One of the most frustrating aspects of depression is that feeling of being completely out of synch with yourself. When I am well, or ‘sub-clinical’ as they say, I have a great sense of what I should do, what I need, who is good for me and who isn’t. I follow what I feel in my gut to be right, and it generally means everything works out just fine. When I’m really on top of my game, I almost find myself having a ‘sixth sense’. I get a prediction of a situation before I am involved in it, dream answers to problems and pick up intuitively what people are thinking and feeling.
If only this were the case when I was depressed. The illness totally messes up my internal regulators and I have tended to act and react in ways that are not always in my own best interests.
I’ve now got over 20 years experience of depression and my manual of coping skills has the heading, ‘Do the opposite of what your intuition is telling you’.
For mild and moderate depression, I have found that if you do the opposite of the following depressed impulses, it can have a dramatic positive effect on your mood and recovery:
1) Isolating yourself. This feels very powerfully like the best thing you could do, when it is actually the worst. In my experience it stemmed from thinking people wouldn’t want to spend time with me when I was depressed and also not feeling able to communicate how I felt. The truth as I discovered, is that people still like you even when you feel bad. Plus, you don’t need to feel ashamed of how you feel. Practice explaining it and anyone who is worthy of your time and attention will try to understand.
2) Letting your routine slip. I’ve realised that routine is a powerful anchor in a world of mood-swings and feeling shitty. You may not feel up to your routine or even want to engage in it, but forcing yourself to do things stops that awful sense that you have been sucked into an abyss and lost control of your life.
3) Staying in bed all day. As a teenager and early twenty-something, I felt like I was listening to my body and mind when I indulged my depressed need to hide in bed. I took part in marathon bed-ins which could have outshone John and Yoko. I now think that this is possibly the worst possible way to deal with depression. It is a hard and sometimes Herculean effort to rise from your pit in the throes of doom. But if you don’t, you have missed out on all the things that can pick you up, like daylight, fresh air, movement, interaction with the world. Humans were not designed to sleep all day, even when ill.
4) Eating and drinking crap, or not eating at all. I had absolutely no awareness of the body/mind connection in my early depressed years. I thought nothing of starting the day with a Sayers cheese and onion pasty, a can of coke and a Mars bar. The rest of the day was filled with chips, pizza and copious amounts of vodka. When extremely depressed, I find it hard to eat at all. But the maths here is very easy to calculate. Bad eating and drinking on top of depression = feeling even more fucked up. It can all seem like such a massive effort, but forcing yourself to eat the opposite of what you want to eat can make a big difference. I’ve noticed that eating pasta, fruit and vegetables does indeed help. If I’m at rock bottom and it’s difficult to find the will to eat, I sip fruit smoothie and fill in the gaps with a vitamin tablet. I gave up alcohol over 13 years ago and will do a separate blog post about that. Suffice to say that drinking and mental health problems do not mix well.
5) Letting yourself go – appearance and personal hygiene. To stop this happening, it involves effort and willpower at a time when both are in short supply. There may not seem to be any point in looking your best, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. We all have some sort of getting ready routine which prepares us for the day. This is even more important to hold onto as your mood slips south, as you don’t want your dignity to disappear with it. Plus, you are less likely to get out, interact and see people if you haven’t had some sort of wash and brush-up. If you wear make-up, there is something to be said for putting a slick of lippy in between you and the world.
For severe depression, I’ve found that it’s a lot more tricky. I’m only able to draw on reversing intuition to manage depression when it’s in the early or developing stages. The rules are totally different when you are at the bottom of hell. You can’t force yourself to do things and it can be wrong and inappropriate to try. However, I like to think that what I’ve learned has stopped some of my depressive episodes escalating into the worst-case scenario.
It’s worth the effort to challenge yourself. Answer the negative voices back when they pipe up about not wanting to get up, eat or engage with the world. These days, I find a simple ‘fuck off’ will suffice.