I’m no mental health professional. I have a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing, so if you want to know the difference between a gerund and an infinitive, I’m your girl. If you want a professional opinion about your depression, I’m afraid you’ll have to call someone else. But I do know a thing or two about depression because I’ve lived with it, on and off, my entire adult life. I’ve been therapized and medicated, and while these things are awesome for some people, I’ve found they aren’t for me. At least not right now, though if I find myself in a bad enough way that I think I’m a danger to me, no way will my pride stop me from seeking outside help. So if you, oh brave depression sufferer, have loved you enough to get help, go you. I mean it. Go. Freaking. You.
But right now, I’m not there. I’m just battling low grade depression, which is sorta like a low grade fever, only without the diarrhea. Over the years, I have developed a toolbox to help me combat this disease, this affliction, this slimy green monster from the abyss who seems utterly determined to make me slit my wrists. (Fuck you, mo fo, I say to him. No way. If you think that’s going to be the end of my story, you’ve got another thing coming. My story ends with a victory dance. Or a snorkeling liaison in Tahiti gone terribly awry. Or a Beverly Hills party that ends in a blazing inferno started by the introduction of a bonfire to my little, red, tequila-doused dress. I’ll die in a hospital bed surrounded by the ones I love. Or eviscerated by the shrapnel that remains of my car when it veers off the road during a midnight rock-n-roll road trip. But suicide? No way. This disease has already taken enough from me. It doesn’t get the end of my beautiful story.)
Which sounds brave. Until I’m smack dab in the middle of a months long funk that won’t break, until this hopelessness feels like a dark tunnel with no end, until the voices in my head that see no point in any of this start to override the voices in my heart that tell me this world is magic, and I am one of the most charmed pieces of it. When that happens, a girl needs skills of the coping variety. Here are a few I’ve discovered.
1. Get. The. Fuck. Out. Of. Bed.
Yes, I know your bed is warm and squishy, and it’s the only thing that really understands and loves you. Yes, I know the world can be scary, and the sunlight can hurt your eyes sometimes, and people can be motherfucking assholes. Get out of bed anyway. Because as nice as your bed seems, it’s play acting. After you’ve been in it eight hours or so, it starts conspiring with monsters in your head that want you dead. So get up. Think of one good thing, one reason, to move. Your kids. Your cat. Juevos rancheros. Coffee. A shot of tequila. I don’t care. Just get out of bed.
2. Eat things.
This may be just me, but one of my favorite things about being human is yummy food. This is why I will never be a size two. It’s also why, no matter how sad I am, I will get out of bed for the leftovers from last night’s Mexican dinner because I had the presence of mind to. . .
3. Leave the house.
Yes. Your house is your safe place. It also smells like a person who hasn’t showered in three days. Is that you? Shower, you adorable freak of nature with surprisingly pungent armpits. It will take five minutes. You’ll like the minty scent of your shampoo. Then put on some clothes. And walk outside. You will be blinded at first. The people will seem sinister and/or cold. But keep at it. Give yourself a minimum time you must spend outside. Say, “I must walk around this godforsaken town for an hour before a can return home to my squishy bed.” Chances are, you will find something that takes your mind off your pain. A baby will smile, or a dog will lick you, or the sign outside a Mexican restaurant will beckon to you (mostly because it is emblazoned with a picture of a margarita). You will go inside. The waiter will take a shining to you, see you typing this article on your iPhone, and say, “Are you texting me? Don’t forget to send pictures.” Oh, wait. That’s me. That really did happen, because I took my own advice and left the house, and then I could. . .
I’m serious. Flirt. Nothing makes you feel prettier and more momentarily alive than a joyful interaction with another human being. (If you are impulsive like me, you’ll need this next bit of advice. Don’t take the waiter home. Don’t. Do. It. Just flirt.) If you can’t find a flirt-worthy human, hug a dog. Or a cat. Or a rat. (In moments of crisis, I have hugged all of the above.)
