I haven’t been posting as much lately, for a few reasons. Partly because of a flare up with my physical symptoms. For me, the spiral of physical symptoms leads to the spiral of mental symptoms and vice-versa. I haven’t written much because I’ve been trying to hold my head above water.
I sat in my therapist office last week as we discussed the weird in-between weeks of depression. I’m not currently in a depressive episode, but I’m in what I like to call “the slide.” For me, this is the time in-between the good times and the bad times, the period in which I can try and take the steps I know will help, or I can watch myself slide right into a full-blown (physical) flare up. The flare-ups of my physical illness will lead to a flare up of my mental illness and a classic depressive episode.
This is where all those coping mechanisms I learned in therapy get put into action.
Here are the top five things I have to do on a regular basis to maintain my best self (physically and mentally):
- Be in the word. For me, this means regular bible reading/prayer/small group/church attendance. Lately, I’ve been going through the Val Marie Paper Fresh Start Prayer Devotion + Journal, using the All Good Things Collective Daily Remain Journal, and Priscilla Shirer’s Discerning the Voice of God study. I truly believe that my depression is best managed with a fully holistic approach, and for me that includes not just diet, medication, and therapy, but also spiritual nourishment and warfare.
- Eat good food + drink water + exercise. This is nothing new for most of us to hear, but I need constant reminders. I have to stay on a gluten-free, low dairy diet for my best self. This is hard and I have been tempted by cake ALL WEEK, but I made it through and it has been worth it. I end up cooking at home as much as I can and taking leftovers for work (check back soon for my favorite recipe). I eat cheerios + almond milk for breakfast, only drink my coffee black, and try to avoid soda or sugar heavy drinks. I suck at drinking enough water, but I try! Again, not anything new, but something I am not super motivated about. I know that regular exercise helps me sleep better and feel better overall, which helps to keep a flare-up away. I shoot for in person, hour-long yoga classes two-three times a week and use Yoga With Adriene videos if I miss a class.
- Therapy + Medication. I know, I never shut up about therapy. I never stop talking about therapy because it changed my life. Seriously, the list of things that changed my life goes like this: Jesus, my people, books, therapy, and coffee. I go at least twice a month, and often more. Never less. Even when I think I don’t need it, therapy helps me in my day-to-day so much. It helps me stay afloat, to not slide into the pit of despair. It took me a long time to find a therapist that works with me, and for me, and fits into my budget. Also, medication is a thing that helps me function in a way that a lot of other things didn’t. I tried just therapy for a while, then therapy and meds, then just therapy again. I learned that I function best with medication to help balance out the chemicals in my brain. I know that there is a lot of stigma around anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, but friends – I am here to tell you, if you think you need medication, just talk to your doctor. There is no shame in taking medication for depression. Would you refuse a cast if your arm was broken? Would you refuse pain medications after surgery or medications to help manage your blood pressure? Mental illness can and should be treated like a physical illness. Your brain can get sick just like your heart or your liver, and not just from cancer. I fully recommend therapy and medications, as I don’t think medication alone is the best option. It will help chemicals, but it won’t help you understand and learn to cope with your medication.
- Spend Time With My People. I am an introvert and a loner. My depression makes me withdraw and my physical fatigue makes me want to do nothing besides go to sleep when I get home from work. I know that I have to have intentional interaction with my people to stay healthy. This isn’t every day, or just in passing. I have to be intentional about scheduling time with my boyfriend, my family, and my friends on a regular basis. I need to communicate with them on a daily basis, even if it’s just to check in or discuss something that’s not serious – I just need the connection.
- Schedule Time For Myself. This is super simple, in theory. One night a week, at least, I block off time for myself. I make no plans, and tell everyone I am unavailable. I spend time reading, writing, catching up on shows, or even just resting or going to bed early. I intentionally do not let myself do chores or anything that I have to do – this time is strictly for rest and renewal.
So far, I’m doing all of these at about 90%. I slept in Saturday and didn’t go to yoga, but I did make it Monday after work. This morning I overslept and didn’t get my quiet time in before I left the house, but I found a pocket of time before starting work to fit it in. Another part of managing depression is grace. You won’t cope perfectly everytime, but that’s okay. Sometimes you won’t be able to catch it before you slide into that pit. But it is worth the extra work when you can manage to take care of yourself before it gets bad.
What about you? What’s in your tool box? Your top 5? I’m always looking for new ideas. If you don’t know the answer to this question, take a few minutes and make a list of a few things that make you feel good and try to do those each day.