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HopefulPoet

Coping Mechanisms?

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Hey Goobers!

 

So I just posted a new blog post which catalogs my own personal coping mechanisms for bad days (which you can read here: https://hijackinghappiness.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/depression-isolation-and-free-time-beyonce-yourself-to-a-better-monday/) but I was curious as to whether or not any of you have some tried and true go-to coping skills for the days when life is just a little too much? I'm trying to add to my list of depression tools, which is meager at this point, and I wanted to see if anyone had any advice or just fun ways to make your day a little better? Thanks!

 

-HP

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I should probably preface this by saying that I am talking exclusively about my own battle with depression in this post, and no one else's. The things that didn't work for me might work wonderfully for someone else, and the stuff that saved me might make someone else even worse. This isn't meant to criticize how anyone else chooses to heal, it is simply what worked for me.  :)

 

I struggled with pretty severe depression in college. For me, it was really easy to let the idea of self-care become a way of feeding my dysfunction. Getting ready for class feels too hard? Time to sleep in and skip class, cuz that's what I'd do if I were physically ill. Had a rough time focusing in class or interacting with coworkers? Time to treat myself to french fries and ice cream, cuz "self-care". For a normal person, that's a totally fine way to go through life. But for someone as depressed as I was? Every day was a day that I felt sick enough to skip class, or beaten-down enough to reward myself with junk food. I gained 50 pounds in one year and came very close to failing a semester because of those coping methods that work fine for people who feel that bad a couple times a year, but quickly destroy your life if you feel crappy day in and day out. Instead, I had to practice what my therapist called "opposite action" -- basically, doing exactly not what my depressed brain was telling me I really needed to do.

 

This is the only coping technique I developed that I feel helped me fight the effects of depression, rather than just escape from life for a little bit (and ultimately make my problems worse in the long-run):

 

Divide all your essential tasks into their smallest possible components, and then reward yourself for finishing them via-positive self-talk.

 

For example, I often had trouble getting ready for class in the mornings. I used to get really down on myself for this -- "What dumb bitch feels overwhelmed by the idea of getting out of bed and taking a shower?!" I'd think. Yeah, not the most helpful way to go about things.

 

So instead, I'd sub-divide the task as much as possible. Sitting up? -- "Good job, you did it!" Standing up? Picking up a towel? Walking to the shower? Turning on the water? Yup, I'd reward myself with positive self talk for every single little bit of the task ahead of me. To a healthy person, this might sound like a really slow and agonizing way of thinking about one simple task -- "get ready for class." But to someone who is severely depressed, it already feels really slow and agonizing, as well as really overwhelming. By subdividing it as much as possible, each small step felt much more manageable. Completing each tiny task was a little victory that I could hold on to for dear life.

 

Scheduling every minute detail of my day was my best friend. If you have to set an alarm for waking up...and then one for sitting up...and then another one for going to the shower...then one for getting dressed...and then another one for going to class? Do it. Was I always a perfect adherent to this schedule? No, not even close. But I was so much better off than I was before I made the schedule. And don't hold yourself to exactly the same time-table that you would if you were well. I had to schedule two hours to accomplish the same tasks I could do in 30 minutes before the depression set in. That's OK. It's much more important to have a schedule you can reasonably adhere to, rather than to try, fail, and beat yourself up for not being able to mimic the patterns you had before you became depressed.

 

Finally, in the last month of school, I made a massive list that covered every assignment I had to do in every class that I was taking. And, yup, I subdivided each assignment as much as possible. If you're having trouble picturing it, it basically looked like a bulleted outline you do for a paper. My depressed brain was terrified when I saw how long it was. But I printed it out and taped it on my wall, and physically crossed each item out with a pen when I completed it. At first it felt like a tremendous uphill battle...but then, when I got to the halfway point...something amazing happened. I actually wanted to do the work! Crossing items off the list became like a game -- I wanted to see how much I could complete each day, but didn't judge myself harshly if I didn't finish it all. I even started turning in some assignments on time -- and then, I turned some in early! It was so unbelievably satisfying to cross the final item off that list, then rip the list off my wall and throw it in the trash. That was a major turning point for me in my life; I have not struggled with serious depression since.  :D

