The mental health community spends a lot of time talking about what the neurotypicals in their life are doing wrong. And honestly? Sometimes you need to call out that dudebro who thinks he’s discovered some magic cure for depression.
But today I thought it would be nice to draw attention to the types of people who make a positive difference in our lives.
Spread some love, you know? So, here’s my platonic love letter for the allies and friends who make going through hell feel a little bit more like heaven.
The 4 People You Meet in Heaven
1. The Warrior
Her suit of armor may just be a Lululemon hoodie, but she’s a tough bitch. And she’s not afraid to fight for you when it comes down to it.
Too freaked out to buy a self-help book for your personality-disordered self at Barnes and Noble? She’ll buy it for you while educating the judgy sales clerk.
When it comes to sticking up for you, no dragon is too big to conquer. Of course, the goal is, ultimately, to find your own voice, but it doesn’t hurt to have someone on your side while you’re working on it.
2. The Scholar
To say this girl is thorough would be putting it lightly. She has definitely put in her fair share of time researching your mental illness (and checking in with you to hear your thoughts!)
If you two are close, she may even have an organized collection of info on how she can best support you.
It’s not just that she’s a smarty pants (and an amazing resource) – it’s that she cares enough to actively seek out ways to support you while you’re dealing with shit. A+ friend tbh.
3. The Angel
This might be your best friend, your boyfriend, or your mom. But whatever clothes they wear, you don’t know what you would do without them.
They seem to have an unending supply of patience and a solid understanding of whether you need a hug, a laugh, or a break from other humans when you’re feeling bad.
Are they perfect? Well, no. But when it comes down to it, they are practically heaven-sent.
4. The (Tough) Lover
You may not want to call them for a pep talk, but they are guaranteed to get your ass out of bed if you’ve been a little too mopey lately.
It can be nice to have friends who are more on the Snow White side of things too, but let’s be real – do you really need another person to enable your bullshit?
This person can read you like a magazine. She knows when to back off (I mean, a few minutes of self-pity on a bad day won’t kill you) and when to challenge you. And tbh she’s usually right (although she doesn’t necessarily need to know that).
It takes a village
I will never turn down the opportunity to talk up mental healthcare options like CBT or meaningful self-care. But really, you need a fucking village when you’re dealing with mental health issues.
What about you?
If you have amazing people in your life that help you cope, feel free to take an Internet break and shoot them a quick thank you. Then let me know in the comments what your favorite people do to help you deal with the BS.
Saturday was a big day for small celebrations at my house. I’m extra AF, so I celebrated my dog Mac’s 2nd birthday. I bought him some peanut butter frozen yogurt and a new chew toy. Last year, for his 1st birthday, he got a purple monkey, and this year, it’s a yellow monkey. Look, Ma, traditions can be fun!
Adulting Deserves Cake and Fireworks, TBH
I also celebrated adulting. I prefer when my Saturday mornings are full of coffee, trips to the beach, and lots of writing. This past Saturday? I paid a toll bill, responded to work emails, and made plans for my trip coming up this week. While booking somewhere for Mac to stay while I’m watching my best friend graduate out of state, I learned that – oops – one of his vaccines just expired. As in, it literally just expired that day, because of course it did.
Mental rewind to last year: If this kind of small set-back had happened a year ago, I would not have handled it well. I would be stressed out, crying, and passing the baton on to someone else to deal with. Because I just can’t.
This year? I made a phone call. (Wait, what? I never make phone calls.) Yeah! I called the vet to make sure I was okay to bring Mac in that day. And less than two hours later, we were in. Mac took his shot like a champ and I did my best to support him, distracting him with a popsicle stick covered in peanut butter.
Basically, I was an adult. I had a regular-sized problem and dealt with it right away. And surprise! It worked – Mac’s all set up for his mini-vacation this week, and I’m not back-pedaling to try to deal with problems I created by procrastinating. It’s a small victory, but you know what? You take them where you can get them.
TLDR: No one cured cancer, but it’s okay to celebrate your dog’s birthday or making a phone call.
P.S. What small things have you celebrated recently?
During lunch the other day, I opened up Buzzfeed and saw this: Demi Lovato Opens Up About Having Suicidal Thoughts At Age 7. Demi has always been amazing about sharing her experiences with mental illness. But her recent interview with Dr. Phil has opened up a can of worms that needed to be opened: Can kids be suicidal? In order to help kids get the help they need, we need to acknowledge the fact that children deal with mental illness – and not just ADHD.
