Depression is characterized by hopelessness and low energy. Depression is the low-low-low energy that makes it feel like I should just sleep forever and then maybe just cease to exist. And people in our lives don't know what to do with it, so they give us advice that often sounds more like judgement.
You need to exercise! You need to cheer up! And it's like, no sh*t. Don't you think I know that? I would if I could. Dang.
The problem is that this advice comes almost exclusively from people who have never been truly depressed. They have felt sad, circumstance-induced, appropriate sadness. They have not felt the terror at seeing that nothing is "wrong" and yet still you feel like dying. But I have experience with this. So, one depressed person to another, here's what I did to help myself come up out of depression.
I've spent months writing about feeling depressed. It's not the most inspirational thing to talk about, but it is the truth, and the truth can be inspirational in its own way. A friend of mine wrote to say recently, thank you for talking about depression, this is how I feel too, and another friend posted photos on facebook of big plates of pasta drowning in butter and cream, with posts about feeling down and how the only thing that feels like medicine is the pasta.
My friend is a real go-getter, so these posts about looking to pasta as his only hope of good are very vulnerable for him. He's part of this group of entrepreneurs I know who are just like YAY! KICKING ASS! ALL! THE! TIME! Which is awesome, but also, exhausting.
It's excruciating to admit sometimes that we are not kicking ass so much as getting our ass kicked. It's so un-American to admit defeat, ever, no matter how temporary.
But I'm happy to report that I'm feeling better this week. I've been coming out of this depression, like I went into it, slowly, bit by bit, only noticing it every once in a while. I see it from the side and I don't want to declare some sort of victory, because maybe it's chronic. Maybe it will be a respite. But dang, I'll take it.
So, I can talk with some authority this week about coming out of depression. Finding a map. It's not so much pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Unfortunately, it's more mysterious than that, but I can give you a map, and you can try the path I took, if you are needing a path. It might work for you. Or it might lead you to a path that is uniquely your own.
Looking back, here is the path I can trace:
1. Practice RADICAL Self-Acceptance.
Honestly, the turning point in my depression easing up was when I just totally gave up and stopped trying to do anything really. I started watching this serial-killer show about the FBI (Mindhunter on Netflix, it's amazing).
Usually, I get up and pray and journal, and I do a little gratitude list or an anti-gratitude list and I write little things on slips of paper to put in my God Box and I read daily readers and I do yoga and listen to Lisa Nichols or Denise Duffield-Thomas or the Secret or the Law of Abraham or Tony Robbins (don't hate me) or sermons by Nathan LeRud or Joel Osteen (don't hate me) or Nadia Bolz-Weber. So much stuff. All good for me stuff. And, usually, I love it.
But one sign of this depression was that I just got tired of all that stuff, bit by bit, and I didn't SAY I was quitting it, but I'd look at my phone, and I'd check facebook, and then Twitter, and then back to facebook, and then I'd be in some internet rabbit hole, reading about Prince Harry's girlfriend's best friend's career for two hours and then suddenly, my son would be up, and the day would be starting and I'd scramble to get a sandwich made for his lunch and to get him to school on time.
So, the first step to coming out of this depression, was to just make it official. To stop trying, and say, you know all this yoga and these inspirational readings and all that, this isn't my job. I can do what I want. It's five in the morning. If I want to start my day by watching a show about serial killers (about as far as possible from Tony Robbins as a person could get), then I CAN. It's my choice.
I still prayed, because I always pray, but the prayer was like Hey, God, what's up, on my way to the sofa to grab the remote.
But here's the surprising thing: Instead of destroying my life or plunging me into a pit of despair about the state of humanity and the depraved things happening on the news every day, watching the serial killer show before the sun was even up made me SO HAPPY. So filled with joy. Like, Look at me: I can just do whatever I want.
2. Simplify and reduce your expectations of yourself.
So, where can you cut the corners on your expectations of yourself? And where are the things you have been not doing? I'm here to tell you, you can just make it official for a while, and say, No, I'm not doing that right now. I'm doing this other thing that I want to do.
Now, you are a grown up, and grown ups have responsibilities. For me, this meant, getting my son up and dressed, and making him three meals a day, and getting him to school and picking him up. Going to the grocery store and getting stuff for sandwiches, and cereal and english muffins and eggs and apples. Making sure all the bills are paid, and managing repairs on the house we still own in another state and on and on and on. So, all those things still have to get done, and I still have to do them.
But if you're like me, there's probably a lot of other things that you're counting as things you have to do that you do not actually have to do. Like eat healthy, or make interesting, impressive dinners, or get dressed to impress, or work out.
