Yesterday, I posted about being depressed, and I had the very pleasant experience of having a bunch of friends and family reach out to me to either check in or commiserate.
A lot — a lot — of people seem to go through something very similar when they move to a new place where they don’t know anyone. The beauty of going to college or grad school is that, when you get there, you meet thousands of other people who are looking to make new friends, too. So loneliness isn’t as inevitable. Post-college, you don’t have that safety net. You have to make the friends yourself, which is exhausting and often awkward, and it can be really easy to sink into a depression.
It should go without saying that I’m not a shrink, and thus, I can’t offer any real medical advice, but seeing as people are reaching out to me, I feel like I should maybe share some of the stuff that has helped me navigate the Raptorfield1 of depression and start to pull out of this.
Duh. Before all of this, I thought of therapy as something you only did when you have an emotional break-down of some sort. I’m now starting to think that, if and when I pull out of this, I’m going to stick with therapy just as a way to kind of keep an eye on myself, and do occasional mental health upkeep.
In short: it’s not as big a deal or as terrifying as it feels when you’re first trying to book an appointment. If you need someone to talk to, therapists are often even better than friends, because they are often much better at calling you on bullshit. They are professionals, and while you may have to go to a couple to find a therapist that works for you, it’s worth the time.
A final note: I used the expense of therapy as a way to justify not going. It costs me a $15 copay every two weeks. I have good insurance, but even double or triple that would ultimately be manageable.
I’m terrible at this. I hate exercise. But I always, always, always get worse when I go a few days without it. There’s tons of evidence that exercise reduces the symptoms of mild to moderate depression.
This does not mean you should commit to running five miles a day, or running a marathon. That’s actually the opposite of what you should do, because depression is a pretty big energy sap, and big goals require a lot of energy. So you’re setting yourself up for failure by going too big too quick. Goals should stay in the realm of the doable.
I try to do one of two things each day: go for a walk. Or run a mile.
Walking is great — it doesn’t feel like too big of an ask, but it at least gets me outside and into the fresh air. I live near a beach, which makes walking especially nice, but even if I didn’t, it would still be pleasant. Aside from generally making me feel better, walking is an incredible creativity boost. Research has been done about this. I’m a writer, and if I hit a wall, I go for a walk. It does not ever fail me. Ever2. Also, walking near trees is good for your mental health.
Running is a new thing for me. I still hate it, but a mile is doable. I run for 8 to 10 minutes, and then I’m done for the day. I will probably try to scale up in the future, but the important thought is not, “I’m going to run a marathon someday,” but is rather, “I’m going to do something today, even if I totally suck at it.”
3. Not drinking.
I’m a young person without kids, and my drug of choice is booze. Drinking is suuuper dangerous when depression is an element — it’s kind of a momentary escape that, in the long run, actually contributes to the depression. You know, because it’s literally a depressant.
If I’m having a bad day, I try not to end it with a drink. It could really easily slip into alcoholism if I let drinking become tied to escape from depression, and I really don’t want that (not only because alcoholism is terrible, but because I actually quite like drinking, and want it to remain a healthy part of my life). Also, if I’m starting to feel shitty about myself, sometimes it’s after I’ve had drinks a few days in a row. If I skip a night, I often feel better the next morning.
4. Getting offline.
My job requires that I spend a lot of the day on the computer. This is also dangerous. The thing that makes me feel best, work-wise, is when I get totally absorbed and focused. This is hard to do with the internet as an element. The internet is designed to distract. I know this because I occasionally write click-bait headlines. We are really methodical about how we write these — the currency of the internet is attention, and we know how to get it3.
My solution — since I can’t just unplug, from a professional standpoint — is to use writing software called Scrivener that allows me to enter a composition mode which blocks out my browser and my desktop, among other things.
I also try to do non-electronic things — doodles, crossword puzzles, etc. I don’t know as much of the science behind this one, but I have felt better as a result of unplugging and forcing myself into the real world.
5. Musical theater.
I talked yesterday about flatlining. Sometimes, what I’ll do, if I’m feeling particularly emotionless, is I’ll try and do things that will provoke emotion out of me. I’ll read something that makes me angry (Donald Trump is excellent for this). I’ll remember old embarrassing moments. I’ll let the shitty voice in my head be especially shitty, to try and get me to cry. None of these are particularly healthy.
But there is one (relatively healthy) thing that always, without fail, makes me feel big feelings: Musical theater. Singing and dancing. I am not joking. Les Miserables. The Book of Mormon. Phantom of the Opera. And sweet Jesus Christ, Hamilton. This shit is my jam.
Anyway — the thing that makes you feel big feelings may be something else. Music, sports, certain movies, certain books. I don’t know how healthy it is to try and trick yourself into feeling something big, but for me, it’s always a relief to put on “One Day More!” from Les Mis and feel myself tearing up a bit at the final lines. It’s a good reminder that yes, the feelings are still there, even if the only person who can bring them out is Jean Valjean.
Here are some of the things I watch that make me feel good feelings. They might not be your things, but they help me.
Les Miserables, “One Day More”
Sia, “Cheap Thrills”
Old Timey “Uptown Funk”
Movie Dance Scenes, “Shut Up and Dance”
Featured photo: Garry Knight