Tips for When Depression Makes Self-Care Feel Like a Burden
Depression: The Thief
Depression is a sneaky jerk. It whispers lies in your ear and robs you of your precious resources; strength, will, and endurance.
The simplest acts of self-care can drain you. Brushing your teeth, eating, getting a drink of water. It all feels like a chore that saps your ability to do the next "have to".
For me, the frustration at not being able to accomplish any of those Have To's made me turn on myself. I bullied myself into action and belittled myself for "failing". I saw "Deep Dark Me" as an enemy to fight and wasted so much energy hating that part of myself. But being mean to myself made me feel worse, so I found alternate solutions to deal with the dark days in a positive way.
Here are some of the things I did to help care for myself during depression.
Change How You See Depression
One of the first things I did was change how I viewed myself and depression. Instead of a monster, I look at Deep Dark Me as a child who has good intentions, but severe limitations. Don't punish or shame. Give positive encouragement and allow for those limitations.
- "Can't do this? That's okay. What can you do?"
- "Good job! Thank you for doing your best."
- "You need a nap. Low batteries need to be recharged."
- "The job didn't get done, but that's okay. I'm proud of you for what you did do."
- And, as an author, I had to remember. "Even one paragraph is a step closer."
I always make sure to thank Deep Dark Me for whatever she can give. That act of gratitude makes a huge difference in how I view myself and improves how I cope the next time depression strikes.
Recognize When the Depression is Speaking
Depression says ugly things to us to make us feel worthless and unloved.
No one really likes you . . . You're a failure . . . Things are never going to get better.
When I notice myself saying or thinking something negative, I stop and acknowledge what is happening:
"That's the depression talking. It's lying and I won't listen. Right now, I'm going to focus on X and when my brain is clear again, I'll come back to deal with this."
A moment of mindfulness helps me stop the downward spiral. I remove myself from conversations and postpone decisions until I feel like I'm in a better mental place. Doing this reduces the amount of stress on myself and instances of poor or negative communication with others.
Lower Your Expectations, Break It Down, Aim for the End Goal
One of the most important things I did was dramatically reduced what I expect from Deep Dark Me. I set myself up for success by making attainable goals that can be achieved when I'm working at a lesser capacity instead of beating myself up for not doing all the things Everyday Me does with ease.
To facilitate this, I break tasks down into smaller steps and determine which step I can do at this moment. No more. No Less. No self-recrimination.
Having a routine helps; I know the steps to be done and when it will end. I don't have to think or plan. Just follow the steps. No time limit. No shame if it doesn't get done. Just do what can be done and then stop. Period.
In the line of keeping things simple, I ask: "What is the end goal?" Brushing my teeth makes me gag and feel wiped out. The end goal is a clean mouth. Rinsing with mouthwash does the job. Simple.
Showering is overwhelming. A soapy washcloth or even a wipe will accomplish the goal of cleaning my body.
Preparing food or eating a "real" meal is a no-go? My body needs protein. I eat a handful of almonds or jerky or lunch meat; whatever Everyday Me bought to get me through the darkness.
Sometimes I see the warning signs that depression is coming on and have a few hours to prepare. But not always, so I've started to make it habit to have things prepared in advance. Everyday Me has become much more thoughtful. She leaves gifts for Deep Dark Me:
- Frozen leftovers;
- Healthy snacks;
- Electrolyte drinks;
- A new ebook;
- Funny videos;
- My tablet charged so I can work from bed.
Small things make a big difference and I've often said, "Thank you, Past Self!" for those kindnesses.
My kids love Pajama Day, so I try to make it a special occasion instead of another reason for self-loathing. I crawl out of one pair of jammies, shower (if I can) or wipe down (if I can't), and crawl into a fresh pair. We watch movies or play games where I don't have to expend a lot of energy, and generally allow myself to rest as if my body were ill.
Keeping the Cupboard Stocked
I try to make sure when I do groceries that I get the things I need for Deep Dark Me, but I also have migraines so the dark days sometimes bleed together and shopping doesn't get done. Some places have grocery delivery services and I highly recommend it. We don't have that where I live, but I can order online and have someone drive me there for pick up. Or, the cab companies will pick up and deliver for a fee.
When I had pets, I bought an automatic feeder and a water dish. Not having to worry about their care while dealing with depression reduced some of the guilt and stress.
Based on the idea of Calm Down Kits for children, a Self-Care Kit would include the basics needed to care of yourself when you simply can't. It can include lip balm, coloring or puzzle books, trail mix, a journal and pen, chocolate, special tea or coffee, wipes, hand cream, etc. Tailor it to your personal needs and preferences.
Remove Yourself from Situations and People Who Make It Worse
Our environment plays a big role in our mental health, so I suggest looking around to see if anything or anyone is contributing to your depression.
20 years ago, Situational Depression nearly sent me out a window—literally. I had to change the situation (and people) in my environment. I kept a journal of when the downswings hit; the situation, the people involved, medication, weather, etc. to find my triggers. Then, I made changes.
Removing them from my life didn't make depression go away completely, but it had a huge impact on how my energy was spent, how often I plummeted, and how far into the darkness I fell.
Accept and Love Your Self
Depression totally sucks, but that "dark side" is a valid part of who you are. Stop hating that aspect of your Self. Don't waste your energy on an exhausting and endless fight. Instead, accept it and use it to change your life for the better.
Focus your resources on problem-solving: What works for you to survive and flow, even in the darkness? The moon has its dark day. Plants need the dark to sprout and grow. You do, too. Your body and brain just decide to have it when it's annoying and inconvenient.
For you to flourish and find peace with your Self, assess what your reality is and rearrange your world around that. You are the creator of your own universe: Create it how you need to be when you're not at your best. Learn your warning signs. Learn your needs. Set yourself up for success by preparing for the dark days.
Know that you're not alone. You're cared about. There are things you can do to make dealing with depression easier. And most importantly:
Be kind to you.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2019 Rosa Marchisella