The trauma experienced by people suffering from a period of mental illness is slowly becoming better understood. The stigma that previously surrounded being ‘down’ has started, ever so slightly, to dissipate, and there is a growing public recognition of the challenge faced by those who are ill. However, despite this nascent change in attitude and understanding, the way in which a mental health condition disrupts the life of a sufferer remains underappreciated. There is a greater collective proclivity to be compassionate, but this compassion does not necessarily extend into an understanding of the extent to which a period of mental illness rips up the fabric of one’s day-to-day life. The effects of a mental health condition, such as depression, are as practical as they are psychological. Small tasks become impossible, and the mundane but essential rhythms of sleeping, eating, cleaning, and working are thrown into disarray.
It is this side of the condition that those around a sufferer are less adept at recognising and assisting with. It’s easy to offer a kind word, but it’s socially much more difficult to take responsibility for someone’s weekly laundry! If you happen to be the person that’s ill then this can all feel a bit frustrating. Everyone’s trying to be nice, but things are still unraveling around you. The dishes are still unwashed, the credit card is still unpaid, emails are mounting up in your inbox, and you’ve now used the same pair of socks twice. Firstly, don’t beat yourself up. If you’re in the midst of a depression then your brain is fundamentally less able to deal with these tasks than it is when you’re well. It’s a natural, self-preservation technique to bury your head in the sand. When you’re being haunted by the negativity and self-doubt that plagues those who suffer from depression your socks don’t seem like much of a priority.
The first step is always to go and see your doctor, but, assuming you’ve already done that, the next thing is to set some achievable goals. Do this as soon as you feel able. Taking control of practical, manageable things will unpick some of the anxiety surrounding your illness and will help you to start rebuilding your routine. The goals don’t have to be herculean and they certainly don’t have to prove anything to anyone – they just have to help you to help yourself.
Here are some top tips to get you started:
- Prioritise you finances. Staying in the black is crucial to staying sane and out of debt. If you’ve let the bills mount up whilst you’ve been feeling unwell then try to make it a priority to deal with at least one each day. Alleviating any financial pressures will give you a bit of breathing room to think about everything else. If your spending has gone a bit wild whilst you’ve been down then try not to worry. Be honest and reach out to family or friends to see if they can help you out. It’s better to be in debt to your best mate than it is to the bank.
- Write a ‘to-do’ list. Despite our wizardry of our tech-heavy world, a good old fashioned list remains the most effective way of organising yourself. Sit down and think about all the things that you need to (cleaning, shopping, getting your hair done) and list them starting from the most to the least urgent. It’s really satisfying to tick off completed tasks and doing this will give you a way to visualise taking back control.
- Take a couple of days off work. If you’re depressed, or suffering from any mental health condition, then you are definitely ill and deserve time off to recover. Your doctor can provide you with a sick note for longer periods of absence, but if you just need a couple of days to reorganise yourself then ring HR and tell them you’re ill. Don’t feel any guilt about doing this. Two or three days at home, getting straight, will make you far less likely to take more time off in the future.
- Go from short to long term. Start by filling in all the administrative cracks that have appeared in your daily life, and then try to start thinking about your recovery with a longer term perspective. Once you have attended to all the little things that might have gone awry why not set yourself a bigger goal? This could be a fitness goal (like doing a park run or a 5k), a hobbies goal (like learning to play the piano or taking up quilt making), or a social goal (like joining a new club or trying to see of your friends in the next month).
Keep it simple and practical. Combating depression and other mental health conditions is about you controlling the illness, and not letting it control you. It’s as necessary to regain mastery over the weekly shop as it is over the inner-most workings of your mind.