This is heavily adapted from a piece I previously published at Dirge Magazine, October 2016. I brought back what I thought would be needed, took out anything that was dated, and added a few new things that might be helpful.
Image description: Late-Summer flowers poking through a graveyard gate. Finding beautiful things in weird, ‘dark’, and/or urban places is one of my favourite ways to care for myself.
A lot of the time, tips for overcoming depression tend to be tips given by non-depressed people. You’re supposed to be out there hula hooping, taking Zumba classes, and tandem cycling with friends. Sometimes these things can be really helpful but it’s difficult when you don’t have the mental and physical energy to even leave the house.
It’s even more difficult when doing exercise outside in the sun just isn’t you. You might be a hardcore gamer who finds community online, or an introverted goth who feels nervous in groups, or otherwise engaged in a subculture that isn’t about sunshine and rainbows. If cheerful self-care wasn’t for you before you felt depressed, it probably won’t be for you when you’ve battled through it to the other side. Some alternative people do manage to find themselves again by forcing a smile and dragging themselves outside to go flower picking, but hearing that this is the only way to get well can be annoying for many and destructive at worst. How are you supposed to perform all of this socialising and cheerfulness when you can barely get out of bed?
My advice is to go at your own pace, and do the things you feel you want to do when you feel you can. It’s not your fault if you can’t find the energy for big acts of self-care. Anything you can do is enough. It’s good to keep being the person you are – embracing your place in dark or alternative culture doesn’t mean succumbing to the blackhole of depression, and you don’t have to transform into a shiny happy person to be content and complete again.
The following tips have worked for me and people I know. If they don’t appeal to you, that’s ok – the spirit of this is to find something that helps you find comfort, relief, or just a way to pass the time in your own way, without prescription or judgement. Hopefully this advice can help whether you’re way down deep in the pit, enjoying the view from the top after you’ve clawed your way out, or you’re still slogging your way to the top.
Get Outside (At Home)
Being outside can really help you feel better. Getting yourself outside can really suck.
You can always take a small vacation from the comfort of your home to go somewhere quiet and interesting. Mapcrunch can transport you anywhere in the world and is as addictive as it is calming. Paintanebula allows you a relaxing glimpse of a universe of your own making. If you find yourself needing a retreat from an overwhelming world, The Quiet Place Project offers a simple few minutes of quiet time away from technology and distractions.
It can be so easy to withdraw from others when you’re depressed, and so difficult to connect properly when you feel you need to.
If it’s too difficult to seek people out in person, Emotional Baggage Check encourages you to anonymously share your problems with a stranger and pick up a song and a kind word in return. If you feel like it, you can give a song back to someone else in need. If talking to another person seems too overwhelming then one-way communication can help, and sites like Postsecret might help you feel less alone.
Mindfulness is such a buzz word right now and people can sometimes get put-off by its reputation for airy-fairyness. The great thing about it is that you can make your mindfulness practice as badass as you want.
Mindfulness, as a technique, is essentially about grabbing a moment to take inventory. This can be a thirty minute meditation or a stolen thirty seconds. The idea is to notice each thought, feeling, and sensation; look at what’s there without judgement; and then let it go. I’ve practised this with people while imagining storage boxes and library books, but you could use any imagery you find helpful.
It might be useful to think of any unwelcome and overwhelming thoughts and feelings as a train. Get yourself as comfortable as you can, and imagine yourself stood or sat on a train platform. As you notice yourself thinking and feeling, imagine those experiences as a train making its way to your platform. Take a look at the train, and the feeling – “I’m starting to feel quite anxious,” for example, or “This is silly,” – and then watch the train slide past your platform and go on its way to some other destination. Sometimes, the same train is going to keep coming back to the station, and that’s ok. Sometimes you’re on the train, and the train is on fire. That’s ok, too. You can always get off at the next stop.
It can be really, really difficult to find anything fun, interesting, or emotionally nutritious to focus on when you’re depressed.
Start small. Find a little thing you enjoy and stick with it for as long as you enjoy it. When it doesn’t feel good anymore, stop. Remember that stopping when something starts to feel bad – or the fact that it feels bad at all – is not failure. This doesn’t have to be anything traditionally nourishing – if right now your comfort is coming from embroidering swearwords on stuff or making little outfits for your DingDing, you do you.
If you find yourself needing laughter as well as comfort, there’s something uniquely soothing about cartoons. Steven Universe is free to watch online if you’re looking for charming, queer, existential comfort. If you can find them, there’s also such cartoon weirdness as Adventure Time, Over The Garden Wall, Tuca and Bertie, Futurama, and Gravity Falls.
Reading can also be a huge comfort, but it can be difficult to concentrate on a book when you’re depressed. There are a lot of free short story podcasts and audiobooks out there. I’d recommend the Escape Artists podcasts for genre short stories – my favourites include They Go Bump (episode 382) from the sci-fi EscapePod, Husband Stitch (episode 409) from fantasy-based PodCastle, and The Second Act (episode 491) from horror-filled PseudoPod. LibriVox is a great resource for free audiobooks by vintage genre authors, including work by H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley.
It’s ok if you don’t like any of these programs and stories, too. I promise that there will be something out there that offers comfort, whether it’s the traditionally cheery Great British Bake Off or the super gory Love, Death and Robots.
Have a Nap
Sometimes all you can do for a while is stay in bed; sometimes you know being overtired is messing with your head and a few hours sleep will do you some good. Either way, if you’re going to nap, doing it in style can change the landscape of the whole siesta from “Fuck my life, I’m going to bed forever” to “I want to do something luxurious and kind for myself today”. If you can’t change your sheets, try to brush the crumbs out and fluff your pillows. Snooze in style and comfort with your favourite cute pyjamas and elegant blankets. If you need someone to cuddle with who understands, try Edwin Morose from Teddy Scares – he’s nostalgic, existential, and adorable. I can personally tell you that he gives great cuddles.
Image description: Edwin Morose, a goth teddy bear made by Teddy Scares, looks out lovingly with his blank eyes and stitched-up mouth. He’s holding a plush dead rose and his own patchwork heart. Despite his spookiness, he is every cute.
And Please Remember
How you’re feeling right now isn’t weakness, and neither is asking for help. Even if you feel you’re at absolute rock bottom, even if it feels like nothing will ever be alright again, this is not a weak time in your life; this is not a failure; and there is help out there beyond this article.
If in doubt, please check in with your doctor and tell them what’s going on. Call your local crisis team. See if you can find accessible therapy.
Please, please try to hold on. You can laugh with us, cry with us, nap with us, and watch weird cartoons with us – I’m with you in spirit and through your screens, and I’m not the only one. Things might be incredibly shit, but I know how strong you’ve had to be to survive at all. If we carry on, we can keep adding to this list of helpful things and helping others. Together, we can keep going.