For years I have opted out of commitments citing a sore tummy or a hoRREEEndous migraine. I’ve been known to carry on a lie for weeks until it’s blown into something similar to a Brothers Grimm fairytale. Before you call me as a sadistic creep with a touch of Munchausen’s, web it’s a different mental health affliction that breaks me out in this behaviour. I suffer from dark depression with a hint of anxiety.
I recall being a snotty, more about shivering, tearful mess in the school nurse’s office of my Catholic primary school at age 8. Depression, when you’re under the age of 10, is no joke, and back in the early 90s, no one knew how to handle a troubled little girl who would yank at her hair to try and pull the bad thoughts from her brain.
My cripplingly low self-esteem is perfectly juxtaposed with my drive and ambition. My friends know me as the one who can make shit happen. I’ve worked with top fashion designers, interviewed inspiring music artists and travelled long-haul solo without a second thought. When I am good, I am very very good, but when I’m sad, I just do nothing.
I realised quite early in my career that my skills transfer to a freelance life of limited corporate accountability. I found that being in a monotonous environment was the worst for my mental health. When I am freelancing, employers just see this efficient angel who dawns on them to make their business better. As soon as I feel like I might disappoint (hellooooo Imposter Syndrome), I take to my bed and nest until the fog lifts.
It’s not that I want to deceive people. I will go to the end of the earth to prove to you that I am worth the money that you are paying me. But when the depression naps are keeping me in a zombie-like state, I apply the following techniques to ensure I keep my goals on track:
Stage 1: Stay woke
When the sadness first takes root, if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend a good few hours just anaesthetising yourself with shut-eye. Before you condemn yourself to a life in bed, or you decide to pay lip service to that tempting packet of painkillers that are sitting seductively on the bedside table, get up and pour yourself a glass of water. A simple glass of water. Once you’ve poured it, drink it. I like to think of myself as a plant that needs watering – that sounds like tripe, but trust me a little.
Stage 2: Netflix and breathe
Once you feel like you can’t be bothered to sleep anymore (that happens), it’s time to focus your eyes on something positive. A book will take you to a whole new world but can feel intimidating. Now is not the time to watch a documentary about child paedophilia in the sporting profession, no. Now is the time for RuPaul’s Drag Race! Watching those Queens go from drab to drag is a strange kind of therapy. Emma Stone watches Labyrinth when she needs to be soothed – find what works for you.
Stage 3: Freshen-up
Festering in your filth can seem like the ultimate act of lethargy, but having a shower is the one thing that can completely overhaul my mindset. It’s like I’m cleansing away the sadness. Sure, getting myself into the bathroom can take days, but brushing my teeth feels defiant – like I am challenging my ailment. Look that bitch right in the eye.
Stage 3: Tempt your taste buds
When I’m depressed, I can go from one extreme to another; I either inhale a large packet of lightly salted Kettle Chips, or I feel like I never want to touch food again. There is no in between – but the in between is where the food magic happens. Make yourself some food – even if it’s just melted butter on toast. Sit down and eat it slowly, and while you’re up, get yourself some more water. Seriously, hydration is a major key.
Stage 4: Move about a bit
Ok -you’ll still be scared of your reflection, but you’re clean, and you’ve eaten so now it’s time to take a walk. Chuck on whatever clothes feel comfortable (I’ve been outside in pyjama bottoms many-a-time) and step outside your front door. Just a simple stroll around the block will get your blood pumping.
Stage 6: Pick up the phone
And don’t pick it up stalk your ex-boyfriend’s new Insta crush. Text a friend. Text your parent. If you’re feeling really brave – email your office and tell them that you’re suffering from depression. When you’re unbalanced, you’ll feel strangely accomplished if you’re honest. In my experience, lying just leads to guilt – leads to anxiety – leads to more depression. I recently told the truth to a contract employer and their understanding near brought me to happy tears – no mean feat when you’re teetering on the edge of the abyss. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently released research, which shows employees who are offered flexible working hours are less likely to report ‘illegitimate absence’. So if you are struggling in a full-time job, you could negotiate your working hours with your boss. If you’re met with abandon, it could be time to seek new employment.
Stage 5: Call your Doctor
You can do this at any stage. If you are feeling down enough to be disabled in your every day – it’s time to seek professional help. The World Health Organisation states that globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression. In fact, when I have confided in people, I am often met with relieved exclamations of “Me too”.
Take a deep breath, be brave and go get that glass of water.
Written by Sophie O’Kelly
Twitter and Instagram @Sophie_OKelly_