Self-Care & Break Glass


Let’s talk about self-care. This is another buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but I want to break it down a bit into something more practical than the vague advice to “take care of yourself.”

Ideally, we should be engaging in self-care all the time. Should. But when depression creeps up and tries to take me down, I’ve got a kind of emergency checklist that I go through, with very specific things to do so I can own the depression, rather than letting the depression own me. Let me preface all of this by saying that these aren’t done in any particular order, but they are all important.

  • Hydrate

Drink a glass of water. Not soda. Not alcohol. Water. Dehydration adds a ton to the physiological effects of depression, to include headaches and sluggishness – which no one really needs. If you’re like me and struggle to drink water sometimes, use liquid or powdered flavoring specifically designed to make water easier to drink.

  • Eat

Eat something quasi-nutritious. By “quasi-nutritious,” I mean avoid the processed junk food. I say that as someone who has a sweet tooth eight miles wide and never met a carb I didn’t like. I’m also an acknowledged emotional eater, and if I’m eating my feelings in the form of a carb-fest, I’m only going to feel worse. So I try to get some protein in there. I’ll snack on nuts or a protein bar. Fruits and veggies are also good; I’ll grab a banana or those little bell peppers to munch on. Bottom line: I don’t feel like prepping much, so I go with what I can grab easily – but I consciously avoid the slippery slope of indulging in my comfort foods. Even if I tell myself that I should have those comfort foods – because, hey, I feel like crap! – there will be regrets later.

  • Workout

This one is tough…and I love a good workout. But when I’m depressed and have no energy and everything hurts, the absolute last thing I want to do is lace up my shoes and workout. So my goal is to simply move. Maybe I take my daughter on a walk outside, and I talk myself into getting to the next stop sign…then the next tree…then the next light pole. Maybe I turn on some music and have a dance party. Maybe I message a friend and say, “Hey, I’m struggling right now and absolutely don’t want to workout but absolutely need to. Can you meet me?” Maybe we’ll lift, maybe we’ll run on the treadmill, maybe we’ll just walk around the track and talk about life. Honestly, in this case, it doesn’t matter what you or I do, as long as we move.

  • Brush Your Teeth

Yes, it takes energy, but no one feels worse after brushing their teeth. This is just good for you.

  • Shower

Take a shower. I will feel a million times better once I’m clean…but it can be so difficult to find the energy. Try anyway.

Backup plan: Soak in a bath. Throw in some soothing Epsom salts. Light some candles. Treat yourself.

Backup backup plan: Use some refreshing cleansing wipes, deodorant, and some dry shampoo. If you’ve got some lotion that smells great, put some of that on too. That will get you only halfway there, but if you’ve got zero energy, it’s a step in the right direction.

  • Get Dressed

If I’m already clean, it’s time to put on clothes that are not the same comfy pajamas I slept in. That doesn’t mean I get to opt for a clean set of comfy pajamas…unless it is already night time and it took me all day to get to this point on my checklist. I need to put on clean clothes, and they should be clothes that I feel great in, that give me a confidence boost. (Clothes that make me feel like a busted can of biscuits should probably be removed from my wardrobe anyway, just on principle.)

  • When Did I Last Do Something I Enjoy?

If it has been awhile, either go do something you love or schedule it – and tell a friend about it so you are kept accountable to doing it. Maybe it’s golf. Or playing guitar. Or hiking. Or painting. Or woodworking. Or writing. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to do something that you enjoy, and go do it.

  • Speak Up

This one is really difficult. Depression already makes me feel isolated, and I tend to believe that no one wants to be around me anyway. But it is important to speak up. On one hand, this could mean setting up an appointment with my therapist if I haven’t checked in recently. On the other hand, it could mean reaching out to friends and saying, “Hey, I need some help here.” It should be so easy, but it isn’t. It’s like the Bible story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet; they would have been fine washing His feet, but some of them freaked out about Him washing theirs. In the same way, we’re eager to help friends in distress, but we get really weird about allowing those same friends into our messes, into the less-than-perfection that is the struggle with depression. Where we see weakness in speaking up, however, there is strength. When you’ve told a friend you’re struggling, also letting them know that you got out of bed and took a shower gives them the opportunity to celebrate with you in that victory. Speak up. Ask for affirmation. Ask for a hug. Heck, ask a friend if you can pet their dog, if that is something that works for you. Ask.

I think that one of the most admirable examples of this was back in May of 2015, when Jared Padalecki (where are my Supernatural fans at?) was in a difficult place and asked his Twitter followers for some messages of love. His fans were quick to respond, reminding him to #AlwaysKeepFighting. We are bred to believe that reaching out like this is selfish, attention-seeking, and akin to fishing for compliments. It isn’t; it’s asking for what you need at that moment. Do it. Speak up, and speak up courageously.

