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My Routine for Taking Care of Myself During Periods of Depression

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I have had periods of depression every year of my life. They last from October to February. Most years weren’t horrible, until about 18 years ago, when my periods of depression became treatment-resistant. They have been as deep as can be every year since. Meds help lighten them some. ECT helped some too, although they’re still deeper than ever. Nothing has ever shortened them. Now I just have to sweat them out.

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The most important thing to me is being able to stay in my home. So I must be
“capable” of taking care of myself, whether that’s doing things myself or asking others to do things for me. I try to do as much as I can so I will be able to for as long as possible, only getting help when I need it.

The main premise behind my method is to make my life as easy as possible. That way I don’t get overwhelmed constantly. I have ways to get my chores caught up quickly when I do get overwhelmed. I also have distractions for the hard times, activities to get myself thinking and moving, with the ultimate goal of spending the energy I have doing the things I want.

My doctor says I should do at least one thing every day, so I pick a task for each day. If I am feeling well enough I will do a second one and so on. I pat myself on the back after every task I do while experiencing depression.

Here are some of the things I do to take care of myself when experiencing depression:

I buy food that is easy to cook or ready to eat, and not a mess, yet still good for me. I buy prepackaged salads, meat such as dinner sausages I can just pop in the oven. I like the steamer vegetables I can put in the microwave, and other frozen vegetables I can bake right on top of the meat. I buy sauces and toppings for all of that, and I buy better quality canned and frozen foods when I can afford them.

Since I’m mostly just baking, I may bake enough at once to not have to cook for a few days. If I do, that is a task for my day.

I keep my dishes to a minimum. Although I have a large collection of pans, utensils and electric cookers, I only own a couple sets of silverware, a couple plates and a bowl. That way I never get too far behind. There is never a big pile in the sink because I just don’t have that many dishes. I also use aluminum foil when cooking, so I don’t have to clean pans or at least they are really easy. Of course, I use paper and plastic for most meals. Doing a sink of dishes meets my task for the day.

I order my groceries for delivery. Not only does it save me from the difficulty of the store, but researching recipes and shopping at home is a fun activity.

The next hard thing for me is showering and self-care. Besides depression, I have sensory problems as well. Water running on my face is like people screaming in my face. Showers are just too much for me.

One thing I like to do is wash my body in the shower one day. Then wash my head on a different day. That way it’s not too much at once. A shower is considered a task for my day.

I use tar and lard based soaps. They get me really clean, really quickly. They are so good for my skin as they moisturize and remove dead skin. They are even better for my hair and beard. My favorite is pine tar. Coal tar is the most effective. Lard soaps are almost just as good as tar and come in a variety of scents.

I use wipes, dry shampoo and the no-rinse shampoo caps. That way I can do a quick touch-up or get my hair clean if I need to quickly. Between showers during a period of depression, they are a lifesaver when something unexpected comes up.

Every week or 10 days, I take a salt bath. I use a lot of salt and liquid soap. That makes the water heavy and soft like a weighted blanket. If it has been a while, I might throw in a tablespoon or two of degreasing dish soap.

While I’m soaking, I may eat dinner, enjoy a drink, read a book, listen to music, take a nap or burn some incense and/or candles. Creating a comfortable environment makes everything easier.

When I’m done, I stand up and quickly shower off. I am now deep down clean. All caught up with showers after a relaxing experience. It meets my task for the day.

Another way I make taking showers and baths easier is keeping some whites, sweatpants and shirts in baskets in the bathroom. Any comfort clothes will work. That way I don’t have to get any clothes out. They’re always right there for me when I step out of the shower.

When I need to wash those clothes, they’re right there by the washer and dryer. No folding, hanging or putting away. I toss them back in the baskets. It’s not as if anybody important is going to see me in them anyways. A load of laundry meets my task for the day.

To reduce laundry further, I pick a set of clothes to hang up by the door. It’s a pair of pants and shirt with my belt, wallet and keys in them — ready to go at a moment’s notice. I only use them for when somebody comes over or I go out somewhere. As soon as I’m done, I hang them back up. When I’ve worn them 12 hours total, I wash them and get a new set out. Although it could be a week, or two or three before I have worn them that long. That helps keep laundry down to an absolute minimum. I still have all my good clothes hung up for important outings.

Of course, the most work is cleaning the house and taking out the trash. Taking out a bag of trash a day is great for my daily task.

I do my best to not make messes. Most of the items I use daily, I keep by my recliner. If I have not used something in a few days or a week, it gets put up. When I do something, I get the stuff and do it at my recliner or the table. That way the only real mess is around my recliner. I may have tools or arts and crafts on the table. The rest of my house stays clean much longer. Cleaning around my recliner or the table counts as a task for the day.

Despite my efforts, I am very clumsy and make a lot of messes, no matter how hard I try. So I will get behind. That is when I have a cleaner come help me. I usually just ask them to get the trash out of the house, do the dishes, floors, clean the bathroom and a monthly or seasonal task like cleaning the fridge, the stove, the walls or the windows. That way it’s most cost-effective, and all the immediate things get done. My house stays fairly well-kept rotating between monthly things. Instantly, I’m all caught up!

I can have a cleaner come a couple times a month and stay on top of things, or if I know I’m going to be having people over.

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I also save up movies, TV shows and books for distractions when I’m having a hard time. New movies and shows are usually available for cheap or free by the time I watch them.

I find arts and craft ideas and journaling that are easy to do — nothing that I have to put thought into to get started. Simple coloring, puzzle, journaling and mental health workbooks to get my mind working. Small project kits or supplies are great to get my hands moving. They are a lot like groups at the hospital, without the hospital. I especially like ornaments kits, so I can put them on a shelf or a wall when I’m done, which helps me feel accomplished. It is not too much longer after my mind and hands are moving that my feet are moving too.

All of this helps me not get overwhelmed from chores and self-care. When I get behind, I can easily get caught up. I have distractions for when I’m not thinking well, and I have activities to help get me functioning. The only thing I have to do is be good to me.

I never think badly of myself for not finishing something, falling behind, not taking showers or any tasks. They’re still there waiting to be done and I can have somebody else help get me caught up if I need to.

I hope you find some of my ideas useful and that you get through your periods of depression more easily next time.

Getty image by nadia_bormotova

Originally published: July 3, 2020
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