From Inside A Depressive Episode

Hello from inside the dark, oppressive bowels of a depressive episode.

Where the tears come easily but energy and motivation do not.

Where everything, even the air, is heavy – but not in a comforting, weighted blanket kind of way.  More like being slowly suffocated…but so slowly that panicking wouldn’t make sense quite yet.

Where there’s not enough eye cream and makeup to hide how tired you feel, even after a full night’s sleep…because, let’s face it, sleep doesn’t help this kind of tired.

Where minor things feel major and major things barely register.

Where the lies you tell yourself are easier to believe, and none of them are nice.

Where it’s easy to give up on the things you were excited about two days ago, because your brain chemistry did a 180 in that time and everything just looks different now.  More gray.  Less promising.

It’s also where you answer honestly when someone you trust asks if you are ok.

Where you make appointments in order to keep yourself accountable to do the things that are crucial to your self-care.

Where you practice self-awareness enough to call yourself out when you’re isolating – and wow, do you love to isolate when you’re in this place.

Where you dig out the self-care kit you’ve kept by your bed or in the bag you carry to work and you USE IT.

Where you talk yourself out of being overwhelmed by the ridiculously long To Do list and find the things that will specifically help someone else.  Accomplishing something for someone else feels good, and there’s nothing wrong with using that as the motivation.

Where you find a way to keep doing what you do because other people depend on you, and to let them down if you had even an ounce of strength left just isn’t in your wiring – even on your worst day.

Where you lower your impossibly high standards for a time so that you can conserve your energy – and your sanity, not to mention the negative self-talk that wants you to believe you’re just the worst because of what hasn’t been accomplished.

Where you make a list of things and people and places and experiences that you’re grateful for.

Where you make another list of the things you’re looking forward to tomorrow, next week, next month.

Where you offer grace to yourself.

Where you offer grace to others.

Where you breathe.  And cry.  And pray.  And hope.  And dig deep.  And fight for every painful heartbeat because this depressive episode is just that: an episode.  It is a season, and it will eventually end.  The sun will come back up, and it will be glorious.  There will be a day when everything doesn’t hurt and you don’t feel sad every second.  I know it because I’ve lived it, and I know that this won’t last forever.  And if you’re in a similar place, know that yours won’t last either.  We’ve got a life to live, and better days are on the horizon.

“If I knew not midnight, how would I know the morning?” ~Nichole Nordeman

Five Tips for Self-Care During the Holidays

Self-care during the holidays can be tricky.  The routine changes, the junk food is plentiful, and society creates a whole lot of pressure for perfection around this time – all of which can spell disaster for self-care if you aren’t really deliberate about taking steps to keep that self-care process intact.  Here are a few tips for doing just that:

Stay active.  I have a workout regimen, and I am dedicated to it.  But the second that my schedule changes, my workouts are some of the first things to slip.  This ends up making me feel yucky about my body, which tends to snowball into feeling yucky about myself in general, and it’s just a slippery slope from there.  So I make sure to have a plan.  If I don’t think I’ll be able to get a full-up workout in, I carve out time to at least go for a brisk walk; the combination of activity plus fresh air and being outside in nature tend to do wonders for me overall.  If the weather is crummy and I can’t get outside, I have to work a little harder to get activity in.  There are a ton of videos on YouTube that I check out to get a workout in if I can’t get outside, and I have no issue finding one that will keeps my attention (make it fun!) and my heart rate up.

No matter what you do, have someone you know you’ll be with keep you accountable – maybe they can even take a walk or do the workout with you!  If you don’t feel like being that vulnerable with anyone you’re with, tell a trusted friend what your plan is and have them keep you accountable via chat/text/email/a phone call.

Hydrate.  I am a big tea drinker – specifically red rooibos tea.  It is good for me, and I tend to down a ton of water in the process.  But I realized over Thanksgiving that it was far easier to reach for the wine or soda that was readily available than to make my hot tea or drink water.  I ended up using a tracker on my phone to note how much water I had consumed; it gave me a goal to pursue even if my normal hydration was off-kilter.  (I’m not saying avoid alcohol and soda, but hydrating with the good-for-you stuff is an important part of balance.  If you find that you’re experiencing depression during the holidays, however, alcohol may not be the best thing for you to consume, so keep that in mind.)

Pace Yourself.  Whether we’re talking food or activity, pace yourself.  I look forward to the food and drink of the holidays all year long.  For that reason, I refuse to deprive myself, but I also am careful to eat and drink in moderation.  I get to enjoy the goodness that only comes out this time of year, but I don’t hate myself for eating or drinking to excess.  Same for activities – there are tons of places to go, people to see, and things to do, but if you try to do too much, you can wear yourself out and end up feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation.  Don’t overschedule yourself, and don’t be afraid to step back when you need to.  It isn’t selfish; it is part of taking care of yourself.

