Chronic mental illness feels like fighting in a lifelong battle you can never win. The exhaustion of getting knocked down, and knowing only you can get yourself back up again, and again, and again, feels like too much sometimes. Depression lies to us time and time again. Depression tells us that we should keep our problems to ourselves because we are a burden. Depression tells us there is no reason to get out of bed. Depression tells us to stop trying to get back up.
Yet we get back up. Over and over again. Every time I am standing at the bottom of the mountain, staring at the overwhelmingly tall peak, I learn more about what strategies work for me. And I start climbing. But we have to start by putting the boots on. Here are some tips I use to prepare myself for the climb.
Be aware of your thoughts and urges.
But don’t act on them. Just notice them. Then remember:
- You are not your thoughts. Intrusive thoughts pop up into everyone’s heads, but when we are depressed, they are jarring. Try not to take them too seriously, and let them pass if you can.
- Your thoughts are not facts. If it helps, think of them as merely chemicals forming and moving in your brain.
Act opposite to what your depression is telling you to do.
If depression tells you to isolate yourself from everyone, tell one person that you trust how you are feeling. It may be overwhelming to share your feelings, but try to find the courage to tell just one person. If you feel like a burden, imagine what you would do for your best friend if they asked you for help. Would you feel burdened?
If depression tells you to stay in bed, get out of bed. If all you can do is sleep, or all you can do is watch TV, do it on the couch. Once you can do that, take one more small step. Maybe that step is to eat something, or work on a puzzle, or take a bath, or text a friend.
Take care of yourself physically.
Many of us make depression worse by neglecting our bodies. If this is true for you, do as many of these things as you can. Learn which areas affect your mood the most, and prioritize them.
- Take your medications as prescribed.
- If you stop eating when you’re down, keep eating, even if it’s just several small meals in the day. If you overeat when you’re down, try to eat as balanced as you can.
- Be mindful of your sleep. If you need more rest, add a couple hours, but try not to sleep all day.
- Move your body if you can. When you feel ready, even a short walk can help.
- Know how mood-altering substances affect you when you’re in a more vulnerable mood state. For some, alcohol can be a catalyst for deep depression.
If all you can do some days is keep yourself safe, that’s okay. If all you can do some days is take one small step to get out of bed, that’s okay. If you need more help some days than others, that’s okay. One step at a time, one day at a time, you can do it. And thank you Chumbawamba for reminding us to sing…
I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down!
What do you do to improve your mood when you’re feeling depressed?