You have to find your actual desires -- even if they're stupid, or not good for you -- and start spending some time there. Because depression is an emergency. It's a siren going off in your soul, only you can't hear it because part of what depression is, is that everything looks and feels muted. So instead of feeling a siren, it can just feel like, wouldn't it be nice to just sleep forever and then maybe just cease to exist?
If you are in depression, it's a desperate times call for desperate measures situation. Pushing harder might not be the answer. Totally letting go of your own expectations of yourself might be the thing you need.
For me, this looked like starting to eat cereal for dinner. Just letting go of the expectation that I was going to cook. And absolutely giving myself a complete gold star if I made eggs and toast for dinner. THAT IS COOKING. THAT'S HOT FOOD ON THE TABLE, PEOPLE.
But cereal is ok for breakfast, so why not for dinner sometimes? It's against my usual standard for myself, but the thing I did differently was I started to accept my depression in the same way I would accept a physical injury.
If I had a broken leg, I would not berate myself for not running a 5K. I'd say, It's just not the time for that. It's ok. It won't be forever. So, I said the same thing about my super-low energy during this depressed period. And so, cereal for dinner. Dishes only washed on an as-needed basis. Like, You need a plate? Oh, let me wash one real quick. Coffee? I need a cup. Just a sec.
Another thing I did was I started wearing my pajama shirt all day, under my coat or under my sweater. I love my pajama shirt. It's cozy and it was a gift from my husband. It reminded me of sleeping, which is all I wanted to do, so I felt better, remembering that sleeping was a thing.
Then, I went out without make up for three days in a row. If you know me, you know that these are basically the conditions of the apocalypse coming. I never go out without lipstick. But I just got tired of it. I got tired of feeling like I have to LOOK PRETTY all the time. Pretty is not my job. F- it. I don't have to do it if I don't want to. So, I didn't.
And you know what? The world didn't end.
Amazing. But the world didn't end when I let up on myself a little bit.
3. Each day, make a list of three things you WANT to do, and let yourself then do them.
Remember what we've said so far -- keep it simple and keep your (probably low) energy level in mind. Like this is not the time to be a hero and clean out the storage space. No, these aren't things you SHOULD want to do, these are things you ACTUALLY want to do. (Remember radical self-acceptance?) Easy things.
So, for me, I started making this drink I like. My husband devised this drink for me when I was sick once -- it's diet ginger ale mixed with a fruit-punch flavor syrup. SO DELICIOUS. I started drinking that stuff every day at lunch time.
And I took a lot of baths. I know that baths seem like whatev, women's magazine type of advice. But when you are depressed, if you are anything like me, one of the major feelings is I SHOULD BE DOING ALL THESE THINGS BUT I CAN'T WHAT THE F*CK IS WRONG WITH ME I AM THE WORST. So, taking the radical step of saying you know, I'm not going to do the laundry right now, or wash the dishes, or take some go-gettery step on behalf of my career. Instead, I am going to set the bar as low as humanly possible and I am going to just wash myself. I'm going to get into the bathtub.
Then I discovered this amazing thing -- I created an amazing invention. I dragged a kitchen chair into the bathroom and set my laptop on it and watched tv WHILE IN THE BATHTUB ARE YOU KIDDING ME THIS WAS THE BEST THING EVER. So much joy. So ridiculous. The epitome of the I-get-to-do-what-I-want lifestyle.
When you're feeling bad, it's hard to come up with three things. And I realized, you know, this is part of the problem. That I'm going to do a hundred things today and I can't even think of three things that I actually want to do.
So I started by putting on the list, the only things that I felt like I could do and wanted to do -- watch tv and read my book.
I wrote: read my book for 10 minutes and then saw how stingy that was and crossed out "10 minutes" and replaced it with "a half hour." I wrote: see if my friend wants to get coffee. Drink one of those fancy drinks my husband invented for me. Get a chai. (Usually I'm too cheap to order anything besides plain drip coffee.) Eat my favorite cereal for dinner. Text my friend to see if she has time to talk on the phone. Make a bubble bath with the dish soap. Simple things.
Just to remind ourselves that we have freedom.
Bit by bit, these things added up. And they helped. As I spent more time in the things I wanted to do, genuinely-wanted, not should-wanted, I started to feel like, oh it's not so bad -- earth. America. Yes, it's a sh*t show in many ways right now, but there is this delicious drink, this bathtub tv invention, my friend up the hill who might have time for coffee. Things aren't so bad.
CALL TO ACTION
What are three things you could do today that you actually want to do? Make a tiny low-stakes list and do all three things. Track how you feel. Do this every day for the next five days and you will start to feel better. Guaranteed.