[Disclaimer: The aim of this blog post is to tell my experience with honesty. Therefore, some content may trigger an adverse reaction. If this post is beginning to upset you, I advise that you please stop reading it immediately and talk to your support team. Content and Trigger Warning: Depression and Sensitive Language]
I have been a sufferer of depression and anxiety for many years, and as such I have frequently scoured the Internet for ways to ease the pain and panic, especially on bad days. Bad days for me consisted of staring aimlessly at the ceiling for hours on end, feeling empty inside besides the occasional intrusive thought. My body felt like it weighed the same as a ten tonne elephant as I was unable to move even a limb. How can something feel so empty yet so heavy at the same time?
Yet, despite this, I was sometimes able to muster enough energy to go on digital escapades to find something, anything, that might make me feel a bit less shit. Unfortunately, even in all my efforts, I was bombarded by blog posts and articles preaching the benefits of getting out of bed, taking a shower or bath, eating a healthy meal and going for a walk... Don't get me wrong, all of these suggestions are wonderful and helpful things that undoubtedly ease depression symptoms, but there was one problem. I couldn't find the motivation to even sit up, let alone drag my frame out of the house altogether, washed, preened, fed and ready to go! Any effort that it would take to achieve even the simplest of tasks needed to be used wisely, but the notion of "get out bed and face the day" at those low points would be the equivalent of saying "climb that mountain!".
These lists, while they are very well-meaning and do contain genuinely good advice, are not helpful when you are in a state of pure helplessness. These bad days render you so weak you can't lift your head off your pillow or your arms up off the bed. You don't feel able to fight the waves of sadness washing over you and you feel like you are drowning... if you are able to feel anything at all. So, in the politest possible way, those blogs don't do shit.
When I read them I never felt like they truly understood how I was feeling and they made me feel like I simply wasn't trying hard enough. They made all these things sound SO easy! Which, to be fair, they should be. It shouldn't be difficult to function like a normal human being but that's the point. You feel less than human and depression strips away anything that you can identify as being a whole and capable person. You are not yourself.
What I needed in those moments was a blog that truly understood, that didn't make me feel like a failure for being unable to do function, and a list of much smaller, manageable things that didn't take a lot of energy, but would ultimately serve the purpose of making me feel better.
With that in mind, when I started this blog I knew I would always make it clear that I understood. I had actually been through that shit and although I may not have been through the same experiences that you have, I get it. And although I know that you, yes you, are strong to get through each day I also know that when those bad days are upon you, you don't FEEL as though you can tackle them. You are capable of more than you realise and so I wanted to make my own list of things to try and help you through it.
My list aims to help you get through the bad days by using activities that you can do without even leaving your bed. This list contains things that I myself have tried and tested over many, many bad days and I promise you they will help. They WON'T make the pain go away completely... that's a longer, harder journey but for those particularly shit days where everything is daunting, these small actions should hopefully offer some form of comfort that things will get better.
But first I want to talk about the different types of self care (this is important, I promise).
Types Of Self Care
Self care is more than just baths and incense, though these things do play a role! Self care works on many different levels to sooth and look after every part of your being, from your body to your mind, so that your whole soul feels better.
Though most people only think about its physical form, self care can be emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual and sensory, as well as physical. There is even financial and work related self care, but I will focus on those in a future blog, as they require longer term commitment. Today looks at much more achievable as smaller actions that can bring immediate comfort.
By targeting each different form of self care, you can give yourself an all-round dose of TLC and will therefore be giving yourself exactly what you need to get through.
Below you'll find my list, with each section centred around the different forms of self care, and even though it's not an extensive list or a cure for how you are feeling, it's hopefully a start to your day feeling a brighter and your burden feeling a little lighter.
1. Rest & Relaxation (Physical Self Care)
This may sound counter-intuitive given the fact the end goal is to get ourselves OUT of bed, but by giving your body and mind a rest you can come out of the other side of this quicker! Essentially... allow yourself the space to feel like shit! Do NOT punish yourself for not being able to do a long exhausting list of things that right now are not possible. By adding extra expectations and pressure onto yourself you will only spiral. So go easy on yourself!
Additionally, relaxing the body is just one way to relax the mind. After all, when your body is stressed out relaxing it helps relive tension and the same thing goes for your mind. Although you can't take your brain out and put it in a hot, soapy bath like you can your body, there is a link between mental and physiological symptoms. When you are stressed you are more likely to get stomach aches, for example, and the same works in reverse. When you are physically poorly or in pain there is a mental strain that comes along with it, so it's important to realise the significance of taking the time to remove physical tension or stress.
One thing that can help relax you or calm you down is a breathing or a grounding exercise, by means of regulating any erratic breathing, slowing down your heartrate and offer a distraction. They won't make the thoughts go away, but these exercises work by calming the body and focusing the mind, so that you'll be in a better physical state to be able to deal with mental strain. You can find guided breathing exercises via the Headspace app (not an ad, I know a lot of people who use this that recommend it). I have also laid out a basic grounding exercise below for you to try:
Grounding exercises work by reconnecting you to your body when your mind is running away with thoughts or you are feeling disassociating. Start from the top of this list and work your way down. Really focus on each thing you are noticing for a few seconds i.e. for something you can see, also notice the texture, really drill into the detail for a moment or two before moving onto the next one. Make sure each bit has your undivided attention.
