I was directed to this on the internet by a friend, and felt it was worth reblogging. It’s a wonderful blog post, and I couldn’t have written it better myself. Please read it, it’s well worth the read. SO well written and expressive, and I don’t even need to mention the important content, do I? Peace out and be well, my friends.
A while ago, I penned a fairly angry response to something circulating on the internet – the 21 Habits of Happy People. It pissed me off beyond belief, that there was an inference that if you weren’t Happy, you simply weren’t doing the right things.
I’ve had depression for as long as I can remember. It’s manifested in different ways. I did therapy. I did prozac. I did more therapy. My baseline is melancholic. I’d just made peace with it when I moved, unintentionally, to a place that had markedly less sunshine in the winter. I got seasonal depression. I got that under control. Then I got really, really sick. Turns out it’s a permanent, painful genetic disorder. My last pain-free day was four years ago.
So, this Cult of Happy article just set me off. Just… anger. Rage. Depression is serious – debilitating, often dangerous, and it’s got an enormous stigma. It leaves people to fend for themselves.
It’s bad enough without people ramming Happy Tips at you through facebook. There is no miracle behaviour change that will flip that switch for you. I know, I’ve tried.
A friend of mine suggested that I write something from my point of view because, surprisingly, I manage to give an outwards impression of having my shit together. I was shocked to hear this. And I find this comical, but I see her point. I’m functioning. I’ve adapted. I’m surprisingly okay. I think the medical term is “resilient”.
So, here it is.
My 21 Tips on Keeping Your Shit Together During Depression
1) Know that you’re not alone. Know that we are a silent legion, who, every day face the solipsism and judgement of Happy People Who Think We Just Aren’t Trying. There are people who are depressed, people who have been depressed, and people who just haven’t been hit with it yet.
2) Understand that the Happy People are usually acting out of some genuine (albeit misguided) concern for you, that it’s coming from a good place, even if the advice feels like you’re being blamed for your disease. Telling you these things makes them feel better, even if it makes you feel like shit. (If they insist on keeping it up, see #12.)
3) Enlist the help of a professional. See your doctor. You need to talk about the ugly shit, and there are people paid to listen and help you find your way to the light at the end of the tunnel.
4) Understand that antidepressants will only do so much. They’re useful, they’ll level you out and give you the time you need to figure out your own path to getting well. They can be helpful. There are lots to choose from. They may not be for you, and even if they are, they take some time to kick in. Conversely, they may not be for you. Work with your doctor.
5) Pick up a paintbrush, a pencil, an activity you got joy from in the past and re-explore that. Or, sign up for the thing you always wanted to try. There is a long history and link between depression and creativity. It’s a bright light of this condition, so utilize it to your best advantage.
6) Eat nutritionally sound, regular small meals. If you’re having trouble eating, try to focus on what you’d like to eat. I went through a whole six week episode of tomatoes and cream cheese on a bagel twice a day. Not great, but it was something – helpful context, I’m a recovered anorexic. Conversely, if all you want to do is scarf down crap, try to off-ramp it by downing a V-8 and doing #9 for 15 minutes, and see how you feel. Chucking your blood sugar all over hell’s half acre is going to make you feel worse.
7) While you’re doing #3, get some bloodwork done. If you’re low on iron or vitamin D, or if your hormone levels are doing the Macarena… these can all contribute to zapping your energy or switching your mood to Bleak As Hell.
8) If you’re in bed and the “insomnia hamsters”, as I like to call them, are on the wheel of your head, watch Nightly Business News on PBS. This has the effect of Nyquil. Swap out your coffee for herbal tea. If you just cannot sleep, try the next tip….
9) Learn how to meditate. Start by focusing on your breathing. Not sleep, not thoughts. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Meditation is focusing on being present in your body, not careening around in your brain. It may not be as good as sleep but it will give you some rest and recharge you.
10) Face a window as often as you can – at work, at home. Look out into the world. Watch. Observe. Try to find something you find pretty or interesting to focus on. And, handily remember that one in five of those people out there feel the way you do.
