Monday, 15 January 2018

Blue Monday (And How To Beat It!)

When I went to bed last night, I did so secure in the knowledge that I didn't have to start work until 1pm today, so I could have a lie-in, this morning.  This was, in itself, a case of me looking on the bright side, seeing as I loathe afternoon shifts, but I was determined to find a silver lining to the situation and, well, anyone who knows me, knows that I'm in a very serious, deeply committed relationship with my duvet...

And then the rain came.  Not in a metaphorical sense; this isn't a poetic way of saying I was suddenly hit by an emotional crisis.  No, I mean it very literally.  It started raining in the small hours of this morning and it woke me up.  Seeing as sleeping is one of my most favourite hobbies, I wasn't especially thrilled by this turn of events.  The term "like a bear with a sore head" pales into insignificance when compared to "like a sleepy short girl whose weird dreams have been unceremoniously interrupted by the weather."  Admittedly, it's not quite as catchy, but still.  Accurate.

So, I did what I usually do in these sorts of situations: I took to Twitter, to moan about it.

It was there that I discovered that today is apparently "Blue Monday" - supposedly the most depressing day of the year.  Yay...?

I could have used that fact to allow myself to moan excessively about my lack of sleep and to stomp around the house, looking for additional reasons to be mardy or sad.  But the gloomy fact is, I don't need a specific day in order to be stressed, anxious or depressed.  None of us do.  Depression can affect anyone, for any reason (or, indeed, seemingly without any reason at all) on literally any day.  That's the very nature of depression.  It doesn't wait, like some incredibly patient monster underneath your bed, for the one day a year it's allowed to leap out and roar in your face.  It'll do that whenever it likes.

And, of course, depression isn't necessarily a case of feeling blue.  Sometimes, you don't feel anything.  Not happy, not sad, not angry, just... Devoid of any emotion.  

But the good news is, there are ways to keep on top of your mental health, regardless of the date.  So, I thought I'd share a few of the ways I keep the monster under my bed at bay, whether it happens to be the most depressing day of the year or not.

This puppy is here because I Google image searched "monster under the bed" and genuinely scared myself.  Yes, I am a train wreck of a human.  So, anyway... Have a puppy, whilst I try to forget the many gifs of Pennywise from It I've just sifted through (I love that film, but now I have THE FEAR).

Talk To Someone.

Yep, the simplest answer is often the best one.

Depression can make you feel incredibly isolated from the rest of the world.  You can start thinking you're the only person who feels the way you do, or that you're not worth anything to anyone.  And I promise you, both of those thoughts are always wrong.

The first step towards getting yourself to a better mental place is finding someone you can trust - whether it's a family member, friend, partner or even your GP - and telling them how you feel.  Never, ever keep things to yourself, if you're feeling depressed or considering harming yourself in any way.  There are all sorts of ways to help you feel better, but it all starts with talking to someone.

If you really don't feel that you can talk to anyone in your family or friendship circle, you can call the Samaritans 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by using their free phone line: 116-123.

Sometimes, you'll discover that just talking your worries through with someone else, gives you a different perspective on things and helps ease the load.  Sometimes, it'll take more than that, but talking to someone will be the catalyst to you getting the further help you need.  So, never keep things inside.  Always find someone to talk to.

Take care of yourself and be "selfish" if you need to be.

You can't be there for everyone else, if you're not looking after yourself.  Sometimes, as much as you might want to say "yes" to helping out everyone who asks, or to attending everything you're invited to, you have to retreat into yourself and have a little "me-time."

I've put "selfish" in air-quotes with good reason: there is nothing selfish about realising that you need to put yourself first, for a while.  Whether that simply means having a quiet night in by yourself, enjoying a bubble bath and your favourite dinner, or whether it's a case of barricading yourself in your room and playing Mario Kart for three hours, whilst you ignore every text message you receive, so be it.  Do whatever it takes to make you feel less pressured and more in tune with yourself.

Remember that mental health and physical health are often closely linked; if you're looking after yourself in terms of getting enough sleep, eating properly, getting some kind of exercise (I find walking the dog helps!) and paying attention to any aches or pains, you're more likely to be in a better position to kick depression's butt when it arises.

