My “This is what worked for me” List

Hiker helping another hiker.

In my previous post I wrote about how our hot water heater sprung a leak and disrupted our lives, and that I got through it. This reminded me of an assignment that my therapist gave me a few months ago. She said, that since I was doing a lot better she wanted me to make a list of everything that I did that helped me to get through this bout of depression. Once I was done with the list I should keep it somewhere I can easily find it for the next time (we’re both realists and know that there’s a good chance that I’ll face future episodes of depression). When you’re in the middle of a bout of depression it can be very hard to remember the things that may help you to get better.

I thought that I must have already written a post about this, but in searching my blog I can’t find it so here goes. First, and this is so important, as I’ve emphasized since starting this blog, I don’t believe in a “one-size-fits-all” solution to anything. This is just what I did and the benefits that I received from doing these things.

1. I stopped drinking any alcohol. I’ve never been a heavy drinker, but alcohol is a depressant and if you think you may be dealing with depression, I highly recommend that you stop drinking alcohol. This not only doesn’t cost any money, but you can save a lot with this one.

2. I called my therapist who I’d seen in the past about my depression. I’ve seen others over the years, but this one has been just the right fit for me and has helped me immensely. I’m very fortunate to have coverage through work. Again, if you think you might be depressed see if you have coverage through work or school, or even on-site / on-campus resources available to you.

3. I made sure that I got to bed early to increase my chances of getting enough sleep. When I’m depressed I have trouble sleeping, but staying up late and staring at a screen will only make that worse.

4. I exercised almost everyday. There’s plenty of research showing that exercise or just being active helps to relieve some of the symptoms of depression. I also made sure that I was taking in enough water for the amount that I was exercising.

5. I tried to focus on eating healthy, which is never all that easy for me. Eating crap might make you feel better in the moment, but not in the long run. Too much sugar can lead to a crash and make you feel sluggish, which depression already does.

6. I tried my best to get everything I needed to remember out of my head and either into my to-do app or onto my calendar. Again, depression can rob you of your ability to focus or remember even basic things. Keep a note card or notebook with you at all times to capture  to-dos, ideas, phone numbers, names, etc.

7. I started blocking time on my calendar to work on things to make sure that I had the time and wasn’t caught running from meeting to meeting with no time to even breath. I scheduled time to work as well as time to go for a walk and do other self-care activities. I scheduled things to do with my family and friends to give me things to look forward to.

8. I took up meditation. I use the Calm app and do the daily meditation almost every morning. I think since I started using it about 11 months ago I’ve missed less than 10 days. It really has helped more than I could have imagined.

9. I had already started and continued to list in my head and sometimes out loud things that I was grateful for every morning and every evening I started taking note of things that were “wins / made me smile”. Focusing on even one good thing that happened in a day can help to remember that there is some good in your life.

10. I started taking medication. I had resisted this for a long time assuming that everything else that I did was enough to get me better, and I’d heard horror stories about side-effects, but this latest bout was so bad that the other stuff wasn’t enough.  I was ready to dismiss the idea that all of this other stuff had helped at all because I wasn’t getting better, but both my therapist and physician pointed out that I was probably doing considerably better than I would have been if I wasn’t doing those things. While I scaled back my work I was still getting out of bed and going to work. I wasn’t functioning at a level anywhere near my best, but I was at least functioning.

11. I asked for help. In the past I’d kept my depression to a very very small group of people in the know. This time I told lots of people and because of that they were able to support me. I was also able to realize just how many people I knew who had been through it as well, which was somehow both troubling and comforting.

12. I let other people help me. This one can be a challenge for a lot of people. I like feeling in control, but that sense of control is another thing that depression can steal from you. Letting others support you can add to that if you don’t remember that they’re trying to help you get better.  Also, when you let others help you, it’s good for their mental health.

These are the things that helped me to get better. Again, this was my list. I’m still doing all of these because they’re also the things that will help me to stay as healthy as possible. Also, maintaining these as habits will make it a lot easier on me if i do have another episode. It’s march harder to establish new habits when you can’t focus, your sleep sucks, and you feel like life is getting sucked out of you. It’s not impossible – I did take up meditation during this episode, but it’s a hell of a lot easier if you can find the habits that will help you before you’re at your lowest point.

If you’re there now, at that lowest point, or heading there, please ask for help today. Talk to your partner, your best-friend, your doctor, your professor, anyone who you trust. And then let them help you.

Featured image courtesy of Shenandoah National Park under a CC-BY license.

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