Sometimes depression blindsides you. One day you are hanging on and the next you are lost in a pit of darkness that feels eternal.
I spent December in that darkness. I was not expecting that. I knew that November would be difficult for me. Early in the month was the one-year anniversary of my boyfriend’s death and late in the month would have been his birthday. I knew November would suck, but I pushed through and didn’t lose ground on my plans.
I had finally managed to create a writing habit. I had gotten my exercise habit up and moving, too. I was preparing to fake my way through Christmas so my son could enjoy it.
Out of nowhere a deep depression descended upon me. Almost immediately I stopped writing, stopped exercising, and ignored the plans I had for activities to surprise my son with during the month.
I dragged myself through each day. It has just been in the last couple of days that I’ve started to feel enough of the depression lifting for me to try and claw my way out of the pit.
This is my back-to-basics emergency plan. Doing the work to get out of this darkness is up to me.
Start Small, but Be Accountable
Getting back to where you were before depression kicked your ass will take time. Yes, mental illness can knock your foundation out from underneath you in a moment and you lose all your progress very quickly. However, you cannot get that progress back as quickly as you lost it.
Trying to return to whatever your normal was before depression cannot be done without working up to it. I wish I could tell you that you can just shake it off and return to your previously scheduled life, but it does not work that way.
Jumping in too quickly will just lead to failure and you will beat yourself up over it. Don’t do that your self-image. Instead, take the time to reestablish your habit and life in small planned steps. Figure out the areas you need to catch up in and break them down into manageable pieces.
Tackle only one area at a time. If you try to change everything at once, you will just get overwhelmed and give up.
Find a way to hold yourself accountable. If you are social, you can announce your plans on social media. Or to a friend or family member. As long as they are the type of person who will not shame you if you fail.
I am not social, so I use technology. I have a habit tracking app and I use it to check in with myself. It sends me pre-set reminders throughout the day if I have not yet ticked off that day’s plans.
You figure out what works for you and use it help you get back on track.
Be Gentle with Yourself and Give Yourself Credit Where it is Due
Be kind to yourself. You are recovering from a mental illness episode. It will take time. There is no shame in that.
Additionally, depression has been and probably continues to be, unkind to you. Depression likes to tell you all kinds of negative things about yourself. Don’t add to your own burden.
If you mess up, try again. If you need to go slower, do so. It’s not a race.
Most importantly, give yourself credit for any forward momentum. No matter how small. Today, I responded to a couple of comments that had been left during December on my other stories. I counted that as writing and ticked off the box on my habit tracker. Whether I got this story done and published or not, I had written today.
Give yourself credit for each small step you take toward recovery. You need to celebrate each step toward your goal or you may not be able to stay motivated long enough to actually reach your goal.
From past experiences with this darkness, I know that these two steps will help me find my way back out. Maybe they will help you, too.