Navigating through depression I heard a lot of advice, now I look back and try to turn that advice into strategies that can help me prevent a relapse.
‘Have a good night rest and you’ll be as new’. Sleep is very, very important and maybe the first crucial step to take when confronted with an unbalance in mind and/or body. Medication helped me to take that first step. I was just too tired to manage my sleep. Once I had a little bit of strength I implemented a sleeping schedule and payed attention to sleep hygiene. I’ve noticed that I tend to stay up later when I don’t feel well. Sometimes you need to be your own parent and send yourself to bed at an hour that works for you. When I wake up way too early and feel some stressy thoughts in my head, that is thé cue to rest during the day, to implement self-care, to not push myself. The more relaxed I am during waking hours, the better I sleep at night. So yes, have a good (night) rest, enjoy it (I do now!). When you struggle, talk to a (mental) health professional, reach out.
‘You’re too negative’. Depression can pull a blanket over you where you don’t see the world as it is but you think you do. Important to notice is that mood influences your feelings and perception of the world. Reality testing becomes crucial, is it the ability to step out of yourself to see what is really happening out there. You need to know how to gather information and how to use it. I’m not only talking about segregating fake new from real news but I’m talking more about a cognitive style that is called cognitive flexibility. You can train yourself to find multiple explanations for things that happen to you. Let’s say you called your mother-in-law to ask if you need to do groceries but there is no answer. 8 hours later, still nothing. You ask yourself what happened. Depression can tell you that she’s upset with you and that she doesn’t like you anymore. You think that maybe other people don’t like you as they don’t call you either. ‘Why is everybody leaving me and I end up all alone?’ See, how fast your thoughts and assumptions can spin out of control?
How to examine your thoughts?
Ask yourself what other realistic reasons can you think of. Let’s practice. Think about different reasons for something someone has said or done to you. In the previous real life example I can think that the battery is flat, that she’s not on her phone 24/7, that she missed the message somehow, that she lost her phone or that she red the message but it slipped out of her mind… In the end we need to make a mends with the fact that we don’t know for sure.
Or you can tell people how you feel in the moment when you have people close to you. People you trust and people who know you. You can tell them you feel worthless and unloving. They can help you reality test that thought. Depression tells me very frequently that I am not worthy of being loved. Every time I look at Pierre, I see the things he does for me and the loving words he tells me, I know that that is closer to the truth than the thought that I am an awful human being. Step by step I’m believing more of the reality than the lies in my own head.
‘I’m not worthy of love’ is also a good example of a global cognitive style. A global cognitive style is when you engage in ‘over general thinking’. Let me clarify, lets say you drop your groceries and you immediately think: ‘It’s always happening to me’. Or your boyfriend breaks up with you and you think: ‘Men, they are all the same’. You had a bad day and you say ‘Why is life so unfair?’ Or ‘All I want is to be happy, is that too much to ask?’, ‘All I want is a good relationship, is that too much to ask too? Poor me.’ When you would ask what is needed to achieve this good relationship, the global answer may be: ‘Chemistry’.
Thinking in this global terms won’t make you a good problem solver. It’s difficult to learn skills when you have a global approach. To learn to think in specific terms will help you. Your goal needs to be defined in specific steps so that you can take those steps to move towards your goal. You’ll go from global to linear thinking. This will take time and some trial and error. You’ll need to revise your strategy and keep going. You need to know what steps you ought to be taking because when you don’t know the steps, you can’t be successful in attaining your goal. ‘Poor me’ will pop up again. You need to go back and re-look your steps, find out which one is missing, what needs to be adjusted. If you can’t sequence what you’re trying to do, it isn’t going to happen. You can help your brain to think more linear in the domains you need help.
For example: I like to read, I find it very relaxing to unwind my mind by reading. A few months back I tried to change some habits by doing fun things for 10’ per day. I made my plan to read 10’ per day. I could not do it. My goal was clear and my steps too, so I thought. I started to doubt which book I wanted to read, I thought about good books, good enough books and bad books. Should I read fiction or non-fiction? First I did everything else, so I would have time to read, I cooked and cleaned and as a result was too exhausted to read, even for those 10’. The imposter in me told me that I wasn’t allowed to relax because I didn’t work hard enough.
Somehow the plan of reading hatched in my mind and kept on growing. I read some blogs about books. There was a question of the day ‘do you finish a book when you don’t enjoy it?’ I told myself that it was imperative to finish a book because otherwise it would be sad for the book. And I was ashamed because I picked the wrong book. Big mistake! Shame on me! Yes, I told myself that. But other people didn’t think like that, it was ok to skip a bad book. Finally I did. I tried another one, with big letters, not too difficult. The first step was to enjoy the act of reading. There was no judgement to what I was reading (a crime novel). At first my mind told me how stupid the book was, how stupid I was for even trying to read, that I was a slow reader … I pulled through and page after page I advanced. I read and listened to the imposter but the voice became more silent. Now I read without trouble. I feel when I want to read and I’m not afraid to take time out of my day to do fun things.