Surviving Depression

To avoid being redundant, all the tips I gave for surviving a loved one’s depression also apply to surviving your own depression. However, as I’ve spent more time as the depressed person, I have a little additional insight into keeping yourself afloat when your brain feels like it’s trying to drown you.

1. Be patient with yourself. Let me repeat: Be patient with yourself. You cannot get out of bed before noon some days? It’s alright. You haven’t washed the dishes in a week? They aren’t going anywhere. What truly matters is surviving to the best of your ability.

2. With that said, pick one task each day and complete it. When you’re in the pit of a depressive slump, the simplest task can feel impossible. Select just one task, muster as much willpower as it takes and get it done. As you begin to feel better, you may be able to slowly add more tasks to that list.

3. And when you complete these tasks, document and celebrate your simple successes! Depression can cause every day to melt into one, long void. Help yourself to combat this by keeping an Activity Log. Documenting the things you do not only serves as a visual reminder of your successes but also offers an opportunity to say, “I may not feel well, but I completed x and y today. I’m doing alright.”

4. Remember that you have felt happy before. Depression has a tendency to wipe from memory all the good that has ever occurred in your life. You see nothing but darkness behind and darkness ahead. Whether you believe it or not, remind yourself that you will not feel this way forever. You will have happy times again. Consider asking a trusted friend or family member to remind you of the good times.

5. Seek out qualified assistance. Whatever the circumstances surrounding your depression, should you find yourself stuck in a terrible slump of sadness, please begin actively looking for help from medical professionals. Though I believe antidepressants and other psychotropics should primarily be prescribed by psychiatrists, a trusted family doctor isn’t a bad place to start. If you are searching for a therapist/counselor, check here for tips on finding one who fits your needs.

6. Don’t give up. You may not believe it, but there is hope. There are options. There is help. Looking for the right combination of medications, the best fitting therapist can be an exhausting and frustrating process. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that you never know the beauty that could be just around the corner. I, for one, would hate to quit when something wonderful could be waiting for me on the other side of this minute, this day or this month.

For Caregivers: Surviving a Loved One’s Depression

May I state the obvious? Being around someone who is depressed is exhausting. We (the dismal, depressed collective) are pessimistic, weepy, needy and, whether or not We’ve found the energy to shower, possibly stinky. Having been both the depressed person and the loved one of someone experiencing depression, I’d like to attempt a little perspective on what We need as well as how to save yourself from burnout as a caregiver.

To begin, please for the love of all that is beautiful, do NOT say the following: “Your life isn’t that bad.” “You have nothing to be sad about.” “Just snap out of it.” “I was depressed once and then just decided to be happy.” “What’s wrong with you?” “If you prayed more, you wouldn’t be depressed.” “You’re depressed because you aren’t following God.” (I’ve heard all of these and none of them did anything but increase the guilt I was already feeling.)

DO say: “I love you.” “I know that you are hurting.” “We will get through this together.”

But, enough about Us.

You, the caregiver, are going to get tired. You’re going to get irritated. You’re going to feel upset, scared, angry and possibly resentful. So what can you do to save yourself?

1. Realize that your loved one is sick. He/she is not defined by the depression. Stop to consider the things that make her who she is. Remind yourself that much of the negativity she is projecting is a symptom of depression. Separating the illness from the person can help stop misplaced anger and give you an outlet for frustration. It’s okay to be super pissed at the disease.

2. Try not to take everything your loved one says personally. While depression is not an excuse for cruelty, remember that, as stated above, your loved one is not herself and may say things that come across as unkind, whether or not she intended them as such.

3. Find someone you can talk to. Your loved one probably isn’t going to be as emotionally available as usual. It’s important to have someone else you can trust who will listen to what you are feeling, whether that be a family member, a friend, a therapist or even an online forum. I don’t necessarily suggest you tell your loved one you are talking about her to someone else, as this may be interpreted negatively.

