Depression is definitely not a topic I ever thought I would be writing about. Even though it’s uncomfortable to open up about such a private matter I think it is incredibly important. First and foremost, it is important for my personal progress. Secondly, the statistics for the prevalence in young adults, especially young women, leaves little room for my qualms on its relevancy to my readers.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 17.3 million adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one major depressive episode, and those episodes are higher among women (8.7% affected compared to the 5.3% of men). The prevalence is even higher in adults between the ages of 18-25 (13.1%). So, chances are if you’re a woman you’ve experienced a depressive episode at some point in your life. And clearly you are not alone. This compels me to open up about my own struggle with depression.
Stigma and mental health go hand in hand and that’s a hard hurtle to leap over. And it’s made even tougher because I know most of my friends and family will be shocked to hear that I suffer from depression and what I’m about to share.
It started about two years ago when I turned 27. The next two years were a volley of ups and downs, denial and refusal to consider treatment. The struggle became so severe that I was hospitalized. That’s right, the strong minded and fierce Ali. Me.
I reached the lowest of lows; I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Regrettably, I gave into those feelings on a beautiful and sunny Saturday morning and woke up in a hospital bed that evening.
My family was shaken to learn of my state. My mother said, “I just never thought I had to worry about you in that way, you are always the strong one.” But the truth is I can be just as weak as I am strong. And the past year was my weakest.
2018 had been the worst year of my life. I found myself in a very bad place; living in financial strain, in an emotionally abusive relationship that was getting worse by the day and living in a new city with no real friends or family.
Broke, insecure, terribly lonely and a deep sadness in the failures of my relationship began to grind away at any sense of self that I had left. I began to withdraw from daily life. I didn’t go out of my way to make connections with anyone which did little in getting myself out of my rut. I stopped caring about things I had always invested myself in, especially my writing. I just stopped. I was so lost and rather than doing anything sensible I just gave up.
After being hospitalized and the demise of that relationship shortly thereafter, I knew I had to change things. I needed to change everything. Only I could take care of myself.
I packed up my things and got the hell out of town, as they say. I decided to move near family for a sense of stability and support.
New city, new life. Again.
I thought starting over would be the simple solution. I kept telling myself that I was experiencing “situational depression”; that once I fixed my life that everything would be rainbows and sunshine. But that was certainly not the case. I was still struggling daily.
I experienced dramatic weight loss from complete lack of appetite — trust me when I say, I have never ever been one to have a problem with appetite. I was drowning in heart break, experiencing panic attacks and social anxiety which only forced me deeper into a pit of depression. I was becoming a recluse, listless and spending much of my time staring at ceilings.
It was during one of these ceiling-gazing sessions that I had my secondary wake-up call. I knew I had to get myself into a routine to get out of this isolation rut. Again, that voice inside was saying only you can take care of yourself. Get your ass up and do it.
I needed to build a daily routine to occupy my time and my mind.
That’s exactly what I did. And it has had a major impact on my daily life. Therefore, I wanted to share some of my routine in the hopes that it may help you as well.
For the sake of transparency I must state that I am not a medical professional. If you find yourself in a bad place, you need to reach out for help. These tips are a part of the routine I created and have found improvements in my day-to-day mood. You can consider giving them a try in addition to your other treatment avenues.
Tip 1: Have a sleep-wake routine and stick to it.
Waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day has been shown to help with mental stability.
According to my favorite clinical psychologist — never thought I’d utter those words but celebrity these days is an obscure thing — Dr. Jordan Peterson says, “You cannot be mentally healthy without a routine.”
Dr. Peterson references the importance of the circadian rhythm, our natural 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, and its impact on mood. He suggests picking a time to wake up, any time that works for your schedule, and sticking to it.
And that’s what I do; every morning I wake up at the same time and almost every night I climb into bed at the same time. It’s gotten to the point that I no longer need an alarm clock. Waking up first thing in the morning leads to my next helpful tip.
Tip 2: Cardio/walking in the morning.
First thing I do every morning after waking (and copious cups of coffee) is get in a short session of cardio.
Nothing rigorous; about 10-20 minutes of light-to-moderate intensity cardio every morning. The endorphin boost I get from this minor exercise routine really helps get my day going.
