Life Hacks For Staying Productive During Depression

Life Hacks for Staying Productive During Depression

“I found that with depression, one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone.” –Dwayne Johnson

Can you recall a time in your life when you were so crippled by depression that you weren’t able to focus on anything but your mental health? There was a time when I was so depressed and unable to do even the simplest of tasks. Sadly, this occurred right after the birth of my children, who are two years apart in age. It seemed as though everything was working against me. Some things I can distinctly remember are:

When Your Family Isn’t Equipped To Help

My mother, stepfather, and sister, lived an hour away from me. They were all pretty absorbed in their own problems. I remember feeling like a wallflower, an invisible entity when I was in their presence. My sister was a single mother at the time. She’d have my stepdad and my mom babysit for her while she pulled side jobs. She had many financial difficulties and often borrowed money from the family. They bickered about the money she owed them and complained about having to babysit so much.

I felt guilty for asking for help with money, but I did seek their advice when I was dealing with my abusive husband. They always told me to get away from him, but nothing more than hollow words to appease their own conscience. It took me years before I attained the wisdom to leave my husband.

I especially desired emotional support. I was too far away from the family members that were able to help us. The church and a domestic violence support group offered me the social support and knowledge I needed to take care of my kids on my own.

I Lacked Self-Worth

After my pregnancies, it was hard for me to lose weight. Here I was, in my early 30’s, mentally and emotionally exhausted from depression and anxiety. The constant chipping away of my soul continued for 4 years. My ex-husband took great delight in berating me when I weighed 160 lbs. He told me my stomach stuck out more than my chest, and he could get anybody he wanted, but nobody would want me ever!

I Lacked Mobility

When you are poor, it’s hard to keep up a car. There’s the car payment, the insurance, the car repairs, and of course, e-check. In Ohio, if you have an older car, you can forget about passing the e-check. In fact, I had to get a waiver because I paid money to correct the deficiencies, but it still failed. Luckily, the county I currently live in doesn’t require e-check! But the car I lease now would pass the emissions test.

When you have young kids, many people run the other way when they see you’re in need. After trying to unsuccessfully find a place to stay, I wanted to see if the kids and I could be part of the transitional housing for the homeless. There were several churches that participated in this project. The only catch was you had to move your family each week to another church “host”. I didn’t think that was a great idea for my family, given the fact we had been through so much already. Eventually, we were approved for an income-based apartment. Many people endearingly refer to these homes as the “projects.” It was the best option for us at the time, despite the fact that there was a lot of shady activities going on in the complex.

How did I ever manage to be productive when all this was going on in my life? Nothing fell into place quickly, unfortunately. It took years, but those difficult years helped me become disciplined, even when I was depressed.

Some things that worked to my benefit during my most difficult times?

Ask For A Flexible Schedule

My employer (NACS) was aware of my situation, to some extent, and allowed me to come into work after my son got on the bus in the morning, and after I took my daughter to the childcare center.

Have A Routine At Home

My kids and I followed a regular routine of when we ate dinner, played, and slept. Going to sleep on time, at the same time each day, helps your body maintain a regular rhythm.

Enjoy Low-Key Activities

When you feel the surge of anxiety or depression, it’s hard to be around large groups of people (especially, confident and happy people). While it’s not good to isolate yourself from people, many times they unwittingly cause more hurt than good. We used to go to the park when very few people were there. I took my kids to the “Book Mobile” to get videos, books, and puppets. The Book Mobile is essentially the local library contained on a bus that comes to your establishment (nursing homes, the “projects”, etc.).

Some other “low-key” ideas to get you out of the house, without throwing you into chaos when you are least likely to enjoy it, would include:

  • Walking around a quiet lake
  • Going to the movies during matinee
  • Stopping for some ice-cream
  • Fishing, boating, camping
  • Visiting a nature center

Write Lists

My ex-husband used to scoff at the fact that I was so mentally burned-out that I needed to write everything down. If I didn’t write down even the most minute task, my brain was too foggy to recall key information. Amid depression, domestic violence, unexpected “guests” showing up to “party” with my ex, and the weekly visits from the police, my mind wasn’t focused on the future. Instead, I was stuck in mere survival mode.

My family could not have moved beyond those ashes of despair, that bleak kind of existence, if it wasn’t for writing down to-do lists, tasks, resources, and even Bible verses on index cards.

Get Up And Dressed

It’s important to give your appearance some hope the better days that lie ahead. When you take a shower and get dressed, it’s easier to be ready for whatever is going on in the day. There may be an expected opportunity waiting for you- an unexpected job offer, an unexpected friend may call and want to have lunch. Taking the time to get ready is refreshing to your body and your well-being!

