Managing depression and anxiety through quarantine
I rarely talk about my mental health issues. I’m sure that once I share this article, even some of the people I am closest to will be surprised to learn some of these things about me. But when I repeatedly saw Tweets and Facebook statuses by people voicing their concerns about being in quarantine with a pre-existing mental health illnesses, I decided that now was the time to start sharing.
I was first diagnosed with depression about six years ago, and have been on the “management” journey ever since. Once I was back to feeling myself, I started reading as much as I could about depression and anxiety to try and prepare myself for something that I knew I would be dealing with for the rest of my life. Since then, I have had my good times and bad times, just like everyone else. More recently I found myself in a “bad time” and it was then that I had my first panic attack. Luckily I had done enough research that when it happened I was able to guess at what was going on, and stay as calm as possible. I attribute most, if not all, of my “good times” to the knowledge that I’ve braced myself with in order to get through the bad times.
I, like many others, find that being outdoors and surrounding myself with people are two of the best ways to combat depression. Right now I am lucky enough to still have a job that I am going to, at least for a couple hours a day, but soon I know that I too will be 100% indoors for an extended and undetermined amount of time. And I am scared. The darkest times of my life have been spent confined alone at home, and I, like many others, don’t know how well I will be able to manage without having the option of leaving my home or seeing other people. The good news? I am doing everything that I can to be proactive. I made myself a list of things that I can do within my home to combat my depression and anxiety, and I have decided to share it in the hopes that it can help someone else in these uncertain times.
I tend to refer to my depressive thoughts as “spiraling.” It’s what happens when one negative thought leads to another, which leads to another , and so on, indefinitely. Recently, my therapist suggested that I keep a journal, and when I begin spiraling, start writing what that looks like. I began doing this, and found that when I wrote things out I could see my thoughts laid out like a map. It can be hurtful and difficult to read your own worst thoughts, but in my experience, I have been able to find a glitch — something that, when written down no longer seems right or accurate. It’s a chink in the chain of my spiral and helps me think “well, if this dark thought is incorrect, then there is nothing to justify the next thought” and so on. It also helps me to slow down my thoughts, so I can take time on them rather than jump from one to the next. For me, journaling during my darkest times lead to journaling all of the time, which lead to writing articles on Medium. Maybe it could lead you somewhere completely different? Start writing, and see where it leads you.
2. Making lists
Obviously, I started with the list that you are reading now. ✔
Have you ever heard “a grateful heart is a happy heart”? Right now there is a lot of focus on the things that we don’t have. Make a list (physically, pen and paper, old school) of all the things that you do have. Think of people in your life, hobbies, memories, freckles, small gifts you’ve received, literally anything in your life that brings you joy. Write it all down, keep that list, add to it as things come up, and re-read it over and over again. Right now, we all need to focus on the good.
One feeling that I have found leads to depressive thoughts in my life is helplessness. Currently, many of us are feeling unsure about the future, and unsure about what we can do that will help. Making lists is productive, and that can help combat the feeling of helplessness. Whether it’s a list of things you’d like to do at home, or things you want to do once you are able to go outside, or movies you want to watch, or jobs you’d like to apply for, or books you want to read, or projects you want to start, or WHATEVER. Start making lists and see what you come up with.
And when you are writing the first list of things that you have? Don’t forget to add your health. If you are healthy enough to write a list, that is something to be grateful for.
