Hallo! Welcome to my first blog series on Against The Stream. It is called Feeling Good and focuses on depression and the stages of moving through a very low or difficult time in life. Unless you are feeling well and able to function it is really hard to start living well and as God intends, so let’s start with the basics.
What we have covered so far in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of Feeling Well sums up the basics of what’s going on, where to start looking for help and my story. But what about some practical things to do or consider that might help ease the pain a little, get through those bland, dull, black days? I certainly found it very difficult to balance what was going on in my head with what was going on in my day, so here’s a few practical things to do between (I hope) doctors, therapy, drugs, or all three.
This is one of the most common suggestions of things to do, but probably one of the hardest. To begin with, I found that whenever I tried to put things aside and sit for a bit I either ended up feeling guilty for not doing things or I started thinking about myself too much and got in a state. Eventually, and with my counselor’s help, I found a better way to relax. It sounds a bit weird, and it took a while for me to learn how to do it well, but it does help to listen to your body and learn to calm yourself down.
Sitting or lying down, eyes closed, take deep breaths, visualizing yourself sinking further into your body as you do. Be aware of how the parts of your body feel. Is anywhere in your core tight and tense? How do your fingers and toes feel? What are you touching? Are you comfortable or uncomfortable? Thirsty, hungry, tired? Hot or cold? Does anywhere hurt, like head or feet, or stomach? Sit with your awareness of your body for a bit, acknowledging yourself without judging or making decisions and still breathing deeply. Then, when you are ready, open your eyes and slowly return to the moment.
After calming myself down as above I was usually able to pinpoint what I needed to do to help myself rest, like eat something, have a drink of water, try to nap or go for a walk etc. By the way, I’m taking ‘rest’ to mean anything that helps you be calm, reduces stress and anxiety and helps you feel less wrung out. For me it was lying down with a book, watching mindless TV shows for a few minutes (Pingu is a great favourite) or knitting an easy pattern and breathing with each stitch. You’ll have to figure out what works best, but I can advise you to stay away from complex activities or thing that require concentration.
Sleep can fluctuate wildly during a period of depression and is often affected by drugs. Therefore, it is natural to go from sleeping ten to eight each night, for example, to eleven to five, as I have done. I kind of like the early morning, but it is frustrating when I can’t get to sleep at night. If loss of sleep is making functioning hard, talk to your doctor, as they might be able to tweak something or advise melatonin or a new routine.
Pretty much all sleep patterns can be affected by depression and drugs and because of this you may find dreams become more vivid too. All that being said, sleep is good for your brain and helps it heal, so try not to deny yourself sleep within your current pattern, even if it means leaving a party early to get to bed or arranging your day so you can sleep in.
Talking of parties, let’s cover social stuff next. An introvert to begin with, I’ve found almost all social occasions very draining and have taken on some recluse-like qualities. This has, however, removed a large amount of stress from my life and it is only now as I am recovering more that I find myself able to do more in the way of getting out and about.
However, not everyone is like me, so you may find it helpful to connect with people or add a the occasional social activity. Really, it is up to you to gauge what helps you and what hinders you, so do what you need to do. Now may also be a good time to cut back on the things you do if you are a social butterfly, so you’ll have to learn to say ‘no’ sometimes. It can be very difficult, so take things slow and monitor yourself as you do so, whether cutting out activities or adding time with friends.
This one has been hard for me as I have pre-existing problems with food. However, I have found that a routine really helps with the fluctuating appetite side of depression. Good brain food is key, so things like eggs and nuts have been helpful for me, and then teas, fruit and juice have helped with relaxation and Vitamin C. Depending on your regular diet some changes may be necessary to include the nutrition you need, but it is generally better to eat on a schedule or make the effort to eat well than be tempted to skip meals and starve yourself in times of great pain.
I also found it helpful to eat with someone, even if HusBen just texted me from work on his lunch break. The other thing I found helpful was rewarding myself for accomplishing something or doing something I found difficult, like doing the dishes or folding laundry. This even worked at my job, where I would bring a cookie or some nuts and sweets to have after doing an onerous task.
This was a hard one for me. I hate exercising for the sake of exercising and I already walk a lot, so it was hard to fit something more into my life. Currently I am doing a two week stretch of core and leg muscle exercises – but I only do a few minutes in the morning, so it is bearable. I did find deliberately going for a walk helped sometimes, especially on nice sunny days, otherwise a good bit of stretching and gentle exercise helped me feel accomplished and better for having done something, although I doubt I’ll be seeing much change in my body anytime soon. Do note that a common side effect of antidepressants is weight gain, so don’t get discouraged if you do manage something but still put on a few pounds. Now just might not be the time to go all-out on a diet and exercise regimen.
Netflix was a great help for me at some very low times. For someone who isn’t terribly keen on having a TV it was extremely helpful to be able to watch simple, entertaining, low emotional investment shows rather than wander the house feeling awful, and then guilty for feeling awful.
As a book lover, it was really hard to not have the concentration necessary to get through a good book, and even if I did the level of emotional investment was sometimes unhelpful, especially if a character I liked died, or the book ended unsatisfactorily. However, I felt it less strongly if a TV show ended or a character disappeared. It was easier to move on to another show or chooses a different movie. This may be singular to me, though, and I’d be interested to hear how other people find it.
All this being said, a period of depression is hard and I can’t lie and say that doing all these things will fix you or even help all that much. Sometimes it simply has to be got through. Hopefully, though, as your brain heals and you get stronger, doing some of these things will help with the boredom of waiting it out and trying to stay level. A time of depression may not be the right time to learn a new hobby or make new friends, but it is a great time to learn good habits and gather the skills you need to stay healthy.
In Part 6 I will be talking about changing the way you think, which is extremely hard work, so check back in a few days to find out some strategies for helping yourself grow and change in order to feel well.