Initially I used the elliptical in my apartment gym. I started out doing this every other day but quickly got into a daily routine.
More recently, I started doing walks outside. Cardio plus sunshine seems to be the biggest impact on my mood, especially first thing in the morning. I’ve kept myself accountable by incorporating the 10K step challenge (getting 10,000 walking steps daily). Just by doing my routine walk around the neighborhood in the morning I am able to hit 10,000 steps every day. The sense of accomplishment that comes along with that doesn’t hurt either.
If this is something you’re interested in trying but 10,000 sounds overwhelming that’s okay. Set 10K as a long-term goal and cut your first week’s goal in half, or even start out at 2,500 steps a day. Adding something new into your daily schedule leads to my next bit of advice.
Tip 3: Keep yourself busy.
I try to keep the same weekly routine. Cardio in the morning, head to the office, after work spend an hour or two of unwinding via YouTube or some sort of entertainment, gym time, hitting a coffee shop for some reading and writing, and then home for dinner and prepping for the next day. Every single day.
I found that my worst days occurred when I slumped into a lazy ball by myself at home, doing nothing but letting my self-loathing mind reign free. This routine helps me avoid that behavior.
Other things I like to do to fill time in my day:
- Grab a book at the library.
- See a movie solo; this is my serious unwind time, I see a movie a week.
- Volunteer. If you find yourself with a serious amount of unused time, then use it to do something that helps someone.
- Grabbing a drink or coffee with a friend.
For weekends or days off, try to make plans ahead of time. See some friends and family, go out for a night on the town, see that museum you’ve been meaning to get around to, take your dog for a walk or hike. Just try to have something set out that you can look forward to.
Tip 4: Eat better and, duh, exercise.
This is just common sense. Taking care of yourself helps get you in the mindset that you matter, and feeling good about your physical state doesn’t hurt either. Your food health should be a part of your daily routine. Especially because depression has an effect on appetite, whether it’s a lack of appetite or overeating, it will help to focus your attention on what your putting in your body.
Exercise has always been a part of my daily routine, even during times of depression, because I worked as a personal trainer throughout school. It’s just something I have habituated to, but I don’t want to underplay its integral role, so I had to add it in.
If you are struggling with depression (or not) and you have a sedentary lifestyle you should incorporate a regular exercise regimen. I am not going to bore you with the many many studies that show the effect of exercise and mental health. It helps. So just do it. Plus, it adds to your daily routine and fills some of that time that you lie about not having any of.
Tip 5: Start a daily journal.
Start keeping a daily log, specifically how you’re feeling that day.
This can help you identify patterns on your ups and downs. And more importantly, daily behaviors that help on the good days.
You don’t have to be a writer and it doesn’t need to be verbose. Get creative and poetic or just jot down a few sentences at the end of your day or first thing in the morning about the previous day. You can keep an old-school paper and pen journal or simply start a Word document on your phone or computer
Tip 6: Tell someone.
This is probably the most important tip and the one I struggled with most. Talk to someone about what you are going through.
Whether you decide to open up to a friend, loved one or seek professional help — highly recommend— it will help you sort through the chaos in your mind. As much as we like to tell ourselves that no one would understand, they do.
It is so important, especially if you are experiencing self-harming or suicidal thoughts that you seek help and talk to someone.
If you don’t want to connect with someone close to you, please utilize the resources from the Suicide Prevention Life Line Organization. You can call their 24-hour line at 1-800-273-8255 or utilize their online chat service.
I know these tips may sound obvious and trivial but when you find yourself struggling with depression you can understand the mind doesn’t function in a typical manner. The obvious stuff tends to be the last thing on the mind of someone struggling with depression. So, take my trivial and obvious advice and don’t be a brat about it.
Here I am, just getting my life pieced back together. New city, new life, new job, new friends and most importantly, writing again. Just trying to take care of myself.
Every day is one day at a time. I have ups and downs still, but my downs are less frequent and far less severe. Every morning I wake up I say the mantra out loud, take care of yourself. After reading this maybe your perspective on the importance of routines has changed. Maybe you will adopt the mantra yourself. You only get one life to live my friend, don’t waste another second of it. Do everything you can to pursue betterment for yourself.
Today, July 18, 2019 marks the two year anniversary of Atypical Female. Help celebrate by subscribing to the blog.