Then Slim, my 9-year-old, got in the car after school. "Mom, guess what?!" (To be fair, I already knew "what" because his teacher had e-mailed me.) "I won the Geography Bee out of the whole fourth grade!" Finally one of his quirky little obsessions has paid off. I have not seen him so proud and happy in a long time. It made me so happy to see him so happy.
But the next day, I hardly got anything done. I was chasing my tail - and Edgie, my 2-year-old - all day cleaning up messes. I wanted to go for a walk, but had to wait for the garage opener repairman. I wanted to clean out my closet and switch out summer clothes for winter clothes, but Edgie was scattering my jewelry and shoes everywhere. Slim came home from school upset because he had gotten in trouble in PE, which he felt wasn't his fault. In the evening, we tried to settle in for one of our favorite family activities- reading Harry Potter by the outdoor fireplace all snuggled together under blankets eating roasted marshmallows - but there was one interruption after another.
I was downright crabby. And a little depressed. Is it too hard to ask that there ever be two consecutive good days in a row?
I happened to read a post by one of my favorite on-line friends, JD from Honest Mom, who blogs a lot about depression. Hers is on-going, despite having tried many strategies. I began to think about my own strategies, and realized that I am NOT using any. I think I am relying too much on my doctor prescribed antidepressant. I have been on Lexapro since Joey was diagnosed with cancer; and honestly, I think I may be using it as a crutch at this point. I would love to stop taking the Lexapro, but that means I need to try much harder at the strategies that I know make me feel better. I have noticed a definite correlation between how I choose to treat myself and my happiness.
So, here are my 25 best tips for fighting depression:
- Eat (mostly) clean. I know I crave crap food when I'm feeling blue, but it just ends up making me feel worse a few hours later.
- Limit alcohol, caffeine, and processed sugar. Along with number one, this is important. These may give you a temporary jolt, but the crash that comes later is brutal - and even more depressing. I would never tell anyone to completely cut out their favorite foods. Food IS comfort. But know your limits. And if you have a tendency to binge like me, avoid!
- Get moving! The last thing a depressed person wants to do is an intense spin class. Just getting out of bed can be a challenge. But a brisk walk in the sunshine can do wonders. Plus the vitamin D from the sun is a bonus!
- Stretch or do yoga. Getting your blood flowing can instantly perk up your mood. And it feels sooo good. This post shares some easy exercises you can do at home anytime.
- Make a plan. Decide on something you will do each day - even if it is just going to the mailbox - and then do it. Without a plan, you will likely stay on the couch or in bed and in your funk.
- Only put one thing on your to-do list per day. This was great advice from my husband. I used to get so frustrated and upset that I wasn't knocking out my laundry list of to-dos every day. What started out as a little humorous ribbing, ended up making perfect sense. You can get one thing done a day, right? And when you cross it off, it will feel so good you may just go and do something else.
- Phone-a-friend. For me, talking to my mom always makes me feel better. But there are friends I can call about different things - one who understands my depression about losing Joey, one I can talk writing with, one I can just gripe about life with, etc. . . Just make sure you're not placing too much on any one friend - losing a friend can be depressing, too.
- Organize something. There is something about standing back and looking at a purged and re-organized pantry the makes me high-five myself. Decluttering stuff can definitely help a cluttered mind.
- Get down and dirty. Sure sex feels good, but I am talking about a good old-fashioned scrubbing. Along with number 8, lending a little elbow grease to that grime in the shower can be quite therapeutic.
- Come clean. Taking a shower, a bubble bath, or just washing your hair or face or brushing your teeth can do wonders for turning a bad day around. You just have to get off the couch to do it.
- Don't compare. That mom up at school who seems to have everything together and is wearing a cute little dress to volunteer in the cafeteria has problems, too. Trust me, she does. Everyone does.
