self-care for those who suck at it

Having lived with severe depression for about eight years, I can tell you a lot of things about the disease. It’s debilitating, it’s hopeless, yada yada yada. Chances are, you already know what depression makes you feel and do. Or, more accurately, what it doesn’t let you do. There have been times when I’ve gone days without showering, simply because the effort of getting up and standing for ten minutes seemed overwhelming.

I also have a very good friend who frequently has depressive episodes that keep her from eating properly, taking care of herself, and doing well in school. It is from my own experience I am sharing some tips about how to help a friend with depression, or help yourself. Depression makes you feel inhuman, and self-care can actually help to put you in a better mind frame. It won’t fix anything, but it will remind you that you are a living, breathing human who deserves some care.

This stuff seems stupidly simple to people who aren’t going through a mental illness, but it’s often the difference for me between a three-day episode and a two-week one.

  1. Shower

I cannot emphasize enough how much better I feel once I’ve showered. As I’ve already said, my episodes usually leave me without energy to feed myself, much less take care of my body. This is not something I can manage in the middle of an episode, though. It’s something I do towards the end to help pull me out of it. It’s very symbolic, washing away the past, starting new. You also just forget how nice it is to feel like a human being, with clean hair, shaved legs, and the scent of body wash on your skin.

With showering comes a lot of other self-care things, such as moisturizing your skin, maybe using a face mask. I’ve recently started using the L’Oreal Pure Clay masks, and they make me feel like I’m washing away all the shit from my episode. It’s just helpful to me to have a physical representation of my mental state.

Whenever my friend (let’s call her Allison) tells me she’s trying to yank herself out of an episode, I remind her to just go and take a shower. If it doesn’t help her actually feel better, it at least helps her present a solid face to the outside world. It’s bad enough your head doesn’t feel like it works, you don’t need the rest of the world to be asking you questions constantly about it.

  1. Environment

One of the other things I make sure to do when I’m towards the end of an episode and looking to shorten it as much as I can is fix up my environment. As unpleasant as this sounds, my room always ends up with a very stale smell after an episode, mostly because I keep my door and windows closed and rarely leave my room (also, the not-showering thing. So gross). A really easy thing I do for this problem is light some candles. If I can, I open the blinds to let some natural light in. Depression makes you feel like there’s no point to anything, but if you can manage to go through some of the motions, it’s almost like you trick your brain into following suit. Right now, my favorite candle is an older Bath & Bodyworks one from the fall (it’s not in season so it was on SALE. It’s the little things that get you excited). It smells glorious while not being too overwhelming, perfect for fake-airing out my room when windows seem like too much.

If I have any energy towards the end, I pick myself up and just clean up my room a little. It helps focus my brain when nothing else will. In case you don’t know, depression often puts a kind of filter over everything. It’s like when you’re tired and you can’t seem to think straight, except it’s all the time. When I’ve gotten some energy, I just try putting my clothes away, or taking dishes to the kitchen and cleaning them. I’ll throw some pictures of friends on the wall to make my room seem less like that of a mental patient in an asylum. You know, the normal things.

  1. Do something you enjoy in little pieces

For instance, I pick up one of my favorite books and just read a few pages. Reading has always been something of an escape for me, as well as for thousands of other people. There’s something so comforting about being between the pages of Harry Potter, where I know everything will work out in the end. Another favorite is The Night Circus, which I’ve definitely noticed before.

If I’m lucky, I’ll get completely absorbed in the story and be able to almost take myself out of my depression, even from fifteen minutes. It doesn’t last very long, but it’s a welcome relief from the nothingness.

Books have always been able to excite some kind of passion in me, whether it’s the nostalgia of Potter or the newness of other fantasy books.

It goes without saying that these things don’t work for me every time. Depression specifically makes you lose interest in the things you love, or things that normally make you feel better. And, I’ve noticed that the above really only work for me at the tail end of an episode. At the heart of it, depression knocks me on my ass and even reaching for a book is completely impossible.

That said, I try to do anything possible to make sure the episode doesn’t last too long. Luckily, my medication has been able to lessen the severity and length of episodes, but I still need a little help. That’s where this list comes in. It’s just some stuff that reminds me I’m a living person who, often, is able to enjoy things.