Staying Ahead of Depression

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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.

 

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Some Days I Just Feel “BLAH”!

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Blah

For about a year now, when people have asked how I’m doing, I’ve been able to tell them, “I’ve never felt better!” That’s the honest truth. I don’t think I have EVER felt this “alive” emotionally. I am actually feeling and experiencing life instead of just going through the motions like I did for so many years.

When my therapist has asked me why I think this is the case, my answer has been, “steady work hours.” Once my boss finally had me working 20-25 hours a week for a consistent amount of time…about 5-6 months…I really felt my mood elevate and I became more engaged with life and the things going on around me. The medication helped, but that had not changed during those previous six months. The only thing that changed was that I finally had a steady work schedule at a level I could handle.

My boss even asked me around Christmas if I was okay with the number of hours I was getting. He had seen the difference in my overall demeanor. I thanked him for asking and said that they were perfect. So, for the most part, that’s where they have been since then. That’s one year of steady work hours…except for Christmas which always means a temporary increase in hours. During that time, my mood elevated to such a level for an extended period of time that I was able to discontinue one of my medications.

At the beginning of July, I cut my vacation a couple of days short because we had three or four staff put in their two weeks’ notice and I knew we would be short handed at Customer Service. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been working 30+ hours per week. Last week, I was at just over 31 hours. I am REALLY starting to feel the effects…more mentally, than physically.

By some miracle I ended up with a three-day weekend…that NEVER happens in retail unless you request it! I kept up a pretty good pace on Friday as I ran errands for Lafayette Transitional Housing Center as well as for myself. Saturday I cleaned a bit and took the obligatory day-off nap.

Sunday was a whole different story! It turned into a sleep-a-thon. I have not slept as much as I did in well over a year. I BARELY did one load of laundry and forced myself to vacuum just the living room area. Other than that, if I wasn’t blankly staring at the computer screen I was stretched out on the couch with my eyes closed. For most people, this would be fine…for someone with depression; it is a HUGE sign of what COULD come if it goes unchecked like it did so many times in the past.

I’ll admit; it has me in a mild worried mode. I’ve not been very successful at fighting off the depression in the past, but I’ve also never been this far removed from feeling depressed. That gives me some confidence that I’ll be able to keep it at bay. I just have to remain very conscious of it over the next several weeks.

Today on my lunch break, I made myself come up with specific, tangible things I could do to fight off the depression.

  • 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.

Now, as we head into Move-In Days for the freshmen at Purdue University, I’m scheduled 40 hours per week. I only have the schedule for the next two weeks, but I’m sure the week of Move-In will be more of the same. While I’m worried about the depression, I’m really more optimistic that I can hold the depression at bay if I stick to what I listed above…primarily, I cannot let myself isolate!

It’s alright to feel ‘blah’ from time to time…it’s only natural. It’s when that takes over and becomes how I feel most days that there needs to be some change in behavior to get back to feeling ‘good’ and ‘great.’

So, wish me well in this coming month of extra work hours. The next few posts may become more like a public journal than purposely educational. You’ll just have to bear with me until I can get back to more focused writing.