11) Cry. Better out than in. Sometimes it’s not convenient or career-enhancing to cry, so find a private place as best you can and let the tears go. Carry Kleenex and face wipes and extra concealer if you wear makeup. You can always claim allergies.
12) Any “friend” who resolutely believes that your depression is because you’re lazy, because you’re not trying hard enough, who blames you for not bootstrapping out of it- that friend needs to be cut off. Polite (#2) is one thing, but there is a limit. You don’t have to explain, you can just not respond. You feel badly enough, you don’t need their “assistance”.
13) Limit your time with people who drain you. You know who they are. Often you don’t have a choice- but you can put the meter on. And, subsequently, be aware of what you’re asking of those close to you.
14) Everyone has shit they’ve got to deal with. What you have been saddled with is your shit. Recognize, just as you’re not alone, you’re also not unique. The grass may look greener, you may be jealous or envious of others who don’t have to deal with depression, but you likely do not know everything that’s going on with them.
15) Let go or be dragged. This is an old Buddhist saying. It’s a very useful way to frame aspects of depression. Betrayal, anger, fear… letting go is a process – often a painful and difficult process – but it’s ultimately going to show you the path out of this terrible place. Repeating the mantra can help when you’re feeling gripped by these feelings.
16) Wear clothes that make you feel confident. It takes as much time to put on nice clothes as it does to put on sweatpants. You will want to wear the sweatpants. Fight the urge. The whole “look good/feel better” campaign isn’t limited to cancer and chemotherapy. Or women.
17) Avoid fictional drama and tragedy like the plague. No Grey’s Anatomy, no to The Notebook, or anything that won a Pulitzer prize. You’ve got enough going on In Real Life. Comedy only. Or trashy stuff. Old episodes of WonderWoman? I’ve got the box set. Mindless drivel, like the latest CGI blockbuster. Or clever, funny books. David Sedaris. Jenny Lawson. Fiction exists to elicit emotion, and the emotion you need to express most right now is laughter.
18) Simple exercise, if you can. It can be something as simple as taking the stairs up a flight, or walking around the block. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, it doesn’t have to involve climbing a mountain or running a marathon. Baby steps.
19) Depression will lie to you. Depression will try to tell you what others are thinking. That you are unloved and unworthy, that others think little of you or don’t care – or even wish you harm. You are not a psychic. Keep repeating that. “I am not a psychic”. Repeat. The only way to know what another person is thinking is to up and ask them.
20) If you are well and truly losing this battle, reach out to someone. I’ve been the random friendly-but-not-close person who has fielded the occasional outreach. I like to think I’m not judgemental and generally resourceful, and others have thought the same, so they called and asked. You know someone like me. And they will help you.
21) Forgive yourself. I’m writing out all these tips, and I can’t always muster the strength to even stick my nose outside, or walk up the stairs, or eat my vegetables. Today, I got outside for ten minutes. I will try again tomorrow. And I will try again the day after that.
This list will not cure you. This list will not flip on the happy switch. God, I wish it were that easy. The theme here is to not to unknowingly sabotage yourself. All these little things? Like your blood sugar, or watching nonstop episodes of House, or endless Try Harder lectures from your Perpetually Perky sister?
They all make dealing with depression just a tiny bit harder than it needs to be. And it’s hard enough, all on its own.
UPDATE: Wow, guys. Thank you. The feedback has been wonderful – all I wanted to set out to do was something helpful.
For those of you who want to see the original rant, Here it is.. http://www.diycouturier.com/post/41923259437/to-the-person-who-wrote-21-habits-…
And here’s the response to my response (?) – basically, after posting my retort, the happy people came at me with torches all over the interwebs.
Also, a few people have mentioned that having a critter is a great thing to keep you on track, that taking care of something and having something rely on you keeps you going. I went back and forth on including that, but for some, it’s just not feasible to have a cat or a dog… but my cat is my Prozac.
And, I wrote this in Canada, where we have universal health care. It breaks my heart that people don’t have access to professional support. You can sometimes find a community health centre, or sometimes your work benefits will have an employee support or assistance plan as part of your insurance. If you’re without benefits and hitting desperation, phone someone. Friend, family – even your local distress centre.
