Mental Health Monday, Er… Wednesday

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It’s no wonder that we hear so much about mental health and coping with depression during February. January is filled with holiday clean up, playing with new toys, reading new books, trying on new clothes, still feeling that holiday high.

February comes in bleak and cold, and it seems like it will never end. That isn’t to say that depression doesn’t rear its ugly head throughout the year – depression is a condition. It is not a mood, or perhaps it is both, and that’s where our confusion, our dismissal, our stigmatization comes into play.

I can be depressed that my football team lost the big game (they didn’t) or I was passed over for promotion, but that isn’t depression.

Rosalyn Carter, former First Lady should be commended for talking about her depression and associating it with mental illness and health at a time when it was truly kept hidden behind closed doors. There are so many more resources out there today than when she brought it to the country’s attention.

Before I was diagnosed, I was certain it was something else. Depression never even crossed my mind. I had all kinds of tests for all kinds of ailments. Headaches, double vision, dizziness, tremors, lethargy, apathy, forgetfulness, knee pain, thyroid. I had blood tests and MRIs; two of my most prominent medical phobias.

Nothing.

It was nothing.

Well, it couldn’t have been nothing, right? When my doctor gave me the checklist, I checked off all but one and I was on my first prescription that afternoon with instructions to put the suicide hotline on speed dial. It was unnerving. I wasn’t just depressed; I was severely depressed.

It took what seemed like forever to sort the meds out. Adjusting doses, changing medication, adjusting doses again. I don’t remember when I told my husband. I think I told my closest friends first. My husband was taking care of the kids, the house, working; this seemed like one thing too much. It came out in dribs and drabs, after I started taking medicine, after I started therapy. He doesn’t always understand all it entails. The reality is that most people who are dealing with or supporting a loved one with depression don’t understand. They want you to cheer up; smile more. Exercise.

It doesn’t work like that.

Usually, I’ll put on my ‘I’ll take that under advisement’ face with a quick nod, and bury my head in my kindle. Admittedly, the understanding has gotten better as has the public awareness and stop the stigma campaigns.

For me, I equate it to being in recovery. I’m always aware of it, and when low points come, I have tools to help me cope, and get through to the other side.

Here are my five best go-tos. Of course, these are personal. They’ve worked for me, so they may not fit everyone, but they are all also universal, and can probably be adapted to your own life and circumstances.

1. Give yourself space.

Sometimes, I just go to bed early, not to sleep, just to be alone with myself. I close my eyes, and breathe. Breathing is always a good thing. Sit or lie down, and breathe deeply. Keep your hands still. Either fold them in your lap or lie them flat on the bed if you’ve decided to lie down. From here, you can clear your mind, and actually go to sleep. Or…

2. Pray or Meditate

If you’re religious or prayerful, this is very similar to the meditation, only in a religious context. This (and meditation) really depends on the individual, and how they feel about either prayer or meditation.

While meditation sounds like a whole thing and it can be, it can also be concentrating on an item, and continuing to breathe. This can be with candles or without; with music or without; with a talisman or without. I have a worry stone that gives my hands something to do.

3. Exercise

I know I pooh-poohed it earlier, but it does work if you’re exercise inclined. It raises your heart rate, and increases your blood flow, and expands your lungs. Back to the breathing is good for you.

4. Lists

This was a powerful tool that worked for me at the height of my depression. I was forgetful, and forgetting ridiculously simple things. I discovered that if I made a list every day of even the most mundane activities, I could check them off as I did them. This included things like eating breakfast and taking a shower, phone calls, what was for dinner that night. There really were some weeks in the early parts of my diagnosis that I would forget to eat. When things get to be too much, I still use this tool as a regular go-to.

5. Keep a journal

It doesn’t have to be this is what I did this week. It can be a depression journal, detailing your prognosis and/or treatment. It could be a prayer journal. It could be a travel journal of your last vacation. It can even be a series of lists – movies watched, books read, books you want to read. Journaling ideas are endless. I’d recommend visiting Pinterest for ideas you may not have thought of yet.

I’ll have a few more coping strategies throughout February. While it feels endless, it’s not. As night turns to day, winter will turn to spring, and no matter what we’re going through, we can get through it day by day, a little at a time.

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