How my Depression is Helping Me Get Through the Pandemic
My brain has been preparing me to deal with the pandemic for almost all of my adult life. How?
Through trial and error. Vast amounts of trial and error.
In my last post, I came out as experiencing depressive symptoms on and off for the last 14 years. And in the last year, I have found myself making use of almost every mental health trick I have. All in the name of making it through the pandemic as a functioning human adult.
In this post I share my decade plus of depression experience. The hope is that it might make it that little bit easier for you to make it to the finish line of this thing.
Recommendations to start jogging excluded. I promise.
So like many of your fellow earthlings, you have been experiencing depressive symptoms in the last year. And if you are reading this, good on you! You’re looking for ways to make yourself feel a bit better. Don’t under-state that achievement. Even if you’re still in bed, you’ve already had a win for today. Because you recognise that you don’t feel like your usual self. And that’s ok.
So here they are, some no BS ways to feel a little better.
Accept where you are at and stop criticising yourself
On “bad” days, it is all too easy to slip into negative inner monologue cycles. The voice that tells you that you “can’t” gets louder and harsher. RuPaul calls it the inner saboteur. And he’s right. Listen to that voice too long and you’ll end up sabotaging your potential.
Programming, like most professions, is one of constant decision-making. Unhelpfully, one of the common symptoms of depression is difficulty in making decisions. This can fuel procrastination, which in-turn fuels your inner saboteur.
“I can’t do this”
“I haven’t done this”
“I am useless”
In these moments, I show myself some kindness. I tell myself that it’s ok to take a break.
Away from my desk, I take a moment to think through the problem slowly. I think of the advice that I would give someone else who was in this situation, and take that advice. The advice is never a surprise.
- Take a deep breath
- Break the problem into smaller parts
- Get started
- Ask for help
I still find it really hard to show myself the patience and kindness that I would afford to others, but I am getting better at it. And it helps. A lot.
Say no to Zoom drinks if you want
Remember those early days of the pandemic when Zoom was still a novelty? When we’d kissed our commutes goodbye and could arrange drinks with friends across borders?
The days of:
“I’m sure this is only for a few weeks.”
“I can pay supermarket prices for beer!”
“Hey, I don’t have to wear pants!”
We were so naive then.
It didn’t take us very long to realise that Zoom drinks are just not the same as being in a real-life social setting. For me, the realisation was that the whole charade was stressful. It was at that point I just gave up on them.
Yes, it is true that isolation can exacerbate depressive symptoms. So to be clear, I am not advocating that anyone isolates themselves. I am only encouraging you to find the methods of communication and staying in touch that work for you.
For example, I have always preferred communication with one or two other people at a time. Nothing makes me feel more awkward than sitting or standing in a large circle of people. So why subject myself to the online version of that?
By removing this pressure to “be social”, it allowed me to focus on the relationships I want to build. I make heavy use of group chat. I video call one-on-one with some close friends. That’s what works for me.
What works for you?
Turn something you already do into a hobby
I’ve never been able to pursue a long-term hobby. But I have always been able to find some joy in cooking. Sure, sometimes it feels like any other chore that I must do to get through the day. Just another hurdle that feels like a mountain. On those days I don’t cook. I reheat “something I prepared (and froze) earlier”, or get something delivered. But I gotta eat, and I can only order-in so many times before my health and wallet suffer.
So at the start of the pandemic I said to myself:
“Why not turn this thing that I do anyway into a hobby?”
The rationale was that if I could turn a daily activity into a hobby, I would feel like I had achieved something. I would have contributed to improving a skill that isn’t related to work. For me, having a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day, no matter how small, is really important to staying healthy.
So I set myself the loose goal of eating as seasonally as possible, and minimising the amount of processed food in my diet. Not only did it focus my efforts, it also had a secondary benefit of boosting my mood, through better nutrition.
So what are you already doing that you could take a bit more seriously? Was there a hobby you used to have that you can pick up again? Or, a new skill you’d like to learn?
Find a way to move that works for you
Ok, so I promised that I wouldn’t recommend jogging. I won’t. All I will say is that it is definitely worth finding a way to put some movement into your routine.
What works for me is a short walk after lunch. Especially during the winter, this meant I at least saw some daylight, and was able to break up my day a bit. Now that there is a bit more daylight, a walk after work is also possible.
The science on exercise boosting mood is irrefutable and the good news is you don’t have to do a lot to reap the benefits.
Start small and experiment. And if you miss a day, tell yourself “it’s ok” and try again tomorrow.
Which brings me to my last point…
Celebrate the small wins
On the really dark days, when the smallest thing feels like a mountain of effort, it’s really important to recognise any gains that you make, no matter how small. It’s these small daily wins that help me claw myself out of a depressive hole, even if at first it feels like there is no way out.
You showered and brushed your teeth? Good on you!
Ate something? Yippee!
Messaged or called a friend? Wow!
Went outside? Look at you go!
I find that by celebrating the small things I turn my inner monologue from “I can’t”, to “I can!”. After the first few shaky (and celebrated) steps, I often find it easier to move onto bigger tasks such as going on a walk, cooking a healthy dinner or working towards a longer-term goal.
In my experience, the thing with depression or mood is that it spirals. Every day is a new start and it’s up to me to spiral in a positive direction or a negative one. Since recognising this pattern, I feel empowered to take the steps I need to boost my mood, while still giving myself the space for forgiveness and compassion if the spiral goes the wrong way some days.
There is no one-size-fits all approach to coping with depressive symptoms, but I hope some of these tips help you.
You’ve made it this far, and you are amazing. You got this!
This is the second article of a series on mental health. You can find the first one here. Expect the next one in about two weeks. It might be longer or shorter depending on how I feel.
This article discusses mental health from a personal perspective. I am not a psychologist or doctor, and this is not medical advice. If your depressive symptoms are ongoing and/or worsening, please see a doctor. Alternatively, if that is not available to you, you can call a helpline in your country.