After having a great summer I found myself falling into the depths of depression. Suddenly, I didn’t enjoy anything anymore and I struggled to be positive about my future. As the weeks of August went by, I felt more and more exhausted and unhappy. It was as though I was moving through treacle. By the end of August I decided I couldn’t go on like this and I tried to kill myself. This lead to me being admitted to a crisis inpatient psych unit. After being inpatient for a few weeks, I had another attempt and landed back at the same ward. Again after being discharged I still couldn’t cope and ended up in hospital. This time I was admitted to an adult acute mental health unit for a couple of months. This last stay really helped me get more stable. I’m now on medications and have a lot of support in the community. I’m doing a pre-DBT course called ‘life skills’ with the hope to start DBT soon after I finish. I have already learned a lot about surviving a depressive episode, the most important being to seek help. This could be from family, friends or professionals. It is vital that we don’t struggle alone. Here are some other ways in which you can practise self care when you are feeling low.
The first tip I have is to make your self-care routine very simple. This might mean stripping back your skincare routine etc. When you are depressed its likely you have limited energy to do activities, so it’s invaluable to prioritise the tasks which give you the most benefit (e.g. making meals or sleeping enough).
Have a plan in place. A good strategy is to prepare a ‘self soothe’ box filled with items for all your senses. This could be scented candles, strong mints, play doh, a fidget spinner, shells, hand cream, herbal tea sachets, cute animal pictures, photos of family/friends, notes written by loved ones, bath bombs and many more. Numbers of people to ring is also a good idea. This could include numbers off family/friends, your treatment team/ crisis team, the Samaritans and other mental health helplines. I like having a notebook and pen in my self care box as journalling is a great way to gain more insight into your mental health and to see the thought patterns you fall into when your distressed. Distraction activities such as a pack of cards, colouring in books and puzzles are wonderful examples of activities which can take your mind off your negative thoughts and low mood.
If therapy is available to you I’d encourage it. Even if you don’t have access, self help books (especially ones based on CBT/DBT) are good at teaching what you would learn in therapy. It does aid your recovery to have someone to talk to about your struggles though. This doesn’t have to be a therapist, it could be a friend or family member. Therapy or self help books may teach you some coping mechanisms. Practise these skills regularly so you can use them when needed. Many people find mindfulness invaluable when dealing with depression and other mental health struggles. This could be in the traditional way, mindful meditation, or it could be doing an activity or playing a game mindfully. I prefer the latter as I find focusing on my breath or body stressful. Everyone is different so go with what works for you.
Nutrition and hydration are often overlooked when you are in the depths of depression. It is vital for physical but also mental wellbeing that you drink enough, eat a balanced and varied diet and also supplement vitamins/minerals. To make eating achievable in a depressive episode, go for frozen meals, ready meals, prepared meals and quick homemade meals. Having frozen meals made up of protein, complex carbohydrates, fat and vegetables are handy for a quick and nutritionally balanced lunch or dinner. Cans of fruit, vegetables and legumes (beans, lentils and peas) are just as healthy as their fresh opponents. They also have a longer shelf life and require less or no cooking. Pick unsalted versions when possible. Pre cooked grains are also a brilliant addition as they are fuss-free, requiring no cooking or preparation. They add complex carbohydrates to meals. There is no shame in buying ready meals but cooking home made meals tends to be cheaper. If you enjoy cooking, this process can be made easier with ready made sauces, quick cook rice or noodles or pasta, and frozen or fresh pre cut vegetables. For protein add canned or pre-cooked legumes, frozen soy (or beef) mince, frozen edamame beans, veggie (or meat) sausages/ burgers etc.
I came off my medication without consulting a doctor. I am back on medication and see now that stopping on my own was not a good idea and is really unsafe. There is no shame in taking medications for mental or physical health. You do what keeps you sane. If you find your medication aren’t helping and/or is giving you a lot of side effects, contact your doctor or treatment team. Taking medication as prescribed is self care. If you don’t feel safe to have a lot of medication with you at one time ask if you can pick it up weekly or even daily. If this isn’t possible see if a family member or friend can look after your medication and give it you daily. At the end of the day you have to do what keeps you safe.
When I am depressed I really hate washing. Gross, I know, but there is nothing worse to me when I’m down, than getting out of bed and having a shower. If you are like me, then I have some tips for staying clean when you can’t motivate yourself to shower. Firstly, break your routine into smaller achievable tasks. Instead of having a shower maybe wash your hair or clean your teeth. Once you’ve done one task, congratulate yourself and rest or do something else. I find making having a bath into a nice experience can make it more possible. This might include having bath bombs or bath oil, playing music in the background, or having scented candles.
Get some fresh air and sunlight. This is hard, especially if you live in a country, like the UK, which always seems to rain. And I mean always. For those groggy days or if you can barely leave your room, try opening your curtains and opening a window.
Everyone’s bodies require some sort of movement. Its perhaps an idea to find some movement which we can do and makes us feel good. This could be anything from yoga to basket ball to swimming to gardening. I find moving extremely difficult when I am depressed. It’s crucial that we aren’t too hard on ourselves. Any movement is fine. Even if we are just walking up and down the stairs. Sitting less and moving more is our goal.
Take a break. If you are really struggling with any mental or physical health problem, it’s a good idea to take a break from life’s stressors. This might not be possible, but if it is, there is nothing wrong with taking a sick day for your mental health. You are more important than any job. To do your job or to study effectively we need to look after our health first.
Finally, I want to revisit what I recommended at the start of this post, ask for help! Asking for help can be very difficult, especially due to the stigma of mental illness. You don’t have to tough it out. You deserve to be happy and healthy. Asking for help isn’t weak, it shows maturity. The best person to go to is your GP. Be clear about what symptoms you are struggling with. I list my symptoms on paper before a Dr’s appointment as I tend to freeze up and forget everything as soon as I get called in. If, like me, you are already under mental health services, its a good idea to reach out to your team and let them know your struggling. Yesterday I got a new app called Moodnotes, this allows you to track your moods, emotions and thoughts. I have already been told I need to track my moods, as they fluctuate a lot, but I always forget. I hope this app will allow me to make sense and see patterns of my moods/emotions.