Why Don’t Depressed Kids Get the Help They Need?
In my last post, I mentioned dealing with childhood depression and eating disorders when I was growing up. I was depressed in kindergarten, suicidal in third grade, and actively trying to starve myself to death by sixth grade. It wasn’t easy, but I was lucky – I made it out okay, and I’m learning how to get better.
But, David Palmiter, a psychology professor, points out that it doesn’t work out so well for all kids,
Most of the kids that need mental health care don’t get it… Historically, we’ve wrongfully thought that suicidality becomes an issue in adolescence, and we haven’t really looked at younger children so much. And we now know that’s not right.
Can Children Be Suicidal?
Access to mental health care is a challenge for many people. But children dealing with suicidal thoughts face an additional barrier – people don’t believe they can be suicidal. How can you identify children at risk of suicide if you don’t even know that children can become suicidal?
That’s 15,050 children who don’t want to be alive anymore, the equivalent of 34 elementary schools full of kids who want to die.
What Can We Do?
We can start by taking kids seriously. If you know a child is hurting, trust their experience. Just because something doesn’t seem like “a big deal” to you doesn’t mean that a child sees the situation in the same way. Children’s brains are still developing – they may not have the cognitive or emotional skills to effectively deal with the stressful or traumatic situations in their lives.
Be proactive – if you notice a child displaying any of the typical warning signs of suicide, get help, now. Tell their family and/or contact a medical or mental health professional. Don’t let yourself believe that a child is “too young” to struggle with severe depression or suicidal thoughts.
Early intervention is the best medicine.
Check out Demi’s interview with Dr. Phil if you haven’t already. I am so proud of her for using her platform to do the hard work of talking honestly about mental health.
Depression can wear different clothes on different people. For me, depression wore anorexia and bulimia on and off again for about 10 years – and, boy, were they just jam-packed with self-loathing, isolation, and all sorts of other shenanigans!
Like that dude you drunk-texted one time who won’t lose your number, eating disorders don’t just go away on their own. You work and work and slowly get better and sometimes get worse before you get better again, and then one day you notice that you ate a donut and the world didn’t end.
Going Through It
There’s a popular children’s song called “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” about (spoilers) some people going on a bear hunt together and encountering several obstacles on their path.
Uh-oh! A river, a cold, deep river.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
We’ve got to go through it!
Like a river in your path, you can’t go over or under an eating disorder – you have to go (you guessed it) through it. But getting through it is easier with someone by your side.
When I was struggling with an eating disorder, I was lucky enough to have a best friend who, admittedly, had no idea what she was doing, but was brave and patient enough to stick it out with me.
It wasn’t easy for her, and it isn’t easy for anyone trying to help someone they love through an eating disorder. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. So no pressure there.
And people dealing with eating disorders are typically pretty quiet about it. When you have an eating disorder, it becomes all you have and all you are. Giving up your secret means risking losing your security blanket, your identity, and your life’s purpose. So your ride-or-die might not be super enthusiastic about your help.
But picture them, a year or ten years from now, eating a donut, not worrying about the number of calories they’re consuming or what they’ll have to do to “work it off,” but, just, you know, living.
Recovery isn’t a gift you can give someone, but you can pitch in a few bucks.
How to Support Someone with an Eating Disorder
The cult joke about becoming a therapist is that it takes years of school to learn these two phrases: “How does that make you feel?” and “Hmm…” Obviously, a therapist’s job is not that cut and dry. But here’s the takeaway: Listen, first.
Nothing you can say will be as meaningful or helpful as the simple action of actively and empathetically listening to someone who is struggling.
What does that look like in practice? If someone does the hard work of letting you know that they’re struggling, sit back and let them take the lead. Ask them questions. Learn. Try this phrase: “What do you need from me right now?” If you care about someone, it’s natural to want to solve someone’s problems for them. Especially when the “solution” seems as simple as well, maybe you could just stop throwing up after meals? If it were actually that easy, they would have done it already.
Don’t worry about trying to fix their life for them. Don’t try to develop a treatment program for them based on a midnight Google search. Just listen and see where it leads you.
2. Be a Friend, First
It’s easy to let your friend’s eating disorder take over your friendship. But don’t let it become a third wheel. What do I mean? Feel free to check in with your friend about how they’re doing. Let them vent to you about their eating disorder or ask for support (if they want). But your friend is a person, not the product of their problems.