- Avoid triggers. Damn social media anyway. Facebook, Pinterest, and the like make it hard to avoid feeling depressed. But just remember two things: a.) Pinterest is supposed to be pretty. That is what draws people to a particular website. 75% of the things getting "pinned" will never be cooked, made, bought, wore, changed, or tried (I totally just made that percentage up, but you know it's true). And b.) Facebook is 99.9% bullshit (just made that percentage up, too). Those 30 Days of Gratitude posts can be maddening, right? Keep in mind that the same person who says something is a blessing, just bitched about it last month.
- Meditate and breathe. This means finding a quiet place or time to regroup and think about what's really important in your life. If it means taking stock of all the little things you're grateful for (no announcement on Facebook necessary) then so be it. Think about everything you could lose if your pattern of depression continues. This does NOT mean dwelling on the things that are already upsetting you.
- Take risks. Not the really dangerous, I-don't-give-a-crap-what-happens-to-me kind. The kind where a positive outcome would make you happy, but a negative one wouldn't devastate you. Every time I submit one of my pieces of writing, I feel a rush of happiness. If someone likes it and wants to pay me a little money for it, great. If not, well, I'll just move on to the next.
- Do what makes you happy. If you have a passion, keep at it. Make it just for you. I will never stop writing. Even if no one is reading, I will still write. If you love old movies, take a day to watch your favorite black and whites. Don't give up what you love to do for ANY reason.
- Sleep. Get the right amount. Not too much and definitely not too little. Listen to your body and say okay when it needs sleep.
- Communicate. Don't expect those closest to you to know what you need. It may be difficult to articulate, especially if you fear rejection, but it's the only way anyone is going to be able to help you with what you need.
- Cuddle. Depression can kill a person's sex drive, but we still all need loving contact. Sit close by your partner on the couch and watch a favorite movie or give back rubs. Snuggle with your kids or pet. Even one hug from someone you care about can make a difference.
- Read something that makes you laugh. Can I suggest "I Heart My Little A-Holes" by Karen Alpert, "At Least My Belly Hides My Cankles" by Paige Kellerman, "Moms Who Drink and Swear" by Nicole Knepper, "Ketchup is a Vegetable" by Robin O'Bryant, or "I Just Want to Pee Alone", "You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth", and "The Mother of All Meltdowns" by various bloggers?
- Read something that inspires you. I love anything by Marianne Williamson and someone recently suggested Brene Brown to me.
- Talk in a silly voice or make funny noises. Hey, it's good for a laugh, right? And laughter is contagious.
- Belt out a tune. Pick one of your favorites. Is it a show tune? Some angry rap? A silly kids' song? I personally love singing the falsetto girl part in Justin Timberlake's "Senorita."
- Bust a move. If I can dance to that song, too, man I feel good!
- Cry. If all else fails, let it all out.
- Think differently. I don't mean to be harsh about this, but sometimes it's not all about you. The other day, Edgie unearthed an old DVD that we haven't watched since Joey was alive. After watching it, Lil' C said, "That made me miss Joey. I feel like crying. I love Joey." At first it made my heart very heavy. But then, I told myself that at least Lil' C, who likely remembers very little about Joey, is talking about and expressing love for Joey. And that's a good thing. Whatever it is that threatens to pull you under FLIP IT and turn it into something else.
- (Bonus one!) Say "I love you" - to yourself. Or at least a part of yourself. I am so depressed about all the weight I've gained in the last few years, but you know what? I still love my hair and my eyes. And when I put the last period on a really great piece of writing - damn it feels good! We all have beauty and worth - FIND YOURS!
Any one of these strategies in and of itself is not going to make a huge difference to a depressed person. But in combination, they can work wonders. There is definitely a part of depression that can be controlled by our own choices and actions. This I have come to know, and realize it is something I will be working on for the rest of my days.
Please note, if you have tried any or all of these strategies and you still feel like there is a heavy blanket on your heart and mind that you just can't get out from under, know that there is NO shame in getting help whether in the form of talk therapy or medication. For me, getting that medicinal assistance is what helped me learn more about my body and mind.
I am not completely off the Lexapro yet, and I don't know how it will go once I am. I will let you know, but I am confident that if I keep working on the strategies above I can do it.