Finding Peace For A Troubled Soul

How a Self-Proclaimed Loser Finally Found Peace

By worldly standards. I haven’t achieved much, nor do I have much clout or influence. I do not have hundreds of friends and followers, in real life or on social media. The friendships I have managed to gain have not come easily or quickly. If it were not for having to interact with those individuals daily, I might not even be able to consider those people my friends.

In my life, I have only been a “winner” a handful of times. In middle school and high school, I achieved recognition for my artistic talents. My endeavors to obtain a career in graphic design failed. I was never able to finish college. Fate told me I could keep art and design as a side project, but not as a career- not at least at that time when I was in my twenties.

I had never considered writing as a career and thus, never realized my potential until more recent years. Writing is an especially sweet pursuit for those who struggle to be heard in the noise and busyness of life. One is almost forced to withdraw from the world in order to reflect and gain a fresh perspective on everything from relationships, money, family, pain, etc. Introverts are particularly gifted and drawn by writing.

When I was young, I turned neither to God or writing. I didn’t even try to draw much, but somehow believed that I should go to school for graphic design. Even though I was a very depressed and emotionally fragile person, I tried to attain what I felt the world was calling me to do- and I remained unfulfilled and unsuccessful in my pursuits.

Being poor was just one disadvantage of my youth. Our family no longer lived on the “right side of the tracks” once my grandfather died. My family lost touch with families in our middle-class neighborhood. Our family relocated after my dad was laid-off from his job. After the death of her only son, the family went to live in the upstairs of my great-grandmother’s house on the West Side of town.

My family was wrought with grief and anguish. Mom didn’t want to be torn away from the stability of our old neighborhood. Dad was struggling to keep it together after the loss of his father, and the loss of employment. They started fighting more, and we became poorer, in spirit, community and financially. 

A number of changes occurred to our family with regards to location status. None of these things provided any type of stability. As a result, I felt very insignificant and unworthy compared to other kids. When I saw other kids feeling happy and nurtured, I knew I was going through issues others my age did not face, and I faced them alone.

Only now, as an adult, can I see how selfish I was to consider only myself during those difficult years. Now that I am that parent that struggles to keep it together, I could only hope that my kids would be understanding of their mom. A mother who has tuned-out their emotional needs at times. I can vividly remember all the times I found parenting “short-cuts” to just get some kind of a mental break! Many of the “nobler” parents would gasp at how often I was disengaged, albeit, due to the emotional burn-out. 

Throughout my teens and twenties, I became more withdrawn and depressed. Even with my group of friends/drinking buddies, I felt a certain emptiness in my soul.

By my early twenties, I tried to conform and be an adult. Without any family support, I tried to make it on my own by working full time and going to school part-time. During those years of my teens and twenties, I believe God was calling me but I turned to substances, self-pity, and selfish ambition. I would still achieve anything in the world.

Marriage was also not the answer- a man was not the answer. At 35, I was alone with my two young children. Maybe I was subconsciously trying to correct my version of history by quickly marrying somebody I was not suited for in marriage. Not only did my own inadequacies cause me to make rash decisions, they altered the lives of my children.

We have managed to obtain some of the “good things” in life by now- a house (mortgage), security and stability. The kids no longer have to see drugs and alcohol in our neighborhood or home, but we are without emotional resources many times. In that emptiness, I have tried to fill the void once again, except not with alcohol like I did when I was young. Now my vices were seemingly more benign.

Credit cards- I tried to buy my family’s happiness with entertainment, food, clothing.

Food- I have turned to unhealthy foods to fill the void, and then I’ve purged in an effort to rid myself of the guilt of poor food choices.

Time- Instead of savoring every free moment with my family, I have been given over to passively leaking time on the internet and on social media.

Never could I offer God even just a little of my time in the morning to prepare me for the day. Instead, I turned to the wireless void of deceit (when not used sensibly). Instead of allowing God to manage my time, finances and other aspects of my life, I over-indulged or tried to allocate things as I saw fit.

Now, I spend a few minutes each morning (almost every morning), reading the Bible before I get ready for work. Connecting with God each day has changed my life significantly. I am able to move on past my flaws (sometimes after a good cry). When I am subject to depression and anxiety, I take comfort that I will overcome my emotions and feeling.

Proverbs 18:10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.

 

Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, Joshua Tree, United States

When Anxiety Overwhelms: Rules for Purging Things

Problem: It is difficult for me to identify what causes me to purge things compulsively. It is something I do when I feel anxious and overwhelmed. Decluttering- throwing away or giving away things seems to temporarily relieve my anxiety.

Some of the things I’ve discarded or have given away have been perfectly good items, and perhaps, they didn’t take up much room or appear distracting in any way.

In retrospect, I realize that I wasn’t always this way, although I can easily see that I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, emotions, and disordered eating. Likewise, I can see the times in my life when things were ideal, or when I’ve felt like my true self (euthymic).