When you’re knee-deep in an eating disorder, you start to feel like that’s all you are – you’re not Allie, who likes history documentaries, parkour, and watercolor painting, you’re an Anorexic.
If you want to help, remember this: You’re not friends with an Anorexic, you’re friends with Allie, who has anorexia (and likes history documentaries, parkour, and watercolor painting). Talk about the same stuff you talked about before. See if they’re up for the activities you used to like to do together, or try to find other ways to spend time together while they’re struggling. Treat them like a person, not a patient.
3. Be Realistic
TV shows like to pretend that eating disorders, and the people who have them, are cute little projects for martyrs to take on. On TV, eating disorders can be developed and cured within twenty-five minutes. TV, of course, is full of bullshit. On TV, there’s always a magic word that fixes everything. Or the person with the eating disorder has a rock-bottom experience, sees the light, and snaps out of it.
Eating disorder recovery in the real world is 100% possible, but there’s no quick and simple fix.80% of people seeking treatment for eating disorders do recover, but it can take seven to ten years to get there (and sometimes longer). So, statistically speaking, your friend will probably be dealing with this for a while. One of the best things you can do to support them is to take the pressure off.
Celebrate the “small” successes – but only if your friend brings them up first. Some of the worst things to hear during eating disorder recovery are those well-meaning statements from friends and family, like, “You look so healthy!” or, “You cleared your plate last night – good job!” When you’re in recovery, “healthy” (usually) = “fat” and “cleared your plate” is not a compliment.
To be safe, avoid commenting on someone’s weight or food intake, even if you mean it in a positive way. You can still congratulate them for setting up a meeting with a therapist or for making plans to visit a support group (or whatever).
It’s worth saying again: Recovery is working and working and getting better, and sometimes getting worse, until, one day, you notice that things are, somehow, finally, better.
4. Treat Their Triggers Like a Bad Ex
For years, I would relapse pretty much anytime someone mentioned how little they had eaten that day or how they had lost weight recently. “I’ve only had a coffee and half a yogurt today” would turn into a challenge to eat less than they had.
The food I had already eaten that day (you know, for survival and whatnot) would transform into a boulder in my stomach, a reminder that I had failed (at starving myself to death), and I would get back on the wagon (to disordered eating and psychological pain). That other person – the one thriving on just a coffee and half a yogurt – would promptly forget the conversation ever happened, head out to Starbucks, and grab a latte and a sandwich, never the wiser.
I won’t pretend triggers are logical, or that the response to them is reasonable, but they are real and they can cause damage. No one expects you to be perfect when you’re talking to someone who has an eating disorder. But it’s worth it to have a conversation about what someone’s triggers are and try to avoid them while you’re with that person.
Some common triggers during eating disorder recovery are:
Comments about food intake – how much or little, how “good” or “bad” (i.e. “junk food” vs. “healthy food”)
Comments about weight, weight change, or body type
Comments about the relationship between food and weight (“Bread makes you fat”)
Numbers – number of calories, grams of fat, carbs…
Nutrition labels on food packaging or nutrition information on restaurant menus
Clothing labels, scales, measuring tape or anything else that quantifies weight or body fat
People can have all these triggers, some of them, none of them, or something totally different altogether. The best thing you can do is sit down with your friend andhave an honest conversation about what words or environments make the recovery process more difficult for them. Don’t expect to be perfect, but do have the courage to ask them to call you out if you say or do something that makes them uncomfortable. Then try again.
Recovery is a learning curve for everyone involved.
5. Be Prepared
I’ll say it again: Your job here is to be a friend. These tips will help you support someone dealing with an eating disorder, but they won’t save their life if they really need professional help. You can’t (and shouldn’t) force someone into treatment. Frothing at the mouth with helplines or your therapist’s contact information probably won’t win anyone over unless they’ve already decided they want to get help. But you can be ready with the information you need in case they do want to seek help.
It’s up to the person struggling to decide if, when, and how to get help (assuming they’re 18+), but knowing where to start – who to call or what website to check out first – can help make the process a little easier for them.
Post-Recovery: The 30-Second Epilogue
If you’re reading this, thank you for doing the hard work of trying to help someone who needs you. I was lucky enough to have my best friend wade through the cold, deep river with me, and I’m closing in on four years free from an eating disorder. It’s been four years since I cried over the number of calories in a scoop of ice cream. It’s been four years since I forced myself to throw up after every meal.
