A few years ago, I was diagnosed with depression.
The diagnosis came after about 12 months of hell, where I lived my life on autopilot. On the outside, I appeared semi-functioning. I was able to go to work, see friends, put on a happy face. But inside I was numb. Every day, getting out of bed was a challenge. Some days were worse than others, but I constantly felt like I had custard in my veins instead of blood, a heavy lethargy that no amount of yoga could fix. The mental effort required to get up, get dressed and get coffee was herculean. The guilt I felt was crippling. By every external measure, I had a brilliant life – and I wanted it to end.
I don’t talk about it often, because it no longer impacts my day-to-day life. Sometimes, I actually wonder if it was actually that bad. (It was. I have the diaries.) Recovery wasn’t a quick or easy process, but with time, support, and a massive amount of effort, I got there.
But occasionally, I still have bad days. When I go through big changes in my life (moving house, family drama, work pressure) I can get a little wobbly. Occasionally, I feel like I’m not able to cope.
When this happens, and I wake up in the morning with nothing but dread and panic, I’ve got some go-to techniques to help me get back on my feet. Most are things I learned in recovery, through therapy, research, reading and recommendations from family and friends. Some are just things I did and found really helpful.
I hope they can help you, too.
Note: If you’re in lockdown, you will be able to do some, but not all, of these things. I’m sorry, I see you, and I’m sending you a damn huge hug.
Things I do when I’m not up to leaving the house.
- Listen to a podcast. Or five. They help me take my mind off it.
- Read a book I’ve read before and love. It’s usually Harry Potter.
- Clean the house. Or just one room. I recommend doing this while listening to a podcast or audiobook (again, Harry Potter).
- Have a shower.
- Put on clean, comfy clothes.
- Make a simple, healthy and delicious meal. It has to be quick. My favourite is this chicken soup. I make it with bone broth in place of stock, for extra goodness.
- Take a nap. (But only for 20 minutes.)
- Watch a funny show. I’m a fan of those 20-minute comedies where nothing bad happens, like The Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother (skip the final season).
- Browse Pinterest (but stay AWAY from Instagram).
- Listen to some happy music. I like ABBA, Elton John, Beatles, anything musical theatre… all old-school, feel-good stuff you can’t help but dance to.
- Stretch. (Nothing strenuous, just gentle movement.)
- Take 10 deep, belly breaths.
- Sit in the sun with a cup of tea (without the phone!)
- Do a face mask.
- Watch Queer Eye. It’s just so damn wholesome.
- Watch an inspiring TED talk. Like this one.
- Watch a ‘bad’ movie (like a teen romcom… so good).
- Watch a ‘good’ movie (like something that’s won an Oscar and will make me feel smug).
- Watch an old favourite (it’s gotta be The Princess Bride, right?).
- Plan a party. It doesn’t have to actually happen, but it’s fun to think up themes, cocktails, décor ideas and costumes!
- Declutter my inbox.
- Clean my ‘hand wash only’ items that have been sitting in my washing basket for approximately two months.
- Clean my makeup brushes that have been sitting in my makeup bag for approximately two months.
- Listen to music from a joyful time in my life.
- Floss and clean my teeth suuuuuuper well.
- Draw, journal, write…
- Take a bath, with the works. Candles, bubbles, a cup of tea, dark chocolate and a book. Heaven. (You could also have wine here, but for me, wine makes things worse when I’m sad.)
- Use a foam roller/ball to release some tension.
- Give myself a foot, head or hand massage.
- Write down (or just think about) things I’m grateful for.
- Send a text to a friend I haven’t seen in ages.
Things I do when I’m up to leaving the house but I don’t feel like much else (like talking to people).
- Go for a short walk.
- Go for a drive to a scenic location (like North Head). Mayyybe get out of the car and feel the breeze in my hair. Maybe not. Still okay.
- Go to a yoga class.
- Go to a Pilates class.
- Spend quality time with my partner.
- Listen to a guided meditation while pretending/trying to meditate.
- Clean out my wardrobe, kitchen cupboard or some messy area of my life. Outer order, inner calm. Marie Kondo that shit.
- Go to a bookshop. Browse for a long time. Buy a book.
- Go sit outside in nature. I like to people watch, animal watch and just nature watch. The key here is that you can’t have your phone, and you need sunglasses, so people don’t know you’re watching them.
- Make a fancy meal. Something that takes aaaages, like pork belly. Or risotto.
- Go to the cinema.
- Write someone a letter.
- Write someone a card.
- Get someone a ‘just because’ gift or flowers.
Things I do when I’m feeling up to leaving the house and talking to people (but still pretty crappy!)
- Call my mum.
- Call my dad.
- Go for a walk with my mum.
- Go for a walk with my dad.
- Get a massage (if you’re in lockdown, perhaps someone in your family can do this for you!)
- Get a manicure.
- Spend quality time with family or close friends. The ‘close friends’ thing is critical here – they need to be friends I’d be happy to cry in front of, otherwise I’d rather be alone.
- Give someone a compliment. And not a generic ‘you look nice today’ one but a genuine one that I’ve thought about and makes them feel seen and acknowledged.
- Get some therapy. I see a therapist every second Monday, and have done for the past three years. I never want to go, but I’m always glad I did… It’s my regular mental health tune up. Many counsellors and psychologists do online or phone sessions, so it’s still possible if you’re in lockdown.
- Invite my girlfriends over and talk about giggly topics. (Sex and boys, usually. Yes, we are children.) If you’re in lockdown, call your besties while you go for a walk.
- Go for a swim. Or just a very short dip that makes me squeal embarrassingly and feel alive. A cold shower will do, at a pinch.
- Initiate a friendship with someone I like. Hello, dopamine!
- Light lots of candles.
- Cuddle (the people you’re allowed to cuddle, of course!)
- More than cuddle 😉
- Do a random act of kindness (like buying a stranger a coffee).
- Go hiking with my friends. This is one of my favourite things to do and never, ever fails to make me feel joyous and calm.
It’s important to note here that I also do many of these things daily as practices of self-care, and they help me stay on my feet. But they’re especially powerful when I’m down.
I hope there’s something in that list that could help you. If not, share it with your kids, friend, partner or colleague… because we ALL have bad days, and having a go-to guide to help you out of them can make the world of difference.