Five More Tips for the Downcast
After I wrote last week’s post, Lift Up the Downcast, I thought of a few more things that are important to consider when trying to overcome a difficult time in your life.
- Go see your doctor. Get a physical to check for any physical problems, and talk to him or her about how you are doing. It is very common for an illness or untreated condition to affect every part of you, including your energy level and outlook on life in general. They will collect some labs to look for things like low iron, an out-of-whack thyroid, or abnormally high white cell count (indicates that your body is fighting an infection somewhere). The doctor should be able to work with you to identify ways for you to improve your physical health. This in turn will improve your mental/emotional/spiritual health, or at least give you the energy to keep working.
- Get some exercise. I know, the dreaded E-word. But I’m living proof that being more active will truly help you feel better. Last summer, I went to yoga classes and started jogging with our new dog. She needed the exercise, so she was built-in accountability. I just couldn’t ignore her pathetic whines for a morning walk! All in all, I felt, physically, really good through the summer and into the fall. I was in the best shape of my married life and all the activity helped me sleep well. All of this made it much easier to grieve well.
Then, October. It was the first anniversary of Ellie’s death, and at the same time, both my youngest and I caught a vicious flu. That began a series of illnesses in our family that, combined with an unusually bad winter, kept me indoors and away from the gym for six months. I have been quite amazed at how bad I feel when I don’t exercise. My sleep is poor, my energy levels is the pits, my ability to focus is shot, and my spirits have been so very low.
Now that the sun is coming up earlier (at least, until March 14 *grrrrr* when, thanks to the genius who invented daylight savings time, we have to turn our clocks forward. But. I’m. Not. Bitter.), snow doesn’t cover my running path, and the air is warmer, I hope to get back out with our dog again.
Exercise can be very simple and low-tech. Turn on one of those free PBS workout shows in the morning and start moving in the privacy of your own home. Or get a treadmill or stationary bike off Craig’s List. Take a walk. Find someone to go with you for accountability and good conversation.
If you want to try jogging, sign up for a race. Many worthy causes have fund-raising races all over the country. My first race raised money for women’s health, and I walked about half of it…but I finished! It’s amazing how motivating it is to have a goal like that to work towards. My husband and I are excited to participate in a 5K fundraiser for a wheelchair-accessible playground in our city. My goal is to run the whole thing, even if my pace is terrible!
- Do some homework if you are considering trying supplements and/or prescription medications. If you’ve tried everything else and you just can’t get over the hump, it might be worth trying a medication. Again, talk with your doctor about this. They will help you select the best things to try and often have non-prescription options as well. Taking a pill, whether it is an antidepressant or an herbal remedy, is not going to make you happy. These treatments are designed to help you climb out of a pit just enough to try some of these other suggestions, which are much better long-term solutions.
Be sure to ask your doctor and pharmacy about how various things interact. Tell them everything you are taking, including herbals and home remedies, because some things are very dangerous to combine. And if you think you need to change something because it isn’t working, don’t just stop cold-turkey! Call your doctor or pharmacist to see if you need to wean yourself off or if it is safe to just stop.
The best advice I was given about trying meds? Do only one thing at a time, and give it at least a month before changing anything. Otherwise you won’t know what helped and what didn’t.
- Find out what things push you over the edge and avoid them until you are stronger. I work part-time at the hospital where Ellie received treatment from 3 days old until her death. Going to work triggers memories. Many of those memories are good — we met some incredible people at the hospital. But it is exhausting, and often I’m blindsided by a memory or a flood of emotions at the most inopportune time. And there are certain aspects of my job that I simply cannot do right now. They are too painful and too emotionally-charged for me to handle professionally. I am so thankful for understanding coworkers and boss who are more than willing to adjust responsibilities so that I can avoid those things for now.
- Give yourself some cushion. As I’ve wrestled through this difficult winter, I realized that my weeks are so tightly-scheduled that I have no slack at all for bad days. But I’ve realized that bad days will come. You know the kind: it’s all you can do to get the kids fed, dressed, and to school, and when you finish that, you collapse on the couch for hours. Forget laundry, paying bills, washing dishes, cleaning house, grocery shopping. When that happens, I’ve realized that it’s time to remove some things and/or ask for help. In my case, we’ve decided to cut back my work schedule from two days per week to one day per week. If that doesn’t give me enough, we’ll consider something else.
I am no professional, so please don’t take these as the definitive truth on depression. I offer them up as ideas picked up along my own struggle in hopes that they encourage you to keep going, keep trying, and most importantly, get help.