Winter is prime time for depressive episodes to show up. For those of us who struggle with depression, myself included, the endless grey days can often sneak their way into our being. I’m not immune to it, and lately I’ve been feeling the grey-ness from the inside out.
If you’ve been following along in my Instagram stories for the last two weeks, you know I’ve been struggling with my old friend depression for most of February. Luckily, it seems that this depressive episode only decided to stick around for about two weeks, and I can already feel the clouds lifting.
My Most Recent Depressive Episode
In the last two weeks, the grey clouds of depression followed me in all that I did. They showed up in the way that I didn’t feel like doing much more than sleeping. I felt the clouds in the way I wanted to cry at the most random moments and for no reason at all. They hung over me as my desire to binge and medicate with food showed up again, and I could hardly focus for more than thirty seconds on any one thing.
Usually, my depression takes the form of me giving up.
Things that are normally routine or even exciting to me turn into arduous tasks that seem impossible. They feel so impossible that I start to believe it’s better to not try than even begin to attempt the impossible. Those “impossible” things can be as small as talking to my friends or taking a shower, and as big as wanting to give up on The Bare or any dreams I’ve committed myself to.
The thoughts that depression brings with it can be paralyzing. For me, depression brings a constant thrum of invalidations, set in perfect rhythm to match the tone of any thought that wants to give me a fighting chance:
I need to respond to the podcast request.
That’s too hard.
Maybe I should write something.
You’re a terrible writer.
I need to do something.
None of it matters.
But I don’t want to give up.
You’re embarrassing yourself.
Maybe I should just relax tonight, and read a book.
You’re so lazy.
It feels impossible to win.
If depression was only a barrage of unwanted thoughts trying to convince you not to try, it would be easier to manage. But these thoughts are just a tiny part of the disorder. Depression has a wild assortment of comorbidities.
There’s the inexplicable feeling that I do not need to exist.
An underlying current that runs through my every movement that questions the purpose of anything.
Continual waves of numb disconnection.
Feelings that this may never go away.
A lack of interest in anything other than eating or sleeping.
The intense desire to take any substance that may shift my mindset.
An aching need to disappear and start over.
Sleep on sleep on sleep but still being completely exhausted.
I withdraw, cancel plans. I opt to stay in and check out of the world. And I avoid the things that used to bring me joy.
Managing Depression and How I Failed
For the most part, my depression doesn’t show up all the much anymore. The last time I had an episode that lasted longer than a day was during the summer, around the same time I wrote “This is Depression”. It passed, and I knew this one would too, but knowing that in the midst of a depressive episode isn’t always all that reassuring or comforting.
Because I deal less with depression these days, and more with anxiety, I fell into the trap of thinking I had this whole “depression management” thing down to a science. I thought since it’s something that is rarely present in my life, that meant I had broken the code and could keep myself out of an actual depressive episode (displaying symptoms of depression for 2 weeks or more).
It’s funny all the ways I still let my own arrogance blind me.
I wasn’t expecting this last episode. It kind of knocked me on my ass, but even so, I think I did a fairly good job managing it. I tried to slow down, and allow myself to be less productive. On the weekends, I gave myself some extra time to sleep and put the to-do list off for when I really needed it. I did a lot of the easy things, but I still had trouble allowing myself to feel it instead of ignoring it or pushing it away. That’s the hard part about managing depression.
I have a really tough time allowing myself to feel depressed, partially because I worry that allowing myself to feel depressed will keep me depressed and also partially because it feels self-indulgent.
Slippery Slope of Depression
I fear that feeling the depression will lead to a slippery slope ending me up in the type of immobilizing depression I dealt with in college. While the logical part of myself knows that with all these new tools, life experiences, support and years of therapy, I will likely never allow myself back to that place. But I’m still terrified that I might slip up and somehow end up back there, unable to escape.
It scares the shit out of me.
I never want to be back in a place where every day feels less like an opportunity to have a better day and more like an opportunity to end it all. My brain barely allows me to remember that part of my life because I am that terrified of experiencing it again.
Again my rational self knows that even if this happens, I will get through it. I will be able to handle it, and I will get myself out of it.
Doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of it though. It’s something I definitely still need to work out, and probably something that I need to talk to my therapist about. My avoidance of allowing myself to feel or even remember that time, reminds me of the PTSD I dealt with over the summer for a completely different incident. My not allowing myself to remember is definitely a sign that I still have some of that shit to work through.
Guilt & Depression
Another reason I struggle with allowing myself to feel depression is because I feel guilty.
I feel guilty because it feels self-indulgent to be depressed. It feels like I have no right to be depressed because my life is in no way bad, and I’m not going through any type of hardship. I feel guilty and privileged and like an ungrateful princess for being depressed when so many others all over the world have been dealt much worse cards.
Bullshit, right? It’s not super helpful.
Feeling guilt over being depressed is counterproductive. It makes me feel worse for being depressed and then instead of handling the depression head on, I avoid it because I won’t allow myself to feel depressed.
BUT EVERYONE IS ALLOWED TO FEEL DEPRESSED.
It’s not reserved for any type of person going through any type of particular trauma or bullshit or hardship.
It is not always in our control and beating ourselves up for feeling that way is NOT MAKING US FEEL LESS DEPRESSED.
Compassion is helpful.
Understanding is helpful
Patience is helpful.
And all those things? Compassion, understanding, and patience? Those are things we MUST give ourselves when we are dealing with the dirty bastard of depression.
I would never invalidate someone for feeling depressed because “they have no reason to be”, and yet I do it to myself.
You know, I really have to knock that shit off.
I know that emotional avoidance is not the most helpful thing for managing depression, or any other feeling at that. It keeps me in the cycle of getting depressed, feeling bad about it, and then trying to force myself out of it. After all that, I end up feeling worse about being depressed when trying to force myself to feel differently doesn’t work. It’s a cycle I’m working hard to get out of. I try to plow through it like the bull that I am, but that doesn’t work. What I need is to show myself a little love and care.
Being gentle and compassionate toward myself has never been my strong suit, but I’m working on it.
Things that Helped my Depressive Episode
I think I might be out of this depressive episode for now. I’m hesitant to say that only because I don’t want to jinx it. Even so, I feel pretty confident that the clouds in my head are clearing up.
Even though I struggled to allow myself to feel, I did a relatively good job at managing it. This time was not as bad as it’s been in the past, and I’m thankful for that. I did a LOT of different things to try and manage it, and I wanted to share what actually helped.
None of them include medication or huge, fancy, expensive interventions or exciting adventures. There are lots of way to manage depression, none better or worse than any other method. The methods I’m sharing below are some simple, inexpensive, and easily accessible things that helped me.
1. Essential Oils
I know. You probably just groaned because every blogger and their mom raves about essential oils. You expected better from me, didn’t you?
Thanks. I appreciate that. But actually they are kind of awesome.
Even though my brain wasn’t really working right, my nose still worked. What I realized is, I find so much pleasure from smelling lavender. It’s like IMMEDIATE relief and I get filled with all sorts of warm fuzzies, even if for just a moment. I know it’s only a temporary fix for symptom relief, when I’m depressed I’ll take all the relief I can get.
What I usually do is, I’ll dab a little lavender oil on my wrists, under my ears, and along my collarbone when I need it. I love doing it right before bed, and noticed that I actually sleep a little better when I use it.
Peppermint oil has also been helping. Depression also makes me incredibly tired no matter how much I sleep or how much coffee I drink. Peppermint oil and orange oil help a little with the fatigue and focus. The peppermint oil especially helps perk me up in the afternoon when my post-lunch exhaustion hits.
One of the things that I like about essential oils is there’s no downside. Finding relief in shopping, drinking, doing drugs or eating my way through a bakery– those all have downsides. Lavender oil is downside-less.
The pack of oils I have is Pursonic Essential Oils for home. I also love Badger Aromatherapy Kits for outside the house. They are super easy to apply because they’re solid balms. Links to my favorites below.
2. Sensory AF Baths
It’s hard not to feel a little bit better when emerged in hot water. What I like about a good bath is it can be a seriously sensory experience if you doll it up. Depression makes me feel disconnected from myself and sometimes the world, so engaging in some sensory therapy, like smelling all the essential oils, is incredibly helpful.
My sensory AF bath includes lavender soap, a delicious smelling body scrub, and essential oils like tea tree and lavender. Sometimes I’ll put on an audiobook, and sometimes I’ll just enjoy the silence.