More importantly, over the past four years, I’ve graduated from college, adopted a dog, moved out on my own, been promoted (twice), traveled across the country, and quit drinking (again). And every donut over the past four years? – guilt-fucking-free.
I hope this guide helps you feel confident supporting someone through an eating disorder, and I hope you feel hopeful. With help, 80% of people recover from eating disorders. And the struggle is so, so worth it.
Figuring out how to eat healthy when you’re depressed is a bit of a catch-22. You know that eating better will help you feel better, but you don’t have the energy or motivation to buy real ingredients or prepare healthy meals. You end up eating something quick and easy, or skipping meals if fast food sounds too difficult. And then, of course, living off of coffee and string cheese keeps you feeling depressed, tired, and unmotivated.
To put it lightly, depression messes with your food intake. This is such a common problem that there’s even a blog devoted to so-called “depression meals,” including these gems: “half a gogurt shared with my dog” and “three red baron singles pizzas in quick succession at 3:14 am.” The sad desk salad has nothing on the handful of dry cereal dinner.
Because mental health and physical health are so intertwined, food can be one of the best kinds of medicine when it comes to helping you deal with depression. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to start eating in a way that best supports your mental health.
When you’re dealing with depression, you need mealtime solutions that are:
3. (Relatively) Healthy
That being said, here are a few simple ways that you can move on from depression meals toward better + greener plates.
1. Master a single signature dish
I’m not talking about making shrimp scampi here. This is your microwave Kraft mac & cheese with steamed broccoli and spices thrown in (also, yeah, you can microwave broccoli). Or your peanut butter on whole wheat bread with apple slices and cinnamon. Maybe it’s ramen with sriracha and whatever vegetable you have laying around waiting to go bad in the fridge. This is the one dish you can find the energy to throw together on your worst day that still passes as food. Take as many shortcuts as you need to to get there – I would probably starve without a microwave and pre-cut fruit.
Try to find a nutritional balance here since you’ll be relying on this one dish a lot. As a general rule, try to split up your plate something like this:
50% carbs (fruits and veggies are carbs, too, friends!)
25% protein (beans, legumes, and tofu are all valid cow-friendly options)
25% fat (not just for ice cream anymore – think about nuts, olive oil, or the millennial’s one true love: avocado)
Once you find a recipe you’re comfy with, you’ll save a boatload of energy on two fronts: planning + shopping for ingredients and actually making the damn thing.
2. Load up on healthy no-cook staples (that you’ll actually eat)
A few spoonfuls of cottage cheese out of the container and a banana takes about zero energy to “prepare” and eat, but the carbs and protein might give you enough energy to start thinking about doing that thing you really need to do. This is really up to your individual preferences, but some of my go-to no-cook staples are:
Nuts (apple cider vinegar cashews are amazing if you ever run across those bad boys in the bulk section)
Whole grain bread + some kind of condiment (peanut butter, olive oil & spices, hummus, avocado…)
Pretzels or whole grain crackers + easy access cheese (like string cheese or mini Babybel’s)
Pre-cut fruits & veggies + dip that makes it worth it (most foods are really just vehicles for condiments anyway)
Smoothies or protein drinks (pre-made, obviously – do you see a pattern here?)
3. Make food social + fun
You can get by okay on 5-minute meals. But if you really want to get out of that depression meal mindset, you need to reframe how you think about food. Turn mealtimes into an opportunity to share time with a friend, significant other, or family member. Try out a new flatbread recipe with your best friend, or spend date night meal-prepping by candlelight. Try a cooking class or one of those (super expensive) subscription boxes (hey, spend your money however you want. I spend more than enough money on hair care).
When you’re depressed, food tends to feel like a chore – something you have to get through multiple times a day just to stay alive (how unfair is that?). But making food social will help you renegotiate your relationship with food and strengthen your social ties. If you’re keeping track, that’s a double-win against depression.
That’s it, guys!
It’s pretty challenging to discuss food + depression in a meaningful way. There are fewer relationships more personal than the one you have with food. It’s harder still because depression can lead you to you eat more, less, or nothing at all than you would with a healthy brain. From person to person, it’s the same disorder but wearing different clothes.
I would love to hear about your experiences – how has depression impacted your eating habits or relationship with food? What helps you get a healthy meal in when depression is kicking your booty?
