6. Keep a mood chart. While this is a topic I plan on devoting an entire post to, I highly recommend keeping a mood chart. I did this every day for six years and it was an extraordinarily helpful tool for me. The chart I recommend--my own design--is quite different from anything I've read about. It's kind of a combination journal/mood chart. The purpose is to chart every day and I used my Day-Timer to do it. That way I knew how I was feeling from the time I got up until I went to bed, what medications I was taking, how much sleep I was getting, what activities I was engaged in, and how I generally felt. I'll show you an example in the next few days.
7. Do stress reduction and relaxation exercises. While it's difficult to imagine you would need to do this if you're so depressed you feel like a zombie, I think it's really important. What I have learned--after so many years of great suffering--is that every time I felt a depression on the horizon, I was terrified it would be worse than the last time. Or terrified it would last longer. Or terrified that I wouldn't survive it. But...and I believe this is terribly important, I always did survive. So, it would have been helpful to try and dissipate the anxiety by breathing exercises, meditation, or some other method of stress reduction.
8. When the depression lifts, make sure you take care of your family members. For me, even the worst depression usually lifted by 2:00 in the afternoon. At its worst, the entire episode lasted a year, but I was well almost every day after 2:00. (Of course there were months when it never lifted; but that was the exception.) And I believed that once it lifted, it was incumbent upon me to take care of my husband and son. When my son was young, that meant supervising play dates for him. Just because I didn't feel well during the time he was in school didn't mean that he shouldn't have a good day when he returned home and I was feeling fine.
9. Engage in pleasurable activities. Obviously, pleasure can be defined in different ways and is dependent upon your energy level. During my lowest periods, one of my greatest pleasures was watching DVDs or movies on TV. While some people would recommend comedies (and there is research to confirm that laughing makes you feel better), my vice is musicals and westerns. If anyone asks, I'll give you my top list of each.
10. Maintain your highest level of normalcy. Since I have experienced more depressive episodes than anyone I've ever spoken to or read about, I believe I have the right to give you this advice. Chronic depressive episodes can destroy families, and ruin friendships. Since I always hated the fact that my family and friends had to suffer during my depressions, I went out of my way to try and maintain the highest level of normalcy I could achieve.
When I felt like I was dying inside, I made every effort to be there for my son. If I was in bed when he returned from school, before he came home, I went into the bathroom, washed my face, brushed my hair, put lipstick on, and greeted him with the best smile I could maintain. When I could barely speak, I always asked him about his day, and made him a snack.
And it was the same with my husband. Throughout my illness, he has been a saint. So, when I felt well, I tried very hard to do something special for him, whether it was ordering a book online that he might like, buying special cards, or doing my share of household chores the moment I felt better.
Don't be a victim. I am always surprised when I read about people who whine online about their lot in life. Our lot in life is what we make it. While it took years for me to get well, I never felt I was a victim. And I certainly didn't want my husband and son to feel like our home was a place of illness.
Despite being ill, I loved my family dearly, and they needed to know that. Despite wondering how I was going to survive, I never discussed my unhappiness with my son. I felt bad enough that he had a sick mother. So it was ever more important for him to know that despite my illness, I loved him dearly, that I would be there for him when I could, and I would support him in every way possible.
I believe it was tips like these that saved my life. I believe it was my attitude that enabled me to remain married to the same man for more than 25 years, and to continue to have a terrific relationship with my 19-year-old son.
I may not have been able to stave off my illness, but I have tried with a Herculean effort to be the best wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, and friend that I could be. I have been able to sustain most of the important relationships in my life. And for that I am deeply grateful!