Links to my favorite sensory AF bath products below. Nothing too fancy, and I love the Dr. Bronner’s soap because you can use it for ALL the things and it lasts forever.
3. Went to the Gym
I kept going to the gym even though it was the last thing I wanted to do. There were definitely more skipped days than normal, but I made a point to go three times a week.
Now, I’m body positive. I believe that no one should ever feel like they have to go to the gym. BUT, in regards to depression, I do make myself go for a few reasons.
First of all, I have found a community in my gym.
Farrells is a group fitness kickboxing and strength training gym, so I see the same people all the time. It feels like one of the communities that I fit into now, and going there makes me feel less alone.
That’s really helpful for me because when I’m depressed I have a tendency to withdraw and isolate myself. I feel generally alone, and like I don’t have a place where I belong. Socializing with friends while depressed can to be too daunting of a task, but socializing in a gym setting is a little different.
The gym is a place where I don’t have to socialize, but I’m part of a team. We communicate to get things done. We work together to survive and get through the 45 minutes of hard work. And in that gym, I feel like I’m part of something even if it’s as small as a 45 minute kickboxing class.
There’s something communal about working towards a shared goal, even if it’s just to get through the workout. It definitely helps with the disconnect and dissociation that a major depressive episode can bring.
In addition to that, as we all know, exercise does boost our endorphins. Movement that I enjoy, like kickboxing or strength training, boosts my mood and brings me back into the world and my body when I feel like I’m kind of losing touch with it.
I’m still really bad at meditating, but even when I do it poorly, it helps a little bit. I’ve recently started using guided meditations that focus on manifestations, confidence, motivation, and happiness.
A lot of the meditations I listen to repeat affirmations and when I repeat them to myself over and over again, they start to drown out all the thoughts that tell me I’m worthless and that there’s no point in trying anymore.
I use a free app called Insight Timer. I love it because it’s free and there are more than 15,000 free meditations on it. You can also add your friends (you can even add me!) and see what they’re meditating. I HIGHLY recommend this app, even over Headspace or Calm.
My friend lent me “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert and it is giving me all the inspirations right now. I’m about ¾ of the way through, but the book is motivating and inspiring and magical. Gilbert talks about fear and the struggle to choose to live a creative life and then live it.
The book motivates me in the same way that “You’re a Badass” by Jen Sincero motivates me but “Big Magic” is less of a “how to embrace your inner badass” and more “how to take hold of the magic and live how you want to.”
I highly recommend both books to all people, and like “You’re a badass”, “Big Magic” is helping me get through that self-doubt cave I often find myself in. Depression makes me doubt myself to an incapacitating level, so reading this helped keep me afloat and still doing some of the things I love while dealing with the depressive episode.
6. Tarot Cards
I nerd out on Tarot Cards.
I really love doing them because I think that what we interpret from the cards is sometimes what we want but don’t allow ourselves to have because of some other outside force.
Because of that, I find them incredibly affirming, and as I said before, when depression makes me doubt everything, I need all the self-affirming I can get.
My favorite deck is Kim Kran’s “The Wild Unknown”. I love the deck because I think the art is gorgeous and her explanations of the cards are easy to understand. When looking at the decks at a store in Sedona, Arizona, I felt weirdly connected to this deck, which isn’t something I’ve ever experienced before. If you’re wanting to dive into a deck, find one that feels right to you. You’ll know when you find it. Like wands. Harry Potter. You follow.
One of the reasons that I love The Bare is because it opens up doors for connection all over the world. I’ve met some incredible human beings because of it and it has extended my support group for all things related to personal growth and mental health to the umpteenth degree.
During this latest depressive episode, I reached out to all of you. And you know what? You responded.
I don’t know if I’ve ever really expressed just how helpful that is for me when I’m dealing with this stuff. I talked about how I was feeling on my Instagram stories, and you all responded whether by dropping into my DM’s or answering a question in the question box. So many of you showed up for me when I needed it and I am forever grateful.
I don’t know what it is about knowing that other people are dealing with the same thing, but it is immensely relieving. Thank you for anchoring me to reality when my head made me want to disappear. You helped me. You helped others by sharing. And I hope it helped you too to participate in the conversation.