The people in our household have come to the point where we’ve lost count on how long we’ve been in lockdown, especially since we started self-isolation long before that, but a few things have become clear: Lockdown depression is here to stay.
Disclaimer: I do not have a neurotypical brain, as I probably have ADHD. The content in this post may or may not be relevant to you.
So, it might sound macabre to say that the lockdown depression is here to stay. But to me admitting that I was actually dealing with depression again, when it’s been some years since depression was my main issue, made all the difference, because I know how to deal with depression. The past few years have mainly been physical issues causing depression like symptoms occasionally, and there is a difference between the two. Knowing what your dealing with makes it easier to bring out the right tool kit. Like you wouldn’t try to use an Allen Key for a Phillips screw. No that’s not true, we’ve all tried it, because getting the other tool would be too much work. But we also know how it ended: the wrong tool didn’t help you handle the problem nearly as efficient as the right one could’ve. That said I feel like it’s also important to note that efficiency isn’t everything, and do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but if you have the right tools available to you, do take a day to try them.
When I realized that I was dealing with depression and remembered that I have an entire toolkit to deal with depression, which is slightly different from dealing with anxiety and other ailments, I decided to get to work.
The first try actually resulted in a severe backlash, so be aware that your mind may punish you for trying to fix all the things at once. At first when I realized that I can help myself feel better I started by trying to take a walk every day, and showering and cooking etc, all at the same time. And for my brain (I dunno if this is a ADHD thing, a me thing, or a general thing) just went “what the actual fuck”, and kind of shut down even more and led me to be more depressed. This was when I realized that just taking better care of myself wasn’t going to cut it I had to restart entirely. For me this was when I decided to really get back to basics.
What do I mean with basics? Well, this will vary for different people and I’m sure I’ll get plenty of tips from you all after reading this as well, but for me it was this:
- I don’t have to do anything.
- I chose one thing every day that I want to do (emphasis on want), and try to do that.
- Forgive yourself.
Disclaimer 2: If you have a family and children or pets to take care of this will probably be a lot harder to accomplish at least in the way I’m going to describe it. But if you find yourself depressed in such a way where you’re not taking care of yourself or them this may be the place to start. For example: if I had still had a dog my one thing every day would be taking care of the dog by a small walk with them and feeding them. That also ended up being where all my energy got allocated, and then I’d return to bed and cry, or go to the computer and distract myself while being very numb.
Context: one of my most extreme ways to get out of my depression was leaning full into it. I was in my early 20s, and I had all these “must”s and “should”s looming over me, and it was making me sick. Even writing about it now makes me feel uncomfortable, and I can feel those sensations in my body. I had to remove myself from everything that had “I have to” or “I should” attached to it, until I was ready. So I stopped showering unless I wanted to, I ate danishes for breakfast or dinner if I so felt like it, or a pint of ice cream. All of these were associated with myself, I still took care of my dog even if it was the bare minimum. I don’t remember how long this period lasted, because it’s well over 10 years ago, and I don’t recommend it as a first solution, but when nothing else works I know I’m the back of my head that I can always try that. But, since this wasn’t the extreme I wanted to go to yet, I needed a different method.
Step one was telling myself to stop trying to force the good things to happen. Stop trying to force myself to do all the things (which had caused a backlash), but I didn’t want to go as extreme as I had in the past.
Thus I decided to choose one thing a day that’s what I want to get done today. Saying that I “want” to do it, rather than I “have to” do it, also makes all the difference. There’s a cognitive difference there, and even if you know you’re tricking yourself by changing the wording, it may help. For the past week I’ve been doing this, and every morning (or noon or late afternoon) I’ve decided on a thing I want to get done that day to make myself feel better about having done something. Today it was to take a shower. A few days before that I wanted to make a proper meal, enough for leftovers which I could have later. Each of these things made me feel better that day, and by me saying this is the one thing it relieved a lot of pressure from myself because I didn’t have to do anything else, unless I felt like I could, and I still did good.
Choosing one thing that you want to do every day doesn’t mean you won’t do other things. You still can, but it’s important to remind yourself that you don’t have to do anything else. Earlier this week when I also had “shower” as my one thing, once I had I felt good about having done my one thing, so while I was in the kitchen I ended up wiping off some surfaces, I helped my house mate in the garden, and I made late lunch for me and them. It’s important for me to reiterate here that this isn’t supposed to be a trick to tell yourself that you only do one thing today, but then secretly plan other things, your mind knows these things, so be careful of creating backlashes because of that.
On Saturday this weekend, I spent all day doing nothing and eventually realized that I wouldn’t get one thing done. I chose to forgive myself for that, that I can’t always do something. Some days are just going to be horrible. That night had been terrible, and I had not gotten nearly enough sleep, and I needed to just wind back down from that.
In choosing to forgive myself I removed the pressure of “I have to do something today”, yes even the one thing is some pressure, which I try to make it fairly small, and beneficial so the cost is outweighed by the reward, and so I can get it done first thing when I get out of bed. Removing that weight from my shoulders helped me relax again, and eventually that evening I sorted out a box so we can move some boxes upstairs (I moved into a couple of my friends’ house a while back, and we’re still shuffling stuff around). I do not think I would’ve been able to do that if I hadn’t forgiven myself.
Another tip, bonus, is to be the friend to yourself you’d be to your friends. Tell yourself all the things you’d tell your friends when they were struggling with similar things as you. If you can’t do it in your head, try writing it down as a conversation, or something like that.
In these trying times we need to take care of ourselves and each other. For me sometimes the best community care is self-care, because the better I feel the more of myself I can give to others. You can not pour from an empty cup.
How are you dealing with your lockdown depression? Or mitigating it before it even turns up?