depression: a guide

I've been dealing really well lately, and more or less being a functional, happy-ish human being.

Mind you, this comes from FINALLY finding the right anti-depressant for me, and the right therapist, and the right therapy schedule, and a better sleep schedule, and a giant love-fest of a support network, and having a fake-sun-light in my room when I wake up. Being happy-ish and functional takes a lot more maintenance for a person with depression than it does for people without mental health issues.

But, you know, even with all the work I'm doing to maintain an engaged, present self and worldview, life keeps on happening. People keep being occasionally, mildly awful. Friends keep going through hard times and needing a shoulder to cry on. The world does not fall into sync with your new, hard-won peace.

So, with that in mind, here are a few of my tips for re-centering, re-focusing, and bringing yourself back to your good spot when life gets in the way of your recovery. (Note: these things are not intended to be a replacement for therapy, medication when necessary, or a support network. These are supplements. If you need tips on how to get started on the path to mental healthierness, or just want to talk about how you're doing, you can always email me.)

1. Soundtrack your life.

I know this sounds silly, but if I'm leaving work, and I'm sort of stuck on something someone said, replaying it over and over and wondering how I could've gotten around it, or if the weather's sort of gloomy, or whatever, I put on a song that either matches my mood or pulls me to where I want to be. Sometimes, the best way to deal with someone being stupid is to blast some Nicki Minaj.

This also works when you're feeling sort of blank. It used to be that when I felt empty, I'd put on Elliott Smith or Bright Eyes and angst it out. Now, I shoot for something that'll make me feel something. Sometimes, that means Fiona Apple-ing it and just getting really into feeling mad for a little while, but most times if I'm a little hollow, or low, or high, or really anything, Countdown by Beyonce will do the trick. This is so intensely my go-to wanna-feel-good song, I can't even tell you.

I've also found that leaving work with something a little weird in my headphones can make me feel really hopeful and open. By "a little weird," I mean things like A Real Hero from Drive or this random song from The Transporter 3 - things that make you feel sort of slinky or bouncy or at least like you're about to do something movie-worthy.

And then, of course, there are times where you want nothing more than to really feel your sadness for a minute. I think you should give yourself one or two songs to really let yourself bathe in your sadness and appreciate it, maybe cry a little bit, and then take a breather, stretch a little bit, and put on something you can't help but dance to. My progression for this situation almost always involves Fire and Rain by James Taylor, Under the Milky Way by The Church, and then I shake it off (probably forcibly) and throw on SuperBass by Nicki Minaj, because I really can't not dance to that.

2. Make dates with yourself.

I don't know if you guys have this problem, but I feel really guilty taking time to myself, for myself. I've started being better about keeping a calendar, but sometimes looking at all of my commitments, friend-dates, and so on makes me feel totally overwhelmed and sometimes I'll end up bailing on all of my plans for a few days because I just can't deal with doing anything.

Suffice it to say, that's not really a great tactic, because then you come out of your hibernation to find you've got even more things to catch up on. Argh.

So instead, I've started blocking out nice, large swaths of time about once every week or two and labeling it as "Date: Self" in my Google Calendar. It's a promise I'm making to myself - once it's in the calendar, it's scheduled, and there's no way around it. (Of course, in the event of a friend-emergency/crisis, I would reschedule my self-time, but then I'm still rescheduling it rather than not having it at all.)

I also don't always let my me-time be staying at home, watching TV (though we all know how much I love doing that). I've gotta romance myself! I've got high standards and I want to be impressed, dammit.

Tonight, I'm taking myself to dinner and a movie. I'm going to order something that I'd normally avoid, and I'm going to have a nice glass of wine. I'm going to see a movie that I really want to see, and not feel bad that I didn't invite someone else along. I'm going to go home and fall asleep happy.

I'm really excited.

3. Volunteer.

Everyone cares about something - unless you're caught in the grips of depression, that is. Reclaim your interests. Celebrate them. Get involved with something where you're promising your time to someone else, because it's easier to get yourself out of bed when you know someone else is waiting on you. Plus, volunteering makes you feel like you're doing something good, which helps with your feelings of self-worth and happiness.

Pick something that matters to you, and find a way to help out. You don't have to go the "traditional" volunteer route, of soup kitchens or clothing pantries (though those are great causes to help out!). There are a million ways to get involved in your community. Volunteer for a political campaign, in a community garden or farm, or with a local group that does something that matters to you.

I've been working events for The Center - events like dances, book readings, concerts, art shows. I know the proceeds from those events go to other things that The Center helps with, like assisting homeless and troubled LGBT youth (and adults, for that matter), smoking cessation programs, and generally being a place where you can go and feel accepted - all while doing something that I find fun and enjoyable (most of the time, playing the bartender - secret fact, guys, I absolutely LOVE bartending).

If there's something that you really enjoy doing, there's probably a charity somewhere that needs someone to do that. There are events for gamers to help by gaming. If that exists, there is probably a way for you to find something that you're interested in and make it charitable.

4. Use your support network.

Anyone who's been in therapy knows that a huge part of getting better is forming a reliable support network. I've spent years making sure I have people in place in case of an emergency, and training myself to feel comfortable with the idea of using them for support.

Pro-tip: You'll be much more confident in your support network's ability to help you if you let them help you. 

This is one of the hardest things I do. I have a seriously difficult time reaching out when I need help. Lately, though, I've been making a concerted effort to reach out to someone when I'm feeling low or needy, and ask them for help, even if help is just in the form of a longer phone conversation with my mom or even just hugs. (I love hugs, and I find that I need them often. My roommate is a real bro about this.)

I know this is going to sound crazy, fellow depressives - they're all really glad that I'm asking for help. I had spent so many years being someone to rely on, and not needing anyone, that they're all surprised and sometimes almost gleeful that I'm asking for advice or a shoulder. Most of your friends and family probably don't realize the extent of your depression at its worst, or even at its best. I know you want them to reach out without your having to say anything, but since, often, a big part of depression is withdrawing into yourself, it will take them a lot longer to realize that you're depressed (and not just tired) if you don't tell them. 

Shock horror disaster - you tell them you're feeling down, and all of a sudden you've got help and support coming out of your ears. I honestly think a lot of people would be surprised with how much support their support networks can actually give. I know I am constantly surprised by it. It almost makes me feel silly that I spent so many years wading through this alone.

Well guys, those are my best tips for dealing. Again, if you have mental health issues, it is a really good idea to find a psychologist, social worker, free drop-in counselling session, or whatever floats your boat, and to talk to your doctor about medication if it's right for you.

But after all of that, don't forget that there's still life to live outside of your diagnosis.

xoxoxoxox, lovers. Leave your best tips in the comments.