Stay well, my melancholic interweb friends…xoRR
A couple months ago I wrote a post about gratitude, and today seemed a fitting day to revisit the subject. So here we are.
At the meeting this morning we chose three readings, and they all seemed related to changing our attitudes, whether it had to do with a state of needless worry, or communication with the alcoholic in our lives, or whatever.
It made me realize how much there is in my life – right now, this minute – to be grateful for. My mother will by 85 years old this year and is in very good health, still quite active and social (often more than me!).
I still keep the gratitude book my sponsor asked me to keep, and it is not hard to think of five things every day to be thankful for. Sometimes they are small, simple things . . . and other times they feel like huge, miraculous achievements.
My sister is safe in her own home right now. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and that’s just fine, because we don’t live in tomorrow. We live one day at a time, right? We live in the moment. God’s taking care of her, and she couldn’t be in better hands than that as far as I’m concerned.
My mind is not as clear as it once was, because of the CFS, but I have a wise, compassionate doctor.
More and more friends every day, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2Tim 1:7)
For those things and so much more, I am forever indebted. What are you thankful for today?
I’m exhausted; tired down to my bones; dog tired. I have not been sleeping well the last couple of nights. I know why, and it’s because I haven’t been praying enough, and haven’t been “letting go and letting God” when I am afraid. I shouldn’t even be afraid, if I’m working my program right.
Well no, I take that back. Feelings are feelings. They come and go, like thoughts. There’s not much we can do about them.
In other news, I finished reading “Eat, Pray, Love” finally. I loved this book. It’s not a book I would have picked up on my own, you know? I mean I didn’t even see the movie. But Paula Balzer, in her book Writing & Selling Your Memoir suggests several different memoirs to read if you’re writing your own. I’ve read this one now, and Drinking: A Love Story, which I also loved, for different reasons.
They are about different subjects, for one thing. “Eat, Pray, Love” is about a woman who, after her divorce goes on a pilgrimage to discover what she wants for herself and spends a year divided equally between Italy, India, and Indonesia. She eats her way through Italy, prays her way through India, and loves her way through Indonesia. It’s a funny, serious, charming, and informative book.
Liz Gilbert also has a totally different voice than Caroline Knapp, of “Drinking: A Love Story,” which I had finished just before I started Liz’s book, so that took a lot of getting used to. Caroline’s story is starkly honest, and is exactly what the title says. It’s about the love story between a woman and wine and other alcoholic beverages, but her first love is a crisp, white wine.
Caroline takes us on her journey with candor and also wit, but pulls no punches, and we are led all the way through to her struggles in rehab and through that to living life sober, to making friends soberly, shopping for groceries stone-cold sober, going to a party sober, etc. Highly recommend both.
Now I’m reading Lighting Up: How I Quit Smoking, Drinking, and Everything Else I Loved In Life Except Sex. It’s another memoir, not recommended by Paula Balzer, but I’m reading it because I read it once a long time ago, and with chronic fatigue syndrome I can read things a second time and it’s like reading it all over again for the first time.
Susan Shapiro is seeing a psychoanalyst to quit smoking. Her voice is wry and emotional, and the book is hard to put down.
I pray I sleep well tonight, and that you do too. What do you do when you don’t sleep well? How do you help yourself sleep?
It’s fairly easy to talk the talk. It’s much easier to tell people what to do, to give people advice, than to take that advice for oneself. What I’m trying to say is, I’ve been in some denial about something pretty big.
I’ve said here on my blog that I’m a “double winner,” and by that I mean I am a member of two anonymous groups: Al-Anon, and Overeaters Anonymous. Well, I’m in a rather large amount of denial about OA, and I intend to change that in this blog post.
I’ve still been attending the meetings. I just haven’t been reading any of the literature that I’ve purchased. Whenever we go around and say our names before sharing, most people say “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I’m a compulsive overeater.” I say, “Hi, I’m Chris, I’m a sugar addict, and I’m in huge denial about it.” Then I continue my sharing.