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Steadfast I love love love this post, thank you so much for writing. I definitely get the balancing act of self-care, it's so hard to figure out what works for yourself, and how that relates to everyone else. Sometimes self-care goes too far and ends up making life worse, partially because all of the responsibilities you've left alone pile up--the world doesn't wait for the depression to go away, which is one of the hardest parts of dealing with it. My depression likes to come in the form of apathy and self-loathing, so self-care is something I tend to shy away from because my brain likes to tell me that I don't deserve it, and I would push myself too hard to do the responsible thing while avoiding my mental health (which is how you end up having excuse yourself awkwardly from neuroscience because you're sobbing without any reason). Everyday is a day I feel like I can't do anything without breaking apart, but I rip myself out of bed and ignore it and try to put on a good show so that no one worries. If I /don't/ look at mental illness as similar to a physical illness, I'll end up in a much bigger depressive episode because negation is my first instinct, whether it's depriving myself of meals, sleep, time with friends, and anything that gives me peace. I'll get my responsibilities done, but I'll suffer for it. And so my battle has been finding a way to lower my workload and schedule time for myself, self-care is the only way I have of acknowledging that I'm not alright so I don't end up running myself into the ground. I'll be "good" for a few days and be able to force myself to go through life, and then have a crashing period where I can't sleep, think, eat, or function like a regular human. I guess it really all just depends on a person's natural coping mechanisms, what that reflects about the state of their depression, and how to either encourage or fix those methods. I definitely, definitely find that scheduling like crazy helps me too--just like you said, everything down to the last detail. I have my life organized down to what hour I do laundry on Wednesdays, and I have a wall covered with post-its of my "to do" list that I get to rip down whenever I finish (I split them into tiny post its so I could feel more accomplished and get to rip more down hahah). I also think this is why it's so important for anyone dealing with mental illness to see a counselor, therapist, etc, because the way you tackle depression is so intertwined with your personality, history, and the life you've built. I would be lost without my therapist, completely. I am so sorry you've had to deal with depression but also really proud that you climbed and fought your way out of it, that takes so much skill and courage and just sheer stubborn determination. Thank you again for sharing, it means so much :)

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I like to take a breather and think about the bigger picture. If work is too stressful I'd go outside for lunch by myself and relax next to the garden. I think of all the ways the situation could be worst. I also imagine packing all of my problems into a box and throwing them off a cliff.

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Steadfast I love love love this post, thank you so much for writing. I definitely get the balancing act of self-care, it's so hard to figure out what works for yourself, and how that relates to everyone else. Sometimes self-care goes too far and ends up making life worse, partially because all of the responsibilities you've left alone pile up--the world doesn't wait for the depression to go away, which is one of the hardest parts of dealing with it. My depression likes to come in the form of apathy and self-loathing, so self-care is something I tend to shy away from because my brain likes to tell me that I don't deserve it, and I would push myself too hard to do the responsible thing while avoiding my mental health (which is how you end up having excuse yourself awkwardly from neuroscience because you're sobbing without any reason). Everyday is a day I feel like I can't do anything without breaking apart, but I rip myself out of bed and ignore it and try to put on a good show so that no one worries. If I /don't/ look at mental illness as similar to a physical illness, I'll end up in a much bigger depressive episode because negation is my first instinct, whether it's depriving myself of meals, sleep, time with friends, and anything that gives me peace. I'll get my responsibilities done, but I'll suffer for it. And so my battle has been finding a way to lower my workload and schedule time for myself, self-care is the only way I have of acknowledging that I'm not alright so I don't end up running myself into the ground. I'll be "good" for a few days and be able to force myself to go through life, and then have a crashing period where I can't sleep, think, eat, or function like a regular human. I guess it really all just depends on a person's natural coping mechanisms, what that reflects about the state of their depression, and how to either encourage or fix those methods. I definitely, definitely find that scheduling like crazy helps me too--just like you said, everything down to the last detail. I have my life organized down to what hour I do laundry on Wednesdays, and I have a wall covered with post-its of my "to do" list that I get to rip down whenever I finish (I split them into tiny post its so I could feel more accomplished and get to rip more down hahah). I also think this is why it's so important for anyone dealing with mental illness to see a counselor, therapist, etc, because the way you tackle depression is so intertwined with your personality, history, and the life you've built. I would be lost without my therapist, completely. I am so sorry you've had to deal with depression but also really proud that you climbed and fought your way out of it, that takes so much skill and courage and just sheer stubborn determination. Thank you again for sharing, it means so much :)

 

Thank you!  :) My depression manifested as extreme, unrelenting exhaustion, feeling "empty," and an inability to concentrate. It actually took me a long time to seek help, cuz I always thought of depression as sadness, so if I felt...not really anything at all, that couldn't mean I was depressed, right? Have you read Hyperbole and a Half? I really relate to her two comics about depression. Here's part 1, and part 2.

 

It's interesting that even though our depression has manifested in different ways, it seems like the concept of "opposite action" applies to us both; but in your case, it's making time to take a break from obligations, whereas in my case, I had to force myself to complete basic obligations. Do you put time for self-care in your schedule daily?

 

I wish you all the best in your journey forward.  ^_^

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I think Steadfast wrote a good post here. Thank you Steadfast, :).

Here's one or two things that helped me when I suffered from bad depression. My symptoms of depression would be feeling really lethargic, difficulty concentrating, negative self-talk, focus on the bad rather than the good etc... I would make a gratitude list. I write a couple of items that I am grateful for (like I am grateful for having a little bit of toothpaste left in the tube). I would also write down a couple of things that went well for that day and why they went well.

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