Once, in the middle of a longish bout of depression, a friend offered to come over and bring some fancy coffees and groceries and just sit with me in case I wanted to talk. She understood that I didn’t feel like good company – I didn’t even feel much like a human. She understood that I was having trouble eating food at all, let alone anything nurturing for my body. What she didn’t understand was that I couldn’t let her come. That’s because it had been six days since I’d been able to take a shower.
Sometimes when you’re depressed, even the things that seem simple or every-day can take a huge effort. When things feel pointless, the list of seemingly simple things and the list of complicated, more difficult-to-approach things can get all tangled up in your head as equally unapproachable. Soon enough, taking a shower or eating a piece of fruit can feel just as senseless and remote as planning a trip to the moon.
When everything is the same amount of overwhelming, making any effort can feel futile. So you isolate yourself a little bit more, to make sure no one can see. To make things even worse, during a depression self-care can feel like something you don’t deserve – self-care is for good, productive people, and that is definitely not you, right? The resulting thought-spiral about how, whether, and why to bother doing anything exhausts what little energy was in the tank, before you’ve been able to move at all.
I have gotten stuck in that loop a time or four. Eventually with the help of some therapists, friends, and meds, I learned a few tricks to keep going, just in little ways, through the self-defeating depression trap. For one, I’ve found it really helpful to refer to this list of basic things I can do that will sustain me until I can feel better. I made it when I was feeling healthy, and I can consider it pre-approved by my saner self. Plus, it provides built-in permission to move without analyzing whether the task is actually useful, or if I am worth the effort. I hope you find something you can use here, too.
Get out of bed, even if it’s just to move to the couch.
This is all about gaining a little forced perspective. Mentally, it helps you shift away from viewing yourself as unhealthy and bedridden to someone who is upright and actively alive. Physically, it changes your line of sight so you’re not greeted by the same dingy blanket and inescapable walls day and night. Both can help break up the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that depression delivers. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could even open the curtains and let a little light in. I know that can be too much some days. Maybe tomorrow.
Eat two spoonfuls of something.
You don’t have to prepare an actual meal – you don’t have to cook at all. You just have to give your body and brain some fuel to help you dig yourself out of this spot. Or, you know. Outlast it. Sure, two spoonfuls of peanut butter, ice cream, or applesauce won’t give you a ton of nutrition, but it will be better than nothing in the war against crashing further, and it might help stimulate your appetite or remind you that you actually do sometimes enjoy tasting something good.
Take your meds.
If you are on medications, make it your main priority to automatically take them. Whether you need to move them to your bedside table, set an alarm reminder, or ask someone to check in on you and make sure you’ve taken them each day, do what you have to do to get your meds down.You want to do whatever you can to avoid those stupid (and sometimes scary) withdrawal side effects on top of what you’re already dealing with. Ok? Thanks.
Take a bath.
I know, it seems pointless when you know you’re not going to go out of the house anytime soon. But hear me out. A bath is less effort than a shower, because there’s no standing, and you don’t have to feel like you have to go through all the parts of a bathing routine – but you’re still sort of getting clean! Get in the tub, get some fresh water on your body, and you can passively let the hot water momentarily feel pleasant. The bonus if you do this before bed is that it may help you get a little sleep.
Talk to somebody in some way.
You don’t have to have long elaborate conversations or go out into the world. But even a little check-in with a friend or your mom over email or text can remind you that the world is out there, and there are in fact people in it that are connected to you. You don’t have to go so far as to believe that they are happy to hear from you (even though they are). You can send a single sentence just saying, “Hey, I’m still here.” Or, “Hey, I just ate two spoonfuls of ice cream.” Just try to keep yourself from total isolation if you can, because that hurts your already sore heart and brain.
Move your body around – even just a little.
Walk up and down the stairs or back and forth across the room a few times, or do six or eight jumping jacks or some marching steps. Do anything that helps you move and gets your blood circulating, even if it’s just a little bit. Depression lives in your mind and your body, and your goal is to keep it from taking over All of the Territory. Feel free to mutter about how stupid this is while you’re doing it, if that helps you make the march.
Remember to sleep.
With depression, days and nights can blur together and become a timeless void. Suddenly you discover it’s 4 in the morning and you’ve been staring uncomprehendingly at Full House reruns for six hours straight. Try to catch yourself in these moments and let yourself shut your eyes. If you can’t get all your sleep at once, see if you can manage a nap. And if you need some extra help with sleep during these times, it’s ok to ask your doctor about sleep aids.
Read this sentence once a day: It won’t always be like this. This is one of the most important items on the list. Depression lies. It tells you you’ve always felt this way, and you always will. But you haven’t, and you won’t. How do you know this right now? At one point, you felt good enough to buy that ice cream you ate today, and to make that friend that you just texted about the ice cream. If right now even this list seems like too much (and if it does, you can always choose a handful of things to do instead of all the things), soon you will find your way out of this space. You will get back to a place where you know you are more than your depression. You will remember that you are YOU, and you can – and will – do so much more.