Depression has been a companion of mine for a long time. I don’t think this comes as a surprise to anyone who’s been reading my blog over the years, as I have talked about it plenty before now. But adding new motherhood to the mix of full-time work and regular, everyday stressful life pushed my depression into another dimension that I honestly wasn’t prepared for.
It’s taken me a while to find my rhythm again. But now that I am, gratefully, in a better head place, I want to share some of the things I’ve learned to keep myself at my happiest and most functional in this life stage. So here we go.
- Paying someone to deep clean my house is worth every penny if it means I don’t a) stress about needing to do all the things I hate doing, like scrubbing the bathtubs and the kitchen floor, b) have to nag or passively-aggressively try to get my family to do it, or c) feel resentful that I have to do everything myself. It’s two hours I get to spend playing with Jack in the park instead of rage-cleaning, and I’m much less hateful at the end of the day. A total first-world luxury, but it’s a win-win all around for us.
- I need equal parts fun and productive time. You would think that spending the entire weekend playing around would leave me feeling refreshed and happier about going back to work on Monday, but oftentimes the opposite is true. If I get to Sunday night and feel like nothing at all has been checked off my to-do list, I panic and feel like I have to go into DO-ALL-THE-THINGS mode so I don’t start the week off feeling like I’m already behind the 8 ball. I thrive on routine and structure, and it makes me grumpy to not feel like I’m organized at the beginning of the week. So each weekend I try to reserve at least a small amount of time to meal plan and grocery shop, catch up on putting all the laundry away, and generally pick up the house. If nothing else gets done, that’s ok, as long as these essentials are checked off the list.
- I have to get out of the house. When Jack was first born, the thought of going anywhere with him was incredibly overwhelming. It didn’t help that I was also exclusively pumping, and trying to work around pumping-feeding-napping schedule was exhausting. But then to get all of the stuff together to get out the door, man… it just seemed like too much effort. But the thing is, if I stay home too long, my depressive-leaning brain gets self-destructive. I start to feel sad that I don’t have plans, or lonely that I have no one to hang out with, or hopeless that my responsibilities are taking over my life. So even when it’s a lot of work, I have to go somewhere for at least part of the day, on at least one of my days off. Even if it’s just to grab a coffee and go for a walk. I have. to get out. of the house.
- I need something to look forward to. As much as I thrive on routine, feeling like I’m stuck in a rut of just doing the same things over and over again can lead me to feeling depressed. So something I’m trying is to every once in a while – say, once a month or so – put something fun and out of the ordinary on the calendar. Going to a baseball game. Taking a trip. Going camping. It keeps the monotonous days from feeling so hopeless, because I know something fun is coming up. And I need that.
- I need regular time alone to do the things that I want to do. People think that being an introvert means being shy or quiet or antisocial. What it actually means is that I need to be alone every once in a while to recharge my batteries. I need quiet time to sit with my thoughts, to do something creative, or to work on something that interests me. It doesn’t have to be much – maybe just a couple of hours – but once I’m done I’m always happier and more fun to be around.
- Needing medication does not mean that I have failed. Honestly, I have probably needed to be on antidepressants for a long time. I have spent most of my life cycling through periods of deep darkness countered by what felt like fleeting joy. I always thought that if I just did the right things – eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, getting enough time to myself to recharge – that eventually I would be alright. But when postpartum depression snuck up and slapped me in the face, I realized that a) it was highly unlikely that I would ever be able to do all of those things all of the time and b) that even when I was doing all of the right things I was often still depressed anyway. And now that I am on an appropriate dose of medication, I finally understand just how bad my depression has really been all along. I mean, I always knew I was struggling, but now that I’m no longer filled with unfounded anxiety and dread and hopelessness I can finally see all the ways those unmanageable feelings had ruled my life for so long. I can see how illogical so many of my thoughts and fears had been. It was as if I had been wearing blue-tinted glasses my entire life, and, now that the shades are off, I can finally see how dark it had been all this time. That’s not to say that everything is perfect all the time… not at all. But I’m no longer waiting for something terrible to follow anything good that happens in my life. And I finally have the energy and desire to do the things I already know I need to be doing, which as anyone with depression knows, is half the battle.
- Another thing I’m learning? Like really learning? That life is always changing, and so too must our approach to it change. What works now may not work in a year or five. As an ISTJ (hello Meyer-Briggs!) who would inherently love nothing more than to figure out a solution to any problem just one time and use it forever, it’s hard for me to adjust to the idea of fluidity. But I’m finding that flexibility is key. I must keep my eyes and my mind open to new ideas for how to handle life’s ever-changing ways. Changing and growing and learning are not signs of failure – they are signs of maturity. Trade worry for trust… it will all be okay.
If you’re struggling right now, I hope you can find the time and resources to figure out what you need, so you can help yourself. Everyone is different, and so too are each of our needs. And taking time to reflect, being honest, and asking for what you need are not selfish acts. You don’t need permission to take care of yourself.
Love and peace…