Christy Tending

@christytending | contributor
Christy Tending is an activist, educator, writer, and host of the podcast Tending Your Life. She lives on occupied Ohlone territory (Oakland, CA) with her family. Sign up for her free self-care course at www.christytending.com/freecourse.
Community Voices

What to Know About Depression—Podcast

<p>What to Know About <a href="https://themighty.com/topic/depression/?label=Depression" class="tm-embed-link  tm-autolink health-map" data-id="5b23ce7600553f33fe991123" data-name="Depression" title="Depression" target="_blank">Depression</a>—Podcast</p>

Read This If Your Mental Health Makes Cooking a Struggle

As someone who has lived with chronic depression (and chronic pain) for most of my life, I can safely say the one thing that has supported my mental health in the last year is not what you’d expect. But first, a little backstory: Dinner has been my pandemic nemesis. I began to dread it. Not just cooking it, but figuring out what we would eat, shopping for the food, even eating it began to feel like a chore. After a year of pandemic and political upheaval, I am not alone in feeling exhausted. While dinner itself is probably not the thing that’s breaking me, the idea of having to come up with, shop for, make and then eat yet another dinner is enough to send me right over the edge. And yet, dinner shows up again anyway. Please note: With a 3-year-old, “not making dinner” isn’t really an option. Enter: Meal planning. As someone who always waited to feel inspired to decide what to make for dinner, it took me a long time to warm to the idea. But I have to admit, it’s made my life dramatically easier. 1. Meal-planning saves me bandwidth. I make a plan for dinners one month at a time, so I only really need to think about the planning part once a month, rather than trying to figure it out every, single day. Between work, parenting and everything happening in the world — on top of mental health and chronic pain challenges — I’ll admit I get overwhelmed. Some days, it’s a crush to get everything done. My mantra in those times is, “Let it be easy,” which is to say: Don’t force it and don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. That’s where the meal plan comes in. It saves me the daily decision-making that can be so exhausting with depression, and keeps me focused on following the directions from the plan. It keeps things simple so (at least) dinner doesn’t add to the overwhelm. 2. I don’t have to feel “inspired.” With depression, sometimes it’s not a matter of thinking about “what sounds good” for dinner. Because, honestly, nothing sounds good at times. I just want to crawl into bed and not eat at all. Meal planning doesn’t require me to feel excited about what I’m making. It doesn’t require a flash of brilliance or originality. I just need to make what’s on the plan. I keep the meals themselves fairly simple and low-lift, so if I have a low-energy day, I haven’t signed myself up for anything complex or difficult. 3. Meal-planning gives me structure, but I can still stay flexible. There are, of course, days when I simply cannot make the dinner. At that point, I throw out the plan (for the day) and either pull leftovers from the fridge, or call an audible and order takeout. I know the structure is there to support me on a daily basis, but it’s not written in stone. The meal plan is there to make my life easier, so if and when it doesn’t feel like it’s accomplishing that, I’m allowed to change the plan. But the next night, I’m not starting from scratch again: There is the plan. It’s like a safety net under my trapeze: It keeps things from crashing to the ground, but it has some give to it, too.

