3 months ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression. One of the most damaging effects of the disease is that my filter for understanding reality is severely biased. I “connect” better to negative feelings than positive ones, so a negative interpretation of anything feels much more plausible than a positive one. Such reasoning soon spirals into very destructive patterns. I often end up with conclusions so awful that it is unbearable to exemplify them here. Because of this I no longer trust my own assessments of how bad things might be. Instead I made this post to remind me of 15 important things I’m actually doing right, things that prove I’m doing better than I tend to think.
15 things I do that prove I’m doing better than I think
1) I keep trying. This luckily apply for other things as well, but for example – writing and reading coherent blocks of text is very hard for me to do right now. This post took me the better part of three days to produce, but it felt important and I eventually managed to get it together because I kept trying. When it comes to depression, to keep trying is the number one survival skill, only challenged by…
2) Ask for help. I know I can do it. When in doubt – a god time to ask for help is when “Keep trying” is not working, preferably before you stop trying.
3) I have a supportive network. Due to the depression I tend to think that people don’t like me or have forgotten about me. But I am very capable of maintaining relationships even now and my loved ones haven’t given up on me. They stay in touch even when I’m no good at answering and help to push me out of my comfort zone so that I don’t isolate myself. The bravest ones ask how I feel.
4) I eat. I’m almost never hungry. But with a little effort I plan, cook and eat anyway. Proper food, several times a day.
5) I sleep. When you are depressed, sleep is often disturbed in some way. I have struggled with difficulties to sleep my entire life. Surprisingly, I’m doing much better now than I have for a long time.
6) I get out. I have a dog. That means I have to take him out on his walks, even if I’m having a bad day. I get up in the morning, I get some daylight and basic exercise. Daytime walks and exposure to sunlight is clinically proven to ease (if not cure) mild to moderate depression.
7) I challenge myself at the gym. It is not uncomplicated to go there, but I try to disregard the difficulties and have a proper workout 3 – 4 times a week. I get stronger by the day and my routine also helps to keep dysphoria at bay. The plan is to stay active and create some structure in my life built up around training.
8) I get the medical care I need. I’m an active patient, I see my doctors and therapist every week. I follow their advice in the smallest detail and take notes on how my meds are working to get the best possible follow-up. Except for the inadequacies of Swedish transgender care, I feel that I get everything I need.
9) I cry. Much more than I’d like to, admittedly. But to allow oneself to cry is to be honest with oneself. It is okay to feel things. Life is tough and sometimes the most reasonable thing to do is to give in and cry until you feel better.
10) I protect myself. The other week something very tragic happened that caused lots of people I know to grieve and very understandable they wrote about it on Facebook. Suddenly my wall and inbox was full of my friends reflections on death and suicide. I triggered hard on it and I panicked. I escaped Internet for several days to avoid further exposure to things I felt that I couldn’t handle to read about. A friend had to log in on my account and clean up triggers before I could come back. There is only one good thing about this, but it is not to be underestimated: My first reaction was to take my feelings seriously and protect myself.
11) I commit to the future. I cant stand thinking ahead more than a few hours. I dissociate a bit in order to be able to put something in my calendar, but every time I do it is as if I anchor myself a little bit in my own future. I usually manage to have something set up for every day, something to do that makes that day feel meaningful.
12) Secure income. Dealing with the authorities in the well fare system is neither easy nor kind on personal integrity. But after a long bureaucratic procedure I made it. I now have the right to a minimum income. I don’t have to work or study and I can pay for (most of) the basic necessities in life. Hopefully this will allow me to focus on my recovery.
13) I’m creative. Not nearly every day and I keep it very simple. But there is something deeply therapeutic in being creative or fixing broken things so I have made it a priority. Working with my hands is one of the few things that still feels good. It puts my mind at rest.
14) I don’t hide feelings. When I feel terrible, I tell someone. I try to trust a few of my best friends to bare with me even in my darkest moments. Some degree of transparency on my emotional state keeps my friends and my security network updated. That is why you can read about this and together we can help break the stigma of mental illness.
15) I have an escape plan. If life becomes unbearable, I have a plan ready. It is about breaking isolation and seeking support to get professional help quickly, if need be. Or just hot food and company, if that is enough. I have asked a few friends if I can come and stay with them in case of emergency, so there are safe spaces to go to.
Note to self – Here is a little practice in positive thinking. Remember that a secret admirer sent you flowers last week? Also, you excel at the gym right now. Lunch date scheduled with long-time-no-see BFF tomorrow. And there is chocolate cake in the fridge, eat as much as you like. You managed to spring clean the balcony and fix the pride flag – very well done! See? Everything is going to be all right and things will likely start to get a lot better soon.