(Day 5 of Be Brave)

What does it mean to be brave? I’ve been thinking about this questions all week, though I haven’t been writing about it on the blog. It’s something about continuing to take responsibility for feeling better, or feeling as well as I can. It’s resisting the passivity the depression makes it all too easy to slide into. It’s about recognizing that I’m the only one who can choose what I’m going to do each week, each day, each hour, to be as healthy as I can.

So what does that look like, in concrete terms? I’ve come up with a first draft of of my 10 rules for living with depression. Note that these are just my personal rules and may not be at all appropriate for other people. I am not even sure yet they are appropriate for me. They are just rules I believe might help, if I have the energy and resolve to follow them.

  1. Recognize that for you, depression is a chronic illness that will sometimes be a great challenge than at other times but may well be with you for your entire life.
  2. Grieve over having this illness, if you need to.
  3. Make a list of the things that make you feel happy. Revisit this list every Sunday morning and make sure that at least a few of those things are on your calendar. Change the list whenever you need to or whenever you find new things that make you happy.
  4. Make a serious commitment to your physical and mental health. Health comes before work, as hard as that is for you.
  5. Find some kind of exercise you enjoy and can sustain. This is a required part of your health plan. When you plan your calendar on Sunday, check to see how you will get your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes four or five days a week.
  6. Get a second opinion on your medications, especially if, as is the case now, you are on a lot of medications without feeling well.
  7. Build up the family relationships that sustain you. This starts with your husband and your sons. The next important relationships are with your sisters, who are solidly on your side. Explore the possibility of strengthening other family relationships, such as those with your mom and your brother. Don’t be hurt if it’s not possible to make them into something deeper; it has to come from both sides, and you can’t control how they will respond to you.
  8. Take the time to make your home tidy and welcoming. Get help with this if you need to. Consider whether you can afford some help with cleaning once a month.
  9. Use the opportunity you have been offered to restructure your job into something that will allow you to be as healthy as possible while also making a contribution that is meaningful to you.
  10. When depression or anxiety dominate, don’t berate yourself. Go to bed if you need to. Lean on your husband and your therapist. Don’t be ashamed. It’s an illness, not a moral failing. If you can’t follow the other 9 rules, just love yourself as much as you can until you’re able to do more. It’s okay to be sick.

To me, following these rules, if I can, would fall under my effort to “be brave” rather than to give in to my illness like I sometimes feel tempted to. Again, it’s pretty low-key (for example, there is no rule about being open about my illness to friends and colleagues or to advocate for the many policies that need changing), but that’s where I am now. The rules can always evolve over time, right?

Photo credit: Tokujin Yoshioka