Chronic Pain and Mental Illness Makes It Hard to Trust Myself

My health makes things hard sometimes. With chronic pain, depression and anxiety , it can be hard to enjoy the things I love. It can be hard to get out of bed or move the way I wish I could. The combination of chronic pain and mental illness affects most parts of my life. It affects my relationships and my work. It makes simple things difficult and difficult things overwhelming, sometimes. My health makes it hard for me to predict the future and what I might (or might not) be up for doing. But the hardest thing is when my health makes it hard to trust myself. 1. I don’t know if I’m overreacting. Is the pain really this bad? Doesn’t everyone else feel like this? They seem to be managing just fine. 2. I don’t know if I’m being flaky or genuinely can’t do something. Am I genuinely depressed or am I just incredibly lazy? Is this fatigue or an excuse? 3. I’m not sure if what I’m feeling is real or something that only lives in my brain chemistry. It can be hard to tell if I really need rest and healing, or if it would make me feel better to get myself moving and get things done. It’s hard to trust because my brain chemistry is making things feel very different from what they are. I’ve learned not to rely on my inner narratives about external situations because they are often false. As it turns out, not all my friends hate me for that awkward thing I said at a party two years ago. In reality, I am not a gigantic failure simply because I received one rejection to something I really wanted. I’ve learned not to trust those stories my brain tells me. But when my brain and body tell me that everything hurts, that’s when things get tricky. Do I trust that or not? Do I rely on what I feel or not? How can I trust myself when my brain is always lying to me? Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy answer. Sometimes, I don’t trust myself and I call myself lazy (or worse) and I try to power through the way it looks like everyone else is powering through. Of course, when I try, I often stumble or fall apart completely. Or, I wreck my energy and collapse at the end of the day. I fall into burnout or overwhelm. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has given me a real sense of how we are all just barely managing. Take away some of those daily life pleasures and outlets for our rage, creativity, joy and connection, and we all start to fall apart. Pull one thread in this precarious safety net, and we all fall. For a year now, I have been witnessing extremely capable people completely lose their composure (and perhaps their “marbles”) in this legitimately, objectively stressful pandemic/election/economic collapse year. I don’t want this for them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy about this either. I am in deep grief for everything we have lost. Yet. It has, in a weird way, restored my trust in myself. I can now believe myself because I am seeing it reflected back to me in real-time by people who, by all accounts, are trustworthy narrators. Yes, being human can be so very difficult.

Chronic Pain and Mental Illness Makes It Hard to Trust Myself

My health makes things hard sometimes. With chronic pain, depression and anxiety , it can be hard to enjoy the things I love. It can be hard to get out of bed or move the way I wish I could. The combination of chronic pain and mental illness affects most parts of my life. It affects my relationships and my work. It makes simple things difficult and difficult things overwhelming, sometimes. My health makes it hard for me to predict the future and what I might (or might not) be up for doing. But the hardest thing is when my health makes it hard to trust myself. 1. I don’t know if I’m overreacting. Is the pain really this bad? Doesn’t everyone else feel like this? They seem to be managing just fine. 2. I don’t know if I’m being flaky or genuinely can’t do something. Am I genuinely depressed or am I just incredibly lazy? Is this fatigue or an excuse? 3. I’m not sure if what I’m feeling is real or something that only lives in my brain chemistry. It can be hard to tell if I really need rest and healing, or if it would make me feel better to get myself moving and get things done. It’s hard to trust because my brain chemistry is making things feel very different from what they are. I’ve learned not to rely on my inner narratives about external situations because they are often false. As it turns out, not all my friends hate me for that awkward thing I said at a party two years ago. In reality, I am not a gigantic failure simply because I received one rejection to something I really wanted. I’ve learned not to trust those stories my brain tells me. But when my brain and body tell me that everything hurts, that’s when things get tricky. Do I trust that or not? Do I rely on what I feel or not? How can I trust myself when my brain is always lying to me? Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy answer. Sometimes, I don’t trust myself and I call myself lazy (or worse) and I try to power through the way it looks like everyone else is powering through. Of course, when I try, I often stumble or fall apart completely. Or, I wreck my energy and collapse at the end of the day. I fall into burnout or overwhelm. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has given me a real sense of how we are all just barely managing. Take away some of those daily life pleasures and outlets for our rage, creativity, joy and connection, and we all start to fall apart. Pull one thread in this precarious safety net, and we all fall. For a year now, I have been witnessing extremely capable people completely lose their composure (and perhaps their “marbles”) in this legitimately, objectively stressful pandemic/election/economic collapse year. I don’t want this for them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy about this either. I am in deep grief for everything we have lost. Yet. It has, in a weird way, restored my trust in myself. I can now believe myself because I am seeing it reflected back to me in real-time by people who, by all accounts, are trustworthy narrators. Yes, being human can be so very difficult.

