Staying Ahead of Depression


So these past several weeks I’ve been working at least twice the number of hours as I normally should. Not only are we short a few people, but it is one of our busiest times with Back to College business. These past two weeks, I worked 40+ hours and it will likely happen again the next two weeks. Why do I say all of this? Well, as someone with major depression, it can have a HUGE impact on how I rebound.

The above image is one way to describe the limits of physical and emotional energy of someone with a mental illness. Essentially, we have fewer ‘spoons’ to get us through the day. Where we may have only 20 ‘spoons’ the average person may have 40-50 ‘spoons.’

Another way I have described it is in terms of recovery time. The average person can work a 40 hour work week, stay busy all evening and get approximately six to seven hours of sleep at night. Then, on the weekend, run and go with all kinds of activities and maybe get an extra hour or two of sleep. They can keep this pattern up week after week without any major consequences. This is NOT the case for someone with a chronic illness.

For me personally, it doesn’t work quite like that. When I worked full-time, my evenings were anything but busy. I would get home and only had energy enough to fix a quick dinner…usually something frozen…and then spend the rest of the evening on the computer and watching television. If I had to be social on a particular evening, it took extra energy to get through till I was home again. Because I was always carrying a mild depression and some insomnia, it generally took me at least an hour or more to fall asleep.

When the weekend came, that was my catch up time for sleep. I rarely cleaned except for the needed laundry and an occasional vacuuming. Dishes and bathroom were cleaned, but not very often. As Monday grew closer, instead of feeling rested and ready for the new week, I felt anxious and dreaded having to get up in the morning. Overtime, I was ‘behind’ on my recovery and my depression would deepen. Not only that, I had essentially no outside activities and really did not spend time with my niece and nephew like I had hoped. I just did not have the emotional energy to do anything but what was absolutely necessary…and even then I wasn’t always able to keep up.

I’ve since figured out a general equation that works for me. For every four/five hours of work I need at least eight hours of down time to recover. This does not include sleep time. I’ve learned I need at least nine hours of sleep on a regular basis. As long as I maintain 20/25 hours of work a week, I’m now able to also maintain outside activities. I know I will have to work more than 25 hours a week from time to time and that’s doable because I know it is only temporary.

To be honest, I am a little worried once this heavy work load is lessened because it has gone on for over a month. But, I have a plan in place of concrete tasks I can do to keep me from ‘crashing.’ In the past, because I was so close to a major depressive episode, I couldn’t even make a list of tasks I thought I would follow through on to keep me going. Now, though, I am ‘ahead’ of the depression and feel more optimistic that I’ll keep it at bay.

So here are my tasks which I feel are doable:

  • Since I know my tendency is to isolate, I have to remain committed to my Tuesday morning breakfast with the First Baptist Breakfast Babes.
  • I have to get myself out of the apartment on my days off.
  • I have to keep a cleaning schedule of more than just needed laundry.
  • I have to get myself to sit outside on my patio for at least 10 minutes a day.
  • And, one I didn’t have listed before…I have to get back to the gym.

Now that these are public, I feel more of an obligation to stick with these.

Remember, if you are going to make a similar list, make your goals reasonable and within reach. It’s better to be able to complete small tasks and have a feeling of success than to make a list of tasks which will be out of reach when you are depressed.