In my first post, I talked a little bit about getting sober-ish recently. As in, back in December, I was throwing back more than half a bottle of vodka most days. For some reason, that actually didn’t solve any of my problems and actually created some new ones. Hindsight, you know?
I don’t practice the Sandra “two shot” pour anymore and, actually, I’ve been mostly sober so far this year. This definitely has not stopped me from feeling bad about the “ish” in sober-ish or the “mostly” in mostly sober.
As a card-carrying perfectionist, I’m used to killing it at anything I try. I have high standards and I’m willing to work hard and fast to achieve them. That’s something I expect from myself in every area of my life. When I apply that mindset to recovery, though, everything kind of falls apart.
So, my question today is this: Does the obsession with perfection actually get us there? Or can perfect be a roadblock to progress?
But the more you practice the new behavior, the stronger the neural pathways that support that behavior become. It becomes more likely – but not certain – that you will perform the new behavior. We’ll call it 50/50 odds. Sometimes things feel easy, and you stay sober. Sometimes you’re tired and just want to do something that feels good for a minute, and, oh, cool, yeah, great, you’re drunk (again).
But what happens in between 50% and 100%? Oh yeah, that little thing called relapse. In the space between starting to make a change and seeing that change stick, there will be times when you choose the old behavior – even when you know you shouldn’t. And that’s part of the process. The new behavior is getting bigger and better and stronger every day, but it’s still the underdog.
You know how in movies the underdog gets 85% of the movie to work and get better before they challenge the national champ? And how, throughout the movie, the underdog get stuffed into a locker or can’t get funding or loses their very first game? Progress takes time and shit happens.
Relapse isn’t the enemy of progress – it’s a part of it.
So while I work on figuring this stuff out, I’ll try to embrace the space between 50% and 100% with as much patience and self-compassion as I can. (Wish me luck, guys.)
If you’re a perfectionist with less than perfect mental health, I would love to hear your ideas! How have you learned to get out of your own way during recovery?
There are bad days, like the kind that everyone has sometimes. Something goes wrong at work or your car breaks down or some dude ghosts on you. Then there are bad mental health days where everything is technically fine, maybe even good, but you still feel bad. Just, I don’t know, sad or lonely or empty or frustrated or disillusioned or tired or some other word I don’t know yet that completely encompasses the specific genre of bad that you’re feeling right now.
It can feel worse when there’s no reason for it. Like if you just got fired, everyone is (rightfully) gonna be right there with you – that sucks. When the “reason” is some mystical combination of neurochemicals, the weather, and some weird look you got from a stranger in the produce section, it makes you feel alone.
You think, I don’t understand this. I know it isn’t logical.But that doesn’t make it easier. It doesn’t make the bad stuff go away.
You don’t even need someone else to get it. You just need to feel like it’s real. Like in a horror movie when someone says, “Did you hear that?” and the other person in the scene does! They say, “Yeah, I think I heard something.”
Death + the Stuff You Do Before It
I was lucky enough to find one of my favorite books, What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?, in the trunk of my car tonight. I wasn’t looking for it, but some of the best stuff happens that way, I think.
PostSecret is a collection of anonymous secrets shared on postcards. WDYWTDBYD? is a collection of people’s bucket listitems – what they want to do before they die – interspersed with stories from The Buried Life boys.
What gets me (in a good way) is the bond of unique but shared experiences. Even if you don’t relate to the specific details, you feel bound to some common emotion, want, or need behind each secret or goal.
There areall kinds of hurt and loneliness and joy out there. Even when they don’t look like yours, they’re more similar than you think.
The Buried Life
I have a weird relationship with death. It’s my default escape hatch, my biggest fear, and my biggest motivator.
On these days, my “bad days,” I write down a fraction of the things I want to do, to see, to learn, to become before I die. And I let these things push me through the bad feeling toward something better or at least toward something further away. It’s powerful to see the list grow bigger and bigger. Every time I work on my buried life list, I come up with so many ideas I can barely think straight.
I don’t have any answers for you. But maybe you can turn your bad days into bucket list days – an opportunity to dream a little bit, to let go of logic and doubt and whatever else is holding you back, and picture better stuff on the other side of today.
Let me know if you have any ideas for getting through bad days (literally, please let me know, but, like, for a friend). Or feel free to share some of the things on your buried life list!