Chronic Pain and Mental Illness Makes It Hard to Trust Myself

My health makes things hard sometimes. With chronic pain, depression and anxiety , it can be hard to enjoy the things I love. It can be hard to get out of bed or move the way I wish I could. The combination of chronic pain and mental illness affects most parts of my life. It affects my relationships and my work. It makes simple things difficult and difficult things overwhelming, sometimes. My health makes it hard for me to predict the future and what I might (or might not) be up for doing. But the hardest thing is when my health makes it hard to trust myself. 1. I don’t know if I’m overreacting. Is the pain really this bad? Doesn’t everyone else feel like this? They seem to be managing just fine. 2. I don’t know if I’m being flaky or genuinely can’t do something. Am I genuinely depressed or am I just incredibly lazy? Is this fatigue or an excuse? 3. I’m not sure if what I’m feeling is real or something that only lives in my brain chemistry. It can be hard to tell if I really need rest and healing, or if it would make me feel better to get myself moving and get things done. It’s hard to trust because my brain chemistry is making things feel very different from what they are. I’ve learned not to rely on my inner narratives about external situations because they are often false. As it turns out, not all my friends hate me for that awkward thing I said at a party two years ago. In reality, I am not a gigantic failure simply because I received one rejection to something I really wanted. I’ve learned not to trust those stories my brain tells me. But when my brain and body tell me that everything hurts, that’s when things get tricky. Do I trust that or not? Do I rely on what I feel or not? How can I trust myself when my brain is always lying to me? Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy answer. Sometimes, I don’t trust myself and I call myself lazy (or worse) and I try to power through the way it looks like everyone else is powering through. Of course, when I try, I often stumble or fall apart completely. Or, I wreck my energy and collapse at the end of the day. I fall into burnout or overwhelm. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has given me a real sense of how we are all just barely managing. Take away some of those daily life pleasures and outlets for our rage, creativity, joy and connection, and we all start to fall apart. Pull one thread in this precarious safety net, and we all fall. For a year now, I have been witnessing extremely capable people completely lose their composure (and perhaps their “marbles”) in this legitimately, objectively stressful pandemic/election/economic collapse year. I don’t want this for them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy about this either. I am in deep grief for everything we have lost. Yet. It has, in a weird way, restored my trust in myself. I can now believe myself because I am seeing it reflected back to me in real-time by people who, by all accounts, are trustworthy narrators. Yes, being human can be so very difficult.