4. But, don’t be afraid to talk to your loved one. So many times, I’ve heard people say, “I knew you weren’t feeling well, so I didn’t want to burden you with my own problems.” Completely understandable response. Talking about your struggles, however, may help your loved one to continue to feel valuable as she is recovering.

5. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from friends and family. More often than not, I think you’ll find people are willing to lend a hand if you only just explain that you’re feeling overwhelmed.

6, In addition to asking for help, don’t try to do everything. You may find that some tasks need to be put on the back-burner for a bit. Unless you’re someone who finds relaxation in such things, deep-cleaning the kitchen grout can wait. In this same vein, it’s important to realize it isn’t your responsibility to “cure” your loved one.

7. Take care of your body. You will need to prevent yourself from becoming physically rundown. Try to make healthy food choices, maintain your sleep routine and take time for light exercise. As best you can, keep to some sort of schedule to maintain a sense of balance and normalcy.

8. Treat yourself. Try to do at least one special thing for yourself every day. Pick up your favorite coffee, take a bubble bath, listen to uplifting music. Whatever you enjoy, make time for it.

9. Consider taking up journaling. I started keeping a journal my first year of college, and over the years, I’ve found it is a great way to vent and sort out my thoughts and feelings. You can go the traditional journal route or try art journaling. (Check this tumblr page for beautiful examples of this type of journal.)

10. If all else fails, just breathe. When you’re at your absolute wit’s end, try some deep breathing exercises, like these, for relaxation.

If you’re looking for more information, try this resource for caregivers.

The D Word

I’ve been away awhile, trying, trying, trying to fight off a nagging sense of depression’s lingering presence in my brain. I couldn’t keep the Deep Dark away this time, so as I wait out these weekend hours until I can reach my psychiatrist and get some medication to send my serotonin levels back to “normal” I thought I’d take the time to share a bit of how depression feels.

As I was telling J last night, I haven’t been posting on here because 1) I haven’t felt well enough to write and 2) I long for this blog to be a source of optimism. Nonetheless, I think I can talk a bit about what I am feeling without taking an entirely pessimistic view on life.

If you’ve read anything about depression, I’m sure you’ve read that it isn’t just “a bad day.” I cannot emphasize strongly enough how true this is. Everyone has bad days, bad weeks, even. Depression is a different beast.

Take a second, if you will, to study this picture of brain activity scans of a depressed person versus a not depressed person. Pretty major difference, huh?

Brain of a depressed person on the left, vs the brain of a non-depressed person on the right

Brain of a depressed person on the left, vs the brain of a non-depressed person on the right

My first warning sign is usually a decreased interest in everything. There’s a clinical term for this: anhedonia. It means you lose interest in all those things you used to love doing. Previously, I’d found pleasure in cleaning and decorating the house: no longer. I love taking walks in early spring: no energy. Everything around me loses its color and vibrancy.

Second sign? My brain feels like it’s muddled in cement. I can’t think clearly. I have trouble explaining myself. I catch myself staring into space, staring into my coffee, wondering how long I’ve been “gone.” Every action seems to require a tremendous amount of concentration and energy. I’ve found I have to practice simple, non-verbal mantras to myself. Lying in bed this morning, realizing I’d been there for 12 hours… “Get up, Holly. Get up. Get out of bed and make coffee. You can’t lie here all day. Get up and make coffee.” Repeat until I muster the strength to throw off the covers and put both feet on the floor.

And then, the crying. Random, unexpected crying. I remember a time I had a sob fest because a bouquet of flowers had died, and I had to throw them in the trash. Somewhere in my sad mind, the flowers represented all that is life and suddenly “we were all slowly withering on the brink of death.” Sounds like a real drama queen moment. It isn’t.

Bring in the feelings of guilt. Depressed people will apologize for all the troubles and ills of the world. It isn’t that we are being purposely selfish or ego-centric but that our brains are filled to the brim with thoughts of inadequacy or of being a burden. For my part, I experience immense guilt over the concern I cause others and for how needy I become. I am naturally a very independent person. I hate having to ask for help. But when I’m depressed, something as simple as a sink-full of dishes can reduce me to tears. I need help but knowing that I need help, that I am draining my loved ones of energy, compounds those feelings of guilt.

