Depression is a tricky beast. There’s no magic cure, and it’s no big secret how difficult it can be to ask for help. Seeking out a professional tends not to be the first step someone takes. Sometimes the toughest thing to do is just make it through the day, and so while this is by no means a replacement for help, here’s a handy guide to tricking yourself into managing a bad day when your brain does its best to try and turn on itself.
1. Make lists.
Make lists of things you’re looking forward to. General enthusiasm can seem like a lost, long distance friend, but find something, no matter how trivial. Maybe you bought some new shoes a while back and still need to wear them out. Perhaps you’ve heard about it, but do you know what actually happens in Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding yet? Don’t you still need to get to the end of Breaking Bad? Are your team playing soon, are there playoffs? Gotta keep on keeping on for all those.
2. Make more lists.
Then make yourself lists of things to do – short lists, small lists, minor tasks. Think more along the lines of ‘do laundry’ or ‘eat three good meals’ rather than ‘land the dream job, write a novel, achieve world peace’. Crossing tasks off not only brings you a sense of satisfaction; it’s proof later that actually, yes, you do things, depression. You achieve. You have solid evidence. Shut up, okay, depression, you don’t want to hear that shit today.
Am I kidding? No. This isn’t a ‘smile, it’s not so bad’ message, the sort of thing strange old men sometimes single a girl out in the street to tell her. But smile at yourself in the mirror. Remind yourself you can still do it. It’s a nice smile you’ve got there, and it’d be a shame to forget about it entirely. Smile at other people when you’re out and about. Again, that’s not in a creepy, not-sure-if-overly-friendly-or-serial-killer kind of way, but if you’re walking down the road and you catch someone’s eye, just a brief smile will probably prompt them to return. It’s a reflex, automatic, and it can make you feel just that little bit better.
4. Make yourself promises.
Another thing about depression is that it takes small tasks and transforms them into mammoth challenges. Getting out of bed becomes the equivalent of climbing a mountain, and something you’re told should be simple, like making a phone call, can seem as tense and difficult as hostage negotiations. It can be hard, because battling with your sadness all day every day can sap your energy and interests and appetite, so dangling some chocolate or even a literal carrot on a stick, if that’s your thing, in front of yourself might not work the way it used to. But if you make it out the house when all you want to do is hide in bed, promise yourself you can return for a nap. If you manage some dreaded interaction, reward yourself with an hour or two of playing the hermit later. It’s nothing long term, but it’ll help you get through day to day.
5. Take a nap.
In fact, the nap itself can be a great thing. Sometimes everything can get a bit on top of you. Maybe it’s work, maybe it’s social pressures, maybe it’s just your own brain being kind of a dick to you. If you can work it into your day, when everything gets a little bit too much, lie down. Shut off the lights, get yourself comfortable, set an alarm for half an hour or so later, and close your eyes. Sometimes the best solution is mini hibernation.
6. Rewatch your favourite TV shows.
Or films. Or go back to the beginning and start a game from scratch. There’s something about marathoning an old, beloved TV series – it’s familiar, you enjoy it, it doesn’t require huge amounts of concentration (something depression is particularly adept at destroying), and you can get a good balance between distraction, entertainment, and zoning out. You’re on well-mapped ground here. You know what to expect, and that can be a great comfort when you don’t know what kind of mood you’ll be in next time you wake up.
You’re not always going to feel up for it, especially if you’re having a horrible day. And really, let’s face it, slobbing out on the sofa with a glass of wine sounds a whole lot more appealing than going for a run on the best of days. But it’s like that pivotal moment in Legally Blonde: exercise gives you endorphins! Endorphins make you happy! And happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t. Endorphins aren’t a magical cure all, and they’re not going to take you from depressed to delighted in a couple of miles, but they can help for a little while, and it’s another thing you can write on and then cross off of your to do list.
8. Paint your nails.
Oddly specific, maybe, but in painting your nails you focus, you take some time out from the rest of the day, and then you have to stay still and steady for a little while after if you don’t want to smudge your hard work. For those not so into the whole painted nails look, I’d hazard a guess that meditation gives you a similar effect. It’s a forced calmness, and it means you’re pampering yourself too, which can seem a pointless exercise in too much effort when you’re suffering. Plus, you’ll look good.
Yes, it’s cliché. Yes, it’ll ruin your make up. And yes, it sucks that you’re not an ‘even pretty when you cry’ type like everyone in a romantic comedy seems to be. But it’s a saying for a reason. Sometimes you really do just need to have a good cry, and maybe you won’t feel better after it, exactly, but for the time being it’s out of your system and you can try and move on, at least until next time. Not to mention, it offers you an alternative career in testing out waterproof mascara.
10. Do sweat the small stuff.
One of the worst things about depression is the all-encompassing nature of it. No matter who you are or what you do, if you’re unlucky enough to go through it, it can invade your life and start affecting every area of it, and it can take a long time to get a handle on it even with help. Thinking about futures and grand schemes is already a little bit scary – add in a chemical imbalance and it’s straight up terrifying. So what’s the best thing to do? Keep your energy and focus reserved for things you can control. You don’t have to take life as a marathon or a sprint. You can think of it like the decathlon if you like, because let’s be real here, life is definitely complicated enough. Just do what you can and remind yourself as often as you can: you’re doing a good job.