Totally Free Self-Care Ideas for Depression and Anxiety

One of the myths that I hate most about self-care is that it costs something. In reality, the most effective self-care doesn’t cost anything. I know that in the middle of the pandemic, especially, it can feel nice to treat yourself once in a while. But you don’t need to spend money on stuff you don’t really need just to make your self-care Instagram-worthy. In caring for depression , especially, it can be easy to be tempted to get that quick hit of serotonin that comes from pressing “add to cart.” The trouble is that it’s also easy to get hooked on that feeling. It doesn’t last long and before, you know it, you’re back for more. What I’ve found is that there are a few foundational self-care practices that actually deliver more support for my depression than any Target run ever could. As you’ll see, my self-care is much more about knowing myself than it is doing or having any one particular thing. 1. Sleep (and sleep hygiene). One of the hardest things about having depression is sometimes feeling like I’ll never have enough energy, no matter how much sleep I get. And ironically, having anxiety and depression make sleep all that more difficult to come by. (So, if you’re an insomniac with depression or anxiety , I have absolutely been in your shoes. It’s terrible.) That being said, I go to sleep ridiculously early. I also endeavor to turn off screens an hour before bed and to start powering down well ahead of when I want to actually sleep. By guarding my sleep over, well, most other things, I feel like I’m able to give myself the best shot possible at supporting myself even through depressive episodes. 2. Alone time. This is not about depression , per se, but about honoring my nature. At my core, I’m an introvert. That means that while I can enjoy people, they don’t recharge my batteries. Time to myself does that. By resourcing myself in the way that nourishes me most, I feel less overwhelmed and burned out. By allowing myself to have time alone to journal, process, marinate, daydream, nap, make art or snuggle my cats, I’m much more prepared and well-resourced to be out in the world and part of things. As someone who is sensitive to noise (and who also has a small child) I know that having dedicated quiet time to myself is essential to ward off those feelings of exhaustion (sensory, mental, emotional) that exacerbate my depression . 3. Understanding my rhythms. With depression , it’s not always easy to anticipate when I’ll have energy — and when I won’t — but there are some things I have learned. I know that I tend to do my best generative work in the morning, so I try not to schedule calls or appointments during that time. I try to reserve mornings for writing and other work that requires creativity and concentration. I know that the beginning of the week is usually more productive for me, so I schedule self-care, get-togethers, coworking and interviews later in the week. This also goes for the year as a whole. I like taking breaks in the summer when the weather is beautiful, and I tend to go inward and work on more internal or longer-term projects like writing when the weather is dreary in the winter. This isn’t a perfect system. By its nature, it’s always in flow. But acknowledging that my energy isn’t consistent day-or-day or month-to-month has been a source of grace in my life. 4. Eat meals. When I get myself into a depressive funk, it can be easy for me to revert to grazing all day. Snacking can feel satisfying temporarily, but sometimes I need to rally my strength to make an actual meal. Ideally, multiple food groups are represented and it contains vegetables. Then I sit down at my actual table and eat my meal while not staring at my phone. Maybe I even drink a glass of water. To someone who doesn’t have depression that just looks like… eating? But when I’m deep in my depression , it can take a lot of energy to decide not to just have yogurt for dinner. The fact is, a complete meal like this gives me so much more strength and energy that can help to break that depressive cycle. 5. Hot water. OK, so tea and epsom salts do cost money. But warmth and water are very nourishing for me, as someone whose constitution runs toward the dry and cool side of the spectrums. A cup of tea — or chai — is a nice treat when I’m feeling chilled, especially in the winter. And while I used to poke fun at the bubble bath brand of self-care, I now take a hot bath almost every night. Even just a hot shower in the morning can have a hugely positive impact on my mental well-being and help me to shake off the dullness I can feel sometimes. It’s not necessarily “invigorating” the way some people describe cold showers (which are not my cup of tea, no pun intended), but they suit my temperament and constitution. 6. Stop the comparison . Finally, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that not all social media is good for my mental health . I love social platforms as much as the next person (and definitely do say hi if you’re on Instagram or Twitter), but I have to be careful about who I follow and what I consume. Some people are perfectly lovely, but leave me feeling tired, unworthy and self-conscious. I’ve learned to embrace the mute and unfollow buttons as a way of honoring this important boundary for myself: I am allowed to choose to not feel like crap about myself on the Internet. I am allowed to consume the social media channels that make me feel great: cute animals, fun recipes, dear friends who root for me as much as I root for them and beautiful places (and ideas). It’s OK to make that choice for myself.