Next up, physical pain. By now I’m sure many people have seen the commercial for Cymbalta. “Depression hurts, Cymbalta can help…” And hurt, it does. I’ve noticed that I experience more physical symptoms with depression as I get older. My back will ache, I’ll feel like my neck is made of limp asparagus and cannot hold my head. My head will ache, or I’ll get strange stomach pains. It can become difficult to distinguish whether you’re depressed or if there’s something seriously wrong with your body.

Other common symptoms of depression include sleep and appetite disturbances, irritability and/or restlessness. I can go either way on some of these. I’ve had times where I didn’t sleep for days despite being exhausted and other times when I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of bed. Appetite is a confusing topic for me because of my comorbid (not sure I used that correctly, but it just means an addition of another disorder on top of the primary one) eating disorder. I’ve taken loads of online depression self-tests over the years, and whenever I reach the question about appetite disturbance, I always wish there was a “how the hell should I know” option.

As I wrap this up, I feel the need to clarify that my purpose for sharing these things comes out of a desire to dispel the stigma of depression and other mental illnesses by spreading the truth. Depression is a real, physical illness that severely affects an individual’s daily life and functioning. Later, if I can get my brain to cooperate with me, I’d like to address what to say and what not to say to someone who is depressed, possible suggestions and tips for caregivers and things I’ve learned over the years about surviving a depressive episode.

If you’re interested in further information, WebMD gives a nice overview of depression here. For a reputable self-test, PsychCentral offers a well-rounded quiz that covers the basics of depression but isn’t overly long.

Spicy Baked Tofu

Common adjectives associated with tofu: Boring. Bland. Meh.

Too bad, because tofu is only as “meh” as the method used to cook it. Think of tofu as a blank slate. Alone, it has very little flavor, but add spices, herbs or sauce and you have a delicious, high-protein addition to any meal.

Look at the crispy edges on those puppies!

Look at the crispy edges on those puppies!

Spicy Baked Tofu

  • 1 (1-inch) slab firm or extra-firm tofu, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sriracha

Press tofu between pieces of paper towel to remove excess liquid, then cut into 1/4-inch slices. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine soy sauce, rice vinegar and sriracha; add tofu and swirl to coat. Cover and refrigerate for an hour. 

Preheat oven to 375. Place marinated tofu on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, flipping halfway through, or until golden brown and slightly crispy. Serve over rice, pasta, stir-fried veggies, salad greens…or whatever floats your boat.

This recipe serves 1 but could easily be doubled, tripled, etc.

I enjoyed my tofu over stir-fried cauliflower, sugar snap peas and diced avocado.

I enjoyed my tofu over stir-fried cauliflower, sugar snap peas and diced avocado.

Choosing Radical Acceptance

Yesterday was a struggle in terms of food and body image. I felt sad and chubby (note: feeling chubby is different from being chubby) and went to bed early to get away from the encompassing mire of my negative thoughts. My sleep was filled with bad dreams, and I woke up still engulfed in Blah-Ville.

Enough! It’s time for a major change in thought patterns. Today, I choose radical acceptance. Scars, stretch marks, cellulite…I accept it all. My body is my own, and today I will love and nurture it to the best of my ability. I choose to focus on my body as a whole rather than the sum of its flawed (in my distorted view) parts.

I am okay. Just as I am. And so are you.

This Is Water, This Is Water…

Awhile ago, I was shown this video. I don’t often use the words “life changing” but this speech by David Foster Wallace is just that.

As we grow older and settle into the seeming monotony of day-to-day life, it is easy to be sucked into a vortex of boredom, cynicism and and impatience. Everything and everyone around us can feel like an inconvenience. I’ve found I need to regularly remind myself that I must “make a conscious decision about how to think.”

Please take ten minutes out of your day to watch this video and truly listen to the words.