Tag Archives: taking action with depression

Writing Your Own Survival Guide

“Hey, Critter!” I say. “I’m so glad you’re here. I need to tell you…” But I can’t finish, because my imaginary raccoon raises a paw to stop me.

“It’s gonna have to wait,” she interrupts. “Something has come up.”

My words catch in my throat; it’s not like Critter to show up with an agenda. Our little chats are usually about whatever is frying on my sweaty little mind. That’s how I like it.

I feel annoyed. And confused. And then a little worried.

I frown at her a moment, my mouth pressed tight while I spin the wheel to see which reaction I will be going with. I’m ready to open with a windy “Oh-no-you-didn’t” tirade, but the pointer stops on worried.

“What’s going on?” I ask. Oh God, please don’t say you’re leaving. Don’t leave. Don’t leave!

Critter tilts her head at me.

“All of a sudden, you look constipated,” she says. Then, she sniffs three times. “But you smell fine.”

“Just tell me what’s happening,” I say. My forehead is getting prickly.

“We’ve got to get ready,” she finally says. “We need a plan.”

“What for?” I ask, my voice squeaking like a pubescent boy’s. I knew it, she’s leaving. My imaginary friend is leaving me. Jesus, that’s pathetic. I’m pathetic. Oh god…

“Winter.” she says, looking into my eyes as if that explains everything. “Winter is coming.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask, with an eyebrow raised hard in the universal expression of WTF. “This isn’t Game of Thrones.”

Critter rolls her eyes at me. Like I’m the one being an idiot.

Then, she narrows her eyes and sighs, like she’s trying hard to swallow-back some sarcasm.

“What does winter mean to you?” she asks.

My stomach drops. For me, winter means dread. The darkness and heaviness that plague me all year swell hideously when the weather shifts in the fall. Winter means I lose the sunshine, fresh air, and easy activity that sustain me. They are replaced by cold drafts blowing on my nervous sweat. Windsheild-scraping, parka-wearing and bundling up my thrashing-mad children. It makes me want to cry and go back to bed.

I have no idea why anyone ever decided to settle the northern parts of the world.

My body hates winter because shivering for seven months in a row sucks snowballs. My brain hates it because it feels like drowning and starving at the same time.

When I picture winter, I see the dirty grey sky looking all blurry because I am peering up from underneath the ice.

It makes me shudder.

“I’ve been trying so hard not to think about it,” I say quietly. “I don’t understand why you brought that up.”

Critter’s face softens.

“I know,” she says. “You didn’t want to ruin the summer with anxiety about fall. But we’ve got a problem. Fall’s here. Winter is coming. And we don’t have a plan.”

Suddenly, I understand. I run my hand through my hair.

“You’re right,” I sigh. “I need a plan. Crap – I can’t believe I haven’t started preparing.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Critter soothes. “Let’s start now.”

Those three words have saved my life repeatedly: Let’s Start Now.

So here goes.

Disclaimer: This list contains affiliate links, which means I learned how to play around on Amazon and create buttons for some of the stuff I wrote about. If you make a purchase through these links, Amazon will send a small fee to the Critter and I. My furry friend has asked that I spend it all on cat food. The wet kind. Although that’s probably not going to happen (sorry, Critter, that stuff stinks), we are grateful for your support! Also, full disclosure: making these links was really fun.

My Winter Depression Survival Plan

Motivation:

When I don’t commit to a plan, my lows get out of control; I sabotage myself and act like a dick to the people I care about.

No more burning bridges and sinking deeper into the cycle of messing up, hating myself, and throwing good things away. I can’t wait until spring to feel human again.

Rationale:

Making a plan helps. It makes it easier to get moving and do the work I need to do. I feel more confident knowing I won’t have to try to come up with solutions after I’ve slipped into dysfunction. It will be easier to get up and try.

Having a plan also helps me win the argument against the voices in my head. They tell me to stop acting, because I don’t really have a problem, and nothing can help me, anyway. I know that stuff is garbage, but it gets to me. My best chance to beat it is to get a head start.

Plan:

  1. Reach Out
  2. Take Care Physically
  3. Seek Pleasure
  4. Find True North

Details:

  1. Reaching Out

Struggle Buddies

At least once a week:

  • Call, message, or arrange a visit with someone who can handle me, and talk about my struggles
  • Let them empathize, relate, and share their strategies
  • Take their caring and encouragement in
  • Reciprocate
  • Thank them and appreciate our connection

Community

At least once a week:

  • Reach out within a Facebook group where people share some of my same challenges
  • Share something that is giving me heartburn
  • Encourage at least one other person
  • Share stuff that helps
  • Celebrate each other’s wins.