I suppose I could just say I’m a compulsive overeater like everyone else. Why the need to be unique? Well, it’s not so much a need to be unique, as a need to be specific. I don’t struggle with other carbs. I struggle with sugar specifically. Once I eat something sweet, specifically chocolate or a cake-y thing, I’m a goner.
If I don’t buy it, or it’s not in the house, I’m okay. But I’ve been known to eat sugar just by the spoonful if I’m desperate for that “feeling.” And if you’re a sugar addict, you’ll know what I mean. It’s a euphoria, a calmness that overtakes one, followed by numbness and a quite sleepy feeling. There’s nothing like it.
When I think about it, I’ve used sugar to comfort myself since childhood days. Sugar and I go way back. It’s probably why my weight has gone up and down so much during my lifetime. When I was particularly scared, and didn’t know what to do, I would take a box of cake mix down from the cupboard and pour a bit out int a cup, mix that with some water and eat it with a spoon. Weird, eh? But it comforted me, went straight to those neurotransmitters that told my brain, “Mmm, this means something good.” I was probably all of eight or nine at the time.
But now, with something like chronic fatigue syndrome, I know I’m playing with fire. It’s a stupid, dangerous thing to keep turning to sugar when I know I’ll only crash and burn. It makes me feel worse than I would had I not gone to it in the first place. I need to take care of myself, because there’s only one me, like it or not. And I do love Lucy . She’s supposed to live to about 14 yrs. old.
It feels good to get through this. Denial is tough. It’s not easy to cut through; takes a machete.
Who do you think about first thing in the morning or last thing at night before you fall asleep? Who do you feed first in the morning? Remember the airplane instructions about putting the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on your child or even the hurt person next to you? There are reasons for those.
When I was a kid coming up in the world, the last thing I thought about was myself. Sure, there were a few times that were carefree, like I remember playing Red light, Green light; Red Rover; Hide-and-Seek; Say-say-oh-playmate; Mother May I; all those games that kids play in their neighborhoods or towns growing up. But underlying it all was that elephant of drunkenness, anger, and violence. Towering over the elephant stood the giraffe of secrecy.
On the outside we had to look the part of perfect normalcy. Very proper, well-cared for, every hair in place, not a bruise showing, no tears no tears, mustn’t let the world think you are anything but absolutely ordinary. No, more than that: extraordinary. After all, my father was an officer of the law. If his children couldn’t be expected to behave in public, whose could? Our outsides, of course, terribly mismatched our insides. We hurt, we ached, we carried bruises (some physical, some emotional) . . . we carried secrets about drunkenness and violence, secrets in the words only our childlike voices could tell.
In Al-Anon and in therapy I’m learning to take care of myself – not better care – but to actually take care of myself for the first time. Dori (my sponsor) helps me to see my limitations and what I can and cannot do, before I actually hit the wall of exhaustion (as I’ve done). There is a whole chapter in the Al-Anon Big Book, How Al-Anon Works: For Families and Friends of Alcoholics called -oddly enough- Taking Care of Ourselves. Hey, is there some plagiarism going on here? How did they know I was going to write this blog?
What’s best about the Al-Anon Big Book, for me, is it’s simple enough that I can understand it when I’m distressed. Because when I’m in a situation and I need it, if the language were too complicated or flowery, I wouldn’t be able to absorb, intelligence not withstanding. Intelligence goes straight out the window when one is panicked and in distress.
There is a strong connection, in many ways, between the techniques taught in the Al-Anon and in the AA Big Book. For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to read under the SETTING PRIORITIES AND LIMITS section of this chapter, the acronym for H.A.L.T., which is usually often discussed in the AA Big Book.
This reminds me of my doctor’s appt yesterday for a re-evaluation of my chronic fatigue syndrome. I’ve been feeling much worse, dragging all the time, and lots of “brain fog”, which is upsetting. Well, the nurse took at least 20 vials of blood and I have to go back in a week to get more blood for a cortisol draw, since that needs to be done in the morning, and to go over the results of the lab tests thus far.
Here’s hoping they’ll have some answers for me. Even the slightest hormone mishap can cause a lot of fatigue, and if that can be corrected, I’m all over it. Taking care of myself is one of my number one priorities right now!
How about you? Are you taking care of yourself?