Believe it or not, this question is honestly what led to the creation of Life with a Side of Katie. I was previously active on a blog that I had named after my favorite bible verse, where I talked a lot about mental health as well. What I realized however is that even though my faith and my faith community are huge factors in my recovery, they are not necessarily going to be huge factors in everyone else’s recovery journey. It works for me, and it is something that I strongly believe in, but not everyone believes in the same things I do. Yet I still wanted people to get the information. Thus, Life with a Side of Katie was born.
This question is also what prompted me to begin posting about mental health again. It’s amazing how when people know that you’ve lived through (and still live with) depression, how many people look to you as someone who must have the answers to the questions they are asking. A really good friend of mine asked me about this topic in particular a while ago, so I just knew I had to post about it.
Before you read any further however, it needs to be said that these are the ways that I (read: me, myself) fight depression. This may not be how you do it, and it might not be how your neighbor, or sister, or friend does it either. Not all of these things will fit, although I am hoping some might. Depression tends to be an individual condition (despite some commonalities of course), and therefore it is fought in individual ways as well.
Prioritizing my own health and well being.
It is my belief that the best way to actively fight my depression is always to prioritize my own health and well being however that may look. For me, this looks like getting enough sleep, minimizing my intake of alcohol, making sure I take my medication, eating nutritious and good foods, and trying to get activity in where I can. When I go through a period of depression, I do everything in my power to make sure that those things happen. This brings me to the next thing I do…
I don’t know about you, but I tend to be the worst at saying “no” to people at times. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned when it comes to the people in our lives, it is that the ones that truly matter won’t hold our periods of depression against us, nor will they try to convince us to do things that are going to jeopardize our mental health. When I am actively trying to fight a period of depression, I have to say “no” to several different things. There have been many times when I’ve been torn about whether to stay in or go out for example when I am coming out of a period of depression. However, I am very diligent about listening to my body, and if there is even a little part of me saying, “you should rest instead” then I try to listen to that instead of going out with friends. I also say “no” to excessive alcohol intake. Alcohol is a depressant which means that it makes depression WORSE. Even if I don’t always feel it when I actually drink, I am very aware that its effects often carry over into the following day. Not to mention that alcohol interferes with the efficacy of many psychotropic medications.
Buying fresh flowers.
This is one of those small things that for me makes a huge difference. If you’ve ever been severely depressed, then you can probably relate to feeling lifeless at times while you’re experiencing it. Often times the windows are shut, the blinds are closed, you’re hidden behind locked doors, and you are in a dark room, and you feel trapped in your own mind like it is some kind of prison. When I experience that personally, having fresh flowers is that small light in my dark world that reminds me of life, and of the fact that I will soon be feeling alive again. The grass is greener where you water it, and I think this serves as a good reminder of that and of self-care.
Getting up and showing up.
If there is one thing I know about going out and doing things when you’re experiencing depression, it is that it is hard. When I am experiencing depression, I feel it physically. Many people do. I have often described periods of depression as feeling as though I have weights that are just glued to my ankles, and arms, making it incredibly difficult to walk let alone do much of anything at all. I’ve found though that perhaps the best thing for my own mental health is always to get up, and to show up, even when it feels impossible. Although it feels at times like life stops around us, it doesn’t. I will say that it would be amazing if job sites had some sort of a mental health leave, but I am also kind of glad they don’t, because it serves as motivation for me to continue to live my life, even when it is incredibly difficult. You are so much more resilient than you even know.
If there could be a picture describing how I feel I look like (and sometimes what I do look like) when I am experiencing a period of depression, it would be one of me in pajamas that have not been washed in over a week. That is just the reality of things for me. Depression makes it hard to do much of anything, and showering / laundry are two of the things that just kind of get put on the back burner. There are many times when dressing up just isn’t an option during a depression, but I have found that doing one or two things can make so much difference. Think about what things you normally love to wear, and see if you can somehow incorporate them. You might be amazed at the difference it makes. For me, I have a hot pink scarf that I absolutely adore. Whenever I wear it, I just feel like I look better with that “pop” of color, so often times when I’m not really feeling great, I will wear that scarf. I also have a favorite electric blue purse that I’ll wear when the rest of me feels not so great. Again, this doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me.
Journaling and writing things down.
I have also kept a journal documenting every little (and big) thing that has happened in my life since high school. It has been so therapeutic for me not just in the moment, but also to go back in time and see times where it felt like my depression would last forever, and then it didn’t. I always do my best to keep documenting, because recognizing our own patterns is definitely one of the keys to fighting depression, and fighting it well. I highly recommend journaling, or at least writing down what you’re feeling somewhere you can reference it later.
Spending time with my dog.
I have a nearly two year-old corgi named Leo who I absolute adore and love to spend time with whenever I possibly can, but especially when I am feeling depressed. I say this not just because he is the most cuddly and comforting little guy ever but he is also such a good example for me. He lives so lightheartedly, and is always excited to see people and to go places, and I always think to myself, I need to live my life like Leo does. I always recommend that people who are living with depression (both in my personal life, and the residents I work with) get a dog or a cat if they are able to (and if they like animals obviously) because they are so incredibly therapeutic. If it is the additional money that is a deterrent, particularly a pet deposit or pet rent, do not be deterred! I know that at least in California, people living with a mental health condition who regularly see a doctor or psychiatrist can request written documentation of their mental health condition or disability as a verification for needing an emotional support animal (ESA). With the documentation, places that are ADA-compliant cannot require pet rent, a pet deposit, or have breed restrictions for folks with an ESA.