Support Systems

During those times, I have coped well and I’ve expressed myself through visual art and writing, exercise and sports. Solid (but imperfect) relationships carried me through adolescence, except for the years when I struggled with anorexia (age 14-18). My grandmother was of great emotional support when I was entering adolescence. Luckily, my sister and I lived with my grandparents during the summer that my parents separated. I was encouraged to draw and go outside to ride my bike while under their roof. Previously, I did not feel free to be a child while living in a dysfunctional home with my parents.

Deciding To “Disappear”

Having a few good friends in high school helped me overcome the misery I experienced in middle school. I was awkward, chubby and lonely before tenth grade. With my friends, I experienced camaraderie and belonging. At home, with the discord of my mom and her boyfriend, I felt invisible at best. At worst, I was awoken by the alcohol-fueled verbal assault of my stepfather towards my mother.

Sometimes I felt I was supposed to be in charge of tending to the emotional wounds of the narcissist in my life who tore me apart with names that caused me to starve myself. I controlled myself and my appearance (at least) by starvation.

muhammad-ruqiyaddin-1367343-unsplash

The more invisible my body became, the more people started to pay attention to me- I was “admired” for my slender physique by the very people I wanted to look like in high school.

From the time I started to become an “adult” (i.e., the period in life that becomes more complex- more responsibilities and learning to focus less on self), my minimalist ways have become the primary thread in the tapestry of life. It is also important to note that at the same time I was becoming an adult, I was more isolated from friends and family.

In reflecting, I realize the following things about being a minimalist (if that is actually the broad stroke that can be applied):

Minimalism and purging for me are cyclic and may be attributed to hormones. During a monthly “cycle” (menstrual), I am wrought with a multitude of emotions and my eating habits become unhealthy. It is during a “cycle” in a woman’s life that we must reflect, regenerate and prepare for the new “phase” in life.

Sometimes simply feeling anxious, overwhelmed or depressed, at any time in the month, brings me to the point of purging things. Two weeks ago, I wanted to chop off my hair for instant relief and regeneration (of a “new” me).

Does purging/decluttering specifically equate to a minimalist lifestyle? When I ask myself about the appearance of the “minimalist” style- the clean lines, simplicity, and functionality of minimalism, I believe the answer is “yes”. But not all minimalists tend to their lifestyle and philosophy because of emotional wounds. Some minimalists don’t soothe their anxiety by way of design choices. Many people choose to live minimally due to religious beliefs, cultural upbringing, even because of thrift, frugality, or poverty.

Going through my “things” (sorting) allows me to think about the needs of myself and family.

For instance, I understand my daughter’s clothing style and choices change over time. It is beneficial for us to go through her closet and decide what should stay and what can be donated. In doing so, I can help her manage her belongings while listening to her needs. Sometimes it takes a while for me to realize that my son will never wear the brand-new jeans in his closet because he doesn’t like the cut- or perhaps I overlooked the fact that his pants are becoming too short!

As a parent, I subconsciously want my kids to remain children forever.

Perhaps sorting and getting rid of stuff- even clothes or toys that are in great condition- is a way to allow them to grow, while allowing me to process this “growth”. Maybe purging and sorting things makes me feel more in control of the process?

 

Not Everyone Approves Of The Minimalist Lifestyle

There are times when other methods or mechanisms may have been better employed. I have purged things of my children’s without discussing it with them (knowing they probably would want to cling onto what I was ready to part with). I should have allowed them time to process the “loss” or have a voice in the matter. In those instances, I could have boxed up the item(s) until a later time.

My minimalist ways have conflicted with the hoarders in my life.

My minimalist ways have also conflicted with the toxic people in my life.

When I shared physical and emotional space with these types, there have been problems with my purging/decluttering compulsion. Compulsion or a lifestyle choice? It is a bit of both for me, hence the compulsion that is the primary aspect of a minimalist lifestyle. The toxic relationships in my life may have exacerbated my habit/disorder (?). It is apparent that it was for the best that the relationships be altered. The process of purging, albeit MINDLESS purging, served as a catalyst for changes in the relationships.

Regret: The process of purging is often sudden and mindless for me. Many things I have discarded have had to be repurchased. Some of the things- drawings, writings, photos and things that have taken time and money to make it into my space- can’t be (easily) replaced. In life, I can sometimes make amends. Other times it is out of my control. But simply “holding onto” things (or relationships, feelings, grudges, wounds) for sake of fear, is unhealthy as well.

Grief Still Remains If You Don’t Handle The Emotional Aspect Of Certain Possessions

I wish I could hold onto some things a little longer. For instance, I would like to keep papers and duplicate photos longer before discarding them. Better yet, I would love to be the kind of person that manages such things creatively- such as making a scrapbook and utilizing them into space, walls, artwork. For this reason, I stay away from talented women on Pinterest. Sometimes I peek into their lifestyles. Other times I follow the other minimalists to see how their managing life. In any event, they may or may not have the same emotions and complexities going on in their minds.

