Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Three Tiny Things to Prevent Illness from Triggering Depression

Update 2016: This article was featured in my book "Saying NO to Suicide", with added commentary.

Even overcast skies can be beautiful. © Douglas Cootey

I don’t walk around all day with my face pulled into a frown while I vocally worry about my disabilities—contrary to what some people claim I do. Instead, disability is more like a land mine rudely placed into the middle of my day when I’m otherwise trying to get things done.

I am clinically and chronically depressed, which means I am depressed almost all the time. I also have a chronic motor tic disorder—a label that covers the involuntary ticking, both vocal and muscular, but not the curling, extending, locking, and all around neurological meltdown that often happens as well. As you know, I manage both without medication because I have to. I use a variety of coping strategies, especially eating and sleeping well. I also make an effort to keep myself free of stress.

What happens when a summer virus drops in from out of town and decides to stay for three weeks? I definitely stop sleeping and eating well, which triggers ticking. Then I fall behind on freelance work and bounce a check. Hello, stress. Let’s not even mention how little I’ve been working on my book project. Last week I was ticking non-stop. Ticking is more than involuntary muscle twitching, or even flailing. It’s like an electrical storm within my mind which makes thinking difficult and being productive even more so. This week, I just have depression, as if that isn’t enough all on its own, but I’m grateful that the ticking has subsided.

How do I stay upbeat?

Staying upbeat when your life feels like it’s in free fall is challenging, but there are a few tricks I employ to stay ahead of depression’s grip. I’ve written in greater detail about fighting depression, but today I want to focus on the seemingly insignificant steps that helped me turn my day around.
  1. Acknowledge your limitations, then think of how to work around them. People often will tell you the exact opposite. Usually, these are people who don’t have your particular hardships. They think that being positive (for you) is all about burying your problems and pretending they don’t exist. Let me tell you, it’s not a great coping strategy. If those people had a broken leg, denial wouldn’t help them walk. They would need a cast and crutches for that, and they wouldn’t appreciate you telling them to stop talking about their broken leg when you wanted them to go somewhere with you.

    I find that identifying the problem gives me power over it, which also helps me understand the nature of my obstacle so I can move around it. That’s what happened to me today. I was still sick, but I recognized that depression was picking out drapes with the virus to remodel my apartment. I needed to take a stand. Those drapes would give my depression a depression.

  2. Do something! An epiphany is useless unless you act upon it. Doing almost anything sets the wheels in motion. First I ate, then prayed. Exercising faith is a positive activity for me. You may find mindfulness or meditation helpful as well. Then I set a timer to make sure to eat lightly every two hours. I then played Pushmo for a bit until I felt better. (It’s a great next gen puzzle game for the Wii U.)

    I find puzzle solving helps me fight depression, especially when I don’t have energy to actually move about. The puzzles get my mind working and help push the depression into the background. When I was ready, I busied myself with my ThreeDo list.

    If I could do things over again, I’d remember to take Tylenol and Vitamin C supplements. The medicine would have sped up my recovery.

  3. Give yourself credit. Even if these activities sound insignificant to you, they were extremely important for me to do. Sitting under a cloud of depression is easy. Forcing yourself to move out from under the cloud is hard. Giving yourself positive feedback for a successful effort helps offset the negativity of depression.

Know the difference between positive thinking and denial

Positive, upbeat thinking is a tool to help you regulate your mind and push forward. It's not a bucket of pretty colored paint to hide your problems from view. Negativity is seeing only closed doors in front of you and positivity as seeing only open doors. When you expect failure, you guarantee it because you stop trying. Positive thinking keeps us opening one door and then the next until we find the way out. It's not a glassy-eyed, state of ignorant denial. It is forward thinking with intelligence. Each step away from the control of depression helps you reclaim your mood as well as your sense of well-being. Don’t knock the baby steps. With small steps we accomplish great things.