But honestly? Things are getting better. Not on their own or anything easy like that. But because I’ve spent the last six weeks basically throwing potential solutions at the wall and hoping that something sticks. It’s a very scientific process.
So this is a list of a few things – big and small – that have helped make 2018 feel a little bit lighter and more hopeful for me so far. Because sometimes you need to make a big change to see a big change, and sometimes a well-timed craft coffee beverage can make you feel a little better for a little bit (even if it’s just the sugar rush).
10 Things That Might Actually Improve Your Mental Health (Because They Helped Me)
1. Getting sober-ish
Last year, alcohol was fucking everything up for me. Or, I was fucking everything up for myself using alcohol. But, either way, alcohol = not great when you already want to kill yourself. I was drinking way, way too much and everything felt really, really bad. I spent the better part of last year trying everything for my mental health but sobriety. Because priorities.
I finally got sober on New Year’s Day after a long time fighting the idea, and then I got un-sober two weeks later. Then I got sober again. For three weeks. Do you see where this is going? I don’t have a 90-day chip to show anyone or anything like that, but I’ve spent about 90% of 2018 sober so far and it’s actually been amazing.
What happened? Well, it turns out I don’t have an anxiety disorder – there was just a ton of alcohol messing with my nervous system on the daily. I haven’t self-harmed at all this year. I’ve scored closer to the “mild depression” side of things than the “severe depression – please get professional help, like, yesterday. What is wrong with you?” scale on screening tests.
But, mostly? I’m actually starting to remember what it feels like to like things, to want to do things, to feel alive and present and grateful and excited about the future. So, I mean, if you’re already your friends’ DD, that’s awesome, but if not, maybe try it out for a week and see what happens. It can’t be any worse than whatever you’re feeling already, right?
2. Essential oils
It’s hilarious that I’m so into essential oils because I have almost no sense of smell. Which comes in handy when half your job involves changing diapers. But there’s something to be said for the sensory experience of making your room smell like a boutique yoga studio.
If you’re a psych nerd like me, then you also know that there is a link between our sense of smell and our emotions. So, yeah, it is possible to trick your brain into feeling (at least a little) happier, calmer, more energized, or more relaxed with the right essential oils. Yay for quick fixes.
3. Getting a hobby (yes, for real)
By late 2017 my pool of hobbies was pretty much reduced to getting drunk and watching The Good Place on repeat. It turns out, not doing stuff tends to make you feel tired and sad. Who knew, right? My strategy so far this year has been to (try to) focus my energy on just a few hobbies so I don’t feel overwhelmed. Apparently, doing stuff you like is an important part of learning to like yourself and your life.
Requires a commitment in advance (I literally never go to drop-in classes, but I know I’ll show up to a class I already paid for)
Makes me feel like part of a community
Challenges me to do something I didn’t think I could do before
4. Reaching out to people
Does this sound familiar? You’re tired and convinced everyone hates you, so you don’t reach out to anyone because you don’t want to bother them, but then people stop reaching out to you, which proves that everyone hates you, and you continue not reaching out to people (because they hate you), and you continue feeling tired and convinced that everyone hates you.
Just for a second, pretend that the people on your contact list actually don’t hate you. Maybe some of them even like you (not Matt from that party freshman year. He hates you. Why do you even have his number still? Delete that.) In an insane moment of courage, text one of these people. Schedule a phone call (no, don’t just cold-call them right now. What are you, a monster?) Make plans to get coffee. Send them a funny picture of your dog. I’m not your boss.
You can also file this under the whole “doing stuff you like to build a life you like” category. Cuz friendship.
If you can get into therapy with an actual, real, flesh and blood mental health professional, do that. That’s what they went to school for. Most of them are really good at what they do (I’ve heard). For various reasons, actual therapy isn’t an option for me right now, so I did what any other somewhat fucked-up 20-something in my position would do: Online CBT.
If you’re not familiar with CBT, you can read more about it here, but basically, it helps you change your not-so-helpful thoughts and behaviors into more helpful thoughts and behaviors. As a result, you start to feel better and function better.
The program I’ve been using is called Learn to Live (they didn’t give me money or anything btw. I actually gave them money. That’s how commerce works), but there are definitely more programs out there if you’re interested in online CBT.
Oh, and CBT isn’t just for depression.Research suggests that CBT can help people dealing with anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, substance abuse, PTSD, bipolar disorder, BPD, phobias, insomnia, and even physical health problems like chronic pain or chronic fatigue syndrome.