My Minimalism Rules

  • Don’t throw away things when feeling depressed or manic. Wait until moods are “euthymic”.
  • Discuss with children before discarding or donating some things.
  • Read a book on anxiety, stress, spirituality, etc. when feeling the urge to purge.
  • Some notable choices include:

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns

My Age Of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, And The Search For Peace Of Mind by Scott Stossel

Acceptance, Improvement, And Letting Go

Finally, it is often hard to accept myself when I fail others. When I disappointment those around me with flaws- what seems rational to me is irrational to others. I can’t push my beliefs on anybody else, but when I hurt them through my actions (purging), I need to seek amends, if they are willing to accept my peace offerings. My kids have forgiven me when I got rid of a book of a toy they wanted (I often have re-purchased some items $).

The toxic people– those who value possessions above people, or those who hold others to unattainable standards- I’ve let them go for now. I can’t work on myself if I am trying to contend with somebody else’s personality/character flaws. There is no clarity or benefit in such situations.

man standing beside grocery rack

Finding Emotional Support When You Feel Marginalized

Traditionally marginalized people– (e.g., women or people of oppressed racial/ethnic groups; people with mental and physical disabilities, as well as older people and individuals from lower socioeconomic classes)- and any person that is underserved, disregarded, harassed, ridiculed or ostracized need to find ways to feel supported despite their environment. Each group of marginalized people has specific needs that are not necessarily understood by those in the community, thus, they must serve as their own advocate in finding such social and emotional support.

Fortunately- or unfortunately, we have become a society that has become more reliant on the use of the internet and social media. In one regard, this reliance on the internet and social media engagement have made us into socially-awkward creatures in the real world. Conversely, these tools can help some people- individuals who feel marginalized, in particular, by mental illness. Often, the stigma attached to mental illness cause people to feel ashamed or distrustful of others, as is the case with people suffering from schizophrenia.

Women, especially those who live with the fear of being abused, have varying reasons as to why they can’t obtain the social or emotional support they need. Victims of domestic violence must be vigilant when speaking to others, either in person or online, about the issues they face. These women live in fear of their lives and the lives of their children- they fear losing custody of their children and perhaps, they wonder how they will support themselves and children alone. (http://www.ncadv.org/learn-more/what-is-domestic-violence/why-victims-stay).

Three forms of social support are noted: (https://psychcentral.com/lib/strategies-to-reduce-anxiety-and-stress/) and they include:

  • Socioemotional support- The ways in which you feel validated, or (the ways) “that you are loved, cared for, esteemed and connected to other people in a network of communication and mutual obligation.”
  • Tangible support- Money, transportation, and housing.
  • Informational support- Describes the ability to obtain “advice, personal feedback, expert guidance”

While much research tells us the benefits of having a strong support system, the truth is that marginalized people from all walks of life do not have access to such social supports. The reasons for this include:

  • Lack of money
  • Lack of mobility
  • No support systems in place within the community
  • Mental or cognitive impairments that prevent individuals from seeking help
  • Lack of supportive family, friends or co-workers
  • Lack of knowledge or lack of education about such help
  • No affiliations with community groups or churches

In many cases, “social support” may only be available from government or nonprofit agencies. While these agencies can offer many resources- such as referrals to legal or mental health resources, people still lack socioemotional supports.

Many marginalized people might be able to obtain a support network, and information, through the internet. One may be able to access the internet at the public library so long as they have the means to get a library card (proof of residency, driver’s license or ID). In many cases, the librarians can offer patrons a “guest” username and password in order to use their computers. Once online, they can connect to a plethora of online support groups, or they can locate community resources.

(http://www.reachout.life/)
Reachout is a Support Network for patients and caregivers fighting chronic conditions. By connecting with other patients with similar ailments in specific support groups, users are able to find support, gain self-confidence, develop coping skills and reduce loneliness and depression.”

(https://www.benefits.gov/benefits/benefit-details/613)
“The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides grant funds to states and territories to provide families with financial assistance and related support services. State-administered programs may include child care assistance, job preparation, and work assistance.” Users may search for benefits and grants for various causes.

(https://catholiccharitiesusa.org)
“At Catholic Charities we help people who are struggling by addressing the often complex issues at the root of their need. Through our national office’s advocacy and disaster relief programs — and its support of our network of member agencies — we’re making tangible progress toward better serving and loving our neighbors all across the country.”

 

References:

  1. Understanding Why Victims Stay. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved on September 3, 2017. http://www.ncadv.org/learn-more/what-is-domestic-violence/why-victims-stay
  2. Strategies To Reduce Anxiety and Stress. Psychcentral.com. Retrieved on September 3, 2017. https://psychcentral.com/lib/strategies-to-reduce-anxiety-and-stress/