• Julia Helton

5 ways to deal with pandemic depression

I am not a doctor but I have suffered from regular old fashion garden variety depression for most of my adult life. I'm also a strong person as I am sure you are too which makes me try to push myself through the tough days without acknowledging the need for a self care plan. Battling depression on a typical day is difficult enough but add on a global pandemic - now you've got something extra. Here's a list of things that you might want to consider as you fight this insidious disease.

Sleep when you're sleepy (keep a water bottle nearby)

Needing rest is not a sign of weakness. Patients in hospitals need a lot of rest and sleep so their bodies can heal. You need the rest in order to heal. When I worked in a restaurant sometimes I would wake up, go to work, and return straight to my bed. It's ok. This is temporary. You may need the extra time in the space you feel the safest - your bed. I know the whole point is to get "back to normal" and you will.

During this past month my body broke up with time. Completely. It's winter in Chicago. There is roughly 15 minutes of light during to day so I could never get the sun I needed to help lift me out of the hole. I spent an entire month waking up at 6pm and going to sleep at 9am. I tried staying up late, going to bed early, nothing mattered - this was what my body needed. You know what? One day I started taking involuntary naps that eventually led me to waking up at 3am then 4am now I wake up totally normal at 8am fully rested and ready to have my day. Things will eventaully even out but you must be patient with yourself.

Make easy no cook meals

Feeding yourself while depressed is super hard. The bar is "is it harder than taking a shower?" I would often only have enough energy to make myself one easy meal a day. It sometimes meant that I wouldn't have a hot meal for days at a time. I learned to rely on grocery delivery with an occasional take out meal delivered. Apps are an easy way to get sustenance in you if you can afford it.

On days when I just couldn't - cheese, fruit, deli meat and crackers were my go to - a depressed charcuterie plate if you will. I cannot tell you how many times I had a giant bowl of popcorn or cereal for supper.

If I had a little more energy I would make a grilled cheese sandwich that I would add a fried egg and some ham to or boil a half dozen eggs to make myself protein boxes - hb egg, a chunk of cheese, baby carrots, and some grapes. I put them into tupperware and I have a weeks worth of snacks or dinner. On days when I felt pretty good I would roast chicken or make a pot roast that would last me 4 meals. Cook once, reheat a portion until it's all gone.

I would keep bags of single serve snacks next to my bed. Also keep drinking your water, trust me.

Read a book

It's so easy to scroll through tiktok when an hour passses in no time taking your mind off of the cold darkness thats right there in the corner hovering. A book is your friend in a way the internet can never be. The heft of the book in your hands, the feel of the pages, the smell are all things that can keep you present in the moment. A part of my depression is a loss of time and having no connection to it. Sometimes the book I chose was a historical biography, a picture book, coffee table book, magazine, comic, graphic novel, or a blank notebook to try and make sense of what was happening to me.

Take a shower or bath

This is kind of the gold standard of depression self care. Do you have the energy to take a shower? I don't always have that much energy. Sometimes I will fill the sink with hot soapy water, get a fresh wash cloth and wash my face, pits, and groin. It's not the best but it makes me feel marginally better and I no longer smell myself. I strive to do this every two to three days. It's not ideal but its the best I can do on really bad weeks. Don't skip washing your hair when you are able to get in the shower.

Go outside alone

Believe it or not this one is really hard for me sometimes. I don't mean go outside and interact with people. I mean go stand outside your front door. Sit on the stoop or porch, bring a cup of tea and just listen to the sounds of the neighborhood. Today I stood on my front porch in a onsie, snow boots and peacoat for 15 minutes just to get some fresh air and see the sun. Do I do this every day? Haha no. I've developed a lowkey form of agorophobia where leaving my house takes a lot of planning and hyping myself up. I didn't used to be this way but just going to the grocery store or to a restaurant used to not kill you either. If you are feeling really good about it double mask up and walk to the mailbox, take a walk around the block or just down the street and back.

Extra bonus tip: Cut yourself some slack

There are only a handfull of people alive today that lived through the last global pandemic so we can't just ask a random old person and capitalism makes us believe that every waking moment needs to be monetized. (It doesn't.) This is all temporary. There is a vaccine and while it may take until full summer to get everyone inoculated it will happen. Until that time rest, there are plenty of everybody going through this shit right now with you. What you don't need is your inner voice piling on. Give that voice a name and tell them to shut the fuck up. You're doing your best in a bad time.