This second installment of 36 took a while for me to write, but worry not, I'm still intent on finishing the series.
This next set of Important Things I've Learned focuses on depression. It's not going to be a comprehensive list by any means. I could rattle off a list of 1,036 things I've learned about dealing with depression if both of us had the time and if it wasn't so, well, depressing. But these six simple things have made quite a difference in my life, and I'm grateful to be learning them anew all the time.
7. Develop a toolbox of actions and thoughts that you can use to make yourself feel better. - I cannot emphasize the importance of putting together your own arsenal of things that will help keep the wolves at bay, or at least minimize their bite. These things will be very personal, because there is no one else like you. Just like the motley crew of triggers and fresh hells that can send you into a bad place for weeks at a time are inherently unique, so are the bright little lights that will lead you out of your sad cave again.
Driving around and listening to music is one of my favorite toolbox tools. It doesn't solve everything, but it's brought a lot of clarity and efortless joy to many of my days. I also have a very bad habit of extreme self-criticism and I've made a weapon against it that is like a hyperpower pep talk. Let's say I start thinking along the lines of, "god, I look like an awful hobo blob today." I'll recognize what I'm doing and counter-attack it with, "No way, stand up straight and laugh that shit off, because you look like the fucking hot business right now." I do that quickly and without thinking about it. Do I believe it? Maybe about 5%. But it's funny, just telling myself that I am okay tricks my brain into accepting that yeah, I'm okay. I may look like a nut walking to my car telling myself out loud, "You are awesome, you are SO damn awesome", but if that keeps my brain humming along for another day, it's more than worth it.
Just the knowledge that you have a few proven tools to work with can give you back some of that base level of calm and preparedness that depression has ripped mercilessly from us. Depression makes you your own worst enemy. Working on self-awareness, and translating that into little things you can do for yourself, makes you your own best friend.
8. Don't force yourself. - I used to make myself go to all sorts of events or make decisions about how I spend my time because I didn't want to upset other people. Not any more. I'm not advocating flaking out on your peeps all the time, but you are not doing anyone any favors if you drag yourself mentally kicking and screaming to something. Save that energy for things you seriously can't avoid, like dreadful work meetings or holidays where family members give you a lot of "good advice". Oh, Don't Force Yourelf also goes for leisure activities like books, movies, and music. I used to feel guilty for not reading books or for missing out on Tv shows everyone was talking about, but come on, fun things should not be forced.
9. Be thankful for your friendships and relationships. - You will not be able to do this alone. By "this" I mean dealing with depression, and going through life, and making it worth it. Because it all boils down to the people you love. They're the reason for everything. Don't let these connections lapse out of laziness. One of the greatest regrets that people have at the end of their lives is that they didn't maintain their friendships. I know it's all too easy to allow time, distance and "busy schedules" to separate us from our friends. I'm in danger of doing it all the time. It's something I really want to work on.
All the good people in your life will help you in endless ways, when you cannot help yourself, but that's not the main reason why we should nurture good relationships. It's because shared empathy is priceless and beautiful, and genuine happiness for other is one of the most absolutely human things we can feel.
10. Self-acceptance is the key to happiness, or at least to peace of mind. - There will always be people who don’t approve of what you do, and it will be (sometimes impossibly) hard not to take their opinions to heart. But in the end, what you need to worry about is being okay with yourself. People are happy in different ways, doing a million different things. Rush around like a maniac. Or sit quietly and don't think about anything. Either way, it's fine. Do whatever you want. I've got a long way to go where self-acceptance is concerned. I suspect most of us do. I've been surprised to find that the bit of self-acceptance I've achieved has brought me a generous amount of equanimity and a new way of seeing the world, including the realization that our most outspoken critics are not so happy themselves.
11. Go outside, at least for a little bit. - Now that I have the leeway to spend days burrowed indoors, I've really noticed that even a little bit of time in the open air can make a huge difference in my mood. Sometimes you just need to make the choice to get yourself together and remind yourself that there's a whole big world out there, and that you're a part of it.
12. You are not your thoughts and feelings. - Walt Whitman already said it: "I am large, I contain multitudes." Your emotions and the little fables that your busy mind concocts, they come and go, and thank goodness for that. Try to catch yourself thinking some time. It's the coolest, weirdest, and funniest thing. It really reminds you that we can approach things in so many ways, with so many facets of our lives. Sometimes your brain tells you that there's nothing out there worth going on for. Try to remember that's just a small part of you talking and there are other parts of you who would slap that hater in the face. There are multitudes of you who should not, and will not give that dumb liar the time of day. Don't cling to your thoughts and feelings because we are changing all the time and it's ridiculous to resist it. Keep your heart open, learn new things, and have ups and downs. Then let it all go.