I live with it. I deal with it. I suffer from it.
Coming out as having depression is difficult in a world which seems determined to slap a fake smile on all forms of human emotion. But – it’s a fundamental part of me, and over the years I have learnt not only to accept it but to be thankful for it.
It was last year while undertaking an intensive “women in leadership” program that I found the courage to “come out” and take ownership of what my depression does for me.
Depression comes at those times when you need to take a bit of time out from the harsh reality and bone-crushing boredom of life. It allows space for deep contemplation. It comes with deep, dark pain but also those moments of quiet where you truly know yourself.
This self-knowledge is freedom in a way. No longer encumbered by the need to please, depression opens up the possibility that perhaps we are good enough, just as we are, despite the sadness and maybe because of it. Through the act of existing, we are holding out against the pressures of conforming and against the expectations of a society that wants us to be compliant and “happy’. Depression is about as real as it gets; it’s certainly not pleasant but it does come with its own set of truths.
This is not an easy road. The constant tiredness and paper-thin barrier between you, your darkest places and the wider world can be overwhelming. It is natural to want to find ways to create distance between those feelings and actually feeling them. That’s what self-medicating is all about – whether your poison is alcohol, sugar, drugs or “stuff “- it’s all motivated by the same need to create distance between your pain and actually feeling it.
There are some amongst us who find depression to be a sink hole that they feel they can never escape from. If you’re one of those people, please tell someone about it. You can tell me about it if you like – get in touch and we’ll talk about it.
Please. It will pass… trust me it will.
Depression and Minimalism
Today on one the minimalism groups I follow on Facebook someone asked if others found dealing with depression difficult when aspiring to living a minimalist lifestyle. Without the buffer of “stuff” – it’s accumulation, the hunt for that one thing that will bring a moment of joy – we are left with just our emotional states and no distractions.
It is hard. There are behaviours and patterns that show up in the down times offering glimmers of relief. My personal favourites are junk food, booze and shopping. Yes, a shiny new TV or a bottle of “something” distracts you for a little while, but once the excitement wears off you’re left with debt and/or a nasty hangover, and more tears than you ever thought possible.
It takes great personal commitment to resist the false charms of consumption. It’s a choice that you have to make over and over, and one that is easier to make when you’re also feeling well.
There is a practical reality to all of this too. Depression makes the smallest acts of self care feel like insurmountable obstacles, let alone actually committing to the life you envisioned when you started on your minimalist path. Every bit of the consumption machine is geared towards offering relief from problems you didn’t know you had. That’s why marketing was invented!
Resistance takes effort, and effort is in short supply during depression season.
The real problem with consumption as a form of relief is that it never lasts longer than the initial serotonin rush. Marketers have a name for this too; post-purchase dissonance. The unease that we feel between the purchase decision and the thing itself just feeds the feelings that we were trying to avoid by consuming in the first place… It makes no sense to continue.
(Customer care was invented to ease post-purchase dissonance – there is no product that cares enough about you to check in on how you’re really feeling about anything!)
The familiar emptiness of a home filled with regretful purchases is something that characterised my depression cycle for years. Breaking the habit meant taking a real look at the why that sat behind the stuff. I thought I was taking care of myself, being good to myself when really I was burdening myself further.
It’s not only the debt that racks up a burden, but the stuff does too. It’s a reminder of your sadness, your lack of control, of the compromises you’ve made to just cope. Worse… you have to clean up after it! Housework is bad enough without all of that extra “stuff” getting in the way.
Each depression season I would accumulate and then cull – once the darkness subsided I would feel oppressed by “stuff” and clear it all out to make room for my life again. Because I do function better in a clear, sane, organised space – and if you’re thinking about minimalism chances are you do too.
The shift has been in adopting a mindset that depression is a temporary but necessary part of my life. It serves a purpose – and over time it has become a reliable way for me figure out who and what really matters to me. It also lets me reflect – and this is best done without distractions.
REALLY Practical Advice
So – if you get depressed and you’re also trying to be a minimalist – here are some super practical things you can do. These things work for me and they’re how I cope during “the season”:
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Seriously. Dealing with depression and trying to show up for life (work/ family/ relationships/ study etc) is really freaking hard. If you can keep going, even if it is on autopilot, it is really okay. Falling in a crying heap on the couch is also okay.
Take it one day at a time and celebrate the successes where you can.
Reverse engineer it. A classic productivity technique which I swear by is the Pomodoro. During depression season I change it up to 25 minutes rest/ 5 minutes work. The trick here is to just start – even for 5 minutes. Once you get going, and without the pressure of having to spend more than 5 minutes it is amazing how much you can get done – whether that’s housework, actual work or some other task or activity that you want to do like exercise (or even decluttering!).
Another tip is to take your shower of a night time. Getting out of bed in the morning is pretty harsh during the season, so take a bit of extra time with it. An evening shower also offers an opportunity for visualising your way into a better sleep by imagining the stresses and pains of the day washing off and down the plug-hole. Try it.
Embrace the uniform. One thing that trips me up during depression season is deciding what to wear each morning. In these times nothing feels right – leading to running late after 10 costume changes, late night online clothes shopping binges and of course more debt. Adopting a minimalist approach to the wardrobe means taking away the emotions of getting dressed on focusing on utility. As for weekends – go the path of least resistance and wear whatever is technically not pyjamas – even if they are pyjamas.
This approach also works for feeding yourself – during the season I have the same breakfast and lunch every day. I already know it has the balanced nutrition that I need, and I don’t waste time (or guilt) worrying about it or trying to tune into unreliable feelings of hunger or non-hunger.
Outsource it. During some of the worst times I’ve been unable to clean, cook, make financial decisions or remember to take medications etc. There is no shame in outsourcing these things – pay someone to clean your house, get pre-made dinners, set reminders on your devices to do things like pay bills, take medication or get to appointments. Use as many systems and conveniences as you need to minimise the number of decisions or responsibilities you need to take care of. Save your energy for healing yourself.
Another form of outsourcing is asking for help from your trusted circle of people – most of whom will just be relieved that you’re asking for help at all. You’re not alone in this – so let people who love you look after you.
Let go. So there is going to be a lot of guilt about how you’re letting everyone down. Newsflash – you are not letting anyone down. You are taking the time you need to rest, process and recover. It is not a selfish act to limit the amount of “up-time” you have, especially if your energy is much more finite than usual.
Depression is tricky like that – it’s often those who care too much, who burn too bright and who put everyone else’s needs first who suffer from it. Your “normal” is most likely everyone else’s “highly engaged”. Take a break. Name it and let it go.
I like to make an announcement when I’m having a rough day – that way we’re all on the same page and expectations about how much I can be there are softened. You don’t owe anyone an explanation either, but a quiet conversation with those around you helps them to understand why you’re subdued. It also helps when you need to take a mental health day – they are real and yes you should take them.
If you’re out there and struggling with depression and keeping up with the minimalist principles you are trying to instil in your life – I feel you.
It is hard to keep working on yourself and living the way you want to when depression turns up and sucks all of the life out of you. I have found that a simpler life with less things and less commitments has meant that I can weather the depression a little easier.
Remember – all you can do is take it one day at a time. Tomorrow can be better than today.
And – all of this is a process. So let it be.