Back in 1997 I got kind of crazy for a while, and one day when I was on my way to work everything was so horrible and seemed so hopeless that I started crying on the bus, which is in itself an incredibly depressing experience: Nobody will look at you; they just pretend you don’t exist, except that they get very quiet and gloomy, which of course feels like your fault, one more thing to feel bad about.
The next morning I felt similarly awful and couldn’t face the prospect of that happening again. I wanted something to read to distract myself and grabbed a collection of Doonesbury cartoons. I was on the bus, choking back tears and fiercely concentrating on the book, when I came to a strip in which Duke awakens to find himself in a mental hospital. In one frame he’s in a straitjacket, straining up from the bed, bellowing, “BUT I’M NOT DERANGED!” and the orderly standing over him says calmly, “Then you shouldn’t be faking it. We need the bed.”
I started laughing hysterically on the bus (producing a reaction from fellow passengers oddly similar to when I was crying) and when I got to work, I enlarged that frame on the copier and hung it up over my desk. Ever since then, when I feel like I’m spiraling out of sanity, I tell myself sternly, “Quit faking it. They need the bed.” That puts things in perspective: I don’t need to be locked up, there are situations worse than this, and exaggerating my own situation is not helping me. Remembering that comic always gives me at least a tiny chuckle, and remembering how it changed my mood that time reminds me to be alert for the things that will pull me up this time.
If that particular tip doesn’t work for you, here are a couple more good ones from Erika Peterson Bartlog, who posted them in an online discussion (reprinted with permission):
You may think what I’m going to say sounds flip, but it has helped me during times of depression and has helped others I’ve suggested it to: Make your bed. Just like depression is an ever-growing spiral, so is action, so when you get up if you just make your bed (even if this isn’t something you’d usually do), you’ll have done two positive things:
- done something you said you were going to do
- made something nicer.
Once the bed is made, maybe you’ll be inspired to pick up some clothes, or clean something else. Or maybe not, but that’s ok–when you get the bed done, give yourself a pat on the back–don’t beat yourself up about the things undone; celebrate the things done, and hold on to that. Any time you start to feel useless that day, say to yourself, “but I DID make the bed.” You will be surprised how inspiring this simple thing can be. Every day or few, add another simple task.
Another thing that has often helped me when I started feeling depressed, was to just “go with it,” in a way. Respect the depressed feeling. Let it have its say instead of fighting against it and beating yourself up for feeling sad. There’s a huge pressure in our culture to be “happy,” I think, and I’m not sure that’s always appropriate — it’s ok to be bummed out when things aren’t how you want them. The key is to not let that paralyze you. Let the *feeling* be there without letting it make you think you’re a bad or inadequate.