Find something you love and indulge in it!

When you're really low, it can be hard to find much joy in anything.  That's why it's important to work out what makes you happiest when you're on an even keel, and keep doing whatever that is when you're down, too.

For me, it's singing.  There are few things that can't be solved by a good warbling session.  If I want to shake off a bad mood, I'll do a bit of YouTube karaoke and stick firmly to cheesy, upbeat tunes.  If I feel like I need to wallow for a while, I'll break out the Les Mis soundtrack and sing Eponine's parts.  Yes, I am that kind of musical theatre nerd...

Now that I sing in a group as well, I find that's even better for lifting me out of a grump; it's hard to feel sad, mad or otherwise blue, when there's a chorus of fab people, singing in harmony with you and all you can think is: "Blimey, we sound awesome!"

It doesn't matter what it is that makes you happy.  It might be dancing, binge-watching your favourite TV show, painting, baking or even extreme ironing, for all I care - just find what makes you smile, what makes you feel good inside, and do more of it when your mood starts to drop.  

Spend some time with friends.

Yes, you need to put yourself first and it's fine to turn down invitations and not put yourself under too much pressure to be sociable, but don't cut yourself off completely.  Spending time with people you care about - and, crucially, who care about you (even when you don't) - can be a fantastic medicine.  Sometimes, just making the effort to get out and have a cuppa with a mate can be the difference between a bad day and an actually-not-so-bad one.  Besides, depression can make you feel incredibly isolated, so it's always a good thing to remind yourself that there are people who want to spend time with you and who are there to listen to you, too.

Make some simple plans.

When life feels tough, it can be hard to consider the future, especially if uncertainty about your personal future is contributing to your depression in the first place.  But one way to stay on top of things is by taking control as much as you can.  Plan something - even something really small, like "tomorrow, I will make my bed" - and try hard to stick to it.  When you do stick to it, it's a small way of proving to yourself that you're still able to accomplish small goals.  You can eventually build up to bigger things, like a day out somewhere or even a trip away.  Don't rush yourself, but encourage yourself to have little things to do, so that you have something to aim for.

Having a simple plan for your day set in place is also a good way of ensuring you don't feel quite so out of control.  Depression can make you feel as though your whole life is out of your hands.  But making plans, however small, is a way to remind yourself that you still have some power to decide what happens during your day.

On good days, plan exciting things for the future.  I always find, even when I'm really down, that if I know I have a trip to the theatre or a dinner out with a friend planned, I want to stick to it, because I know it will cheer me up.  Having something to look forward to can be a really good way of keeping you going when things get you down.

Challenge yourself.

I don't mean you have to start setting yourself a goal to climb Mount Everest, when I say this (unless that's something you're really keen on doing...).  But when those negative thoughts start creeping into your head, challenge them.  

Depression makes it very easy to agree with self-hating thoughts.  You can easily decide "yep, I am unlovable, stupid and a total failure."  But instead of agreeing with the part of your subconscious that's making you feel that way, stand up to it.  Write down all the ways in which you're a good friend to people.  Make a list of the accomplishments you're most proud of.  Even if you're convinced you have nothing positive to say about yourself, you will find something, if you look hard enough.  

Remember it CAN and WILL get better.

There is always a positive way out of a negative situation, no matter how hard you sometimes have to look for it.  When you're feeling low, remember that it's probably not the first time you've felt that way and that you managed to shake it off before, so you know you can do it again.  If it is the first time you've ever experienced really serious depression, remember how you felt before it came on; you have been happy, excited, positive and calm before, and they are all emotions you can work towards finding again.

It might take time.  Sometimes, we have a bad day and then wake up the following morning, wondering why we made such a fuss.  Other times, we find that our dark mood lasts a lot longer.  But however long it takes, it can get better.  You just need to take care of yourself, reach out for support and work on getting yourself back on an even keel.

These are just the things that work for me.  You might have totally different ways of keeping the monster firmly under the bed.  But whatever works for you, keep at it.

And here's to a Monday that's distinctly un-blue.


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