There is probably something terribly ironic about writing about depression while depressed. Maybe not, maybe it just makes sense because it’s just what I’m thinking about right now.
I read a blog recently with 21 Tips to Keep Your Shit Together When You’re Depressed. I’ve got a few things to add that I think are probably useful for other introverts. (Not that we’re super special, just that different people need different techniques, and I think for an introvert, having her internal world shrouded in darkness is especially difficult to overcome.) These ideas/thoughts/tips are what get me through the day until I find the right medicine to balance me… or until I give up on meds and find some other way to accomplish balance.
1) Prevention. The best way to cope with depression is to never let it get bad. I’ve incorporated certain rituals/routines to act as warning signals so that I can catch the depression before it becomes so all-consuming that it takes tremendous effort to get out of it. This routine is not necessary for life, like eating. It’s simple: I choose to wash and moisturize my face as part of my morning and nightly rituals. I know that I am pretty stable if I can make the choice to expend the energy to wash my face before bed. If I skip this part of my routine too many times during a week, then I know it’s time to admit to myself that I am regressing.
2) Thought processes. When I’m depressed, I recognize that my mind—normally my favorite place—is now tricking me. Watch how you think while depressed. Are you assuming that you know the feelings of other people, when in fact you aren’t a mind reader? Are you assuming you know the outcome of some event, when in fact you have never been a fortune teller?
These are just a couple examples of how your depressed mind distorts your thinking habits. I first read about them in Feeling Good by Dr. Burns (which is full of mind-altering information). A brief description of more of these distortions can be found here. The book has more information and more topics besides these distortions. I highly recommend it.
Remember that being depressed or having a tendency for depressive episodes does not make you weak or incapable of happiness. These thoughts will only trap you and make getting help and getting better harder. I believe that people living with depression are in fact very strong.
3) Do something, celebrate after. When I am depressed and need to find ways to cope, I lose all energy. This is common of course, but it is, to me, the hardest symptom of depression. In college, a beloved professor who also suffered from depression told me to complete one task and celebrate after. The celebrations can be anything from watching an episode of your favorite TV show (that-you-know-you-probably-shouldn’t-be-watching-because-you’re-behind-on-laundry-and-life-because-you’re-depressed, but it’ll feel so good to watch it, and since you did complete a task of life, you deserve it!). It could be eating a fun size Snickers bar or taking a cat nap with your kitty. Whatever will make you feel better, give you something to look forward to, reinforce good behavior and still get a few tasks accomplished. (This means that the cat nap needs to literally be a cat nap and not in fact a 3-hour sleep.)
4) Break the monotony. In that same frame of mind, scheduling something to look forward to or treating yourself to something new can help break the monotony of depression and bring a bit of excitement back. A scheduled appointment could be anything from a checkup with your psychiatrist or doctor to a movie date with your bff. Giving yourself something to count down to will help get you through the day.
In addition, doing something fun or comforting might help. Buy new clothes. Cook something new. Get a pedicure. Buy a new video game. Anything that brings you pleasure and excitement (as long as it won’t defile your bank account and bring more emotional instability).
5) Recharge. There is also nothing wrong with an occasional lazy day. Introverts need to recharge, and depression takes a lot out of you. Give yourself a day to veg on TV shows that have been in your Netflix queue forever or to reread a book that has been on your mind. Sometimes these days will end up becoming good thinking days for me, and I’ll end up writing or journaling. I think it’s because I haven’t put pressure on myself to accomplish anything so I can just … be.
Be careful though. You don’t want to isolate yourself further or use the day making suicide plans. Turn the lights on. Don’t sit in a dark room; your mind is dark enough without the lights being off too. A lazy day is only helpful if you use it to recharge and not to burrow more deeply into the depression.
6) Be kind to yourself. Talk sweetly to yourself. Listen to your body (this is how you can know if a lazy day will be beneficial or not). Now is not the time to take up public speaking or something equally terrifying. Don’t overload your schedule. You can help yourself not be overwhelmed by making smart choices and admitting, “Hey, maybe I should wait to do [this terrifying thing that society makes me do] until I feel like myself again.”
7) Talk. The best thing I’ve trained myself to do when I get depressed is to talk about it. Introverts tend to be so quiet, especially when depressed, and I find that acknowledging and calling out the depression gives it less power over me. The same way Harry Potter always referred to Voldemort by name. Find your person and tell them, “I’m depressed; I feel [this way]. Thanks for listening.” Your words will cut holes in the dark shroud your mind is wrapped in and invite someone who cares to help you shine light through the darkness.
8) Power accessory/article of clothing. The article I got this idea from already mentioned dressing nicely, but I’d like to add to that thought. Find your power accessory, that one article of clothing or accessory that makes you feel … powerful. For me, it’s lipstick. I feel like only strong, confident women can have carefully painted, glossed and shimmered lips. But your item could be anything: a pair of shoes, a watch, a piece of jewelry, a blazer, a pair of cuff links. (I imagine this would work for men as well, but I have no data to back that up.
9) Never give up hope. Remember that life follows a cycle. For a woman, it’s obvious: we are in a constant wheel of changing hormones that brings us up out of and down back into depression episodes. For those without a menstrual cycle, there’s still a cycle, at least in my experience. I think once you get so far down and don’t kill yourself, there’s only one direction to go: up. While this is a strange type of comfort, it still seems to help me in my worst moments. It will end at some point, and I have control over how I get there.
10) Give in to your quirks. This thought could probably go under “Be kind to yourself,” but in order to be kind to myself, I needed to give in to my quirk to make this list have a #10 because I got so damn close. Yay, me.
These ideas are techniques I have gathered from books, professors and my own experiences. I’ve known I’ve had problems with depression for almost ten years now, and I’ve probably struggled with some level of it most of my life.
The biggest take home lesson to remember is depression lies.
What helps you get through depression episodes? Can you add anything to the list?
UPDATE: July 31, 2013
11) Brand loyalty. One of the worst parts of my depression is my loss of energy and inability to make everyday decisions in a normal amount of time. Introverts tend to make decisions more slowly even not depressed, so adding depression can make life unmanageable. One way I’ve found to help with decision-making is to take away some of the decisions all together. If you choose a certain brand and stick with it, then you don’t have to stand in front of a shelf of way too many items and get overwhelmed. Do your research first of course before you decide. The effort will probably save you time and energy later.
UPDATE: August 13, 2013
12) Listen to music. “Lullaby” by Nickelback has saved my life on more than one occasion. If I’m not listening to podcasts on my long commute to work in the morning, I’m listening to music, and this song has pushed back the frighteningly comforting image of hitting a tree or a power pole head-on a few times.
Some other songs that help me are “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera, “People Like Us” by Kelly Clarkson, “The Fighter” by Gym Class Heroes, “Till I Collapse” by Eminem, “Not Afraid” by Eminem, and “Firework” by Katy Perry.
Please remember: If you are reading this now, I’m reaching out to let you know that you are never alone.
Also– whew, made it to an even number. Now I can rest easier. (Though I do still worry people think I can’t count.)