It’s Sunday, 9.31am, and I’m on my yoga mat. I’m right in the middle of the room, surrounded by 49 other yoga addicts. Nothing unusual about that, except that I’m crying. In the quiet stillness of dozens of people intensely focusing on their breath I reach gingerly for my sweat towel. Hoping the teacher isn’t wondering why I need it already, thirty seconds into the class, I dab at my damp face.
A few hours later, I’m in a proper slump. Tears are pouring out of my red raw eyes and I can’t summon the energy to do anything at all but cry.
‘Show yourself some love,’ the websites say. ‘Get a manicure!’. Willing myself to get better, I get dressed and head for my local nail salon. I reach the end of my driveway when I stop. My legs are refusing to take me any further. I look around, see my car, and walk towards it, thinking vaguely that I’ll drive to the salon instead. In the car it is hot, almost unbearably hot. Yet my hands are refusing to switch on the engine, to get the air conditioning circulating. Droplets of sweat are prickling around my forehead and I can’t tell if it’s sweat or tears running down my cheeks now. I realise I’m not getting my nails done today.
In the darkness, protected by my duvet once again, I go back to my search results. ‘How to stop feeling down’. That’s what I found myself googling, again, today. It’s the same websites I end up on every time, clicking with hope that they will fix whatever this is I’m feeling. I leave frustrated every time.
‘When you’re not depressed, write down things that you love about your life,’ one says, ‘to cheer you up when you’re feeling down.’ Not much use when a waterfall has taken up residence under your eyelids.
‘Get enough sleep, eat healthy!’ others chime in. Again, no use right now.
Even the articles that offer suggestions of things to do right now aren’t helpful. Do the housework? Go for a run? Are you kidding me? My body feels like it’s in a vat of golden syrup and I can barely take three breaths in a row without hyperventilating and you think I’m going for a jog?
It’s my husband who helps me find my breath and put a stop to the puffy eyes this time. A hug, a cup of tea, and baking a cake together provides the emotional comfort blanket I need to step out of bed and leave the real blanket behind.
If I’ve been struggling to find the help-me-right-now resources I need in the middle of a sudden, short-term attack of the blues/anxiety/depression, I doubt I’m alone. So, what advice would I give to myself if it happens again? (Hint: it’s not any of these irritating things people with depression hear all the time.)
Here are my 8 steps for next time:
- Find your breath. Breath in for 1-2-3-4, pause, breath out for 1-2-3-4, pause. Keep going until your breath calms down.
- When you’ve found your breath, find your nearest family member or friend and ask for a hug.
- Found them? Good, now ask them to make you a cup of tea. All alone? Pop the kettle on and pour yourself a brew.
- Take the sting out of the attack by looking at cute, funny and wonderful things online. These are good go-to pages: 30 reasons to smile, 24 things to cheer you up and another 16 for good measure.
- Take some practical action by booking yourself into a yoga class – perhaps later today, or maybe tomorrow, depending on how you feel.
- Once you’ve done that, set an alarm and allow yourself to wallow for as long as you think you’ll need (up to a day – don’t worry about tomorrow right now, we can deal with tomorrow tomorrow). Jump in wholeheartedly. Binge watch Netflix and binge eat chocolate. Don’t beat yourself up about not being strong; accept this is what you need right now. Order a pizza.
- When the alarm goes off, stop. Get off the sofa or out of bed, put on some 90s pop and vacuum the house. Plan out your calendar for the next week with a good balance of protected alone time, social time, yoga time and cardio time (let’s get those endorphins pumping!)
- Schedule in check-in time in your diary. If you’re still feeling down in a week, book an appointment with your therapist.