Originally published at Am I the Only One Dancing?. Please leave any comments there.
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Depression doesn’t go away just because you don’t have the money or resources to treat it. This series is for those of us who are going through a depression, for whatever reason, and either don’t have insurance, don’t have adequate insurance, or don’t have local mental health facilities available to us.
If you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, thoughts that you even half take seriously, this is not an article for you. You need to get help right now from a professional. Call 911. Call a mental health hotline. Get help right now. Even if you can’t afford it.
If you’re still here, here’s what I’ve got to say on how to cope with depression when you don’t have access to mental health resources.
I once knew a man who suffered from severe major depression. It was my job to help him cope with that depression, and so of course I asked him how he managed. He looked at me for a long moment before answering me, then said. “Every single morning, no matter what, I put one foot on the floor.”
I wasn’t a green counselor when I heard these words, but they hit me fresh and new, in a way that a graduate education and a lot of continuing education credits, and discussions with colleagues, and all that other jazz didn’t. It was one simple concept that worked for him, that got him through the darkest days.
I listened for another reason. I have had my own issues with depression. In early adulthood I suffered several severe depressions and I still have bouts that I have to wrangle with on occasion (you can usually tell, because one of my coping mechanisms is to write about depression at those times). Like many others who have a lifelong tendency toward depression, I have found ways to cope so that for all but the worst bouts, I can go about my life, get out on the floor, and keep dancing.
Here’s a start: Put one foot on the floor. (I bet you knew I was going to say that).
(if the Abominable Snowman can do it, anyone can)
Every damned day, put one foot on the floor. Do one thing on your goal list. Despite the case of the ‘fuck-its’ that is overwhelming you and making you not care if you live or die.
To stave off the fuck-its (or eff-its, if you prefer):
Apply for one job. Or one financial support.
Do the dishes. Or the laundry.
Keep all your appointments, even if you don’t want to.
Make more appointments.
Get out of the house, even if you don’t want to.
..but that’s just a start. That’s just keeping moving so you don’t fall down. Treading water.
There are people in your life. Some of them will be helpful and some will be not helpful. Some of them you have responsibilities to, and other have responsibilities to you. If you have children, you have responsibilities to them. If you are unable to meet your responsibilities to them, if you need respite, seek out those who have responsibilities to you and ask for their help. If there is no one, find someone to trade time with, another parent of children who needs respite time.
This is still treading water.
When you’re at the fuck-it stage, the only thing to do is to give in or keep going. And you will give in if you think too big. Do just one thing.
Do just one thing.
When you are able, do another.
When you are able, do yet another.
Focus on those things you absolutely must do to keep functioning. Make compromises that keep the function with as little fuss as possible.
Let the kids play video games for the afternoon, but at bedtime ensure that all electronics are out of the bedrooms and tell them to stay in their rooms until morning. They’ll sleep. Really they will.
Eat cereal for dinner, or sandwiches, or something out of a can. Or let someone else cook for you, if you have that luxury.
Shower, change your clothes, and brush your teeth daily, even if you don’t want to.
Get out of bed, even if you don’t want to.
If you absolutely can’t cope with the responsibility of caring for another human being, ask a friend or relative to take the kids overnight, or encourage them to get invited to a friend’s house, or pass the duty off to your partner if you have one.
Take that nap you wanted to take. Have a good cry. And then, before that nap turns into another and another, put one foot on the floor, and do just one more thing.
Part two will begin helping you build coping mechanisms to make each depression shorter and less intense.
Can people with depression build happiness in their lives? Absolutely. They can even do so when there are no resources for professional help.
* Reading through this again after publication and criticism, I realize that in many ways this is a restatement of spoon theory. If you have never encountered spoon theory, you might want to go read about it. It is helpful in nearly every chronic disease situation).