Today I got the news that I can (finally!) begin to return to work. Only for very few hours a week, and a very phased return, but this is such a huge step and so exciting.
When I left work at the end of November, I never envisaged being off for so long. In all honesty, I was struggling to live day to day and couldn’t see as far as bedtime. I don’t remember a huge amount from that time. I remember trying my best to get as far as the living room chair each day. I vaguely remember one or two people coming round. I remember telling people that I couldn’t keep living this way. I know that I could crochet – the muscle memory in my hands carried me through. I couldn’t do much else. I struggled to speak or move.
There is no quick fix for depression. There’s no straight line of recovery. There are better moments, then better hours, then better days. I haven’t reached much more then better ‘couple of hours’ yet, but I hope that one day I will.
I thought it might be good to share some of the things that I’ve found helpful, in the hope that maybe it might help someone else.
Get out of bed daily, even just to move to the lounge
Bed is a wonderful, comfy, safe place. Unfortunately, unless you have an inbuilt toilet, kitchen and workstation, you have to leave it every now and again. I’m no stranger to getting up, going to the toilet, and getting back into bed, but it can be really helpful to try and get out of bed each day, even if it’s just for an hour or two. It takes a lot of energy, and can be really hard work but the longer you stay in bed, the harder it is to leave.
Washing can be good, even if you just use wet wipes
Something which slips almost straight away when depression winds you, is washing. It’s hard work, it’s tiring, it takes energy. You also don’t really care about yourself and washing would constitute caring. But the longer you go without washing, the more gross you feel and the more you look down on yourself. If you don’t feel up to getting in the bath or shower, wet wipes can be a good investment. If you are low on energy, you could also try getting in the shower and just sitting there, letting the water run over you.
Take your meds
Meds can be a real pain. They can come with horrible side effects, and missing a dose can have even worse effects. I’m now on quite a combination of things and I wish I wasn’t, but the reality is that they are what I need to function at this point. It can be a real mental battle to take your meds, but it’s important to try and keep up with them – there’s a reason that you’ve been prescribed them. When my depression is really bad, I don’t have the cognition to work out what I’m taking and when, but I’ve spoken to my chemist and they now count everything out for me into weekly dossette boxes so it’s one less thing to worry about. If you’re struggling to work out what you’re taking and what time to take them, it could be worth asking your chemist if they do a similar thing.
If you struggle to book appointments because you don’t feel like you’re worth it, ask the health professionals you see to book them for you
I really struggle to feel like I’m worth enough for appointments, or deserve them. If I’m left to my own devices it can take half a day and forty minutes of persuasion before I will even ring the surgery, so it helps to have the nurses and doctors there do it for me.
Try to stick to ‘normal’ bedtimes and wake times (even if you don’t get up straight away)
This one can be tricky, especially when insomnia strikes and you’re off work so have nothing to get up for, but it’s probably one of the more important ones, because once sleep goes out of a normal pattern, it’s hard to bring back. For me, sleep is one of my biggest triggers, so I have meds to help me, but everyone’s different – if you are struggling with sleep it could be worth mentioning it to your GP.
When you’re up to it, wash your hair
Having clean hair can make the whole world feel better, but it’s hard work. Personally, I always wash my hair at night so it can dry while I sleep and I don’t have to deal with it. Also, if I’m low on energy, I sometimes just wash it over the bath rather than having to go to the effort of getting in the shower. I set myself a target of washing my hair at least three times a week. Sometimes this feels impossible and doesn’t happen, but it’s a nice thing to aim for.
Change your clothes every day, even if it’s just from one set of PJs to another
Some days you won’t get dressed, and that’s okay, but it’s good to at least change your PJs because it can help to make you feel more clean, and help to make you feel ‘normal’.
Leave the house most days, once you’re up to it (not every day – occasional PJ days are probably essential for human survival)
When I first left work, there was no way I was leaving the house. But as time’s gone on, I’ve felt more able to go out, and now it’s really important that I try to leave the house most days. Leaving the house forces me to get dressed. Sometimes I literally just walk to the post office and back, but a little bit of fresh air can do the world of good.
Crying is okay, so is not crying
It’s okay to cry. Sometimes it’s necessary. At other times you can’t cry… your body just won’t let you, and that’s okay too. There’s no right or wrong way to have depression.
Try to keep your safe spaces clean and tidy (when you have the energy)
It’s hard to find the energy to clean and tidy but it can make everything feel so much better. You don’t have to properly spring clean everything, even lumping everything in one pile instead of it being all over the floor can make it easier to breath. It’s really hard to keep a whole house/flat/bungalow clean, so it can be good to have one room or space that you keep ‘safe’ or ‘clean’ and let the rest of your place do what it likes until you have the energy to sort it out.
Write or draw every morning
I have a notebook next to my bed with some colouring pencils and a normal pencil. Every morning I try to write/draw something before checking social media. Sometimes I have nothing to say or nothing in my head – but somehow stuff still comes out. I find it can be a good way of emptying my head, ready for the day ahead.
Stay in touch with work
My work have been amazing at staying in touch with me. It’s really, really helpful because it helps to ease the anxieties about going back. When I left work, I was unwell, I was unable to do my job, I was scared and very low… so thinking about going back was really scary. But work have stayed in touch with me, I’ve popped into the office a couple of times, and all of that has helped to prevent a huge anxiety wall from going up in my brain.
Crafternoons are wonderful things
I am ridiculously lucky to have some incredible, creative friends. Sometimes there’s nothing better than putting a giant plastic mat on the floor, pulling out some paints, popping something on TV, and putting the world to rights. It can be easier to talk about things when paint is involved, too.
Someone at the end of the phone can be worth more than they know
I have been known to come out of an appointment and text a friend saying ‘everything is awful and I want to die’. Everyone needs a friend who you can text that to, and who replies helping you come up with a plan. Sometimes all you need in that moment is to not feel alone.
Take a photo a day
I take a photo every day and post it on Project 365 and Instagram along with a sentence or two. I personally get a lot of support through this, but you don’t necessarily need to post them. It’s just a way to take five minutes out of life and do something a little bit creative every day.
Write, even if it makes no sense
I have word documents that I’ve written and not saved, others I’ve written, saved and never posted. I have a notebook that I sometimes write in, especially when I can’t sleep, it’s late at night, and I feel like the only person in the entire world. It doesn’t have to make any sense, it doesn’t have to go anywhere. Just write.
Find your paint
Painting (or art journaling in general) has made such a huge difference to me. Of course, not everyone will like paint… others will like music or sport or something. But find your paint, your escape from reality, and try and practice it most days.
Find your Blurt blogging
A few weeks ago, I picked up blogging for Blurt again. This has been amazing because I can do it from home, but it helps me to feel useful and have purpose. It’s also been really helpful in forcing myself to concentrate, and disciplining myself to work. Obviously not everyone can blog for Blurt, and a lot of people hate writing, but it might be good to find your Blurt blogging – something which you ‘have’ to do which gives you purpose (but who also understand if you really can’t do it).
All in all, depression is horrible, and there really isn’t an easy answer, but even when it feels hopeless and horrible, and you feel like you’ve tried everything you can think of and you’re doing your absolute best and nothing is getting better (believe me, I’ve been there, I’ve felt it, I still do feel it way more often than is ideal), even then, there is probably still one more thing you can try.
I’ll leave you with some wise words from Holby City, in the form of my art journal…