November 5, 2019
I have Dysthymia and it can be a real challenge.
Your first question might be “What is Dysthymia?” That’s a good question. When I was diagnosed, I had no idea what it was either. Although I knew what it felt like from years of experience, in that moment I was given the language to talk about it.
Dysthymia is a long term, low-grade depression. It is the kind of depression that’s easy to miss. I go to work, show up at social events, and can even be the life of the party at times. It’s easy to miss, except for those that are close to me.
My dance with Dysthymia isn’t my fault, but managing it is my responsibility. First and foremost, managing my depression means bringing it into the light. Refusing to be ashamed of it. At work, I’ve been open about why I leave early some days – I go to therapy.
If you, a coworker, a friend, or a partner is struggling with depression in any of its forms, I hope you gain some insight through this post. Everyone can develop strategies that work for them.
In therapy, we talk about how to prevent our depression or anxiety from driving the bus of our lives, even though it rides with us. The following are some of the strategies that I use every day to show up, be present, and be the best version of myself while I’m doing my best work.
They aren’t a cure for depression or a magic wand, but they do help me do my best every day. Some days are challenging, but this list helps me show up for my team and for myself.
Step 1: Managing Depression Before it Shows Up
My Dysthymia comes in waves – often times it stays in the shadows for weeks or months, and I feel like it’s not even there. Other times it’s almost impossible to ignore.
One of the most important things I can do to help manage it doesn’t have anything to do with when it shows up. It’s what I do when it’s not there.
For me, that means 4 things:
- Getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night
- Eating a balanced diet
- Getting plenty of exercise
- Going to therapy
We all know we should be doing these things for you know … health reasons. For me, the results are obvious and easy to see. I show up for myself, my work, my friends, and my family if I can take care of these things. The pit in my stomach lightens, task lists don’t scare me, and I’m able to show up most days as the best version of myself.
Step 2: Staying Connected
Depression and anxiety usually exist outside of the current moment. They exist in the past that’s already happened or a terrible future that hasn’t happened yet (and likely never will). Even when the present is pretty scary, it usually isn’t as bad as my anxiety says it is. It’s like having StressPlus™: I feel the stress of what’s going on in my life, plus everything that it could mean for me in its worst possible manifestation.
I use a few strategies to stay where I am. For example, breathing and meditation are very helpful. Overflowing inbox? I often pause, breathe, and feel the movement of my chest before returning to work with a clear mind.
Our bodies tell us a lot. When my teeth are clenched and the knots in my stomach are the size of a pumpkin, it can help to name the sensations. Tight chest. Clenched jaw. Tingling in my hands.
Just accepting what I’m feeling and naming it is a great way to help bring me back to where I am.
Step 3: Be honest With Myself & Others
When I am feeling low, it is a lot easier when I can accept where I’m at and set myself up as best as I can. For me, when I am feeling low, I get distracted easily. Really easily. It isn’t helpful, so I’ve set up some rules to help keep me focused on my responsibilities.
I’ve blocked social media sites (and other sites I use for distraction) from my browser. Sure there are ways around it, but every time I try to open Facebook my browser closes that tab. It turns a negative habitual coping method into a check-in with myself.
I’ve also sworn off podcasts (and sometimes music with vocals) from my workflow. Although they are great assets for self-growth, both professionally and personally, they are distractions when I am using them at work.
Sometimes I cheat, but as soon as I catch myself browsing a site I shouldn’t I check-in and return to work.
Step 4: Reach Out For Help
Tips and tricks are helpful, and are great for managing in the moment, but they may not address the underlying causes of anxiety or depression. If you are feeling low, lost, or at a loss for energy and motivation most days, reach out for help.
Reaching out is an admission that we need some help sometimes. It’s taking off the “I’m perfect” mask and being honest with yourself, first.
It takes a lot of strength to do, and you have that strength.
Things will get better, and it’s only when you accept where you are that you can grow from the experience that you’re having. So, if you are struggling, reach out as far as you can, a family member, a friend, or a health professional.
You are not alone, and if you are struggling with your mental health, you are already a lot stronger than you may give yourself credit for.
You can do great things, you are stronger than you think, and I believe you can do this.