Sooooo…whatcha doin’?

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Sunday night, I pulled out a notebook and wrote at the top of a page, “What is a sustainable routine?”

I need routines as part of my cognitive behavior therapy so teaching high school is actually a really great place for me, what with a bell schedule telling me what to do at what time, including eating lunch.

But what do I do when I don’t have a bell schedule or students?

I sketched out a possible sustainable routine on that piece of paper Sunday night, and adhered to about half of it yesterday. Today, not at all.

It’s not like I’m lacking for things to do; I have plenty of options. So. Many. Options. And maybe that’s part of the problem–the “paradox of choice.” Maybe limiting my options is a good step.

Or maybe what I need to do is take a step back for a day or two, breathe, give myself some time and grace to adapt to the current situation.

I go through something similar every summer–when the school year ends and my routine is taken away, it takes me about two weeks to recalibrate and find an acceptable balance. But I always know that it’s coming–May 1 hits, and I start thinking about summer contingency plans to manage my mental health.

This particular moment though? I saw it coming, but the same way I see summer storms–off in the distance with a chance that it might break to the north and miss me completely. Except this storm hit.

I’m not throwing out my Sunday scrawlings just yet–I think I created a manageable system for when I am ready for it to take hold.

My point is this: if you too are feeling unmoored, maybe even guilty for not creating a routinized life for yourself or your family, take a breath. We’ve not been here before. As my friend Matt keeps reminding me, “There is no playbook for this.”

And if you can’t give yourself a little patience or grace right now, contact me. I’ll give you some of mine.

When a person with depression gets Some News.

I woke up this morning to a grey sky and cold air. After yesterday’s warm sunshine, the stark contrast convinced me to skip Jazzercise and stay in bed a bit longer.

Then I received some disappointing news. The nature of the news is irrelevant to this post. But to set any inquiring minds at ease, no one is in mortal danger and life is generally still fine; the news was just disappointing. And my brain revolted.

The trajectory I experienced upon hearing this news was:

  1. This news sucks.
  2. Therefore there’s not much of a reason to live.

Keep in mind the news was just disappointing, not earth-shattering or life changing. There are possible solutions to this news, even. But it didn’t matter–my depression-riddled brain does not care about logic or solutions in times like these. I imagine healthy-brained people do not always react in such a way; though I fully admit I’m assuming, since I don’t know what having a healthy brain is like. Maybe their trajectory is like this:

  1. This news sucks.
  2. But other things suck too.
  3. I wonder what I can do about this sucky news.
    1. Solution A
    2. Solution B
    3. Solution C
    4. etc….
    5. One of these is bound to work.
  4. Nothing I can do about it now, so time for sushi and friends and things will work out.

Instead, I have to fight back with what I’ve learned from cognitive behavior therapy, and I did the following:

  1. I took a deep breath.
  2. I picked up a Cadbury creme egg (it was 9:30 a.m., and eggs are breakfast food after all).
  3. I put down the Cadbury creme egg, telling myself chocolate was not the answer right now.
  4. I looked at my calendar for the day and saw the following events:
    1. Lunch with friends
    2. Volunteering at a flood relief distribution center
    3. Hanging out with my niece
    4. Baseball opening day
    5. A new cookie recipe to try
  5. I took another deep breath.
  6. I decided to *not* cancel on lunch, volunteering, or my niece, even though I wanted to.

Then I fixed myself a dirty Diet Coke and got ready for my day.

It might seem like it was a simple exercise in mind over matter, but in truth, it was a Herculean effort. And while I distilled things into six steps there, it was probably closer to 18 steps total, because each major decision required multiple small decisions. That’s what it takes sometimes when my brain decides the depression is going to have A Day.

Lunch was great, volunteering was holy, the time with my niece was delightful (she’s my favorite–she told me so), the cookies delicious, and though the Braves lost, it’s opening day and there’s a thousand months of baseball until the playoffs.

Sometimes I forget how much progress I’ve made, how incrementally easier it is for me to recognize what my brain is doing and do the Necessary Things to stay healthy. So for that realization alone, I’m actually a little grateful for today’s disappointing news.

It’s Okay…

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Back in July, I blogged about Project Semicolon, and I’ve blogged before about my own battles with depression. Today, worldwide, people are raising awareness about mental heath awareness and how to prevent suicide, I have a little collection of links you can explore.

If you have never struggled with depression or other mental illnesses, I implore you to visit one or two of these links, to try and understand what those fighting mental illness are up against. It’s not as easy as “buck up” or “smile” or “it could always be worse.” Read and learn the signs that someone is struggling.

If you have ever, or currently are struggling with depression, I know that clicking on any of these links feels like an exercise in futility. I know that it feels like nothing anyone says can minimize the desperation you feel. But please, please, believe me when I say, like this post says, it’s okay. It’s okay to be honest, and it’s okay–it is so very much okay–to ask for help.

And now, some links.

A Buzzfeed listicle about lies depression tells you.
The blog over at To Write Love on Her Arms often is brave, raw, and comforting.
Project Semicolon is one of my favorite places to go when I’m looking for stories of empathy.
The International Association for Suicide Prevention has so many resources to educate anyone on mental illness.
Here’s some tips to manage anxiety and stress. (I hereby testify that sitting and focusing on breathing is way more therapeutic than I ever gave credit for.)
I love everything about this video.
If you are able, no matter where you live, consider participating in one of these walks.

And please, please, please, if you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

If you aren’t in crisis and would just like someone to talk to, let me know. I’d be happy to listen. It’s okay.