I haven’t finished the program yet, but CBT is how I started this whole glowing up my mental health 2k18 thing. The skills I’ve been learning and practicing each week have actually helped me make tangible changes in my life (including most of the stuff on this list), so it’s definitely something to look into.
There are scientists who have devoted their entire careers to this stuff, so I won’t pretend to summarize all their research in a few sentences here. But from a personal standpoint, nothing makes me feel like I have my shit together more than a rock-solid routine.
Part of the magic of routine-building is thinking of yourself as someone who has, say, a skincare routine. That alone is a big self-esteembooster. Look at you with the three-step skincare routine – you’re practically an Instagram model! Another part – and this might be the depression talking – is the ease of doing something without thinking about it. I don’t need to deliberate over whether or not to moisturize or spend time feeling guilty for not doing it even though I really should do it. It’s just automatic.
I have routine-building drilled into my DNA, so I pick up new habits (both good and bad) like it’s nothing. If that’s not you and you’re more into doing what you feel like doing when you feel like doing it, just start slow. Pick up one new habit at a time. Choose something easy to start with, like drinking a glass of water when you wake up. When you get used to doing that, piggyback another habit on top of the other one. So drink a glass of water and then stretch for three minutes or whatever. You don’t have to get all your shit together at once. Just pick one habit that you want to work on for now, stick to it until it’s automatic, and then go from there.
At one point in January, I thought to myself, Fuck, when was the last time you read a book? Of all my depression-related revelations, this one really got to me. At one point in time, I used to read a few books a month, and, last month, I literally couldn’t remember the last book I had read or when I stopped reading. It was so weird.
It doesn’t really matter what you read. I love a good YA book (I don’t care. I have no shame left.) A book – any book – lets you look into other people’s heads (i.e. get out of your own head), exposes you to other perspectives and experiences, and teaches you new things. Also, books smell good. So there’s that.
When other, healthier motivations fail me, there’s always vanity. Like sometimes, I think about throwing back half a bottle of vodka on a Tuesday night, and then I picture my tired, dehydrated skin the next day and throw back some sparkling water instead. Hey, whatever works.
Your skin and hair are a window to your physical health in a way that the rest of your body isn’t. If you learn to pay attention to your body, you might notice that you hurt here or feel tension there. But I know that if I’m not eating enough, my hair will fall out in sexy little clumps when I shower. If I’m not drinking enough water, the eczema on my hands will act up and the skin on my face will beg for mercy.
In addition to tricking myself into taking care of my body as a whole, skin and hair care makes me feel good about myself. I feel more confident on a good hair day (which lasts about twenty minutes in the PNW). And it’s just straight-up fun to do a sheet mask on a random Thursday night.
A lot of people will refer to this kind of stuff as self-care, which it is, but think of it as a small piece of a big picture. So yes, throw on a sheet mask and some deep conditioner, but also do that stuff your mom said to do: Eat your veggies, be kind, and please, please, please wash your make-up off before bed.
9. The one-minute rule
If it takes less than one minute, do it. Every time. Don’t think about it. Don’t wait until later. Just do it now. This is 100% harder than it sounds when you have depression. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s easy. But when you force yourself to do it anyway, it helps.
For more than three weeks, I had this torn-up receipt sitting on the floor. It was just out of the way enough for me to ignore and forget about it until the next time I walked past. Then I would think really hard about throwing it away before eventually deciding nah, I don’t want to right now. It literally took me weeks and literal therapeutic intervention before I felt empowered enough to pick up this piece of paper and throw it away. And it felt amazing to do this tiny thing. After I took care of the receipt issue, I decided, hey, I bet I could also put my clean laundry away that’s been sitting there for a week, and, wow, I did that thing too! I did two things in the same day!
Justthink of what you could accomplish if you shut up your inner but I don’t want to voice for one minute. You might not win a Nobel Peace Prize, but I bet your apartment will be much cleaner.
Muslim poet, scholar, and mystic Rumi wrote, “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.” To me, coffee is all of these things. I get out of bed for Stok Cold Brew Iced Coffee and I get through the afternoon high on a mid-day Starbucks Doubleshot on Ice. Coffee is one of those positive sensory experiences that turn the dial up on the day. Sure, there’s something to be said for the natural high of physical activity or photosynthesis or whatever people who don’t drink coffee do for fun. But I won’t say it here.