I’m a deep thinker, a creative type — and a dysthymic. As in: a person with dysthymia, officially known as Persistent Depressive Disorder, characterized by feeling “down” on a regular basis without reaching the level of near-total impairment associated with major depressive disorder.
The sense of depression is at its worst when I have little immediate “busyness” to occupy my mind.
Often the hardest part of the day is starting it: that is, getting out of bed in the morning. If you have a similar problem, the following strategies help:
- Commit to a set getting-up time every morning. This includes weekend mornings. If you can’t bear to completely give up sleeping in, at least set a one-hour-later limit for “off” days. This step is obviously easier if you share your residence with others who are used to getting up early themselves, and willing to drag you out of bed if need be. (Sometimes the most effective housemates here are the four-legged kind!) If you live alone, and especially if you are unemployed or otherwise lack firm outside commitments, start by asking a friend to call and check up on you in the morning.
- Start the day with affirmations or inspirational reading. In other words, make your conscious mind’s first input something that provokes a smile rather than a groan. To make this work best, set an ample margin between getting-up time and “out of the house” time; ten to fifteen minutes is usually sufficient “affirmation time.” Many people use a Bible or other faith-based text as a guide; for other ideas, look up “inspirational classics” or “inspirational bestsellers.”
- Don’t check the news first thing. If you struggle with chronic pessimism, the average news broadcast is about the worst first-of-day input you can feed your mind. Stick to the inspirational reading, and wait at least until your midmorning break to look at your paper or turn on CNN. Whatever may happen, it rarely makes much real difference whether you learn about it in two minutes or twelve hours.
- Eat a healthy, leisurely breakfast. Gulped-down coffee and doughnuts are less than ideal for anyone; when you have PDD, the temporary high and subsequent plunge is emotional suicide. Choose foods high in fiber and protein, and eat slowly so your body and brain can properly absorb the benefits.
- Have a to-do list ready to go. If you have an outside job, part of this may be taken care of for you. Otherwise, make your list the night before (not just before time to start following it), and make it with care. Always include at least one task that constitutes a step, however small, toward a major life goal or dream; and limit the full list to three or four items, which is usually the ideal number to motivate a fairly early start to the day without provoking a burst of “I’ll never finish all this” despair.
- Give at least the first full hour of your work to high-priority forward-looking tasks. Starting with minor or routine tasks is not an effective method for getting them out of the way and having the better part of the day left for the “good stuff.” It’s a recipe for letting the “little stuff” take over the whole day and ending with a stuck-in-a-rut feeling and little enthusiasm for tomorrow. If your employer insists that less important things be done first, or if you genuinely get your strongest burst of energy at the fifth hour, at least have a firmly set time slot blocked off for the forward-looking task — never figure on doing it “when I have time.”
- Have someone hold you accountable to all the above. Knowing that someone will ask how you’re doing is not only incentive to stick with the program, it means outside perspective on whether you’re being too hard on yourself or are making progress you didn’t notice. Do choose your accountability partner carefully. If the other party is undependable, too busy, a gloom-and-doom type him- or herself, or inclined to take a “snap out of it” attitude toward depression, it may make things worse.
So there they are: a PDD sufferer’s “lucky seven” for starting each day, if not with an all-out song in the heart, at least with a sense of hope. Remember that quick tricks, or even carefully cultivated habits, are no substitute for medication or therapy. Never try to quit either without a professional’s okay. Self-diagnosis can be as dangerous as self-medication.