If you haven’t read my blog about depression, which I’ve been dealing with in some form or another since I was nine, give it a glimpse! I know what it means to be absolutely miserable, yet not really want to make a change, and to feel like there is no way out. Everything I write on this topic comes from the perspective that it has a lot to do with chemicals, that it’s really dang hard and not at all simple, that it’s not evidence of sin or a lack of faith, and that you can develop strategies for dealing with it.
I don’t think I will ever be completely free of my tendency to be melancholy and, honestly, I wouldn’t want to be. Some of my best songs, writing and ideas come from the dark cave; and that cave makes me appreciate the days in the sun. I have often been called “older than my years,” or whatever the phrase is. Whelp. It’s because I’ve stared death in the face repeatedly, long before my physical body reached that point. Anyone who has gone through this, knows what it is to make the conscious choice to go on living. There’s something to be said for that.
But anyhoooooo. Back to the topic.
How can you keep a dip from becoming a full-blown depressive episode?
For me, low mood swings come on gradually. One day, I’ll feel kind of neutral and less interested in things I normally am excited about. Some saboteur part of my brain will convince me that it’s not a big deal, that it’s not a problem I haven’t been keeping track in my mood journal, that I’m “okay now.” Then, bam! I’m lying in bed until fifteen minutes before I need to be at work, trying to walk myself through the impossibly complex behavior of getting dressed.
This is how I deal with dips. Haha. That’s a fun sentence.
Step One: Accept.
Admit that it’s happening.
Don’t pretend it’s not happening. The tea kettle stops screaming once you pop the cap. The cap represents the act of pretending. Pop the cap. I’ll spend a few minutes admitting to myself that this has been on its way, that I’ve been feeling low or off for a few days. That it makes perfect sense for me to feel this way.
Let yourself feel the emotion.
Half the time, the emotion I’m so afraid of feeling doesn’t deserve the amount of energy I’ve used towards trying to silence it. Usually, I’ll feel horrid for fifteen minutes then it kind of wears off, and fizzles, the way wet sand does when the wave recedes. Let yourself feel whatever it is; bring that emotion out into the light!
Release the idea that you’re supposed to be happy all the time.
Because you’re not. When you’re floating along happily, it’s easy to start believing the lie that you aren’t ever supposed to feel bad. That is a recipe for disaster. There is no rule that you have to be happy all the time, and people who expect that of you…well. They’re being unreasonable.
Step Two: Assess.
I am a big believer in depression being a form of chemical imbalance. The ancient Chinese treated it thus and some of the best holistic methods for treating depression came from there. Once you’ve taken the edge off the low, start asking yourself some of these questions and taking notes:
Are you eating? What and when?
Grains, sugar and caffeine really affect me. Eating late at night triggers my old early-twenties habit of wanting to stay up until 3am, watching Vine-energy goat videos.
Are you sleeping? How much and quality?
6 – 8 hours, loves. If you possibly can. It’s a great place to start.
When was the last time you were outside?
Make sure to breathe the free air and feel the sun on your skin today.
Are you getting your blood pumping?
I know, I know. Exercise is so boringggg. But it will help you get out of and stay out of super low swings. Trust me. I’ve used it to do just that.
Are you taking supplements/meds properly?
Melatonin is on my No List. Vitamin E, D and B are on my Proceed-With-Caution list. But 5-HTP is a must. If I don’t take 5-HTP every day, within 3 days I experience a dip, which easily becomes a major dip. When you’re in a dip, it’s hard to want to do the right thing. We want to avoid getting to that point by having a pattern for supplements. Develop patterns before you end up in the Upside Down; they’ll save you.
When did you start feeling this way?
Take note. It might be after that ice cream binge (we all do it, every once in a while). It might have been right after hanging out with that one person. It might have been right after three days of crappy sleep, as in 6 or more hours, but you were tossing and turning–and, oh yeah, you drank coffee two days in a row, right before that. No wonder!
Additionally, I am a big believer in the power of the mind. Now is a great time to figure out…
What negative thoughts come up?
