It never fails to surprise me how badly depression can physically hurt.
It is an indescribable pain growing somewhere inside your torso. You can’t even understand where it lives, but you feel it pushing down on your stomach, reaching up inside your rib cage, and tightening around your wind pipe. Your stomach feels sick, your throat feels like its closing, and the heavy pain inside you pulls you down to the ground.
It hurts too much to breathe. It hurts too much to be alive.
And the knowledge that it is winning and you are failing yourself and everyone around you is almost enough to end you.
But you don’t let it kill you. Not this time anyway. You take one more breath, and then another. And you try to find a way back up.
I am not new to this depression drill. I have been struggling with depression and anxiety since my first pregnancy thirteen years ago. Medication and a good psychiatrist keep me relatively balanced, but I am always living with depression and anxiety. And there are days and weeks when the depression overpowers me and I end up hiding under the covers, hating myself.
But eventually I must get out of bed.
Yes, I do sometimes give myself a mental health holiday and self-medicate with a Netflix binge for a day or two. But as badly as I may think I want to quit life and become a professional Netflix addict, I know that the only way to get better is to get off the couch.
This last week my depression had been gaining strength, until it finally wrestled me into submission a few days ago. That is the brutal twist of depression that is triggered by self-hatred and “I am not good enough” syndrome. The more depressed you get, the more you hate yourself, and so on and so on, until you are lost in its vortex.
So, what do I do when depression throws me down and counts me out?
I do something — anything, really. The key is to get moving, and get back to healthy activities.
Today, I went for a few walks with my dog, I made a phone call to a friend, and I wrote this post.
If you are battling depression and anxiety, please don’t give up. There are so many of us out there fighting along with you.
You are not alone. You are not the only one who feels like a failure. And you will not feel like this forever. (Yes, your depression may never be cured, but good days will come again, even if the bad days come back too.)
If you are suicidal, please call a suicide crisis line or go to your local emergency room. If you can’t get to the hospital, call 911. Please.
If you do not have a good doctor who understands you and mental illness, don’t give up looking for one. Ask your friends or your family doctor for a referral. Many of us need medication to survive and there is NO shame in getting the help your body needs.
If you are in a safe place and not in immediate danger and you need help to get yourself moving again, here are some things that I do when I feel like I can’t do anything.
Ten Things to Do When You Feel Like You Can’t Do Anything
1. Go for a walk
This is my go to medicine every day of my life, especially if I am struggling.
Fortunately, I have a dog that forces me to go for multiple walks a day, and the fresh air and exercise always make things at least a bit better.
If the thought of “exercising” seems way too much when you are depressed, try going for a short walk. It may be just the little start that you need.
2. Listen to music
Music can save a life.
Whether you are just having a rough day or your depression is at its peak, try turning on some music.
You may need something mellow and soothing, or maybe you need a fun, upbeat playlist that will get you in the mood to move. I am so grateful for all the artists in the world who have given us soundtracks for our lives.
3. Phone a friend
Picking up the phone and calling a trusted friend can be really difficult for some people when they are depressed or anxious, but having a support system is so important.
If you don’t have people you can reach out to who understand depression, anxiety, or addiction, please consider finding a support group or a 12 step program.
If you feel more comfortable finding help online, check out sites such as Postpartum Progress to find support.
But make sure you connect with real life people. You deserve to have a cheering section. You need someone to believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself.
4. Do your art
What makes you feel good? What are you good at that gives you that shot of dopamine to your brain?
Are you an artist, a writer, a photographer — does creating your art bring you out of your pain? Or maybe you are you an athlete and getting your endorphins running is what can help you heal?
Practise your gifts, flex your muscles, use your talents. Even though getting “back to work” is often the hardest thing for me to make myself do when I am depressed, it is always the best way to get my brain balanced again.
5. Clean something
Okay, you might think I am crazy with this one. But tackling even the smallest cleaning challenge can make you feel more powerful and in control of your life.
The order that comes from even a tiny tidied space, can feel like opening a window and breathing in gusts of fresh air.
6. Write a gratitude list
I always say, “You can only see what you are looking at.” It may be trite, but it is true.
If I am only looking at negative things, I am missing out on the good.
When it comes to clinical depression, we have a whole lot of nasty chemicals skewing our thinking. So it is not easy to see the good. It can be almost impossible. So, get out a pen and paper and force yourself to write down some good. Then, read and reread that list until you start to see some good again.
7. Practise a few Cognitive Behavior Therapy tips
Just like writing a gratitude list helps you to get out of your head and focus on the good in your life, Cognitive Behavior Therapy helps you to conquer your negative thinking and replace those destructive thoughts with positive truths.
I am not an expert in CBT by any shake of the stick, but I find huge benefits when I do CBT.
8. Read a book
In my busy life as a working mom, I don’t get too many chances to sit down and read a book. And I do miss the quiet days of curling up with a book.
9. Be your own best friend, not your worst enemy
It is shocking how we treat ourselves.
We would never dream of talking to a friend the way we talk to ourselves. We wouldn’t tell our best friend that they were useless and everyone else is better than they are. We would not withhold doctor’s treatment or medication from them or tell them that they are weak if they sought help for an illness.
Try to treat yourself like you would treat another person. Talk out loud if you have to. Try to stop your self-abuse and call on friends to help you if you can’t overpower the voices in your own head.
10. Look after yourself
Call your doctor, take your meds, get the help you need.
Yes, there is a lot we can do to help ourselves when we are dealing with depression and anxiety. And we need to be ready and active in our own treatment. But that doesn’t mean we don’t also need outside help. Don’t allow shame, fear, or procrastination keep you from reaching out for support and medical treatment.
I hope these tips help you to fight back when your depression or anxiety is trying to take you down.
I wish there were a magic cure for mental illness. But until that day, all we can do is keep trying to take care of ourselves and remember that our darkest hours do end. Hold on tight and don’t give up.
And when you are able, get up and get moving — you can do it!
Please Note: I am not a trained professional and this post is not medical advice. This post is based on my personal opinions and experiences. If you are suicidal, please call a suicide crisis line or go to your local emergency room. If you can’t get to a hospital, please call 911.