One peril of a mood disorder – even one that’s more or less under control – is that every so often you wind up feeling so bad about yourself that feeling better seems like a Herculean – or even worse, impossible – task. What’s the point of putting effort into raising your spirits when, like Sisyphus’ boulder, they’re just going to tumble back to the bottom of the mountain?
When this happens, you have two choices:
A. Ride out the feeling of wanting to sink into the floor and disappear, beating yourself up for being such a useless lump of meat the entire way down, or
B. Deny, deny, deny, and avoid, avoid, avoid.
Whenever I can muster up the sheer will to avoid A (and that isn’t always), I do, because over the years I’ve learned that sinking into the ground doesn’t make you disappear, beating yourself up can easily become a habit, and lying in the dark listening to depressing music or stuffing your face with pizza might offer relief for a few minutes, but the song will end and the pizza will disappear, and you’ll be right back where you started — though maybe a few pounds heavier. (And unfortunately, there are some other, more destructive behaviors that can start to become part of your routine with surprising ease – and these should be avoided at all costs.)
Which leaves us with option B. What does denial look like in these circumstances? Well, first, I want to be really clear about something: I’m not talking about denying the underlying issues that might contribute to capital-D-depression. I am assuming that you, like me, are getting help for dealing with your mood disorders. This is only meant as advice for how to get through those valleys of emotion, not advice on how to find a longer-term solution. For that, you’re going to want a therapist, maybe some medication, and most likely some lifestyle changes.
But once you’ve done all that and still woken up with shitty!brain (or “brain weasels,” as one friend calls them)… short of lying in bed for hours of despair and self-loathing, what can you do?
1. Stop listening to yourself.
When you’re in a depressive pit, this is really frickin’ hard. There’s a little voice in your head saying things like, “Everything is worthless, everything is useless, I’m useless, I have no self-control, I have no friends, I’m going to be alone the rest of my life, if I just stopped right now nobody would even notice let alone be sad,” etc., etc. Pretty soon, these abstracts can start turning into concrete criticisms: “I’ve blogged for twenty days straight but I can’t think of anything to say today, so I suck, and my blog sucks, and if I let today go by without finding something worth blogging about that means I’ve failed and I’m worthless.” “I haven’t written a play since February, I’m never going to be successful, why haven’t I finished my next book yet, what am I doing, why would anyone want to work with me,” and so on and so forth. But Depression lies. It tells you you’re stupid and useless and a failure. It isn’t your actual self talking, it’s some nasty little bugger who’s squatting in the corner of your mind, and who has no business telling you you’re anything less than awesome. And yeah – it’s one thing to recognize that that’s the Depression talking and it’s another to internalize that fact to the point where it stops bugging you, but if you can find a way to stop listening to that nasty little voice in your head, it goes a long way towards getting things started. And if you can’t stop listening to that nasty voice in your head, do something it tells you not to do anyways. It says you look dumb in that dress? Wear the fucking dress. It says nobody wants to read your idea for a blog entry? Write it anyways. People can always click “next.”
2. Get a change of scenery.
Thanks to today’s highly-connected world, this is so much easier than it used to be. Even if you can’t leave your bed, you can open up youtube. Put on your headphones. Find something beautiful from somewhere else in the world. Watch it. Here’s an example someone shared with me earlier today:
See? With the click of a button, you’re on the sea floor, scuba-diving in Key Largo with no risk of the bends, no need for a certification, and no chance that giant shark will eat you for breakfast.
3. Give yourself something to look forward to.
Maybe there’s a show you like on TV tonight. Remind yourself that it’s on the horizon. Maybe there’s someone you can rope into last-minute plans. If you need to be around another human, let someone know. While retail therapy can be destructive if taken to extremes, buying yourself a new toy can give you a short boost, and a short boost (no, not the kind of short boost that involves eating a whole pizza and descending into a carb coma) can give you some relief.
4. Talk to friends.
If you’ve been dealing with mood disorders for a long time, there are probably some people in your life who know about it. Reach out to them. Tell them how you’re feeling. If they’ve been around a while, they know that they don’t have to make you feel better – they just have to listen, hear you, and maybe talk for a few minutes. If you don’t have that kind of person in your life, that doesn’t mean you don’t still deserve a sympathetic ear. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of online support communities for people with all kinds of problems, and chances are there’s one out there for you.
5. Try to do something physical. Literally any physical thing.
Deep breaths. Leg lifts. Stretches. Tightening and un-tightening your stomach muscles while you lie in bed. It isn’t much, but it’s something, and something is better than nothing. Maybe you can’t get up and run a mile, but hopefully you can still breathe. (I know – sometimes even that is hard.) And any kind of movement can start to help you feel like walking to the kitchen and making a cup of tea lies within the realm of actual possibility.
While none of these are a surefire solution to waking up with a case of brain weasels, some of them can at least help kick-start the recovery process – and, for me at least, they often fire up a sense of momentum. Once upon a time, on its own, that momentum wouldn’t have been enough to push me out of the abyss, but as a tool propped up by all the other tools in my “fuck you, stupid mood” toolbox, it’s started to become useful. This isn’t to say they’ll work for everyone, and it’s definitely not to say that if you’re feeling this way you should use these tactics as a replacement for working with a trained mental health professional.
If you’re reading this, and you’re occasionally beset by the feeling of being a giant useless lump with a handful of decades of the same to look forward to, I hope these tactics will help alleviate some of that strain. And if you have more ideas, please share below – I’m always looking for new ways to stop feeling crappy.