Love, Life Stories

When you’re fighting off depression, give yourself credit for every personal victory

You got this, even if it doesn't feel like it yet.

The best show to watch when you’re depressed in the summer is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Its terrible nineties fashion and perfect sassy dialogue will propel you into a world that makes you feel like you’re living, when in fact you are in bed for hours, days, weeks, watching a show you’ve already seen. It gives you an artificial sense of movement when you don’t have the inertia to even make breakfast.

The best show to watch when you’re depressed in the winter is Gilmore Girls. Its cozy quirkiness will bring you into a world where all the problems are resolved within three episodes and everyone always has the perfect cultural reference on the tip of their tongue.

This year, to give you an idea of how bad my depression got, I watched all of Buffy twice, then Angel, Gilmore Girls, and Bunheads (which is just Gilmore Girls with dancing.) I moved home after three years living abroad, and the combination of living in my hometown and not having a plan triggered the worst depressive episode I’d had since I was a teenager. 

At first, I couldn’t do anything but watch television.

There’s a bit by comedian John Mulaney that perfectly sums it up. “Percentage-wise,” he explains, “it is 100% easier not to things than to do them… In terms of instant gratification, canceling plans is like heroin.”

Most people don’t talk about the heroin-like gratification of doing nothing when you’re depressed. That endless cycle of making goals, feeling unable to complete them, and letting yourself drift back into bed. It feels so good to let yourself off the hook. 

Until the next day, that is, when you still need to do what you said you’d do.

Most people’s advice when you’re depressed is “just do things!” But how do you follow through on goals when the option of canceling plans is always there, waiting for you like a drug? And how do you keep yourself going when you finally start following through, but you’re not feeling perfect and healed yet?

What worked for me (in addition to switching antidepressants and seeking professional help) was taking incremental steps and giving myself credit for any progress I made. At first, I couldn’t even make myself do laundry. But going to appointments every week gave me a tiny bit of inertia that allowed me to start making progress.

I started setting larger intentions, rather than goals. Instead of saying “meditate every day for ten minutes” my intention was “feel your feelings. Explore being kind to yourself without enabling self-destructive habits” (ie. watching an entire five season show in one week). Then, I wrote a list of tangible, measurable ways I could help myself accomplish these intentions. I already knew things like “meditate” and “go for walks” and “limit the amount of time you spend on the internet,” but looking at them as ways to help me achieve my larger intention rather than individual tasks helped me to actually do them.

Finally, I started writing all the things I’d done instead of all the things I should do. Sometimes the lists were as simple as “took medication” and “did laundry. Even when they weren’t big, scary important tasks, seeing them all together helped me create the inertia I needed to do more things

It took a year to get where I am now. When I started making progress on doing what I knew would help me, it didn’t make me feel good right away. I felt like I was working towards nothing like I might as well be staying in bed.

But I kept going anyway.

Lately, I wake up shocked every day to find myself able to complete tasks. I have a job, a social circle, a new apartment. I have more good days than bad. It’s almost as if the last year of struggling has been erased. 

Once you recover from depression, it’s easy to forget how you got there.

If you’re fighting depression, no matter how far you are into the process, you’re doing something when you could be doing nothing. Whether you’ve accomplished an important task you’ve been meaning to do, or just taken your medication as prescribed, you’re doing something. Give yourself as much credit as you can for those simple tasks. And don’t worry if you’re not there yet.

You got this, even if it doesn’t feel like it yet. Keep going.