I have lots of practice dealing with depression, and I hope I can help you with what I’ve learned. When you’re depressed, not much appeals. Nothing sounds fun. Nothing seems worth doing. When that happens to me, I know I’m depressed. Losing interest in things you usually care about is a normal and typical symptom of depression. For many very lucky people, sadness passes in a day or so. For those of us whose sadness lasts weeks and expands into full depression, we need a plan. Deep depression can lead to suicide or suicide attempts. If you’re going to stay alive, you need tools to help you do so. Suicide happens when the pain you experience exceeds your ability to cope with it, so if you’re going to stay alive, your options are to lower the level of pain or increase your coping ability. This explanation is not original to me, so don’t credit me for it. I use it because it’s a clear and simple analysis of a messy state of mind.
So. You’re depressed. Time to get to work. Self-care is where you begin. Self-care is easier than all-out self-love, which is often not possible when you’re depressed. Taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or eating something is a good place to start. If you’re severely depressed, all three of those things may be impossible. If those things remain impossible for more than two weeks, you need medical intervention. If that’s where you are right now, then the job I assign you for today is to make a doctor’s appointment. That is the only task you need to do today. You can do one thing. You can spend the rest of the day watching TV and crying if you need to, just get that one thing done. It’s the first step to saving your own life.
If you are still able to do something like take a shower or feed yourself, you might be able to get through this without medicine. Granted, if you have a mental illness diagnosis, you DEFINITELY need to call your doctor immediately, but if you have a situational depression from something like losing a job, ending a relationship, or grieving a loved one, you might do just fine with some added coping skills.
- Lower your standards. You are not having a normal time in life, so you cannot have normal expectations of yourself. Make your daily list short. Celebrate small victories, like any act of personal hygiene. Your life right now is monumentally challenging, and recognizing and respecting your current abilities go a long way toward better self-esteem.
- Make a List. Write down the things you can reasonably get done in a day. For example, today I’m getting sick, and I’m worn out and a little depressed. So the list I made today was weigh self, make pill case, drink coffee, shower, dress, work on website, eat dinner. That’s all that I’m requiring of myself today. On better days, I know I can do more, so I write more down. Cross things off as you go along to show yourself that you’re getting things accomplished, and if the next thing on your list seems too hard, write a time down next to it for half an hour to an hour from now, so that you can take that time to gather your strength, courage, and energy to do the next task. I frequently have to do that with showering, otherwise it won’t get done. Same goes for exercise. You can refer back to your list throughout the day, and if all the tasks are crossed off at the end of the day, please try to be proud of yourself for that.
- Be sweet to yourself. Use kind language when you talk to yourself. I know this is very challenging. I’ve been meaner to myself than anyone has ever been to me, most often in episodes or during depressions. No matter who you are or what you’re experiencing, you’re a worthwhile person, and who you are is absolutely enough. What you’re feeling now won’t last forever; you will live again. Be as patient with yourself as you would be to someone you love who is hurting. Say kind things. Be nice. You deserve to be treated well, especially by yourself.
- Write down your feelings. Even if the act of writing makes you cry very, very hard, when you’re finished you will have a deep feeling of calm that could last up to a few hours. Writing is a proven effective therapeutic activity with very clear and real results. You’re not going to want to do it, but it truly will help you.
- Get sunlight. Go outside, even if you just sit on your front porch for five minutes. Sunlight stimulates chemicals in our bodies and brains that are important to mental health, like lithium and vitamin D. You are also more likely to see something beautiful if you go outside. It’s amazing out there, always.
- Pick soothing activities. Write down one or two to do today. Pick something like watching TV, coloring, reading, or playing with a fidget toy. Mess around on the internet. Anything easy that’s not challenging and won’t steal your limited and precious energy.
- Get good sleep. Insomnia and depression often go hand in hand. If this is you, med up. There are lots of over-the-counter sleep aids, and I’ve had good luck with most that I’ve tried. I recommend Unisom, Alteril, and melatonin. Most people would be fine taking just one of these OTC sleep aids, but you can ask your doctor if they can be combined. You might sleep for a long time, which is not a bad thing. Sleep is foundational, and doubly so if you’re mentally ill. Set an alarm for noon and try to stay up until eight in the evening. Take your sleep aid at seven and you’ll probably be asleep in the next hour or two. This schedule allows lots of time to sleep without messing up your circadian rhythm and turning your sleep habits upside down.
- Hug a pillow while watching TV. I don’t know why this helps me, but it really does.
If you’re working through a depression right now and you feel suicidal, call this helpline: 1-800-273-8255. Whatever your current situation, nothing is permanent. It is possible for things to get better. Don’t believe that it can’t ever get better, because that’s not true. It can always get better.
By Emily Harrington, The Goldfish Painter
I am not a doctor or any sort of mental health professional. I am a psychiatric patient with multiple mental illnesses that I have survived for 12 years now. My secondhand knowledge comes from doctors, psychologists, therapists, books, college courses in psychology, and the internet. My firsthand knowledge comes from the feelings, experiences, thoughts, symptoms, problems, and solutions that I have lived through. I know myself well, but again, I am not a professional. The information on this site is not a replacement for getting an actual diagnosis or professional help. Coping skills are fantastic, and I hope you learn some here and that they help you, but please seek and continue real medical treatment if you are struggling with mental illness. I wish you the best. You can do hard things.