I don’t know why, and I’m not the first to say it, but winter terms on quarter schedules are really hard regardless of course load and situation in life. This term is not an exception for me and I find that every winter term seems to get worse. Regardless of that, this last winter term I pulled through like I always do. No matter how awful an episode may seem, it always gets better. All it takes is a little perspective.
I usually end winter term in a depressive episode, and it usually begins around week five (out of 11 weeks). This term, my depressive episode began the first day of the term. The term is over now and I can genuinely say that it did get better, it took almost eight weeks, but it got better.
I struggled to get out of bed and go to classes, do homework and get out of the “I can still graduate even if I get a D in that class” mindset. Blogging consistently became second to getting through the day and making sure I did what I need to survive my classes. Now that the term is over, next terms doesn’t seem as scary, and the episode ended I am hopeful that my blogging schedule won’t fall wayside again.
Since creating this blog, I wanted its purpose to be a place for me to share honest and real stories about me and my experiences. I want to be open about my mental health and I think that being honest about my struggle is a continuous process of staying healthy. I want you to know that mental health is an ongoing process and sometimes a battle to stay healthy. We owe it to ourselves to stay healthy mentally and physically.
Even though I take an antidepressant everyday and will for the rest of my life, there are things I have to do everyday that help me stay healthy. Doing this is harder during an episode. In addition to my normal lifestyle, I make accommodations to help me just get through each day.
These are the five things that help me through depressive episodes
Letting Myself Do Nothing
I take a lot of time off when I’m in a depressive episode. I let myself do nothing when I start feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, angry, and unmotivated. When I start to feel stressed and like I don’t have time for everything I need to do, I don’t do anything. When I say “letting myself do nothing” I don’t mean literally nothing. I mean letting myself take a nap because I need to recharge, to skip a class if I need to, or just lay in bed because I don’t want to get up, and going to bed early. I don’t make myself feel guilty for these things. I consider them necessary to recharge. With that said, I don’t make a habit of skipping classes and work every time I don’t feel like going. In fact I rarely do this, and that’s what makes it so healing when I do. Taking mental health days are important to taking care of yourself. Just know the difference between not feeling like doing something, and needing to not do something.
Making Myself Do Something
On the flip side of the previous strategy, I make myself do things. These things aren’t like making myself do a huge task or making myself socialize. They are just as important. I make myself take a shower, brew and drink a cup of tea, drink some water, wash my face, play with the cat, or make something to eat. A lot of these seem like normal things people do everyday but during a depressive episode I stop doing some of these. For example, I will put some makeup on in the morning to force myself to wash my face before bed, because otherwise I won’t. I make myself boil a dozen eggs so I have an easy breakfast in the morning when doing anything is the hardest. I lay out my clothes for the next day when I normally don’t. I make myself do small things that help future me. The act of making myself do something is taking a bit of motivation in the moment to make life easier for future Brette.
Spending More Time on Things That Feel Good
I also spend time doing things that feel good. These aren’t necessarily things that I generally enjoy doing or would normally do. Recently, I binged all of Cowboy Bebop. I did this because I had a literature paper due about make a genre case for any media I wanted. I chose Cowboy Bebop because I have seen it before (many times), I love it, and it makes me feel good. I love playing video games but only play them while on breaks. During depressive episodes, I make time to play a video game for a bit. I’ve been playing The Sims this term as a reward for doing big and important things like completing an assignment on time. I also take more naps and go out of my way to play with and snuggle the cats longer than normal.
Telling Myself It’s Okay to Let Some Things Slide
When I’m going through an episode I remind myself that it’s okay to let things slide. These are small things like housekeeping, laundry, class readings, grocery shopping, etc. These are small things I would normally do regularly, but when I’m struggling to do important things, I let these slide and do them when they become necessary. Often I find small assignments or things that won’t affect my grade significantly to let slide, or I sweep the floors only when they start to bother me. I will lump these smaller things into a larger thing I need to do in one burst so they don’t feel like a bunch of things adding to a never ending list.
Here’s a tip: If your classes have a lot of course readings every class, instead of reading each one in depth and getting burned out or overwhelmed; select a chunk from each reading to study. This way when there is discussion in class, you can contribute in some way and more so if you didn’t do the readings.
Making Lists of Things That I Can’t Let Slide, and Completing Them
When I lump the smaller things, I can maker larger items that go in a shorter list of things I must do. I make a list of things I absolutely need to do and then I make myself do it. I keep these lists short. I almost never go over three items at a time when I’m stressed or overwhelmed. That way when I look at what I have to do, I can say “you only have to do three things” or “it’s only three things.” This gives me just enough motivation to get shit done as well as be able to do more things without getting exhausted or overwhelmed. I try to make sure that only one homework assignment is on each list of three, but there is almost always one in every list. This is because many of my assignments are in the “must do” category.
My lists are tailored to my needs in the moment. If I have no motivation to do anything, I will create a list of the three major things I need to get done that day. Everything else can get done the next day or the next. On the other side, if I need to feel productive, I will make a list of small things to do and allow myself to feel really good about completing them.
For example: If I need to clean my bathroom sink, sweep my floor, and file paperwork; I might make a list that is exactly those three items and feel good about getting it all done. Or I might combine them all into “tidy your bedroom” and then it’s just one thing I need to do. It’s the same amount of work either way, it’s just taking a different approach to the tasks.
These are the five things that help me get out of depressive episodes that are different from the daily maintenance things I do when I’m feeling healthy. They all really help me function and get things done. I rely on these things to remind me that it will get better and I need to help myself get there.
Bonus thing: I have mentioned this briefly in a previous post, but I sometimes imagine the tasks I am doing as though I were in a ghibli film. This allows me to romanticize the task and enjoy it more because even the mundane is beautiful in a ghibli film. I do this no matter what state my mental health is in.