Therapy

At least once a month:

  • Check in with my counsellor
  • Ask for help with the biggest thing that is weighing me down
  • Commit to feeling what is there and saying what I need to say
  • Open up to one new task that helps me handle my fear, despair, and exhaustion in a new way

2. Taking Physical Care

Serotonin:

  • Every morning, use the UV light for Seasonal Depression
  • Every day, take brain-support supplements (fish oil, Rhodiola, and 5HTP)
  • Every two months, check in with the naturopath to monitor and adjust dosages
  • If this stops helping (or if side effects get out of control) talk to my doctor about going back on antidepressants.

Sleep:

  • Set an alarm to chide me when it’s time to turn off the computer, TV, and phone.
  • Turn my stuff off at bedtime, even if I still have work to do.
  • Make sure I finish all my chores and prep for the morning before I flop into downtime
  • Bribe myself as extensively as necessary to finish those chores
  • Build a Netflix-watching nest out of snacks and blankets
  • Have one good book beside the bed to entice me away from the TV What I’m currently reading
  • Do yoga and progressive muscle relaxation, and listen to guided meditations when I’m too wound up to sleep
  • Get serious about weaning the baby

Exercise:

  • Schedule exercise around all the crap I have to do
  • Multitask as much as possible (take the jogging stroller on errands or to the park; ride bike to Starbucks for writing mornings, workout at the playground while the kids play, make an obstacle course for all of us in the living room, etc.)
  • Go to at least one interesting fitness class per week all by myself
  • Buy groupons for classes I can’t normally afford
  • Let my embarassment about being out of shape motivate me to work on my weak spots between classes
  • Let my sense of impending burnout motivate me to get to drag myself to class

3. Seeking Pleasure

Feel Better Music:

Food

No more than once a week, indulge completely in something that I usually have to avoid: chocolate, cheese, or anything with ICING

Stories

Lose myself in stories that make me feel like the world is twisted and beautiful enough to fight for:

  • The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, and Talking Dead
  • Game of Thrones and Song of Ice and Fire
  • Anything by Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Yann Martel, Alice Hoffmann, or Lawrence Hill
  • Re-reading the Harry Potter series

Pampering

  • Massage – as often as our health plan will allow
  • Painting my nails
  • Getting the wherewolf waxed off my face

Escape

  • Date night
  • Girlfriend visits
  • Starbucks writing sessions, runs and bike rides all by myself

4. Finding True North

As needed, I will bring out writing, film, and webcasts by people who help me find my bearings:

  • Deepak Chopra
  • Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Ekhart Tolle
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Patton Oswalt
  • Daniel Tosh
  • Amy Schumer
  • Kristen Bell

So that’s me; now what about you?

Whatever it is that triggers you, Dark Little Critter wants you to face your villain standing up.

Make YOUR survival plan. Do what works for you. And yes; blasting the Stones while you squeeze fudge sauce onto a bowl of peanut butter and bacon bits IS therapy, if that’s what lifts you out of the gutter.

Think about what gets you out of bed, and write it down. All of it. Make it happen as you schedule each day, week, month, and year.

Turn back to it when the manure hits the propeller. Adjust when it’s not working.

And always remember, you are the author of this Choose Your Own Adventure. You are the only one who can rub the genie’s lamp (or any other part of him) and arrange for the day to be saved.

Elimination Meditation

“How’s it going with the brain training?” my furry little imaginary friend asks.

“Umm, okay,” I answer. “I’m meditating every day, but I can’t stop falling asleep in the middle of the practice.”

“Sounds like my kind of workout,” my companion says. She yawns as she arches her back and spreads her tiny toes luxuriously. Then she smacks her lips and smiles. Her black eyes glimmer like glass beads in her charcoal bandit markings.

“Must be tough, being a raccoon,” I say.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty sweet,” she answers. “I nap all day and roam all night. People worship me. It’s delightful.”

“People worship you?” I laugh.

“Of course. That’s why they leave me tributes.” She answers.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask.

“You know,” she says, pointing to the garbage can beside me, “tributes. Every household maintains an altar in the back lane. People even leave spontaneous offerings on the sidewalk. They rejoice in me. The spirit to praise The Dark Little Critter strikes everywhere.”

I chuckle.

“Wow,” I say. I am impressed that my imaginary talking raccoon has more colourful delusions than I do.

