Beating depression over the head with a monkey wrench

If you haven’t read it yet, I implore you to head to Hyperbole and a Half for her take on the subject of depression.

I dealt with that same brand of depression a while back. Though therapy and pills didn’t work, I finally found my corn (and I swear to all that is holy, we are going to coin that phrase if it kills me), but you never really forget. And so when you feel something that starts tugging you back in that direction, you fight back. You have to.

So I wrote down exactly how I dealt with it– for my reference, and for anybody else’s. These are in no particular order– they’re just things that help me stay healthy.  They’re also not meant to be instant cures for the deep mire, but ways of getting grounded when you feel yourself start to slide.

Note: both chemically and psychologically, all people are different. What works for me may not work for you, and that’s okay. But in my experience, the best way of finding out what works for you is to try a little bit of everything and see what sticks. 

1. Make a decision. For me, at least, one of the most crippling feelings is the lack of control.  The first way for me to combat it, then, is to consciously decide that I’m not going to let this feeling control me. There’s something seriously empowering about taking a stand and making a decision. Vocalize it for more effect. Personally, because I tend towards anger when I get upset, I also generally cuss it out: “HELL no, depression. No way in blighted tulip-sucking oblivion are you going to keep me in bed all day. I got shit to do, so get the Prada-selling hell out of my way!” (Added bonus: Making up weird swears is also good for a laugh).

2. If you’re going to wallow in misery, give yourself a set time period. Jack Shepherd from LOST recommended overcoming panic by letting it have its say for five seconds– and then booting it out and moving on. Negative emotions are a part of life, and there’s no reason to guilt yourself for experiencing them. Better to give yourself a set time period to wallow, and then force yourself to get up and do something. For me, I let myself curl up and hide for two episodes of Castle— because unlike Jack, I need a bit more than five seconds. The important part is to let it go on no longer than the set time.

3. Look into the sun. No, literally. Don’t go burning a hole in your retinas or anything, but go outside and feel sunshine on your skin. Work in the garden. Ride a bicycle. Take the dog for a walk. If you can’t go outside, open all the blinds/curtains in the house and let the natural light in. Studies have linked natural sunlight to a lift in mood, so this is a chemical boost as well.

4. Get clean. Wash your face. Brush your teeth. Brush your hair (preferably with a different brush). Take a shower. Clean your room. Do the dishes. When we feel clean, we feel refreshed, even if it’s a little bit. When we clean something else, we’ve got a dramatic, visible show of our progress. Look at the impact you’ve made on your personal environment! Like making a decision, it’s incredibly empowering.

5. Get dressed. The bathrobe and jammies are part of the ‘not doing anything right now’ uniform. Which is great when that’s the intention, but when you’re feeling depressed, that can lead to stagnation (which deepens depression, and the cycle continues). Even if you’re not going anywhere or doing anything, dressing nice is a ritual activity. It tells the brain that you’re about to do something important, so it needs to wake up and prepare itself accordingly. (I actually got the inverse of this advice from a doctor: when I complained of insomnia, he suggested I stop reading on my bed, so that my brain associate the bed with only sleep. Consequently the brain would start releasing melatonin when I laid down to sleep. The brain can be programmed this way. It’s kind of epic.)

6. Get interested in other people. Don’t get me wrong, whining to others and getting sympathy can be helpful, but like wallowing, it needs to stop after a certain point. After that, it starts acting like a scab– the more you pick at it, the worse you’ll feel and the longer it’ll take to heal. Talk to other people about their problems– or about their joys. Listen to their life story, and actually hear what they’re saying. It gives you perspective, it gives you connection to another human being, and it gives you a break from the echo chamber that is misery.

7. Change your environment. Go grocery shopping. Go to a friend’s house. Take a walk in the woods. Like 3 and 5 on this list, this tells your brain to change modes. The fact that it also may give you a chance to be productive/have a conversation/absorb some sunshine is an added bonus.

8. Break out your inner writer. This one’s my personal goldmine, but it’s weird as all get-out. I step back from myself, divide myself into Jenny-the-Writer and Jenny-the-Character. And then I have Writer!Jenny analyze Character!Jenny’s situation. If I were writing this current scene, what parts would I edit out? How would I take this character and turn her into a strong, likable heroine? What motivates her current mood, and which point in the story would I have to change in order to truly change this scene? How have other writers dealt with this situation (“Good writers borrow, great writers steal”, after all!)?

What do you do to deal with the blues? Have you tried any of these for yourself? Tell us in the comments!