I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now. Seems a little odd that, especially someone as weathered as me, should need a checklist for when I am depressed. But anyone who has gone through it knows, it’s a fog. You forget even the smallest things you can do to help your situation. And even when you remember you hardly have the energy to execute them.
I find the biggest helpers are self forgiveness and routine, and self forgiveness when you can’t entirely execute your routine. Here are the things that I try to remind myself and others when they feel a depressive episode coming on, or are in the midst of one:
- WATER! WATER, WATER, WATER! Remember to hydrate. I’ve gone days without drink water, and I promise, it will screw with your body chemistry.
- Eat healthy. I always go for adding in healthy foods, rather than just a blanket “eat healthy” approach, because most likely you are still going to eat according to your normal eating habits, if you are eating at all at this point. Then you are going to mentally punish yourself for not executing the second thing on this check list and say, “Well, fuck it all to hell then!” And so continues the downward spiral. Instead of that I always recommend food that is easy to process for the body and/or helps with cognition. Number one one that list: LEAFY GREENS. Focus on spinach, kale, romaine, and collard greens. They are power houses. Next I shoot for some good proteins: fish, chicken, and beef are my go to’s (obviously if you are vegan or vegetarian, you know what protein sources work best for you.) And lastly, let’s add in some good antioxidants: berries. There are a lot of healthy foods out there, but this is about eating clean and keeping it generally minimalist and easy.
- Exercise. This can even be a walk around the block. You don’t have to do a 13 mile run (although runners high is a helpful thing) but try not to let your body stay too stagnant. Move those toxins around so you can flush them out. Don’t think you can face the world? That is okay, walk around your house… walk back and forth to get that cup of water. I promise, I understand how hard this can be, but even if you feet drag all the way there and back, especially if they do, movement will help your body.
- Tell someone. This doesn’t just go for suicide watch. Even if you feel like you are teetering and you are not sure if you ate some bad sushi or you are about to go into a full blown episode, tell someone. Find that one person who gets it, or who doesn’t get it but doesn’t judge and just wants to be there. I know people who have even called suicide hotlines when they are not suicidal, they just needed to tell someone. But calling/texting/emailing/smoke signaling someone you know is two fold: (1) you get validation. Never underestimate the power of being validated and the power of validating someone else. It goes a long way. And (2) you have someone to check in on you. Sometimes just having some say, “Hey Erica, just checking in. How are you doing?” is all you need to open up.
- Stretch. I suppose this can go hand in hand with exercise but I think it deserves a bullet of it’s own. Again, you don’t have to be a yoga fanatic to do this one. Just do the stretches you learned in 6th grade PE. If you don’t feel you can exercise, do active stretching with movement as your exercise. If you are trying to relax and find some calm, try static slow stretching.
- Meditate. I’ll be the first to admit I suck at meditation. I find small guided ones with soothing voices and I let them take my head to a better place. This doesn’t always work as I usually have 20 different voices in my head competing for my attention, but sometimes it does work, and that is worth it.
- Find a mantra for yourself when you are on point. Those are a little harder to find when you are digging yourself out of a depressive hole, but when you are ready, find a mantra. Repeat that mantra. Not believing your mantra? No worries, add this statement at the end: “… I might not believe it today, because depression is a bitch. But this too shall pass.” For example:”I am beautiful. I am a badass. And I got this. However, I might not believe it today, because depression is a bitch. But this too shall pass.”
- Laugh. Okay, okay, I hear you telling me to stfu and instantaneously writing me off, but hear me out. Comedy helps. Yes, some days you are going to be so down in it that nothing will make you smile, let alone laugh. But if you can, watch comedy, listen to comedy, your type of comedy. Stuff that would usually make you laugh, but perhaps is not today. It is better then letting that shitty inner voice fill your head. Give your head a break, and who knows, you might even feel a facial muscle move.
- Remember: this too shall pass. My mom says it all the time to me. I scoff sometimes because I know there is no cure for this, but on the flip side, she is right. Everyone has his or her own cross to bear, but some days are better then others. And those days when you used up all your spoons to fast, or you started off with less spoons than you did the day before, those days will pass. If there is one thing in all of this to believe, this is it: “This too shall pass.”
So there’s my checklist. I definitely have more than this, but let’s stick to the basics. You are not allowed to ridicule yourself if you don’t do everything on this list. Everyone is different. But you do get to give yourself a high five (mental high five if you are too weak to high five yourself) for everyone you check off.
And for those of you reading this on behalf of trying to help a loved one, I commend you. But I also ask you to keep in mind that depression is no joke. It is a evil monster of a disease, and I’m sure to the average person this list maybe seem easy. But things aren’t so easy when your biggest challenge is just getting out of bed. You may not understand what your person is going through, and that is okay. But be ready to acknowledge that they are going through something, a terrible disease with a lot of stigma and push back. And I know it’s hard for you too, because all you want to do is help. But simply validating your person is a good place to start. And don’t forget: that person that you love, this is them too, but this is a bad day, and this too shall pass.