Depression: How Structure Builds Freedom

Image by  EveryChooseday  on

Image by EveryChooseday on

In the summer of 2012, I started writing about depression. Ultimately, I wrote thirteen articles that were published monthly at the online magazine Scoutie Girl.
A part of it includes my experience with a long, dark episode of depression. But mostly, my goal has been to remind myself of good things to do and help others to help us when we’re unwell: something I couldn’t do when I was down.
The first full week of October 2015 encompasses Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada, so I thought, why not republish these? So, here they are. Where possible, the articles exist as they did in 2012-2013, with links to originals.

A friend came to me this month to talk about his recent realization that things weren’t operating as they should with him. He had low energy, difficulty focusing, and several other classic symptoms of depression. He has since seen his family doctor and a therapist and is starting down a treatment path. He came to me because he knew how, for me, adding structure to my days and weeks helped me to start feeling better. This is what we talked about.

Charts and routines can help.

There are certain things that we do every day that a healthy person can do without much trouble. When you’re unwell, though, the decisions and variables around healthy habits can get us caught in thought and inaction loops. Structure has helped me, and here’s how it can work when you are working your way out of depression.

When you are having an energetic moment, or when you can ask a kind friend to help, make the following lists.

  1. What good-for-you things do you want to do in a day? For me, it has been to walk, play music, write, meditate, communicate with a friend, play with my dog, and sit and talk with my partner.  Other ideas might be to read or watch something light and entertaining, sit on the porch and enjoy the sun, or have play time with your children.
  2. What good-for-you things do you want to do at some point in a week? For me, it has been to swim, see a friend, go to yoga, go to acupuncture. Other ideas might be to go to a spiritual gathering of your faith, therapy, massage, go to a movie, or other social or solo activity. Choose things that would make you feel good — and you only have to do it once a week, if that’s all that works. And be sure that at least one is somewhat social in nature.

Now get out your daybook and write or type each of your daily activities into it, every day for a week.

The idea is that these can be tick-boxes, so, for example, once you have gone for your walk, you can cross off “walk” on your list for that day.

Consider your week and slot in the weekly activities in spots where you know there is a strong likelihood that you can complete that activity. Set yourself up to succeed! And as you navigate your week, know that there might be down-times, but that you can also look forward to the activities that you have scheduled. Regardless of how you’re feeling, if you know that you have yoga at 5pm on Mondays, and you generally like going to yoga, you go, because it is in your schedule. And you might just feel better by the time you have finished the class.

This structure creates freedom from repeated decision-making.

When choosing gets tricky, let your mind have a rest and follow the schedule. Report back and let us know how it’s going for you.

Have you used calendar structure to help you in your down-times? How has it worked for you? Did you find any relief in knowing what to expect later in your day or week?

I am writing this because I had an experience. I am in no way a medical professional. I had an experience, and I have learned a lot from it, and that’s the foundation of all of this.