[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I wrote this blog months ago, and I'm happy to say that I've stepped in and out of feeling depressed. It's important, I think, to understand that our brains are a body part. Our mental states are susceptible to our environments, our bodies, our relationships, our jobs. Sometimes, there is no obvious reason to feel depressed. Most of the time, there doesn't need to be. If you're feeling down or depressed, you don't have to stay that way. Small actions add up over time, and you can climb your way out of almost anything. I promise 🖤
Don’t cook dinner. Don’t even think about it. But do eat. If you’re able to get out of the house, buy a pre-made chicken wrap from Trader Joes, or a salad, or even just a nice orange. If you can’t imagine getting up and going anywhere, much less looking presentable enough to feel comfortable going anywhere, order in. If you can’t imagine eating anything, don’t. But do drink some water. Don’t drink any whiskey or vodka or chardonnay or beer. Drinking when you’re sad will only make you more sad.
If you do go to Trader Joe’s, buy yourself some flowers. Flowers have been scientifically proven to lift your mood, and it is necessary, sometimes, to buy flowers for yourself. It helps to have something alive in your home, so flowers are a good fill-in if you don’t have a pet or a person.
If you do have a pet or a person, hug them. It is nice to feel something warm, to touch something that welcomes your touch, to feel with immediacy that you are not alone. If you’d rather be alone, go to bed early. Drink some tea or watch a movie or read a book or maybe take some melatonin and sleep. Don’t do anything that does not feel restorative or good. If you can only do nothing, do nothing as well as you possibly can.
It is both a blessing and curse to be a highly empathetic person. I know when another person needs love. I know when another person is hurting. But sometimes, all the pain and hurt and heartache of the world feels too heavy, and I feel sad. I wonder if that sort of sadness is something everyone can feel.
When I was young and felt sad, I didn’t know who to talk to. Now, I’m almost the opposite. I don’t know who not to talk to when I’m sad. My ex-fiancé always said I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I do. I cannot act happy if I’m sad, and I’ve learned that it always always helps to talk about it. I’ve found friends who can lend a listening ear, but I’m sure to ask them first, “are you in a good place to hear about my sadness?” If I’m dating someone new, I tell them upfront, “I get very sad sometimes,” which is something that can either draw them in or push them away. It's a useful litmus test because if someone cannot handle sadness, they probably cannot handle life.
The best person to talk to when I’m very sad though, is my therapist. My last therapist was not any sort of special therapist. She did not specialize in eating disorders or anxiety. She specialized in listening and bringing an objective third-party view to whatever hurt. Earlier this year, I injured my hamstring and couldn’t run. I felt disconnected from my sport and my body. I grew very, very sad and struggled to even go to Trader Joe's to get a chicken wrap, much less work productively toward any of my other sundry goals.
Being depressed is different than losing motivation. When I lack motivation, I can get it back by going to the gym, going for a run, sitting down to write, or doing a thing that feels hard. I’ve dipped into the shallow end of depression more than once, and it looks like this: I can’t fall asleep but all I want to do is sleep. I can’t get out of bed but I always somehow do. I cry for almost no reason. My brain cannot focus on work, so it will look forward, into what I hope my future will be, or backward, into my past to analyze it ruthlessly. There is no in between. I cannot eat, or I don’t want to, because nothing feels good in my body or tastes nourishing on my tongue.
If I am depressed, I will likely stare into my phone too much, which usually makes me feel even worse. But despite all the phone staring, I probably won’t answer a text or a phone call. When I’m depressed, I want to lay on the couch, eyes closed but awake. I want to be anywhere but in my own body and live anything other than my own life. Depression is a dark place, and even though we seem to be talking more about depression as a society, it still feels shameful. I have written and spoken ad nauseum about emptying my stomach into toilets, starving myself thin, and the self-hatred that sits at the bottom of every eating disorder. But I’m no longer ashamed of my actions or that specific mental break. I’ve overcome my eating disorder and it feels dumb, like I’ve failed, if I fall into a bout of depression. Haven’t I been going to therapy long enough to stave off any sort of wild mental breakdowns? I struggle to even write about feeling depressed because we associate depression with weakness.
I am uncomfortable writing these words, as if I’m standing in front of an auditorium of strangers without any clothes on, and with nothing to say. I still haven’t figured out how to avoid bouts of depression, but I do know that a few things help. Be kind to your depressed self. Try not to judge or shame the depressed being inside of you and know that she is not all that you are. One day, for whatever reason, you might wake up feeling a tiny bit hopeful. If you feel even the smallest shred of hope, hold onto it tightly. That shred of hope is your life.