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!

A lady with long, dark hair stands outside on a cloudy day.

Understanding Moods at Various Life Stages

“I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.” -Pearl S. Buck

The complexities of the mind never cease to fascinate me! With so many factors to be considered by the medical community, it’s no wonder the DSM-IV lists over 297 disorders!

I’m no doctor or therapist, but simply a person with an intense curiosity about mental health issues. As I look back on my own mental health history, I’ve noticed many changes. Parallel to my mental health history, I must consider my environment at each stage. Was I surrounded by supportive people?

No- in the most difficult times in my life, I was either isolated or surrounded by negativity. I use the term “negativity” loosely, mostly because in many instances, I lived in a dysfunctional environment. In the case of my teenage years, I lived with an alcoholic mother from whom I sought approval. Every time I skipped a meal, it was to win her approval. It was also an erroneous effort to remain fragile and adolescent.

Postpartum Depression

After I had my children, I experienced postpartum depression. Being a new parent is hard enough, let alone being a new mother with no happiness emanating. My depression made me feel unworthy. I didn’t measure up to what I felt a new mother should look like or feel like. The mothers I observed were smiling, singing to their kids, and they had energy. I often felt catatonic but through prayer, I was able to push through the sadness. I tried to get enough rest and get my kids out of the house- even when it meant I had to face what felt like a harsh world.

Reflecting On The (Painful) Past

My first-born had colic and cried frequently for the first few weeks. Although I read books and scoured the internet for information, I couldn’t escape feeling at fault. Babies with colic love white-noise, music and motion. They also like a change of scenery, so car and stroller rides were key to help ease my son’s symptoms.

Walking helped me and my kids get away and connect with each other, away from the toxicity of alcoholism and unsupportive people. I remember getting a double-sided stroller for my kids- right before I knew the time was nearing for us to move on from our home. In 2007, during our stay at the women’s shelter, we used it quite often when the staff arrived at 8:00 A.M each morning.

Children playing outside in the Fall season.

My children and I lived in utter chaos for many years as a result of my husband’s drinking and verbal abuse. At this juncture in my life- with very little emotional resources (or resources of any kind), I couldn’t overcome my depression and anxiety issues, become the kind of parent I desired to be in a marriage riddled with so much strife.

My mind couldn’t take anymore. I wasn’t getting enough rest, and as a result, I wasn’t always attentive to my children’s needs. Fast-forward ahead, divorce, new job, and relocation. It’s hard to believe how much has changed in life, and with my health.

Looking back, I was very withdrawn, anxious, and depressed for 15 years. Then I suffered from postpartum depression and recovered. I went to the doctor and tried Lexapro, then switched to Prozac. I took it sporadically because I felt fine sometimes. I quit taking it when I started to experience electrical surges in my brain. Sometimes I felt like it was too much medicine, even though it was the lowest dose and I usually broke it in half!

In 2017 I was told by a psychiatrist that I was “a little bipolar.” My speech was sped up when I spoke to her, but I honestly didn’t feel I fit into all the typical patterns of a person afflicted with bipolar disorder. She prescribed Lamictal, which I never took.

When Joy And Sadness Are Natural Reactions

At this point, I’m betting that I need to go get an MRI to see if I have something else wrong with me. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with joy and laughter. Then there was that time at church a few years ago that I couldn’t stop crying at the Mother’s Day service.

Maybe the crying has to do with actual grief of the loss of relationship with my mother, or that motherhood itself has many strong memories- memories of my personal failures attributed to my depressed mood- the times that I isolated my family from what I perceived as a harsh world.

Over the years, my moods have seemed to improve, with a few exceptions (when exposed to conflict, harsh conditions, and disrespectful attitudes). I am not subject to the empty, hopeless feelings of my twenties. The anxiety- GAD and agoraphobia, that I was plagued by in my thirties has diminished significantly. Consequently, I am no longer under the influence of certain family ties.

Sometimes I feel that I have been delivered from the depths of depression and anxiety. I often prayed to have any other affliction except those dueling monsters of invisible mayhem! Maybe all the years of taking SSRI’s have chemically altered my brain. But I took the medicine sporadically- if at all. I relied more on prayer than human wisdom during those years, so I am a little biased to feel it wasn’t pills that helped me.

I rarely have bizarre nightmares. I feel happy or at least, content, most of the time. Sometimes I get bursts of mania and creative energy. Seldom, I get depressed and can’t find the desire to write or draw.

With my moods taking shape in different ways, I’m becoming more curious about the human mind. As I get a little older, I certainly cling to the hope that I never lose my mind.