  • Meditation

Take a minute and focus on breathing. This does not require becoming a yoga master, a jedi master, or any other kind of master. In fact, there are a ton of apps you can download to help with this if you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. This helps me to focus and get past the persistent fog that depression creates around my brain.

  • Faith

If I do this right after meditating, I’m normally in a pretty solid place to pray and journal through the thoughts and emotions I’m experiencing. This is also when I specifically read Bible verses that counteract the junk Depressed Me wants to believe. Psalm 139:13-16, Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 43:4-5, Zephaniah 3:17, Malachi 3:17, Galatians 3:26, Ephesians 2:10, and Romans 5:8 are some good go-to verses. I will also use this time to listen to praise music, although I may crank it up and sing until I’m hoarse, because that is good for the soul too.

  • Thankfulness

What am I thankful for? It can be really tough to be thankful for anything when depression is weighing me down. For that reason, I keep running list of things I’m thankful for, and I reference it when I need to. Gratitude has a funny way of taking the edge off of depression, if only for a while.

Break Glass

We’ve all seen the Break Glass In Case of Emergency signs, normally covering a fire extinguisher. I keep a Break Glass In Case Depression Is Kicking My Butt kit, but I just call it the Break Glass kit for short. I put this together on my good days to be ready on my bad days – and this is really important. Self-care requires that you be proactive; it requires that you be prepared. Part of owning depression and not letting depression own you is being ready to deal with and overcome whatever that creepy monster wants to throw at you. Putting together a Break Glass kit is a large step in becoming an active fighter in this, rather than a passive victim – and that helps to create a better mindset overall. Once I’ve decided to fight, I’ve been known to whisper, “Screw you, depression, I’m going to go take a shower.” Suddenly, that thing that felt so difficult and so draining is now a victory dance and flipping off that depression monster that wanted to take you down.

What’s in my Break Glass kit? A bottle of water, some flavoring packets/liquid, a protein bar, a snack pack of almonds, my iPod with a dance party playlist and a praise music playlist, refreshing cleansing wipes, dry shampoo, nice smelling lotion, a journal, verses I’ve picked out ahead of time, and my growing list of things to be grateful for.

I keep this by my bed, ready for the next fight – a fight to take care of myself when everything in me would just rather not.

As a final thought, if you know someone who is struggling with depression, and you want to support them but just don’t know how to do it in a meaningful way, consider putting together a Break Glass kit for them. Maybe you could include reasons why they matter to you, and tell them why you are grateful they are in your life. It’s a concrete way to fight alongside someone in this struggle and demonstrate that they aren’t alone.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves! 😉

The Struggle Bus

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had more than a few conversations about The Struggle Bus.  This is a term that we often apply to just about anything involving some semblance of difficulty — a morning where the caffeine just isn’t kicking in, the concept in school that you just can’t wrap your mind around, or one of those days when parenting is really, really hard.  In these recent conversations, however, The Struggle Bus was the term du jour for the ongoing fight with depression.

One of my friends voiced how tired he was of The Struggle Bus, a sentiment that I shared and understood.  For some people, trips on The Struggle Bus are episodic; they come and go with relief in between.  For others, years have been spent on the journey, and they are worn down from it.  Regardless of how often or how long, time spent on The Struggle Bus isn’t fun; it’s exhausting.  That exhaustion plays a large role in many people’s decisions to end the trip permanently.

That’s not the right answer.  It’s never the right answer.  But in the midst of the fight, what keeps us going?  What keeps us from giving in?

Hope.

Hope that this ride will be short.  Hope that getting out of bed, taking a shower, and putting on clean clothes will be the first steps in a day that improves from there.  Hope that the depression won’t be defining.  Hope that the depression won’t get the last word.  Hope that there’s still music to make and stories to write and sunsets to be in awe over and stars to wish on.  Hope that there’s more, and it is vibrant and beautiful and better.

Hope.

I think there might be another layer to this, though.  Have you ever kept hanging on because you knew someone else was hanging on too, and if they could do it, maybe you could as well – even just for today?

Here’s the thing: we need each other.  We isolate ourselves, but we need each other.  We feel alone, but we need each other.  Do you understand me?  We need each other.  In this fight, it’s a Struggle Bus — not a Struggle Unicycle.  Take a look around; there are other people on board this thing.  We all believe that we’re by ourselves and staring out the window into the grayness, but there are other people riding, and they need encouragement and hope as much as we do.  We have the chance to bring that to them.

