an absolutely wonderful, seasonally appropriate wet-dusting.
Get to sleep.
I cannot re-iterate this enough: YOU NEED TO SLEEP. It took me many years to get a normal sleep schedule, so I know how difficult it is. And I’ve experienced long bouts of insomnia, and I know how frustrating it is. But getting enough sleep is probably the most important item on this list, in addition to eating and taking care of personal hygiene. My tricks for getting to sleep are: brush & floss, getting into bed preferably by 9:30 and reading a book. I use a blue light so my eyes are less likely to get awakened by regular light. I find red light causes too much eye strain. And using the computer wakes up your eyes with the bright background. Read a regular book or a magazine. I use earplugs and I also have an eye shade thingy for nights that are really difficult. We’ve painted and decorated our bedroom to be a haven for rest. We dress the bed in dark, earthy colors, there are soft quilts on the walls, candle sconces, stuffed animals, room-darkening drapes that are a deep plum color. Try to make the bedroom a place of peace, quiet, safety and dark comfort.
Pay attention to your dreams.
Some people may poo-poo this, but they are being silly. Let me assure you, your subconscious mind is an important and necessary part of your health. It’s hard to get in touch with it while conscious, unless you are a meditative master. I still struggle to silence my mind with meditation, and I’ve been doing it for years. Dreams are a good way to find out, symbolically, what is going on with your head, to show you your obstacles, and ways to overcome them. Your dreams are trying to tell you something, dreams are the mind’s way of sorting things out in your life. This is your own brain, after all. Using auto-suggestion as you go to bed, tell yourself you will remember your dreams when you wake up. Tell yourself you will write them down in a journal. Do this every night until you can remember them and actually write them down. Dream recall can be very difficult, so be patient. I use dream oils to assist me, and I was astonished at how well they work. A very basic recipe is take a few drops of clary sage essential oil and mix it with an ounce or two of olive oil. Anoint your third eye and temples as you use auto-suggestion. See what happens. “Dreamwork” helped me immensely when I was trying to wrestle with trauma that my conscious mind could not deal with, and it was essential that I deal with it. It prepared me for some very difficult, intense work in the conscious world by examining the stories that my sleeping mind was playing out.
Do not waste your time looking for happiness, or waiting for it to drop in your lap. You are responsible for making yourself happy. It’s no one’s job but yours to make yourself happy. If you need help, find a therapist or peruse the self-improvement section of the bookstore. Do not expect your friends, family or partner to treat your depression, to “make” you well or happy. This is unfair, not their responsibility, and in my opinion, impossible and a colossal waste of time. This is your illness, and only you can find the best ways to manage it. Don’t delude yourself either: this is a condition that needs to be managed, so stop looking for a “cure”. A therapist can only give you tools to use, you must be the one to use them. Figure out how to best deal with loneliness, boredom, and pay attention to what helps you. Find hobbies. Enjoy the sunrise. Witness nature, interact with it, and be a part of the day. Get out of your head. I always say, “Happiness is the hardest work there is.”
And finally, I discovered a few months ago when I was feeling the blues kicking in that when I did one simple action, my mood improved immediately. It seems so simple, but it made so much sense. I looked up. I physically lifted my head and looked up into the clouds. So now my motto is, “When life gets you down, look up.” It helped me see there’s a lot more out there than my own little universe.