Navigating The Fog: Self-Care Tips For Depressive Souls

Generally speaking, I try not to publish anything too personal here. Partly for security reasons, but mostly because twitter is where I go when I want to whine online and I try to leave this space for my criticism. But the last couple weeks have been tough for me and I'm finally on the other side of a mild depressive episode. I don't think I've ever just said it in public before, but I suffer from depression and anxiety and have on and off since I was about 14. It's not something I like talking about because mental-health stigma is real, and people can be less than compassionate about what they see as an unreasonable perpetual sadness.

For me, it's like a fog. I often don't realize it's happening until I'm in the thick of it, by which time it's too late, because I've already become useless to myself. Episodes last anywhere between a couple days to a couples weeks, but really bad ones have spanned months. I didn't graduate college on time because I couldn't bring myself to get out of bed or leave my room for much of senior year, and I flunked a class for non-attendance. This shit has consequences.

I'm not on medication because I'm afraid to ask for it, and I'm not in therapy because I can't afford it. It's something I largely deal with on my own because I have to; I have opened up to people in the past and it hasn't always gone well for me. That said, over time I've figure out a variety of coping mechanisms that help me manage. Essentially, the key is to do as much as humanly possible when you're feeling well to cut down on the daily decision making process. This way, when the fog hits, you can safely reach your hands out blindly and trust that whatever you grasp will help you keep going. The following habits haven't fixed me, but they have helped me feel less overwhelmed.

Make Your Bed: I used to be staunchly anti-bed making for purely practical reasons. But after reading Dear Coquette's perspective and putting it into practice, I've changed my mind. Making your bed every day creates a clear delineation between your sleeping and waking hours. It signals to your mind that it's time to get up and do things. It's also a small thing that you will have always achieved each day, without fail. You may not have run all your errands or met all your commitments, but you made your bed. It gives you one thing that you can always cross off your to-do list, and when it comes to depression and anxiety, small manageable goals are a saving grace.

Exercise: It doesn't have to be strenuous and it doesn't have to be hard, but you have to do it. I try to work out for 10 minutes first thing in the morning because that tiny shot of endorphins sets me up for a good day. I have a small set of dumbbells that I try to do a few reps with before I shower. It helps wake me up, it gets me energized and it gives me a sense of accomplishment that I made time to get it done. Plus, you know, the guns don't hurt...

Do Your Chores: This probably seems like a weird thing to include, but it's been incredibly essential to me. Since I now live in a tiny apartment, mess accumulates very quickly. And when I'm in the fog, all I can see is all the things I haven't gotten around to doing yet, and it compounds my sense of helplessness and defeat. So I clean. I do the laundry. I cook and put food away in containers. I sweep and mop and I make sure that I never go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink. Because even though they're small things in the immediate sense, they're things I don't have to feel bad about not having done yet when all I can manage for the day is a shower and a reheated meal before I crawl back into bed. If you're anxious the way I am, the sense of disorder can really affect your mood, so keeping things tidy on a regular basis decreases the likelihood that you'll feel like you're neglecting your obligations.

Find A Routine And Stick To It: Do the same thing everyday. Seriously. Getting out of bed ranges in difficulty from rolling over to climbing a mountain depending on how deep the fog is. When you don't have to then decide what to wear or what to have for breakfast or any number of other decisions, it eases the anxiety of the day. On Sundays, I do my laundry and I set my clothes out for the week on hangers. I cut up veggies and grate cheese to make omelettes in the morning and I cook so that I have lunch readily available. Every weekday, I get up, I work out, I hop in the shower, I pull a hanger from my closet and I have breakfast. On a good day I can be out of the house in 30 minutes. On a bad day, things are slower, but the fog doesn't stop me from getting things done because I've basically automated my morning routine. On a terrible day, I don't get up. But such things are par for the course when you're depressed.

Go Outside: Every day. No matter what. Leave your house and get some sunshine. One of the main reasons things were so difficult for me throughout college is because it was cold as fuck and there was little to no sunshine. Moving from a tropical country to a state that considered 16ºC to be a relatively warm day fucked with me on an almost existential level. Depending on my class schedule, I would go days at a time without seeing the sun, because it set so early in the day. Everything was dreary and grey and horrible and it messed with me. It wasn't until after I moved back home that I discovered that Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, and it can be triggered by the lack of sunshine. Depending on where you live, going outside won't be enough to get you sunshine, but it will get you out into the world. You don't have to participate and you don't have to interact, but you do have to get out into the fray. I travel a lot because of my grad school schedule (long, boring story) and on the weekends when I'm at home, I tend to hole up in my apartment and sleep. Over time I've realized that this not only made me completely unproductive, but it nearly always led to a drop in my mood. I'd get lethargic and sore and I'd inevitably end up back in the fog within a couple weeks. Being outside forces me to be part of the world, even if it's just to sit and enjoy the breeze or go for a short walk.

Meditate: Not because it has healing powers or will make you enlightened or will cure you, but purely because it both teaches you and permits you to turn your brain off. Much of my depression and anxiety manifest as worry. Worry about not meeting my commitments, worry about the consequences of not meeting my commitments, worry about having to explain not having met my commitments, worry about what people will think of me for not having met my commitments etc, etc, ad infinitum. The worry turns into panic and panic turns into catastrophe and then I'm back in the fog again. I've found that guided meditation gives me something specific to focus on so that I'm not fixating on all the ways in which I've deemed myself inadequate. Meditation means that I can breathe, and I can forgive myself for being less that I expected. I've found meditating before bed is especially helpful because it preps me for a decent night of sleep.

Of course there are lots of other things (like actual medication if you need it) that can help, but for me, these things help to alleviate the burden a bit and make me feel less like I'm failing at being an adult. It can get difficult, especially now that the consequences for withdrawing from my life have graduated from "flunking a class" to "missing my rent" but I think depression is one of those things that can really fuck with you if you don't know what's coming. It's almost like you're gaslighting yourself, because you know something's wrong, but you don't know what specifically and that lack of specificity can trick you into dismissing your own feelings. It's hard to explain, but depression and anxiety can convince you of all your worst fears, and paralyze you to act. The fewer decisions you have to make while you're in the fog, the easier it will be to get back out again.