Remember sick days before kids? Like when you could literally just binge Netflix, take all the meds, and nap the day away? Or legitimately taking a mental health day to do yoga, drink tea, or go out with friends and stave off a depression relapse or anxiety attack. Those days are much harder to come by when you’re a parent of young children.
You should still take those days when you need them. It’s paramount that you fill your own cup so you have strength to draw from. However, for those of us with mental illness, relapses happen. And while you should still call your village to help, sometimes a relapse is longer term, and you need to find a way to parent through it.
Here are 10 tips for after you’ve seen your doctor and/or therapist, when you’re waiting for an appointment, or when depression is a regular part of your illness cycle.
1. Give yourself grace.
This is not your fault. Depression happens, and it’s okay that even the basics are hard right now. Use 2 key DBT skills: Reality Acceptance and NonJudgment. Accept that you are limited for now, that you are not at your peak. Then stop judging yourself for getting to this place. When you get to that place of acceptance you will move forward with less suffering.
2. Take a few things off your plate.
At least push deadlines back. Can someone pick your kid up one day from school? What nights can you order food instead of cooking?
3. Focus on threes, but one at a time.
Focus on 3 meals a day, 3 food groups per meal; or 3 little chores of 3 or less steps. And yes, frozen foods count! So does half a load of dishes, as long as they get washed, dried, and put away. That way you and your family is eating and your home stays habitable, but you don’t feel overwhelmed.
4. Get outside once per day.
Even if it’s standing on your front porch for 5 minutes.
5. Talk to 1 grown up besides your partner per day.
Even if it’s casual conversation with your postie or the cashier at the grocery store. This helps force you to smile, to keep up with pleasantries, to get out of the fog.
6. Limit Facebook and social media.
This takes a bit of willpower, and that’s hard (and willpower is an interesting point of research!). But social media causes us to ruminate, which is a major part of the depression cycle. If you can pull away, it really helps.
7. Fake it till you make it.
Smile, even when you feel the depression cloud – in fact, act Opposite to Emotion, and smile when you feel darkest.
8. Don’t worry about perfection.
Perfection is a troublesome ideal any time, but especially when you’re in a depression relapse. Strive for “done”, don’t necessarily worry about “done right”!
9. Tell someone you trust.
I cannot stress this enough. Sometimes just saying the words “I’m experiencing depression” helps relieve the pressure. If someone knows what you’re going through, they may have a way to help.
10. Use your mantras.
Repeat these words: This is not forever; this does not define me. You are not “a depressive”, your disease is not the only thing about you. You have depression, or you experience depression. And these things come in waves. If you seek the proper help, you will come out of it.
Depression is sometimes just a part of life. For me, it’s almost impossible to avoid. These tips, when I focus on them, help keep my kids healthy and my life relatively orderly so I am not overwhelmed when I finally feel better. It also helps remind me that a depression is just a stage, that it ends, and that it is not all in my world.