I’ve been through some rough times, dealing with depression, anxiety, stress and bodily unwellness. It would be fair to say that in terms of managing all of these, I have been a slow learner, not least because I’ve been resistant. Working out how to manage a thing depends on admitting there’s a problem, and that took me a long time. Dealing with a problem depends on treating it as worth bothering with. For reasons I continue to grapple with, treating my own difficulties as something that matter does not come easily to me.
However, I’m aware of friends who are walking the dark places at the moment and suspect there are others, so survival strategies might be useful just now. Those first steps of noticing and bothering are vital. If you are depressed, crippled by anxiety or in pain it can be surprisingly hard to notice that there is something wrong with this, and all too easy to feel like you’re a failure when you need to be recognising that you are a person in trouble. Self-blame is a natural default, almost a symptom of the problem, for some of us.
Trick one is to keep moving. This kind of illness will tell you that all is hopeless and that no matter what you do, you will be ground into the dirt. If you quit and go to bed, it’s very easy to stay there, giving up and spiralling ever lower. Keeping moving allows you to resist the feeling of doom. Getting something – anything – done, gives you something you can but between you and the feelings of helpless worthlessness. How to do this, follows.
Trick two is to get the basics straight. These give you a sturdy platform from which to tackle the rest. Keeping yourself clean, fed and comfortable can seem both monumental and pointless when you’re ill. However, having those things sorted will improve your morale and self-esteem. Not eating only adds to feelings of depletion and misery. Move slowly, but take some time over your appearance. Do something nice. Eat well. Take care of your space. Get the people around you to encourage and help you in this. If the people around you will not encourage and help you, then you’ve just identified a big part of your problem. Sometimes it turns out not to be depression, but that we are surrounded by arseholes. Prioritise doing the things that make you feel better.
Trick three is dealing with the big stuff. Often depression, anxiety and bodily illness are triggered because some vital thing has gone horribly wrong, and crushed us. Again the feelings of futility will make it hard to get things moving. Not tackling the sources of fear actually feeds the fear. So, draw breath, and then start fixing. Make a list of what needs doing. Break each item down into its smallest component parts, and get the running order right. Take your time, because this is your battle plan and you need it straight. If there is no required running order for it, start with the easiest stuff. Get some wins under your belt. Tick things off as you do them and remind yourself of the progress made.
Pretty much anything, no matter how daunting, can be taken on in this way, and worked through. Speaking as someone who has taken on battles I was told could not be won… and won, I say it can be done. So long as you keep moving, it can be done. There will be some kind of answer, some way of managing it, or making it better, or getting through and if you are moving, you can get to those answers.
Trick four, rest. Give yourself as much time as you can between the big pushes. Read. Walk. Watch a film. Go to bed. Be as possessive of your energy as you can be, and demand the time to do the things you need in order to keep going. Half of what gets people in trouble is not guarding personal resources, often. To get through, you are going to need to protect yourself. “I can’t, I’m ill,” can be a very hard thing to say, but also wholly necessary if you are to avoid being entirely broken. If there are people or situations making you more ill, acknowledge it and get out, even if it hurts. No one should spend more time than they have to places that make them sick. If you can’t get out, mitigate, give yourself more time off, find offsets, seek bargains. Do what you can to make it bearable.
Take yourself seriously and treat yourself like you matter. Take your problems seriously and treat them like they matter, too. You are not making a fuss, and you have the right to an ok life, and no one has the right to work you to death, make you sick with stress, to abuse your body, torment your mind or make existing unbearable. If you need something that is not what you’ve got, seeking those changes can be doubly hard, when you’re also dealing with illness. Take that seriously, too. What keeps us ill is all too often unwillingness to own the illness, name it and tackle its root causes. Most sickness, bodily and of the mind can be alleviated to some degree, but only if we own it, name it, and make the changes it requires. It isn’t easy, but the less easy your circumstances make it, the more you need to acknowledge that your circumstances are a big part of the problem.
And good luck to you.