I know, I know.  Before you put me on blast and tell me that you’re barely getting through the day as it is and how can I possibly expect you to find what it takes to help someone else, hear me out.  Sometimes, giving hope and encouragement to someone else looks exactly like getting through your day.  Someone else might choose to hang in there because you did — no extra effort, no special words, nothing more cosmic than what you’re already doing.  And trust me, I know that there are days when just functioning should earn you a ticker tape parade.

Just living – and encouraging someone else and giving them some hope to keep going – has a way of flipping the script on depression, even while riding its Struggle Bus.  Depression – insidious beast that it is – tells us we’re alone, that we’re worthless, that we matter to no one.  But if the very act of living is giving hope and encouragement to someone else, that flies in the face of the lies depression wants us to believe in our darkest moments.

There’s one tiny catch, however. You have to speak up. You can’t encourage someone else by getting through the day if they don’t have a clue how unbelievably difficult it can be for you to do just that. I’m not saying that you have to announce your fight on social media (although if you want to continue to take down the stigma that way, be my guest).  But tell someone.  Move seats on The Struggle Bus and sit next to someone who was convinced they had the whole place to themselves.  For starters, if you’ve been suffering in silence, I want you to know that you don’t have to do that, and telling someone makes the burden a little lighter.  But telling someone also opens the door for that person to glimpse hope on your good days.  And I pray for a lot of good days for you.

If you are watching someone else, and you know their struggle, and you are encouraged by them, speak up.  Tell them.  It doesn’t have to be flowery, and it doesn’t have to be awkward. But finding out that choosing to stay and live and fight is a choice that is giving hope to other people can be a shot of adrenaline for someone.  You can give that to them.  You.  Who doesn’t want to know they matter in the life of someone else??

For the record, you matter. If you’re riding The Struggle Bus, you aren’t alone.  There are days when I might be sitting right next to you.  I keep riding because I have hope, and I keep riding because I want to give hope.  It doesn’t make the journey less exhausting, but it sure makes it worth it.

Real, Or Not Real?

In Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, specifically in the third book, Mockingjay, Peeta’s grasp on reality is so tenuous that he has to ask “Real, or not real?” in order to discern truth from lies.  In much the same way, when I am in a depressive episode, it is incredibly important to be able to tell the difference between what is no-kidding real and what depression wants me to believe.

For example, we often talk about how depression is isolating.  I don’t want to get out of bed, I don’t want to get out of the house, and I certainly don’t want to socialize.  Part of that is the energy drain; another part is the thought pattern created by depression.  I don’t really want to be around people; depression wants me to believe that people don’t want to be around me, that I am a burden, and that others merely tolerate me anyway.

Real, or not real?

When I’m not depressed, the question seems laughable and the things that depression would like me to believe seem ridiculous.  But when I’m deep in that darkness, they seem legitimate – overwhelmingly so.  So I ask myself the question, “Real, or not real?” and I think about what I know to be true.  I think about what I’ve experienced.  I think about my friends and family, and I know that depression is a big fat liar.

So depression moves on with its insidious, accusatory game.

“You’re a whole bucket of crazy.  Do you think anyone could ever love you like this?  No one will ever be willing to deal with a person like you in their life.”

Real, or not real?

My depression is not my defining feature.  Granted, it likes to take center stage when it can, but it doesn’t get to very often.  Are there guys who will run screaming for the hills the second that my crazy shows a bit?  Yes, and I don’t want them anyway.  I know that I’m actually a pretty great person, and if depression is stopping someone from dealing with me, they can keep right on walking.

So depression tries again.

“You do realize that no one else actually feels this way, right?  You’re literally the only one who has ever dealt with this.  You’re broken, you’re alone, no one understands, and no one wants to be bothered by you trying to explain it.”

Real, or not real?

It seems silly to even type depression’s argument, but the heavy weight of it when I’m struggling cannot be overstated.  In this moment, I think about the number of organizations that exist to help people with depression and mental illness.  I think about the 22 veterans who take their lives on a daily basis.  I think about the number of celebrities who didn’t get help and the handful who did.  I am not alone.

I have close friends whom I let know when a depressive episode has kicked off.  One of them knows that I drink a particular type of tea when I’m feeling down; I’ll ask her over for some tea.  Whether it’s a real invitation or not, she knows that I’m riding the struggle bus and need some support.  Another friend is familiar with my “fight’s on” mantra, and I simply let him know that it’s one of those fighting days.  There are others whom I simply tell outright.  The conversation is no longer awkward; I’ve built trust with them and they with me.  They make it completely, utterly, wonderfully impossible to believe the lies that I am alone and that no one understands, because they walk with me in the darkness.

