I'm going to be honest, I've had kind of a shitty past couple of weeks since getting back from San Francisco. Not a day has gone by where I haven't had to choke back tears for one reason or another - because of the state of my relationships, because of the uncertainty of my future, because of Humans of New York, etc. - almost everything has been triggering, even the small, mundane moments of everyday life.
This has been a common trend in my life since moving to LA. Every time I go to San Francisco I'm reminded that I have friends, that I have a full life, that I have interests and hobbies and people who love me, and I feel great. But then I return to LA and slink into this sneaky depression where I don't leave my apartment, don't put on makeup, and don't talk to other humans IRL for days at a time.
I've written about my depression a few times before - here and here and here. It's just something that I struggle with from time to time and is often triggered by a return trip from San Francisco back to LA. But it's strange, because unlike how I felt a year or two ago, I actually don't hate LA anymore. I have friends (I just counted on my fingers and it's at least 10!), I'm no longer terrified of driving in traffic or parallel parking, and I have a pretty solid grasp on the makeup of LA and what neighborhoods I love and what neighborhoods to avoid. I'm even a regular at a few places! So it catches me off guard when I find myself falling into old habits of feeling sorry for myself.
While my natural equilibrium errs on the sadder, introspective side, generally speaking I'm also a pretty overconfident asshole. And because I would much rather spend my time thinking highly of myself than sorry for myself, I've gotten better when it comes to identifying the stages of my depression and taking active measures to keep it from escalating. Today is the first day in weeks where I've felt a bit of lightness, so I thought I'd share some of the activities that help me combat my depression when it arises.
Find new ways to feel productive.
A year ago for me this meant making my bed first thing in the morning. Today it means getting out of bed before 7:30 and going to a cafe to work before noon. Cleaning my room, purging my closet, taking Jojo on walks, cooking and spending a little time on my hobbies every week (like blogging!) also help me feel productive. I still have my bad days where I don't get out of bed until 10 and sit on my couch pretending to work while actually dicking around on the internet until I notice it's almost 5pm and my Fitbit says I've only taken 1,000 steps and where did my fucking day go, but those days also have the unintended effect of signaling when I'm slipping. So they serve a purpose in my life - and that purpose is to push me to get the fuck up and out of my apartment.
I've mentioned this before, but I've also started volunteering weekly for a literacy nonprofit called 826LA. Tutoring terrifies me - mostly because teenagers terrify me, I've never tutored before, and because I worry that I'm accidentally going to say some variation of the word "fuck" to a 12-year old, but I'm now 2 weeks in and have found the experience extremely rewarding. Yesterday I participated in an in-school volunteering session where I gave feedback to 10th graders on their personal narrative first drafts, and it was awesome hearing these kids' stories and remembering what it was like to be 15 and discovering your writing voice.
Not having a conventional full-time job sometimes makes it difficult for me to feel like I'm accomplishing something tangible everyday, but having these tutoring sessions to look forward to and working with these kids has helped me feel like I'm contributing something to the world, however small.
Get to the gym.
In addition to going to yoga regularly, I've also started lifting weights on a regular basis, which has been a pretty cool addition to my exercise routine. Aside from the obvious benefit that exercise releases dopamine aka happy thoughts, working out gives me a satisfying sense of accomplishment when I outdo myself - whether by holding a challenging yoga arm balance better than I did before or doing more assisted chin-ups. Something about competing against myself (and ok let's just be real, competing against others too - told you I'm an asshole) helps me get out of my own head and focus on my achievements instead of feeling sad about the things that are absent from my life.
Don't underestimate the power of human interaction (and attention).
I've always prided myself on my independence and ability to enjoy time alone, but if I go more than 2 or 3 days without having a real life face-to-face conversation with another person, I'm almost guaranteed to go into full depression mode. One thing that I've learned since working remotely is that it's surprisingly easy to feel totally invisible when you're not required to go into an office everyday. And when you feel invisible, you feel like nothing fucking matters because no one's paying attention to you and who cares if you waste hours playing Minesweeper and don't shower for 3 days because no one will know anyway. It's not the best kind of existence to live.
Last year one of my New Year's resolutions was to be better at following through, and as a result I've since learned how to nurture new and old friendships more effectively than before. These friendships have been essential at maintaining my happiness levels and sanity post breakup and post leaving my cushy job that conveniently brought me to San Francisco on a monthly basis, and it would be remiss to not credit my amazing, wonderful friends for bringing me out of the throes of depression, whether they know that they're even doing so or not.
On a smaller level, it's also great working out of cafes if only for the brief conversations I have with a cashier or the chance encounters with other patrons. These small interactions are impactful at reminding me that yes, I'm still here. Yes, people still see me. And no, I'm not a troll living under a bridge, despite how I may feel on my more haggard days.
Go outside and walk it off.
One of the advantages of having a dog is that it forces me to get outside at least a few times a day. Walking Jojo is almost meditative - there's just something therapeutic about breathing in the crisp, morning air, feeling the sun on my skin, and walking without any predetermined destination in mind. It also disconnects me from my phone and my life, however briefly.
Talk about it.
Despite the many inspirational think pieces out there refuting the idea that emotions are signs of weakness, for some reason people are still hardwired to believe that confidence and happiness are the only acceptable emotions to express. And with social media curating only the best parts of our lives, it can be easy to feel like you're the only person in your network who doesn't have their shit together.
But you are allowed to feel the way you feel. Too often we allow ourselves to bottle everything up, expecting these feelings to one day dissipate and resolve themselves, which of course never happens. Instead they take root, until you eventually internalize all of this negative energy and assume it as your identity. i.e. I feel shitty because I'm a shitty person doing shit with my life.
I've found that the more honest I am with myself and with others about how I'm feeling, the better equipped we all are at supporting each other in our times of need. I no longer say I'm ok when friends ask how I've been and I haven't been ok. I keep it real now. And I've been pleased to discover that more often than not, people will return blunt honesty with honesty. I can't tell you how many times I've told someone that I've been feeling shitty and sad and have had them respond something to the effect of, "omg me too I don't know what I'm doing with my life we should hang out more," and I'm like cool ok and boom, nurture the shit out of that friendship.
No one is immune to feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty and depression. They're feelings we all suffer, but often more quietly than I think is necessary.
Consider this my commitment to continue being honest with myself, and with you. The last couple of weeks have been challenging for me, but I'm slowly doing better and know this too shall pass.