How I cope with my depression

I get depressed sometimes. I’m not talking the colloquial depression where you feel a little mopey though. I get clinical depression, that has in the past required the support of a therapist to work through.

I don’t see a therapist anymore though (but I would if I thought I needed to again), and I’ve developed some coping mechanisms that help keep me on track and navigate rising tides of depression until they go out again.

This doesn’t happen too often anymore. I’d say I get into a real funk not more than once a year right now, but I’m always on the lookout for signs that that might be changing. But whether it’s happening monthly, annually, or once in a blue moon, I’ve found that there are a few things that really help, when I am depressed and don’t respond to (and sometimes actively avoid) my friends, family, and anything that I perversely worry might make me happy. There are things that I know will keep me steady, even through the worst of it.

These behaviors almost become rituals, though I don’t do them completely on auto-pilot. And there are a few unifying themes:

  1. as little ambiguity as possible, and as much structure as possible
  2. tricking myself into using my negative impulses to help myself
  3. purpose

My non-exhaustive list

  • brushing my teeth every day, twice a day
    • beginning and end of the day, and it’s a ritual of self-care. This is also a good canary. If I stop doing this or resist, I know things are getting pretty bad
  • eating breakfast every day, not more than an hour after I wake up
    • same as above. I know that not doing this can undermine even a good day, so it’s important. If I stop this, again, I know things are getting pretty bad
  • making my own meals
    • same really. It’s self-care, and active self-reliance. Being able to buy your own food is also a sign of self-sufficiency (you’ve got the money to pay for it), but the physical activity of preparing my own food is important
  • showering
    • good both for its structure (doing it daily), the fact that I’m paying attention to my presentation to the outside world, and because standing under running water has a remarkable grounding effect
  • coding tutorials
    • these are great, because they minimize frustration (which can be very debilitating). It’s a structured activity, where almost all variables have been controlled for by someone else. There’s also a strong strain of positive motion in this, because you’re learning something new. I do need to be careful and pick tutorials that are challenging enough, and introducing me to new and useful concepts (that’s important) so I still feel the purpose in it
  • uninstalling social media apps
    • one of the few ‘negative’ actions I take, but this minimizes the possibility for time-sinking, which can be very dangerous
  • spacing out with loud ticking clocks
    • this is kind of a weird one, but the ticking of loud wall clocks is very soothing to me. Sitting and clearing my mind, and just letting it tock with every tick is a good compromise between the non-desire to do bad things for myself, and total apathy, which compete and cooperate in weird ways. Clocking out (I swear that wasn’t a pun when I first thought of it) satisfies both impulses, but is pretty much meditation, and allows for self-escape to boot when I need it
  • putting things away
    • part good discipline, and part maintenance. Cluttered spaces can really screw my head up if I’m already fragile, so it’s helpful to keep my spaces clear. It weirdly helps that this feels like a punishment to me too (go clean your room!), so if I’m needing to wallow, I can put myself on time-out and clean
  • reading
    • when you don’t want to be yourself, having a positive escape is key. I get a lot of my SFF reading done when I’m depressed. Clocking out is good for casually thinking about myself. Reading is good for when that’s a bad idea, but I still need an out that’s not sleep
  • napping
    • sometimes the world just needs to stop already. Checking out for a couple hours, and getting some rest to boot, is never a bad thing
  • making snap decisions
    • sometimes I get caught up and lost in a sea of indecision. Forcing myself to make snap decisions can help create momentum. Doesn’t matter what the decision is, but I force myself to make, quickly, either an instinctual or mechanically random decision on things like what to eat for dinner, which way to turn at a corner when walking, or what clothes to wear. And if I rebel against the decision, that’s good too, because I’ve just engaged my will
  • being open and honest with people around me
    • this sometimes feels like penance, so satisfies the need to punish myself (for what gods only know). More importantly though, doing this means that I don’t feel like I’m either alone, or needing to hide what’s happening from those around me, which it turns out helps a lot
  • shaving my head
    • having both less hair to deal with, and seeing a different face from the one that’s been depressed in the mirror can help kick the tail-end of a depressed period. Feeling my head physically lighter can also be a powerful change. If I do this it’s usually a sign that I’m coming out of the worst of the depression
  • going outside
    • it’s really easy for me to hole myself up inside. Forcing myself to get out and walk around for even 10 minutes, getting fresh air and exercise and just new scenery (especially horizons–which I haven’t been able to verify for realsies, but it definitely seems to make my head fuzz out and relax)

A lot of these things are as much symptoms and tells for me as to where I’m at in my depression as they are treatments. And it’s weird, because when I’m depressed, I bifurcate. There’s the (mostly) rational, observational me that mostly has the power only to notice and describe, and occasionally suggest actions to take. And there’s the irrational, self-hating me that wants to punish myself, and only acts on suggestions that seem likely to do that somehow.

Learning to accept that I split like this has also helped–having observational distance allows me to treat depression a lot more like I do more physical sicknesses, like colds, which in turn allows me to take them less seriously, which in turn means they get less severe.