Depression is real.  The fight is real.  The head games are real.  The thoughts are not.  But when someone is in a depressive episode, it all feels very, very real.  So let me tell you this:

If you are so deep in the tunnel that you can no longer see the beginning or the end, and it is pitch black and all you seem to have are the thoughts screaming at you and reminding you of how desperately alone you are, I will stand with you.  I will stand with you and walk with you in that darkness until we find the light.  You are not alone.  I am not alone.  One step at a time, we’ll get through that tunnel together.  You’re worth it, and so am I.

Real.

So, You Know She Struggles With Depression, Right?

“So, you know she struggles with depression, right?”

I am deployed, and no one here has a bathroom to themselves; community bathrooms are the standard, and privacy isn’t exactly expected.  I was in the community bathroom, and I overheard this conversation. Two women were talking about a third woman, and one of them was talking about how great this third woman was.  She had nothing but really positive things to say about her; she was a great co-worker, their interactions were positive, and she apparently had this ability to make everyone she talked to feel like they were the most important person in the world right at that moment.  It was at this point that the second woman said, her voice condescending, “So, you know she struggles with depression, right?”

Cue the sound of the DJ record scratch off in the distance somewhere.  Suddenly, inexplicably, all of this woman’s awesomeness was somehow overshadowed and cancelled out by this single reality in her life.  You could feel the dynamic change.  The first woman just responded with a disappointed, “Oh.”  The conversation was clearly over, and both women left the bathroom. I wish I had said something, but I didn’t get the chance. And, honestly, I was heartbroken that the conversation had gone the direction it had; we’re still treating depression like it has this big scarlet letter attached to it.

This woman struggles with depression. That means she fights it. The fact that she’s still around means that she is engaged in battle against this thing – and she’s winning. She hasn’t given up; she hasn’t given in.  The day-to-day fight may have been defining, but the depression itself has not defined her.  She’s clearly still out to make the world around her brighter and better, but she’s being treated as the subject of bathroom gossip by those who cannot tell the difference between perceived weakness and actual strength.

In the past couple of years, I’ve been very open about my struggles with depression.  It is counterintuitive to do that, and I’ve been told that I have to be careful because it may impact my career in the long run.  But I firmly believe we can’t destigmatize getting help for mental health while at the same time telling people to keep quiet when they own the struggle and get help. I’d rather be led by those who are honest about not having it all together 100% of the time than by those who fake it to the point of being unapproachable.  I don’t think I’m alone in that.

My depression is a daily struggle, although some days are much worse than others. I can normally tell about 3-5 days before a depressive episode is about to begin. I just feel different, although if I can get some sleep, I can normally “short-circuit” a spiral…right up until I can’t. When a depressive episode hits, I wake up in the morning and I just know. It’s as though a switch flipped in my brain overnight, and I wake up with this indescribably heavy feeling of sadness.  (Many have suggested that the Dementors in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are excellent analogies for depression; one feels as though they will never be happy again.)  In spite of a full night’s sleep, I have zero energy, and regardless of what needs to be accomplished, my motivation is non-existent. In this moment, I have learned to say to myself, “Fight’s on.” Sounds all warrior-like, huh? All gritty and determined and badass.  The reality is that fighting the depression looks a lot more like getting out of bed. Getting some semblance of a workout in. Taking a shower. Putting on clothes that aren’t my comfy pajamas.  Eating something quasi-nutritious. Listening to music that I’ve already set aside for this situation. Praying and meditating. Letting a trusted friend know that the fight is on.  Fighting depression looks an awful lot like normal life, and yet it feels like this epic struggle that is going on with the same constant, subtle undercurrent as breathing.

Why am I telling you this? Because we need to talk about it. We need to stop treating people like lepers because they are engaged in this unseen struggle. We need to be honest as leaders and followers and colleagues and friends and family and people. We post the number to the Suicide Hotline on our Facebook walls and we tell people to call if they are ever in a dark place, but we shy away from vulnerable, uncomfortable conversation…unless it is to talk about someone’s struggle as something that is to be whispered about and ashamed of.

I want this to change. For the sake of every person out there battling it out, I want this to change. And I want to be part of this change. So let’s have these conversations. And let’s keep having these conversations. Over and over and over again, until depression isn’t something that people whisper about in hushed tones – we acknowledge it, we deal with it, we walk alongside people on their rough days, and we don’t let it become the defining feature of someone’s life.

To that woman being gossiped about – you’re a badass, and you aren’t alone. Always keep fighting.