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Friday, April 13, 2018

Living With Depression & Working Full-time


I was diagnosed with depression for the first time when I was 16. I'm confident that I first started to feel the effects of depression when I was 14 or so, but I wasn't confident enough to ask my parents to go to a doctor back then. At 16, I moved to the UK and had access to going to doctors on my own and without having to explain or justify myself, and that's when I was diagnosed for the first time.

Depression has walked alongside me throughout life ever since. I think people can experience mental health issues in a wide range of different ways, and that's just how it was for me. I think I've had two main "peaks" in my history with depression: one of them between the ages of 14 and 16 (undiagnosed at that stage), and then between 18 and 21.

I've been in therapy since I was 16. I tried antidepressants for a year or so, but didn't get on with them on any level that they were prescribed to me. The only way I can explain the feeling is that I felt very numb, and feeling nothing was far, far worse than feeling terrible. I honestly felt, in my numbness, that I was going crazy.

Being a student with depression was challenging, because I was not being held to my responsibilities. Nobody would die and I wouldn't get kicked out of my university if I missed a lecture because I couldn't get out of bed. University was a breeding ground for making excuses in the name of "self-care days". Don't get me wrong, self-care is very important and you absolutely should have self-care days, but I was hiding behind them as an excuse and having 2 or 3 of those "nothing days" every week.

Working Full-time


The "real world" post-graduation is very unforgiving of mental health. I'm very lucky that I work in a flexible environment with very understanding people and we have policies in place for mental health issues. However, that isn't true for a lot of places. In many careers and working environments, you either show up or you don't. It can be extremely difficult to find the time to look after yourself in a corporate environment where taking time off for mental health is very frowned upon and misunderstood.

There's something to be said for how there's still a long way to go in removing all stigma relating to mental health in the workplace. That's certainly a battle in itself, and one that is being fought every day. However, I'm a firm believer in that just because we know how some things "should be", it does not mean that they are. While it would be superb to live in a world where that change has happened (and I believe that we are on the way there), we don't yet live in that world. It's up to us to be the change we want to see, but we also have to be realistic in the present moment and look after ourselves accordingly.

I am certainly not "cured" from my depression and I still have very hard days. I struggle to get out of bed and feel motivated quite frequently and I, like most people in full-time work, don't have the luxury of taking a self-care day every time it happens.

So what can you do to incorporate self-care into a day that isn't yours to do what you want with? Here are my essential things that I do every day in order to help myself stay mindful and to navigate the way I know my brain works:

1. Don't miss your lunch break


I read an article the other way (Why you ~really~ need to stop skipping your lunch break from Girls in Work) that really opened my eyes:

A study by Workthere.com showed that in the UK, we only take an average of 34 minutes of our hour long lunch breaks, chosing to work through the rest of the 26 minutes. Refinery29 have done the calculations for us, and this equates to working a whole 12 days extra a year.. for free.

I have never been in the habit of missing my lunch break anyway (more on this in point 4), since I have always used that break as a way to clear my mind and regain that mental energy so I can continue to be productive until the end of my day. It's imperative that I take this time to focus on myself and leave my stress at my desk.

2. Have that morning coffee or tea


Coffee is one of those things that has become a bit of a mental crutch for me. I never used to like it, but it became a necessity over the last couple of months at university. The caffeine gives me that boost of energy that I need to get myself moving when the motivation is lacking.

I'm fully aware that a lot of it is a placebo effect, but who am I to turn my nose up at something that makes me feel like I can conquer my day? I revel in the little victories - and this is one of them.

I should also mention that coffee has done wonders for my digestive health. This might be a little bit TMI, but I was never a very "regular" person when it came to my bathroom habits. Drinking coffee every day makes sure that I'm not getting bloated and backed up. That's a two-in-one for my daily little victories - woo!

3. Bring a snack into work


Snacking can be a very dangerous habit to develop when you have a relatively sedentary desk job. I've made the point of having a massive water bottle on my desk so I can sip instead of snack when I'm restless and my hands are bored.

That being said, there is nothing worse than hearing your stomach rumble through the music you're blasting in your earphones at 11am. I think counting down the minutes until your lunch break (more so than usual) is the worst kind of mental masochism, so keep a snack ready for when your stomach starts to take over your brain.

4. Go to the gym, even when you really don't feel like it


I never thought I would live to see a time where I've actually got into the routine of going to the gym on my lunch breaks. I know that sounds crazy, but my gym is a 30-second walk away from my office and is a much better use of my time than window shopping for things I can't afford for an hour.

Exercise is fantastic for my brain and it gives me an escape from the daily stress. Some days I skip the weight training lunch break session and I let myself swim some lengths after work, but I do make sure I go every day.

Of course there are days where squatting and sweating is the very last thing I fancy doing, but I just know that I will feel a thousand times better about myself and life if I just tell myself to shut up and go. It takes a lot of self-discipline and willpower, but I'm making it happen.

5. Take a minute to switch off and breathe


I'm one-thousand-percent that person that takes themselves for a toilet break and sits on a closed toilet seat for 5 minutes, just so I can have a breather. My job is very mentally demanding and I spend 9 hours of my day multitasking. While I love what I do, it can get really stressful and overwhelming sometimes.

There is nothing better than getting up, leaving your phone at your desk so you don't get lost in an black hole of social media scrolling, and shutting yourself away for 5 minutes where nobody can get to you. Those 5 minutes are all you need to let your brain switch off and relax. I go back to my desk feeling refreshed, less stressed and ready to tackle the next 394 tasks on my to-do list.



Of course these are just a few things that help me mentally, and everyone is completely different. Depression can be experienced in a thousand different ways, and it's not easy to "just" do anything when your brain is struggling. I have fought hard against my depression and reached a stage where I can live with it and won't let it control me, but that is not a simple thing to achieve.

I hope this post has given you some thoughts and ideas for how you can incorporate little things into your daily life that will help you manage and navigate your mental health a little bit better. It's a hard battle, but it doesn't define you. You can and you will shine through.
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3 comments

  1. Hey Bianca,

    Long time no see.

    I’m sorry you had to go through this. I don’t think I can offer any real advice, but I’ll chime in anyway.

    Beside everything you’re already doing, my advice would be to add meditation to your normal routine (maybe during that daily “toilet break”). Even if you start with only 10mn per day, that’d be pretty great.

    Maybe you’ve tried it already, but it takes time and patience, so don’t give up.

    The fact that you’ve also found a pretty flexible work environment it’s really great. The last agency I was working at was pretty much the same in terms of flexibility.

    Hope all is well!

    Alessio

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