Depression in a Time of Covid
So, here’s where I am, so that’s super fun:
I know we’re all processing the shitstorm that seems to be the world right now in many different ways. We’re all grieving and angry and scared — quite frankly, traumatized — and most of us don’t know how to process how we’re feeling or have a handle on what we’re supposed to be doing (or not doing) right now.
I share my own experience, not as a martyred view of my life being so much harder because of depression, nor do I have any sort of inclination that I think others have it easier than I do. We’ve all got something. I witness that on Zoom calls with friends: all of our internal battles are amplified right now.
I want to share because depression gives me a certain lens through which I view a crisis, and I want to share that I’m worried about the conditions being pretty ripe right now for me (or anyone who suffers from anxiety or depression) to be severely triggered.
And I would say also that for anyone who doesn’t normally suffer from these mental illnesses, you may experience some symptoms under the added stress, and wonder what the hell is going on.
Maybe I’ll also share the punchline early: I don’t have any of this figured out. I probably have more questions than answers myself. What I can offer is a shared space and honesty, for whatever that’s worth. And, yes, a bit of self-healing, as writing has always been a connector for me, both to myself and to others.
There is no getting around that the entire world is experiencing something unprecedented. No amount of self-care is going to make that fact go away.
No number of articles (of the type I anyway have an issue with) spouting advice on how to be productive or grateful or calm is going to suddenly make us be okay with our sudden scenario of being home-bound and stressed with an enemy lurking at our doors that we can’t even see.
There isn’t a magical meditation or workout routine, or a fool-proof way to homeschool your kids, or work-from-home hack, or any guaranteed way to make people in your lives take this seriously and stay the fuck home.
There isn’t a switch to flip to make sure your little sister who is a nurse in a rural, under-resourced area doesn’t get sick and infect her two small children and husband, or other people she has to care for because she can’t get tested or stay home.
There isn’t a lock, like the kind they put on grocery carts, to prevent your elderly mother from going anywhere but a walk around the neighborhood.
There isn’t a force field to put around everyone to prevent them from coming into contact with each other.
There isn’t an equitable system in place to make sure the people who really need help, get help, and that it’s not dependent on being able to buy it.
There isn’t a way to stop the dopamine rush that comes from new information, scrolling through social media, consuming consuming consuming.
So, what IS there?
There is doing what I can. There is remembering who I am. There is slowing down and breathing and loving and empathy.
There are all the things that I need to manage my depression, multiplied in importance by about a million.
So perhaps, instead, my punchline is how depression has taught me — and maybe can teach you — about how to function in this crisis without losing all hope.
I have a checklist in my bedroom: Rx for Erin’s Brain. Here it is:
It’s not meant to be a to-do list. When I check things off every night, it’s a way of knowing I did small things to take care of myself. And it’s a way of catching any trends (didn’t check something for three days = prioritize that tomorrow).
On good days, it feels simplistic. Laughable, even.
But, on the bad days? A necessary way for me to motivate myself.
On the good days, I know these things make me feel like a human. So on the bad days, I can trust that I have a recipe and even if it feels like going through the motions, these are things that make me Erin.
A lot of it is creating movement. Depression loves a lump. It wants me to be a lump, it thrives with low energy, it wants me to forget I’m human.
So, perhaps now, this list can be an anchor in the storm of the pandemic, at a time we all need to be as human as possible, in the collective sense. Here’s how I think about these things.
- Meditate. Ten minutes, in the morning, while I’m waiting for the water to boil for the coffee, before I consume anything from the outside world. Checking in with myself before I check in with anything else.
- Outside. Sometimes this is paired with exercise, sometimes it’s a walk at lunch or when I get home, sometimes it’s time in the backyard. Breath fresh air. Experience nature.
- Exercise. Move my body. Most of the time, this is running. But not always. Yoga counts. Walking counts.
- Sleep. Not too little, not too much. And hopefully at more or less the same times every day. For me, eight to nine hours is the sweet spot. When I’m well-rested, that’s the amount of time I’ll sleep without an alarm. If I get less, it’s usually a function of not going to bed early enough to deal with an early morning alarm. If I get more, it’s a symptom of depression.
- Shower/hygiene and related…
- Real Clothes. Put some damn pants on. Take a shower. Do human hygienic things, like clipping my nails, plucking my eyebrows, shaving my… parts. This helps me remember I’m a person, not a lump in pajamas. Sure, it’s fun now and then to lounge around all day, but the idea is not to let it become a habit.
- Write/journal. Even if you’re “not a writer,” I’m pretty convinced that everyone can benefit from jotting a few notes down each day. But, right, this isn’t advice. What I meant to say is, if nothing else, I try to journal one page every night, and this includes writing down three things I’m grateful for. Sometimes I write some profound epiphany, sometimes I feel like I’m doing the “Dear Diary” kiddo shit a sixth-grader could do. Doesn’t matter. Note it doesn’t say, “good writing.”
- Music. This helps me make a boring project fun, helps me get out of my head, helps me set a mood if I’m not feeling it naturally. I have a lot of ambient playlists and I let Spotify and Amazon Prime do it all — that is, I’m no aficionado making my own themed playlists, but I’ll play around until I find one that perks me up or helps me focus (or both).
- Social. Yes, even for as introverted as I am, this is on the list. This can include text exchanges and work interactions, but does not count the quotidian exchanges with my partner. I tend to hermit, so putting this on the list helps me connect, even on a very minimal level.
- Drink water. Yes, sometimes this is hard.
- 0–2 alcohol. I can still handle my liquor, but the mental hangover the next day is almost worse than any physical hangover. Plus it’s inconsistent these days with the Lexapro.
- 1 chore/to-do. Usually, my trap is trying to put too much on my plate and then feel like I failed. But on bad days, I need to get out of my head long enough to do one thing: do dishes, sweep the floor, sort some mail.
- Touch. A hug, sex, cuddling. Also helps me remember I’m a human.
- Mood — am and pm. Pretty self-explanatory. Reminds me to check in and actually ask myself how I’m feeling.
- Other symptoms. Do I have anxiety-related IBS? Headache? Fatigue?
- Meds. Not a reminder to take them, but a reminder that they, too, are part of how I take care of myself and that I take them for a reason.
This list certainly isn’t the basis for an article titled, “16 ways to beat depression,” or “16 ways to win at self-quarantine.” There is no guarantee that my doing these 16 things will keep depression permanently at bay. I worry about it sneaking in all the time. I worry that it will take over, given that conditions are perfect for lump-like behavior.
I do know that in addition to worrying about the world ending and the virus spreading and politicians fucking everything up, we all need to be taking care of ourselves, in small ways that may seem trivial but add up to general self-care.
We all need to be as human as possible in order to remember that we’re part of a humanity that’s struggling right now.