Oh gosh. Not another crybaby with depression.

This is not a crybaby post about depression. Whatever that means.

Author Elizabeth Jolley and (younger) sister Madelaine Winifred in the garden, 1927

It is, rather, a very practical post about how I live with depression and generalized anxiety disorder, especially in the winter when it worsens. I’ve learned to make practical modifications so that suicide ideation is no longer a very real part of my every day and so that I am not an entirely miserable person with whom to share tubes of toothpaste and children and life.

I’ve been envisioning this post for awhile now. It’s been rattling around in my head, dancing with delusions about how I’m going to package it cute-like as if living with depression were a Betty Crocker recipe for making pineapple upside-down cake. But depression slows me down and drains me of motivation (when I am otherwise a fairly hyperactive person with a zeal for socializing and hobbies). I realized this post would never happen if I didn’t just aim low and crank out something, albeit not very fancy.

So here we go. Some things that have helped me stay afloat through especially hard months in Depression Town. I hope it helps someone. 

I learned a long time ago that taking a particular dose of a particular anti-depressant helped me to feel a certain way. It means I don’t laugh really hard like I used to. This also means I don’t cry at the drop of a hat like I used to. I take my pill every day and I may very well take it for the rest of my life. Oh no, aren’t you afraid of being dependent on a chemical? I am afraid of a heapton of things in this world. Many are beyond my control. Many exist as figments of my imagination. Many exist well beyond the horizon line of my lifetime. I can’t be preoccupied with them. I take each day as it comes. That’s what effectively living with depression looks like to me. Taking my prescribed dosage and being thankful for healthcare coverage and not worrying about how many more days I will need to keep doing the same–that’s my jam. 

The mascot pup after a bath 1943

I am not a morning person by nature. I often take hours to fall asleep at night and oftentimes I don’t stay asleep. Every semester, I teach an 8 a.m. class. When a colleague evaluated my teaching last semester, she said, “I can tell you’re not a morning person but you do a really good job of trying to pretend you are.” I laughed. Just because we have depression doesn’t mean we can all have a schedule that is favorable. Still, I have learned to fake only what is necessary. I wouldn’t recommend faking pleasure or friendship or happiness. I am willing to put a brave face forward in my early classes, though, because it only requires that I show up, prepared and ready to face the day, and I can tell that most of my students are trying to do the same. We are in the early morning struggle together.

Image from page 385 of "Abraham Lincoln and the battles of the Civil War" (1887)

I keep my life very simple, especially in the winters. I rarely say YES to things, and prefer a month of lame weekends to busy ones. I don’t like to dread activities that should otherwise be fun. I have learned which friends will take things personally and which friends are safe to tell that I really don’t feel up to things right now. Some friends will hold it against you and others will totally understand that you just feel overwhelmed by social expectations but look forward to seeing them when you’re feeling better.

The hardest thing I have found about living with depression is still being present for my hubby and kids. They may ask so little of me, e.g. to read a book to them or listen to a story and yet Depression, liar of liars, will trick my mind into thinking it’s a huge mountain to climb. The best way I have learned to be present is to be honest right out of the gate. To say to my kids almost immediately when I pick them up from school: Mommy is having a hard day. Do you ever feel like you just want to watch TV and not talk to anyone? That’s how Mommy feels today. My kids are remarkably accommodating when I let them know that I am wearing my grumpy pants and it’s not because of anything they have done. My husband is a living saint where depression is concerned and gets it and doesn’t hold it against me and makes me salads without asking. Praises be.

To that end, the final strategy I’ve learned to help immensely when I feel depression cloaking me is to practice radical self-care. I am uncompromising when it comes to eating healthfully and exercising just about every day. Depression will tell me that I deserve to eat a pan of Rice Krispie treats for dinner and be a wicked slob. Fast forward to when I am so much worse off and feeling all frumpalump and really? No, Depression. You may win the battle of the couch potatoes but this yoga mat is not your battleground. Move along.

Physical Culture Class, 1934

I am thankful for my faith and for my friends and family who have loved me through some rocky times. Depression can be a badge and a burden but it can also be the reason that blessings flood us when we need it most. Sending courage to all the depression warriors out there, and those who love them. <3

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