3. Finding A Mantra
This is the part of the article that, as I type, I keep thinking “I can’t believe I’m sharing this with the whole world!!” but here we go. When I was first diagnosed with depression, it was during the lowest point in my life. I will leave out the details, but I was staying in bed for days at a time, and my lack of motivation began costing me everything. I would sometimes put on the TV, or sometimes would do nothing for hours on end. To this day I don’t know what motivated me to read a book, but I believe that it was because I found comfort in re-reading my favorite book: The Great Gatsby. It remains my favorite because, though the story and characters all remain familiar, every time that I read it there is something new within the beauty of the language that sticks out to me. This particular time that I was reading it, it was a quote at the very end that stuck:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Now, you may read that and think it is horribly dark and depressing, and I can absolutely see why. However, at that point of my life, it was “the green light, the orgastic future” that stuck out to me. To me, it read “the green light: the promise of the future.” That day, I picked up my laptop, printed out a picture of a green light bulb, and taped it to my wall. The next day, when I woke up, I saw the green light bulb, thought “the promise of the future” and got out of bed. I’m not saying it was a miracle cure-all, things were still rough for me for a while after that day, but it got me out of bed and that was the first step to getting better. Three years later I got a green light bulb tattooed on my forearm, right where I can see it, so that every time I hit a low I look down and remember “the promise of the future.” Getting that tattoo is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Your mantra doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. It can be a line in a book that millions of other people would argue is a symbol for an unreachable goal (oops), or it can be something silly you heard when you were a kid, or it can be a lyric to a song no one else likes. Who cares? It’s not for anyone else, it’s for you. And if it speaks to you, that’s all that matters.
4. Starting a new hobby
Most artists are currently out of work, which means the number of online teachers has sky-rocketed. Whether it’s learning how to do yoga or taking an online workout class or learning a new skill like painting or sewing, the internet is currently blowing up with artists who are suddenly out of work and itching to share their craft with you. I found most of the tagged links just by searching for hashtags like #learntopaint or #learntodoyoga on Instagram. Plus, there’s always that drawer you’ve never organized, or that book you never got around to reading. You know that thing you always wanted to do but never thought you’d have time for? Now’s the time.
5. Watching Netflix
I KNOW I’m supposed to be “inspirational” and “encourage people to be productive” but this week has been the first time that I’ve sat in front of my TV for more than an hour at a time in MONTHS and ya know what? I’m not mad about it. Take time to watch Netflix. For a couple hours. Then get up and do something else on this list. Or on the list that you wrote! (please see #1)
6. Going over a stranger’s house for meaningless sex
This one is obviously a joke. However, I would imagine that some people read that and thought “Oh, sure.” We all have our toxic habits (think binge eating, drinking, drugs, etc.) that give us temporary comfort but only hurt us in the long run. We don’t know how long this quarantine will last. Why not use it to try and break some of those habits? Try starting with something small, like not biting your nails, and see where it grows from there. Right now may not be the best of times, but we can make changes now that will better our future.
The seeds we plant today will be the flowers that bloom tomorrow.
7. Learning more about mental health
Like I previously said, it was my (unprofessional, but still acquired) knowledge of mental health that helped me get through my first panic attack until I could seek professional help. Though knowledge is power, do not try to self-diagnose. Mental health is not “one-size-fits-all” and it is a very dangerous and slippery slope to read up on mental illnesses and think “that’s me, I must have that.” Researching does not mean that you are equipped to diagnose. Use your knowledge as tool to help you rationalize your thoughts until you are able to seek the advice of a trained professional. As The National Institute of Mental Health puts it:
“It is not the intention of NIMH to provide specific medical advice, but rather to provide users with information to better understand their health and their diagnosed disorders. Consult with a qualified health care provider for diagnosis, treatment, and answers to your personal questions.”
8. Get help
If you feel that your life is in danger, reach out for help. There are resources like the SAMSA National Helpline or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. I found a list on this website as well. Don’t take your beauty from the world.
If you are not currently in any danger, but you need to speak with someone, and you’d prefer to talk to someone you know? Try reaching out to the person who shared this article. Chances are that they are having some of these feelings too, and maybe the two of you can help each other.
This article was written about my own list of things to do to combat depression and anxiety, but I know that there are millions of other people going through the same things right now. If you have any ways that you plan to get through quarantine, or resources for people with mental illnesses, please share them in the comments. We’re all in this together.