Getting By

A good friend of mine asked for some tips the other day on dealing with minor depression. I'd mentioned managing mental illness a few years ago on my blog, and was happy that talking about that sort of stuff could be of use to someone I care about.

As I wrote an email in response, I realized the information might be of use to others. My friend is someone who's had a change in employment, is dealing with the usual stress of marriage and parenthood, had a significant change in income, and is susceptible the usual seasonal effects of shorter days and being less physically active in the winter.

Here's the basic recommendations I made, paraphrased to make them a little more general.

First of all, being depressed after having huge changes, new responsibilities, and a ton of stress enter your life is completely normal. Add on top of that everything from seasonal change to the
positive stress of having a baby in your life, and it's pretty much inevitable that, at some point, it's going to get to you. Acknowledging that you're feeling this way is a good first step, and it's
terrific that you've identified this and are comfortable enough to talk about it and want to change it.

Pick some easy wins, like setting aside time to get out of your usual routine. And you should get as much professional help as you're comfortable with. Honestly, it's very hard for most people to find a therapist that is a good fit, but i think it's good to at least get their feedback.

The other thing I'd really suggest is changing up the routines you're in, if you're able. Socialize more -- working at home or for yourself is really conducive to being depressed. Maybe set aside time each week to work with someone who does similar work, or see if you can find workspace that's shared with other people. If you work in an office, make sure to set aside time for more social aspects like brainstorming sessions or even (gasp!) meetings.

Alternately, if you're interested in doing something like volunteering, that's a good way to get involved with a group of people and regularly interact with people without being in a rut. It also can be a good chance to use your skills that might be underappreciated -- know how to code HTML Or play the piano? Teach someone else, and you'll both gain from it. Of course, these sorts of obligations might just feel like adding a new burden to your list, and if so, put them aside until you're ready.

I also think one of the best things you could do is make sure to exercise regularly. It's amazing what a huge positive impact that has. It almost doesn't matter what you do, whether it's biking or running or whatever, but regularly getting out there and getting moving has a tremendous positive impact. For me, even though it's not even exercise, having pets around to make sure I get up and go outside for a walk every day is like the best therapy around. I am not one of those fish people, but there are people that swear by having an aquarium around, too.

The last, most beneficial suggestion? Define some structure to your day. It's easy to get overwhelmed when work starts to pile up, or if your to-do list starts being dictated by everybody else's New Year's resolutions. Set appointments even for items that aren't meetings with other people, saying "every day from 1 to 2 is time for (certain task) and from 2 to 3, i do
(another task)". Otherwise, the free-floating anxiety of having too much time and too many responsibilities can really weigh on you. Get rid of the RSS reader, at least for a while, and cut back on the random undirected web surfing. And some of the GTD advice, like not checking your email as often, is really valuable too. If you set aside time for your important obligations, you won't get the backlog that can really exacerbate your stress.

The ideas above were off the top of my head; I'm far from an expert, and I am certainly no professional, but I know what works for me and my friends when life bogs you down. I think it's a shame that there are still people who feel a stigma about these kinds of things -- that seems a bit like being embarrassed about getting the flu. The truth is, I used to blog about these sorts of things, but I just don't talk about health issues in general on this site anymore. ("Hey, I've got acid reflux!") This just isn't that kind of blog. But I've never felt a stigma about the fact that I've dealt with depression.

Actually, as long as I'm rambling on about health issues, dealing with depression for me was a lot like having GERD:

  • I really would rather not talk about it with strangers
  • A lot of people have it a lot worse than I do
  • It's affected by my stress levels, diet, activity, and general wellness
  • Taking medication for a while helped me deal with it
  • If I remember to be mindful of it, I can easily manage it for the rest of my life

A final note: Amongst those who run web communities for a living, it's well known that the end-of-year holidays are "depression season". The shortest days of the year, combined with money stress, high-stakes relationship events, and the ineffable joy of spending quality time with family can prove to be just too much for a lot of people. Since a lot of people who read my site are very active online, I'm wanted to pass along information that might be useful.

Put simply, there are people out there who can help, no matter how depressed you are. You can find out general information at the National Institute for Mental Health website, or if you or someone you know is dealing with serious depression and you think they're in danger, in the US call 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE). In the UK, call 08457 90 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org. Here's hoping none of you ever need this information.

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