It’s been a long time since I posted here. I never wanted to be that blogger, but… life happens. In this case, life handed me some pregnancy depression and then a wonderful charming baby.
I’m finally back, and I’d like to share some of what I learned about dealing with temporary depression. I say “temporary depression” because if depression is your everyday reality and you don’t even know what you are like without it anymore, you should probably get professional help of some sort. If you’re suicidal, you definitely need some expert help. There are non-drug options out there. I personally had a good experience with a homeopath several years ago. Whatever the case, if your depression is permanent or very severe, these tips probably won’t be enough. These are just suggestions for how to get through the occasional rough patch.
Talk to someone about it
This can be incredibly helpful. If you feel hopeless or discouraged, bottling up your negative thoughts inside can make it worse, because you don’t have the energy to challenge them. Sometimes you need to get those hopeless and discouraged thoughts out in front of someone else so that they can tell you how wrong they are. Of course, if you confide in the wrong person this can be the opposite of helpful. You need a person who wants your good, first of all. Next, it helps if the person has some understanding of depression. “Just snap out of it,” is rarely useful advice. Neither is, “You’re not praying enough,” or “Offer it up.” Prayer is good, yes. Prayer can be helpful. And depression is certainly a cross that can be offered to God. But if you’re really down and asking for help, it’s likely you can’t even remember how to pray. You might feel like you hate God, as well as everything else. You might be able to offer up your misery anyway, but you still need help. So try to find an understanding friend who cares about you and is not currently depressed themselves.
Ideally this person will sympathize and then help you strategize.
When you tell someone about your feelings of depression, it’s helpful if you don’t start with, “My life is awful! I hate everyone. Everyone is awful. No one loves me.” This might be how you feel at the moment, but probably not actually true, and it’s very hard for your friends to hear.
You will get better results if you can objectify your feelings. Your feelings are a real thing that you have to deal with. Just because they aren’t themselves an accurate reflection of reality doesn’t mean that they aren’t real. It is objectively true that you are feeling that way, and that you need help managing that experience. So if you can, try saying something like, “I am feeling depressed. It feels like hopelessness and misery. I know there are good things in my life, but I can’t feel that way right now. I know the world is actually colorful, but it feels gray right now. Do you have any idea what I could do that would make me feel better, or manage my feelings better?”
Get out of your head and do pleasant things
When you’re depressed, the last thing you can usually do is get out of your head. So why is it on this list? Because it’s still what you need to do, even though it’s impossible. So maybe this heading should be something like, “do pleasant things that are easy to start and force you to get out of your head.” But that didn’t sound very catchy.
My personal go-to strategy for this one is to text a friend and say something like, “Hey are you busy today? I’m having a bit of a rough spot and I was wondering if you had time to hang out/chat on the phone/go shopping with me.” I might not be able to motivate myself to get off the sofa and do something useful, but I can at least motivate myself to text someone, and they might be able to get me off the sofa. I might not be able to break out of my negative thought pattern, but at least I can call someone and say hi, and they might be able to make me talk and think about something other than how much I hate everything and what a loser I am.
When none of your friends are answering the phone you can try listening to a podcast, reading a book, or doing an easy-to-start hobby activity to help you get past the worst of it. I spent an afternoon laying on the floor listening to multiple episodes of the Art of Manliness podcast (which I do recommend) while my kids played nearby. It was all I could do that day, and the podcast helped me get out of my cycle of negative thoughts.
I also bought a nice grown-up coloring book and used it toward the end of this pregnancy. It really did help. My kids colored their coloring books and I colored mine. I felt a bit silly, but it got me through the day, and was the closest thing to quality time with my kids that I could manage.
One other thing to try, is if you have a to-do list, pick the easiest thing on it (pro tip: always make sure there’s something easy on that list) and do it. Then check it off. Making progress on a project is a great way to increase dopamine and serotonin levels, which will make you feel better.
Leave the past in the past
I talked to a counselor to help me with my depression and discovered through the process that part of what I was struggling with was not just my current emotional challenges, but baggage from my past. I had previously felt depressed and helpless, and the feeling of depression made me feel helpless again, even though I was in a different situation where I had more control over pretty much every aspect of my life and so many more options for helping myself. Just realizing that I was dealing with past challenges as well as present ones when I really only had to deal with present ones was very helpful. So take a step outside your thoughts, if you can, and see if you’re subconsciously assuming things that aren’t true.
Cut yourself some slack
Another thing my counselor told me was to admit that I was actually facing real difficulties and stop telling myself, “I should be able to do more, do better, be better…”
I was pregnant and had two young children to take care of. This is actually a challenging situation. Just because other people might do something harder doesn’t mean that what you’re doing isn’t hard. Who says you should be able to manage that without some extra help? Who says you shouldn’t lay on the floor and cry sometimes? Laying on the floor and crying isn’t a sin, and sometimes it’s all you can do. Don’t make it harder on yourself by telling yourself you’re a loser for doing it. All that will do is make you more depressed, more anxious, and more likely to end up laying on the floor crying.
Sometimes it’s helpful to remind yourself what you did do. I fed my children and kept them safe today. So what if I also spent a couple hours crying? I accomplished something worthwhile today.
Would I rather not have spent two hours crying? Definitely. But it’s more helpful and more healthy to focus on what you did succeed in doing that to beat yourself up about something you might very well have no control over.
Ask for help
You don’t have to be bedridden, having a baby currently, or dying in order to ask for help. Obviously, you should do for yourself what you can, and be ready to help your friends when you can, but sometimes you do need help with physical tasks. Ask for help before you’re so desperate and miserable you can’t do anything.
And if your friends offer to help, do take them up on it if you want help. Don’t be concerned that it’s weak or selfish. It’s not weak to take proper care of yourself, and no one can do life alone. If you have kids, you will need help all the more. Parenting isn’t supposed to be a solo activity. It’s not supposed to just be the parents. Sometimes you need to get other people to help you. Hire someone if you have to and if you can possibly afford it. Consider it an investment in your most valuable asset–your mental health.