5. Take off your cape.
Stop being Wonder Woman. (Or Superman, as case may be.) Depressed people are usually very sensitive, which means they have often spent much of their lives taking care of other people. They are good at listening, so they wind up being other people’s free therapists. It’s great if you have a friend who listens to your problems, and you give back. Those give-and-take friends are the people who get you through your dark times. But if you have friends who spend all their time dumping on you, if you consistently walk away from them feeling drained and depleted, you can’t do that right now. Your energy is precious. You are fighting for your life. Draw your proverbial lines in the sand. Steer clear of drama. Steer clear of emotional vampires. Steer clear of anyone whose interest in you is based on anything but authentic love. You deserve love. And peace. And recovery. Give yourself the gift of healing. I give you permission to protect you. You are not a bad person for doing it. You are preserving the precious resource of you for planet earth.
6. Talk to yourself.
Don’t act like I’m crazy. You talk to yourself all the time. It’s usually just inside your head. Now I’m asking you to do it out loud, maybe while lying in that bed you can’t get out of. (It’s ok if you couldn’t get up.) Say, “________ (for the purposes of this article, your name is ________), I love you, and I want you to know I’m going to protect you. It’s ok to be where you are. It’s ok to be sad and angry. I’m going to hold you through this. I’m going to walk you through to the other side, and when we get there, we are going to be stronger and better than ever.” I always am astounded by the beautiful emotion that flows through me when I do this for myself, astonished by the simple power of actively loving me. There are enough people in this world who hate you and judge you. Don’t be one of them. Actively become your own safe place. Actively become the person you can trust. You have no control over what anyone else says to you or does to you or thinks about you. But you have power over you. Treat yourself the way you wish everyone else would. Say all the things you need to hear. Be your own best friend.
7. Say thank you.
How fucking hokey, but sometimes, it works. The worst thing about depression is you get stuck in a black mind-rut that makes you see the bad in everything. But the truth is, even though the bad is there, jumping on your brain like a sumo wrestler, the good is out there too. What do you have in your life that you are glad is there? I’m a recent empty nester. I remember so clearly all of the days I woke up to find my children sleeping in the room down the hall, all the bedtime stories, the family dinners. Retrospectively, it seems like heaven. But I was depressed sometimes when they were there too. Life wasn’t a Hallmark card. There were abusive boyfriends and overdue bills and unfulfilled dreams and mean bosses. Still, I had so much to be grateful for. What beauty are you missing right now? Just notice it, if only for a minute. It may pull you out of that rut for a second or two, let a glimmer shine through the darkness in your mind.
8. Forgive you.
Forgive you for being depressed. Forgive you for all of the ugly things you’ve done, the fucked up places inside you no one else knows about. Everyone else is just as fucked up as you are. I’m not a mental health professional, but I’m a fiction writer. It’s my job to know how fucked up everyone is. Perfectly good people make boring, flat, unbelievable characters because we all know they don’t exist. Give yourself some slack. You are an interesting, three-dimensional character. With depression. So sue you. No, not really. Don’t sue you. Forgive you.
9. And if you can’t do any of this today
10. Take a nap in your squishy bed, and try again tomorrow.
P.S. I may not know you, but if I did, I bet I’d love you. Either that, or we’d fight over who got to stay in the squishy bed the longest. Or eat the leftover Mexican food. Or pet the fuzzy rat.
P.S.S. For the record, the tequila shot is mine, kid. Don’t even think about it.
P.S.S.S. I always talk about music in my blog posts, and I didn’t in this one. In the interest of not breaking with tradition, I give you “Graceland,” by Paul Simon from what I consider to be one of the most perfect albums of all time. He expresses the pain of loss so beautifully. “She comes back to tell me she’s gone, as if I didn’t know that, as if I didn’t know my own bed, as if I’d never noticed the way she brushed her hair from her forehead. She said, ‘Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart. Everybody hears the wind blow.’ I’m going to Graceland.” My loves, may we all find our Graceland.