How 'Boring' Self-Care Days Help My Depression and Anxiety

I love a good bubble bath as much as the next person. I love my rituals: hot cups of tea in my favorite mugs, curled up under a soft blanket with a good book and a cat in my lap, soft music playing in the background. As a treat, I love getting massages. (Remember massages?!) Don’t get me wrong, all of these things feel really good. But I think there’s something missing from most conversations about self-care. Sometimes, the self-care acts that make the biggest impact on our well-being and joy can be pretty dull. Because it’s not about making our lives look a certain way. It’s really about creating the right feelings, even if it doesn’t look cool from the outside. When it comes to caring for my depression , anxiety and chronic pain (I have scoliosis ), my self-care is honestly kind of boring. For me, the self-care that’s most effective is not about buying a bunch of stuff or “treating myself.” It’s more about the everyday tasks — what I call “life maintenance” — that have the biggest impact on my wellbeing. To be clear: going to the post office is not sexy. Paying my bills, calling for doctor’s appointments and putting my laundry away (instead of letting it sit, clean, in the laundry bin for days on end) are not what most people consider feel-good activities. But about once a month, I take what I call a “self-care” day, and this is how I spend it: running errands, decluttering my house, repairing what needs to be repaired, and tackling all of those tasks that it’s so easy to put off or ignore for far too long. Sometimes, these days exhaust me. But getting things checked off my to-do list is deeply satisfying. It feels good to show up for myself — and my life — in this way. Lifting the burden of procrastination off my own shoulders is profoundly meaningful. Knowing that I don’t have to think about that pile of things in the corner (that I’ve needed to take to Goodwill for three months) anymore offers more bang for my buck, self-care-wise, than even the best massage. When I respect my rhythms, I can often find those little pockets of time when my energy is good, my pain is low, and I can stretch myself into clearing away some of those things I always say I’ll get to “someday.” Instead of feeling guilty for those times that I can’t seem to motivate myself to take action, I choose to celebrate the moments that I can do those things. To me, self-care isn’t about pampering myself. It’s not about doing (or having) things that are splashy or fancy. It’s about the real, day-to-day care of myself. As a woman in her 30s with a small child, I’m not looking for luxury vacations. I want self-care that has a real, tangible impact on my lived experience — not Instagram self-care, but self-care for my actual, imperfect life. My self-care might look a little bit boring, but that’s OK. This is an act, ultimately, of knowing myself so deeply that I know what will make an impact. Candles are great, but have you ever taken three grocery bags full of sensitive documents to be shredded? That’s where my thrill lies. Pedicures seem lovely, but nothing beats picking up my dry cleaning after three months of it being on my to-do list. One of the effects of depression , anxiety and chronic pain, for me, is avoidance . When I can break out of that, I feel incredibly proud of myself. It’s not a vigorous spin class, but the endorphin rush is the same. It’s not always easy to know when I’ll have the energy or motivation — with depression and chronic pain, things can feel unpredictable. But knowing that when I do have that energy, I’ll be able to show up for myself in this way is a beautiful feeling.