When you’re at your lowest, your worst thoughts reveal themselves. They overplay their hand, I like to think. It’s an opportunity to see what lies you have going in the back of your mind. Write them down. Then, when you’re feeling more your true self, you can write out the battle plan, the affirmations that directly attack those lies. No emotion is a waste.
What are you afraid of?
Failure? Being surpassed by someone else? That you’ll never get out of the darkness? Identify it. That takes away its power.
What feels complicated?
Sometimes, even choosing an outfit feels impossible. Simplify your life, by…uh, simplifying your life. It’s why I started buying turtlenecks. Add a pair of jeans (we’re going casual at work, for obvious reasons), and you instantly look more put together than a regular long sleeved shirt. Done.
If choosing a breakfast feels impossibly complicated, simplify it. When I feel overwhelmed, I have some Siggi yogurt. And that’s that.
Who in your life isn’t doing very well right now?
Okay, so I am an empath and often times will have mysteriously dreadful bouts with anxiety and depression, that actually have nothing to do with me. I talk about this is another post, but you may find that the emotions you’re going through have nothing to do with you. Try to remember who in your life is having a hard time and remind yourself that it might not just be you. I’ve found this practice to be extremely helpful.
What are you watching, listening to, reading?
Are you consuming positive things, or depressing music, movies, shows, or books? I recently started rewatching the Netflix Daredevil series and, uh, it was not good for me; as much as I love Matt Murdock and secretly wish I could be as brave and intense, watching it actually makes me feel less like that. This is a huge irony you might not even be aware of.
Sometimes, the epic music makes you feel less epic and actually takes away that sense of purpose. Especially for me, a musician, music can be an attempt at a shortcut to feeling braver, but it’s always pale in comparison to actually trying. Be aware when you’re using media to patch something up.
When I start listening to super epic music and shows and clips, it means I don’t feel like I am moving forward in life and am using false emotional uppers as a bandaid. A dip is always shortly behind that.
Step Three: Action
Say aloud, “I am not fixing a problem. I am not a problem. I am creating a lifestyle.”
You are not a problem to be fixed. And you are not your depression.
You are creating a lifestyle. Whenever I start to see my depression as a problem to solve, the moment I feel better, I stop doing the things that made me feel better. And, what do you know? I end up in the same place.
Treat this process as creating a lifestyle. Don’t solve a problem.
Write out affirmations and read aloud.
I mean it. This is an important step. Those fears you wrote in part two? Now is the time to write out the truth that defeats them. Write them on 3×5 cards and go through them again and again and again, until you feel more hopeful. It will happen. You just have to give it some time.
Move and change your environment.
Go for a walk. Go for a run. Peel off the professional clothes or the pjs. Pull on some stretch pants or shorts, and a shirt–they don’t have to match. Don’t add any other requirements to it. Pull on some socks, lace up your tennis shoes. Yes. You can. Get up. Push yourself up with your right arm then off the bed or couch or wherever you are.
If it’s too late or two early to go for a run, do some jumping jacks. Or pushups. Or crunches.
Force a smile.
It’s a chemical thing. Your body can’t tell the difference between a real smile and a fake one. Don’t walk around with a fake smile, but give yourself that little extra push right now. Remember, we’re just trying to get you to the edge of the hole, so you can grab the nearest root and pull yourself out.
I hate being in the dip. I hate feeling like the dip is going to overwhelm me, all that I could be, all that I could do. I don’t want anyone to feel like there is no way out. Because I have been there and it is a miracle that I am here, truly believing that life is worth fighting for.
If you accept and stop pretending, assess what preceded the low mood and take action to pull yourself out of the hole, you can keep a low dip from becoming something that consumes days or weeks of your life.
This isn’t to say that negative emotions are bad. They aren’t. They just are.
But they become a problem when we get sucked into them and never take the time to understand them. They can teach you so much about yourself, probably more than the happy moments. But the key part is learning from them, demystifying them.
These pointers have helped me. I hope so very, very much that they help you.
with love and hope,