Find (and focus on):
5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
2. Relieve Stress & Increase Compassion (Emotional Self Care)
Think about it this way... If a child was poorly, you would not put pressure on them to get up and go about their day when they are barely able to stand. That is cruel, unnecessary and may even cause the child to get even more sick. What you are doing to yourself is no different. Beating yourself up for not being able to get up will make you feel worse, so repeat after me:
"It's okay if I take a break"
"My mental is just as important as [that thing that you think you should be doing right now]"
"I am allowed to take time to myself"
"I need rest right now, and that's nothing be ashamed of"
I also want you to give yourself a pat on the back for trying! So many people don't realise the energy it takes just to exist on days this bad, and that deserves some recognition! I'm proud of you for simply trying, and you should be too.
If you have saved this blog as a means to try and make yourself feel better, so that it is ready for when a bad day arises or are having a bad day right now, then that means that you are trying to get out of this rut. That is a huge deal because it means that you haven't given up and know deep down that you can get better and that you need to look after yourself, even if depression brain is being a dick.
Recognise your efforts, however small, and keep trying.
Self-reassurance goes along way, and by practicing this on your worst days you will become more resilient over time. This is a step to changing how you speak to yourself and altering the voice in your head to a more positive one.
Eventually you will be able to look back and see that all these small efforts will have added up to a big change.
3. Seek A Connection (Social Self Care)
When bad days come knocking, often times the thing we want to do most is cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, but despite how much you feel you are doing everyone around you a favour this type of self-sacrificing behaviour will only do more harm than good. The people in your life who care about you will, given the chance, help you get through.
Talk to someone, you don't need to suffer alone. As much as you feel you are protecting others from "your bad side", suffering through it all alone will only make you worse in the long run and have a more intense impact on those you love. Cutting yourself off from your support network is what your depression wants you to do... without others to help you, depression has you all to itself.
I know, letting someone in is not easy. Baby steps are the key here. You don't have to speak to someone face to face; you could call, text, or message someone. As long as you are connecting with someone else it doesn't matter how you do it.
You could contact a friend (in real life or online), a family member, or a trusted colleague. Preferably someone you feel comfortable with and who you trust.
If you can't open up about what's getting to you, then just let them know you aren't feeling too good and could use the company. If you can't tell this person that you are feeling down at all, that's okay, just chat to them about anything. It's better to be chatting about something unrelated than to be (and feel) completely alone.
Trust and feeling comfortable with others takes time to build, as well as the skills to communicate how you feel, so go steady and take your time.
If you do not feeling comfortable talking to someone you know, then some find it helpful to talk to stranger. It's especially helpful if that stranger is trained, like the people at Samaritans, in helping those who are struggling. You can call or email them, whichever suits you most.
Finally, speaking to a GP can start a recovery process that, given time, will lead to a much better quality of life. If you feel able to do so, call them up and arrange for an appointment a few days or a week from then, to give yourself enough time to work on your mood enough to get yourself up and out. Some GP's also do home visits in cases where someone is unable to leave the house. If you are struggling then please seek the support, you are worth the effort.
4. Nurture Yourself (Spiritual Self Care)
Despite its name, spiritual self care doesn't have to be religious. It mainly serves to nurture your soul and/or enable you to think bigger than yourself. There are many different ways of doing this but here are just a few ideas.
Turning your bed into a "safe space" can help ease negative emotions and give an overall sense of reassurance. When we are stuck in our beds we often tend to think of the bed as an anchor, a thing that is holding us down to it, rather than a place that can promote healing. Yes, the end goal is to get OUT of bed, but if the time spent in it does not help you feel better then you'll go round in circles. Think of your bed as a charger and you are the battery, give yourself time to recharge in a space that is keeping you warm and safe. Your bed is a place free of judgement or hardship, so try to see it as the vessel carrying you, rather than the anchor.
Give yourself time for self reflection, particularly reflecting on what is going through your mind. This takes practise because the aim of this is NOT to scrutinise every mistake you've ever made that has led you to where you are now, or to beat yourself up further (which is something depression brain does very well). Self reflection should be objective, analytical and fair. For example, you sit with your emotions and notice what you are feeling, whether that be sadness, hurt, shame etc. and then try to pinpoint where this feeling is stemming from. This in turn allows you to reflect on that stem, analyse the root of the feeling, and rationalise the situation fairly.
Please Note: Learning how to unravel your thoughts safely is an invaluable skill and ideally should be aided by a professional councillor.
Now I know I said that spiritual self care doesn't have to be religious, but if you are that way inclined then engaging in prayer may bring you comfort. Sometimes the idea hat someone or something is out there looking after you can be enough to spur you forward.
Finally, mindfulness meditations get you to focus your attention on your breathing, rather than on your conscious thoughts. Focusing on breathing and muscle tension reconnects your body with your mind and shows you how powerful your mind can be (and how to control both your mind and your body). A good mindfulness meditation can be found here (again, not an ad).