How 'Boring' Self-Care Days Help My Depression and Anxiety

I love a good bubble bath as much as the next person. I love my rituals: hot cups of tea in my favorite mugs, curled up under a soft blanket with a good book and a cat in my lap, soft music playing in the background. As a treat, I love getting massages. (Remember massages?!) Don’t get me wrong, all of these things feel really good. But I think there’s something missing from most conversations about self-care. Sometimes, the self-care acts that make the biggest impact on our well-being and joy can be pretty dull. Because it’s not about making our lives look a certain way. It’s really about creating the right feelings, even if it doesn’t look cool from the outside. When it comes to caring for my depression , anxiety and chronic pain (I have scoliosis ), my self-care is honestly kind of boring. For me, the self-care that’s most effective is not about buying a bunch of stuff or “treating myself.” It’s more about the everyday tasks — what I call “life maintenance” — that have the biggest impact on my wellbeing. To be clear: going to the post office is not sexy. Paying my bills, calling for doctor’s appointments and putting my laundry away (instead of letting it sit, clean, in the laundry bin for days on end) are not what most people consider feel-good activities. But about once a month, I take what I call a “self-care” day, and this is how I spend it: running errands, decluttering my house, repairing what needs to be repaired, and tackling all of those tasks that it’s so easy to put off or ignore for far too long. Sometimes, these days exhaust me. But getting things checked off my to-do list is deeply satisfying. It feels good to show up for myself — and my life — in this way. Lifting the burden of procrastination off my own shoulders is profoundly meaningful. Knowing that I don’t have to think about that pile of things in the corner (that I’ve needed to take to Goodwill for three months) anymore offers more bang for my buck, self-care-wise, than even the best massage. When I respect my rhythms, I can often find those little pockets of time when my energy is good, my pain is low, and I can stretch myself into clearing away some of those things I always say I’ll get to “someday.” Instead of feeling guilty for those times that I can’t seem to motivate myself to take action, I choose to celebrate the moments that I can do those things. To me, self-care isn’t about pampering myself. It’s not about doing (or having) things that are splashy or fancy. It’s about the real, day-to-day care of myself. As a woman in her 30s with a small child, I’m not looking for luxury vacations. I want self-care that has a real, tangible impact on my lived experience — not Instagram self-care, but self-care for my actual, imperfect life. My self-care might look a little bit boring, but that’s OK. This is an act, ultimately, of knowing myself so deeply that I know what will make an impact. Candles are great, but have you ever taken three grocery bags full of sensitive documents to be shredded? That’s where my thrill lies. Pedicures seem lovely, but nothing beats picking up my dry cleaning after three months of it being on my to-do list. One of the effects of depression , anxiety and chronic pain, for me, is avoidance . When I can break out of that, I feel incredibly proud of myself. It’s not a vigorous spin class, but the endorphin rush is the same. It’s not always easy to know when I’ll have the energy or motivation — with depression and chronic pain, things can feel unpredictable. But knowing that when I do have that energy, I’ll be able to show up for myself in this way is a beautiful feeling.

The Worst Thing Someone Said to Me About My Chronic Pain

At the last office job I had — before I realized I never wanted to work in an office again — I had a co-worker who (on the surface) was very similar to me. We were both into yoga and meditation. She was the mom of a young child; I wanted to be a mom. We both worked for the same environmental non-profit. One of the core differences between us was that I live with an invisible chronic pain condition. I’ve had scoliosis since I was 12. I now have some excellent strategies for managing the pain and supporting my body with what it needs, but I still have scoliosis. I always will. That being said, over the years, there have been days (or even weeks) that I’ve been stuck in bed with pain. I’m not in pain because of a moral failing or because I don’t do “enough” self-care or yoga or positive thinking or meditation. I do those things to support myself in the midst of my pain, not as a talisman against it. One day, I was explaining to my co-worker that I am between a four and seven on the pain scale pretty much every day, and there are days I’m in too much pain to get out of bed. This doesn’t feel like a dramatic revelation to me; this is just my life, and I’m mostly at peace with it at this point. She seemed shocked, though. “I just couldn’t live like that,” she finally exclaimed. I was stunned into silence. This is my life and, in fact, I live “like this” every day. I explained that it was something I was really experienced in. Then she lowered the real boom. “I don’t know how you’re going to have a kid if you’re like this,” she said. I might have actually staggered backward. What I know now is that people with chronic pain and disability often trouble abled people. We disturb the comfortable myth that they will always be abled. We shock them into the frightening notion that they may not always be abled. To me, my chronic pain is an important reminder of some essential truths. Impermanence comes for us all. Suffering is unavoidable. Would I have chosen this for myself, if I’d had the choice? I wouldn’t. And yet, I have learned to live like this. I did have a child (who is magnificent, by the way). I did not have to wait for life to be perfect in order to enjoy the one I have. Every day, I wake up and I am, in fact, alive. Even with the pain, my life is absolutely worth it. If the pain is less that day, I am exuberant, because I know I’ll be able to enjoy some of the things I love most. I can play with my child and we can go on adventures. If the pain is more that day, I am tender with myself. I try not to judge or berate myself, but to see the pain as evidence that I require more patience and compassion with myself. My son and I read books or make art or watch Mr. Rogers, propped up in bed. The pain isn’t a gift. But my life is. I live like this, and I am so very glad.