Take a Nap.  Along the same lines as pacing yourself, the routine change of the holidays might mean that you actually have time for that nap you never seem to get.  Take it.  Enjoy it.  But don’t overdo it – if you’re struggling with depression, a nap can turn into spending the entire day in bed, and that isn’t going to help.  But if you have the chance to get some rest, by all means, take advantage of it!

Manage Expectations.  Most families have some level of dysfunction to them, but the holidays can set many people up for a whole world of disappointment if they go into family time expecting things to look like a Hallmark movie.  Go in with your eyes wide open; this includes watching for the tendency for everyone to fall into years-old dynamics.  You and your family members could all be mature adults, but you may instantly fall into the same relationship dynamic you had when you were kids as soon as you get together.  If you find that this is happening, step back and consciously work to change the dynamic.  It can be exhausting, so watch your energy level, but it can also have a big, positive impact on how your family interacts.  Additionally, if you go in with a clear, realistic picture of what you expect from your holidays, you won’t have to cope with the emotional toll of overwhelming disappointment if you haven’t set an impossibly high standard.

I love this time of year; it is by far my absolute favorite.  I genuinely wish that I could take time off from my battle with depression in the same way that I can take time off of work, but it just isn’t that simple.  Since that’s the reality, let’s make the best of the holidays, taking care of ourselves and kicking off the new year right!

No More Busted Cans of Biscuits

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post about self-care and suggested that when I get dressed, “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.)”  In keeping with that sentiment, I cleaned out my closet last night.  My closet, my dresser – basically, anything that held clothes was opened up, dumped out, and a hard look was given to everything inside.

On the surface, this might sound like a simple exercise in some deep spring (winter?) cleaning.  In reality, this was ripping off a proverbial bandaid and diving into a process fraught with emotion and some painful memories; despite knowing that it needed to be taken care of, I was really loathe to actually do it.  But I couldn’t write a blog post about self-care and then not follow my own advice.  For someone who craves authenticity, the blatant hypocrisy would eat me alive, so drawers and doors were opened and the sorting began instead.

I had a ton of clothes that didn’t fit anymore – and by “anymore,” I mean that I had been hanging onto them since before my daughter was born.  My 7-year-old daughter.  Seven. Years.  Three military moves.  Seriously, even if my weight ever returns to a number on the scale resembling the one that appeared pre-baby, my body has changed in ways that mean my clothes won’t quite fit the way they used to.  And that’s ok.  But it means I was holding onto a whole lot of clothes that were symbols of what once was, not what could be.

There were other clothes that fit beautifully but had some really negative, painful memories attached to them.  I’d been keeping them because they fit, because what if I needed them at some point, because I had spent hard-earned money on them, because, because, because.  I’d been keeping them but not really wearing them.  To look at them made me sad or uneasy; to touch them actually magnified those emotions by ten.  Putting the clothes on was like swimming in a pool of misery.  If you’re depressed and you’re avoiding wearing clothes that make your body feel like a busted can of biscuits, you certainly don’t need clothes that make your heart feel like one either.  For that matter, you don’t need any of that when you aren’t depressed.  You just don’t need any of that at all – ever – and neither do I.

I kept reminding myself of that reality as the pile grew.  I suddenly had no slacks, no suits, no little black dress; there was a momentary panic as I grasped how deeply I was purging my closet and dresser.  But I also realized that I hadn’t actually had slacks, suits, or a little black dress in a very long time – not ones that fit, anyway.  Instead, I’d had false hope and security hanging there, waiting to disappoint me when the time came for me to actually need things like the ones I was giving away.


All told, 164 items left my closet and dresser last night.  164.  For starters, I felt some shame in realizing just how much I had that I never wore.  I live in a uniform or workout clothes 90% of the time; having a wardrobe that immense just wasn’t necessary.  It also meant that literally every time I opened my closet or a drawer, most of the clothing items within my reach were really just monuments to a past – a past body type, a past memory, a past effort at being someone I no longer am.  Yesterday was a good mental health day, and yet the journey through my hoard of clothing was a painful trip down memory lane.  Imagine how that feels on a rough mental health day.  Imagine the depression setting in and going to your closet in an attempt to take care of yourself and get dressed, only to find that most of what you own makes you feel horrible because it doesn’t fit or it evokes memories you’d really rather just forget.  Self-care sabotage.

So in the interest of not sabotaging my self-care – and self-care is an ongoing process that requires work on both the good and the bad mental health days – 164 items of clothing left my house this morning and were donated to a ministry down the street.  Someone else will get some great clothes, and they will absolutely rock them.  They will look and feel amazing, and so will I.  The monument to the things that I will never again be has been dismantled, no longer something to be leveraged by depression’s ugly voice trying to convince me that whatever I am now is something less.  Because on my good days, my bad days, and every day in between, I’m not less, and I won’t let something as simple as my clothes make me feel otherwise.  Please don’t give yours that kind of power either.

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! 😉