“Hey, listen,” I add, “can we chat later? I’m kind of occupied.”

I am sitting on the toilet with my leggings scrunched around my ankles and a notebook on my lap.

Critter tilts her head and regards me.

“You don’t look busy,” she says.

“I am,” I say, and heartburn flares in my chest. “I’m fighting with a blog post again. It’s four days late. I have to get this thing out.”

“Well, why don’t you?” she asks.

“I’m trying!” I whine. “I’ve been working on it all week. It’s stuck. There’s this idea that is driving me nuts, and I’m trying to get down but it won’t come out right.”

“Hmm…” Critter says, “but, why are you writing in the bathroom? Is this some kind of metaphorical gesture, like you’re mentally constipated and you’re trying to push the words out?”

I roll my eyes.

“No, it’s not a metaphor. I really have to poop. My husband took the kids out to play, and I was going to write, but then my guts started to groan. I brought my notebook in here to multitask. The kids will be back any minute.”

“Oh,” she answers, “too bad.” Then, she looks quizzical, “Well, why aren’t you pooping? I can smell a turd from eighty paces, and my stink counter isn’t registering a single pebble.”

Suddenly, my throat feels hot and tight.

“You’re right,” I moan, “I can’t even get the pooping done. I have no time, and here I am, completely wasting what little I’ve got.”

Dark Critter scowls.

“Completely wasting? Some people would be grateful to get an audience with a minor deity,” she pouts.

“This is not a spiritual communion!” I snap. “This is you, harassing me. On the shitter.”

“You’re the one who called me,” she huffs, crossing her short arms.

“I did not!” I burst. “You just barged in here and started bragging about your fan club!”

“You can’t blame me for anything!” she shouts, “I’m a figment of YOUR imagination!”

Our eyes lock, narrowed against imminent battle.

Then, my face drops. The Critter’s face softens. She lets her arms flop to the sides of her fuzzy belly and heaves a deep sigh.

“Listen,” she says, “I’m here to help. It wouldn’t matter if you were in the middle of eating toenails on a toadstool with a… toad. When you need me, I’ll be there. Now, silly human, why did you call me?”

My eyes well up.

“Because I can’t do this,” I whisper. “I can’t be a professional writer. I am terrified to monetize this blog. I feel like it isn’t an honest trade because my writing isn’t good enough. I want my words to be sharp and deep and full, but they’re not. They’re muddled, because I’m so muddled. I can’t run a real business, and I’m wasting my family’s resources by trying.” I close my eyes on this, and hot tears spill down my cheeks.

Dark Critter pads softly over to me. She stands on her hind legs and rests her head on my bare knee. I stroke her coarse fur. I can feel the warmth of her body radiate up my arm. Amazingly, I can even feel the pitter-pat of her heart. It raps out a rhythm in double-time with my own. The soft, steady beat makes my blood feel lighter in my veins.

After a moment, she raises her head and catches my eye.

“What do you need right now?” she asks.

This is her magic question. Whenever I answer it, I find my way.

I think for a minute.

“I just need to poop,” I say. “I need to put down my pen, close my eyes, and have the poop, the whole poop, and nothing but the poop.” As I say it, I start to feel better.

The Critter smiles at me and I smile back, and then I do what I need to do.

It is amazing.

As soon as I let go of my desperation, stillness embraces me. My body does its job effortlessly. I realize that at that very moment, it is quietly completing a million processes. Metabolism, digestion, and elimination are all unfolding in a dance of enzymes and tissues that know exactly what to do. There is no pressure for me to intervene or understand the mysteries at all.

I feel amazed and grateful.

Words start to flow in my head like a glacial stream. Out of nowhere, I start to pray.

Dear god, thank you for this poop. Thank you for my body that is so healthy and more intelligent than my mind. Thank you for the food that it has transformed.

Thank you so much for this quiet. Thank you for this break from the kids, and for my husband who steps in when my head is about to explode.

Thank you for this bathroom, the plumbing that makes it so comfortable to do my business, and our home.

Thank you for this weird world where I can find bliss in the fog of my own stench.

And thank you for Dark Critter, who shows me the way.

When I open my eyes, my friendly racoon is gone. My bowels are empty, my blog post is outlined. Even though I have no idea what my readers will think of this story, I know that somehow, everything is going to be alright. Maybe I can link this to an ad for Metamucil, or something.

The Critter and I hope that comfort finds you wherever you need it. And we hope that you trust your inner raccoon (or giant talking gorilla, or whatever you’ve got) to help you let it go.