You’d think that feeling depressed would be an easy thing to identify, especially for someone who has been depressed in some form or another for almost her entire life. Pro tip: it’s not.
I can’t always recognize the feeling. So many of the things that make up my depression can be related to other things. Kind of like when you’re looking at a list of flu symptoms. You could have a fever, or nausea, or a sore throat, or any of that other shit for any other reason. It can be tough to figure out oh wait, yeah, this is the flu.
I could be tired because I work overnights. I could be bored because sometimes my life is boring. I could be disinterested in going to see my friends because most of them live far away and I just don’t feel like going on a weekend trip. I could be sad because something else is going on that sadness is a totally reasonable response to.
I can write off any of those feelings. But over time, it becomes harder to write off the physical ways in which my depression actually manifests, even if I don’t always notice them immediately. Case in point? When I woke up this morning, I was so excited that my bedhead combed down easily it took me a minute to realize that it was because I hadn’t been taking care of myself.
We talk a lot about self-care in our community. Actually, all of my communities. Sex-positive peeps, my psych buddies, medical coworkers… Self-care is a big deal. It’s one of those things that is just a given that you should do, but sometimes it can take a bit to figure out what counts as self-care and what doesn’t.
A lot of the advice that we see centers around doing things that will make you happy or give you time to reconnect with yourself and recenter. Treat yourself. Take a nap. Cook a nice meal. Read a book. Get one of those grown-up coloring books. Light some candles and masturbate like you love yourself. Indulge.
A great day of self-care for me looks a little bit like this: If I’m coming off a long stretch at work, I want a day to relax in my PJ’s and rekindle the long-standing romance I have with Netflix. I want to rest, to recuperate. I want to take a break from my phone and spend some quiet time alone. I want some kind of food-treat. I want to buy something that smells good or feels good.
It just so happens that most of the things I want when I’m craving self-care are things that my depression wants me to do, but to a massively unhelpful extreme.
I don’t always possess the self-awareness to recognize when what started out as some self-care couch time turns into my fourth day wearing the same sweatpants, or when trying to not spend so much time on my phone turns into not having spoken to some of my friends in months. It’s easy to ignore, or rationalize and justify away.
I have to ask myself some hard questions. Am I not cleaning today because I’m giving myself a break, or because I can’t bear the thought of doing something that requires me to be vertical? Am I buying this thing because it will benefit me in some way, or am I spending money I don’t really have because it makes me feel more in control of my life?
There’s only so much I can do about my depression, and I’ve done a lot of it already. I am at a place where, most of the time, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on it. Shit happens though, and (for me) keeping up with my depression is a lot like keeping up with any other kind of recovery. I’m not done. It takes maintenance. It takes knowing the signs, and trying not to ignore them. It means knowing how long to let myself sit in it before it’s time to get the fuck up while I still can.
So today, I took a shower. And I just wanted to tell someone.