Every day from dark-thirty when I wake up until I go to bed, nearly every single thing I do is an intentional act of self-care. It’s not the luxury self-care of bubble baths and relaxing massages. It’s a necessary part of my survival.
I’m not okay. I’m so far from okay that I don’t even see how I’ll get back. Since I can’t see it, since I can’t even fully believe in it, I go into every day with the understanding that all my energy will likely go into taking myself from one end of the day to the other. There are so many very basic tasks I can’t mentally take on right now, so I overlook the growing pile of laundry and the clutter in order to concentrate on moving through time without falling apart.
Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like we’re going to get better. When this happens, maybe we just need to figure out a way to not get worse. At least, that’s my working theory.
To do this, I decided that I would need to monitor myself for unhealthy coping strategies. I don’t drink to excess and limit when I drink at all. I monitor my thoughts to make sure they don’t go unsupervised down dark paths. I practice as much self-compassion as I can manage as I walk myself through the most difficult recovery of my life.
I’m depressed, grieving, and depleted, so self-care has become my go-to coping mechanism to move through this challenge. Since I don’t want to make it worse, I spend each day thinking about what might make it better — even if it doesn’t feel like it’s helping at all. My days are structured with this in mind. I do what I can, and I let everything else go.
I’m not sure how to offer a light when I’m still stuck in the darkness, but I can share what I’m doing to survive in hopes that it helps someone else. This wasn’t a plan I wrote down to follow step-by-step.
It’s been the routine I’ve fallen into each day in order to survive, and if it isn’t making me better, at least I’m not making anything worse by falling into unhealthy habits.
Wake Up and Stretch
When I start to wake up, the heaviness is there. It hasn’t left during the night. All I want to do is stay in bed. Instead, I stretch and slowly start my day. Starting the day with a stretch is a simple way to ease ourselves into the day.
Make An Effort
I don’t necessarily care how I look right now, but I know if I look better, I’ll feel better — at least on a superficial level. So, I take time with my appearance, going through the motions of moisturizers and makeup, of real clothes in favor of pajamas. It seems like a small thing, but it can help.
I used to skip breakfast in favor of coffee or eat something quick but largely unhealthy. These days, I know breakfast matters. I know I feel better if I eat well in the morning. So, I’ll make overnight oats if I have the energy the night before, or I’ll grab one of the healthy breakfast options I’ve stocked. I still drink my coffee, but I eat well, too. Prioritizing breakfast can at least give us some energy to deal with the day.
I am not currently on an antidepressant. I do, however, take a variety of vitamins and supplements that have been shown to help with my symptoms. In fact, one supplement, Joy-Filled, has actually seemed to help alleviate some of my symptoms. Even when I don’t feel like what I’m doing is working, I keep making the best possible decisions. If antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication can help, too, that should also be an option that gets considered.
Get To Work
As much as I’d love nothing more than to nap all day, I have a job to do, bills to pay, and children to support. I organize my schedule as efficiently as I can to get the most work done in the least amount of time. I take breaks. I find balance. I remind myself that my job is what supports my life — not my whole life. I put it on a schedule so that I have time to manage the other parts of my life as well. Even when we’re struggling with our mental health, it’s important to get to work if we can.
My motivation is practically non-existent, but exercise is one of those things I know will increase endorphins. It has the potential to improve my mood. So, I do it every day with the exception of planned rest days. I don’t always feel like it’s helping, but it’s not hurting me either. I am making my body stronger even if the rest of me feels weaker. I am doing what I can. When we feel depressed, the last thing we may want to do is exercise, but it is an effort that can help how we feel.
I could indulge in every kind of food I know is bad for me, but I’ve made so much progress toward being healthy over the last few years that I would hate to lose it all because I’m struggling now. I do indulge in treats when I feel like it, but I try to make sure that when I eat, I’m considering what is good for me and what might help me feel better. I eat more fruit because I know it’s healthy, and I eat more protein because I know I need it to support my exercise.
I don’t skip meals, and I don’t punish myself with food — by overeating or by over-restricting either. Nourishing ourselves through the struggle — particularly in healthy ways — is an important part of recovery.
I try to make time to be outside every day. I go for walks. Sometimes, I just step out into my garden. Whenever I can, I go out on the lake to paddle board or into the woods to hike. Studies have shown that being in nature can help elevate our moods, so I do what I can.
Be Reasonable With Priorities
I know I need to do the laundry. It’s a stressor that overwhelms me. When I choose to do it, I take it in small stages. I don’t try to do it all at once. I try to do as much as I can for the time I’ve allotted. I don’t let dirty dishes pile up for days, and when I clean off cluttered counters, I focus on one space at a time. I hate when things get out of control and messy, but I also realize that our environments are affected by our mental health — but that the reverse holds true as well.
I do what I can, and I give myself a little grace for whatever I cannot manage just yet. Part of understanding my current limitations means looking for what responsibilities I can outsource to others. Cleaning services, organizers, laundry services, childcare — I look to see which of my responsibilities I might be able to shift until I feel better able to manage them. When our mental health is suffering, we need to be reasonable about what we can do — and what we can’t.
I’m on a waiting list for a therapist. I’m considering online counseling until then. We can’t always get through our tough times alone. In fact, it’s better if we seek out support.
Social support is essential to our mental health, but sometimes, we just don’t feel like reaching out when life gets dark. Still, letting our friends know what’s going on and allowing them to support us is a part of a healthy friendship. If our goal is to at least not get worse, we need to make sure we aren’t unnecessarily isolating ourselves.
Get More Sleep
Usually, I love to sleep. But lately, I’m tired all day and restless all night. I’ve begun to incorporate sleep meditations to help me get more sleep. But I’ve also started going to bed early and sleeping a little later in the morning. I know sleep is important to my recovery, so I get more than usual. Sleep can be an important factor in how we feel.
Take Care Of Something
During each day, I take care of my children, my puppy, and my plants. They need things from me, and it gives me a chance to focus on something outside of my struggle. It often takes effort and intention.
My children might need attention when I barely have the energy to make dinner, but I give them what I can. My plants need to be watered even if I want to go back to bed. My puppy wants cuddles even if I’m working — he wants walks even if I want to be napping. Taking care of them and doing what needs to be done is a way to try to get better. It also helps us focus outside ourselves to nurture someone or something else.
This one might be the most difficult for me right now. I feel grief more than gratitude. I’m sad. I’m exhausted. I’m overwhelmed. Still, I try to reach for some semblance of gratitude for what I do have — even if it’s just the clarity that I may have to make special effort right now to get to the end of each day without doing anything to make this worse. Finding our gratitude can be the lifeline that pulls us back into our lives.
Prioritize Safe Spaces
Right now, I’m not putting myself into uncomfortable or toxic environments. I’m struggling, and I’m not going to add to it by spending time around people who make me feel worse. I choose who is allowed into the inner circle and who needs to stay firmly outside of it. What little energy we do have doesn’t need to go into fending off toxic people. It’s needed to take care of ourselves.
I don’t know how long it’s going to take until I get better. I just keep going through the motions. But I also keep hoping that something — anything — I’m doing might turn the tide. When they don’t help, I don’t quit because I realize that they aren’t hurting. If I’m not getting better, at least I’m not getting worse. And that’s something — even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned author. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elephant Journal, Elite Daily, and The Good Men Project. She’s also the author of Left on Main, the first book in the Heart of Madison series. When she’s not writing for Medium and working on her next book, you can find Crystal traveling, paddle boarding, running, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, doing yoga, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with her two wild and wonderful children.
Image courtesy of Austin Guevara.