Please Note: Mindfulness may not be suitable for those who have experienced physical trauma due to the practise of drawing attention to your body.
5. Turn Your Brain Against Itself (Intellectual/Personal Self Care)
This type of self care requires you to use your rational brain to help tackle your depression brain. It is very much a matter of whose will is strongest and, believe it or not, even on your worst days your rational brain will always have a fighting chance if you support it.
Rather than focus on what you cannot do right now, such as getting out of bed and general existing, train yourself to focus on what your body and mind need instead. This takes pressure off you to "do the thing" and works out why you are unable to do it in the first place. It's a way to self diagnose what you are lacking and therefore what will help you the most.
Ask yourself questions about your current state and give yourself honest answers;
"Have you been eating okay?" - nutrition and overall health greatly effect your mental state.
"Have you been sleeping okay?" - you could be burnt out or exhausted.
"Is there anything on your mind right now?" - does something in your life require attention that you are not giving it? Or is there something you are avoiding?
"Has there been a triggering event or stress that's affected you?" - Identifying triggers is a sure-fire way of protecting yourself against them in the future, whilst stress weakens the immune systems which can effect both your mental and physical health.
Giving yourself honest answers to these questions can help rationalise your situation and help you work out what will make the biggest impact to your healing. As much as your brain might be telling you otherwise, you are worthy of that healing and support, from others and from yourself.
Another logical way of treating your bad day is by preparing for it in advanced by setting up an action plan and establishing a support network. Write down things that you know work (and even things to avoid) so that when the depression and brain fog strikes you have a reminder of what will help. It's also a good idea to give this to someone that you trust and build up a network of people that you can rely on to help you when you need it most.
6. Environment & Surroundings (Sensory Self Care)
Just like personal and spiritual self care look inwards, sensory self care looks outside of the body at what is happening in the world around us and how this is affecting our mental wellbeing.
A lot of the things in this section may not be applicable right now for you, it depends what your current environment is like. The idea of sensory self care is to get rid of anything that could be causing you unnecessary stress or sensory overload.
For example, you could be lying on a bed with scratchy sheets, you may be able to hear the traffic from the road or building works down the street. You could be in a room where the light source is too bright and blinding whilst you can smell something somewhere that is unpleasant.
All of these aspects build up to create an environment that increases stress and tension. Removing these aspects of your unpleasant environment will have a dramatic effect on your wellbeing overall. Ever feel much better after you clean your bedroom? Ever get that sense of achievement that you have completed a huge task? Ever have that feeling of a weight being lifted off your shoulders?
Of course that could be easier said than done. I understand that one's environment is not always something that can be changed instantly, especially if you cannot get out of bed. This is a branch of self care that can be implemented when you are having a better day, again in preparation for potentially shitty days ahead. This way you can participate in sensory self care on your bad days, because all the work has been done ahead of time.
For future bad days focus on each of your senses;
- String up fairy or Christmas lights above your bedhead, whichever you find prettiest.
- Install mood lighting using colour changing lightbulbs that can be controlled via your phone.
- Put up black out blinds to control how much light is coming into your space.
- Noise cancelling headphones for roadworks.
- Earplugs for those noisy neighbours.
- Calming music. Whether that be classical, folk, punk or whale song! Listen to whatever it is you find soothing.
- White noise which you can play on YouTube or through a dedicated white noise machine.
- Scented candles/incense that you can keep on your bedside counter
- Spritz your favourite perfume... you may feel like shit but at least you won't smell like it!
- Clean out any old food or rubbish from your space.
- Grab some plug in air fresheners
- It can help to invest, if you can, in a weighted blanket. The extra weight can be very comforting because it feels like you are receiving a hug.
- Some super soft bedding and comfortable pyjamas. This way at least you're comfortable and still treating your body with kindness on darker days.
- Keep a head or roller massager in your top draw. This also helps with relaxing your body for physical self care.
- Keep your favourite sweets or mints in your bedside draw, something that isn't perishable.
For those of you that have made it this far... I'm very sorry. Firstly for the long ass post you just endured, but secondly because you must have really been through it in order to read every last bit of this blog in the hopes of finding something that will help.
I can only hope that you are able to take away something from this post that does indeed provide some form of comfort. Please try as much as you can and don't give up! Brighter days will come because the more you fight this beast, the stronger you will get.
If you are in need of urgent help, please use the resources below Samaritans Helpine - https://www.samaritans.org/
Mental Health Foundation - https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/getting-help
NHS information regarding general mental health - https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/
NHS information regarding access to urgent help - https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/get-urgent-help-for-mental-health/
Mental health advice tailored for men - https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/get-help/
Mind Charity - https://www.mind.org.uk/need-urgent-help/
How Mental list of apps and online resources - https://www.howmental.com/resources
Rethink Mental Illness - https://www.rethink.org/aboutus/what-we-do/advice-and-information-service/get-help-now/
Alcoholics Anonymous - https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/
If you feel you are in immediate danger, please go to A&E.