Self-Care (NaNo Prep 23)

I am 34 years old. By many standards I’ve had a good life and good health: never broken a bone, never had a cavity, not traumatized by bad dreams, bad parenting or broken hearts– at least, not any from failed romances.

Image courtesy of Kate Smith via stock.xchng.

Image courtesy of Kate Smith via stock.xchng.

But this time of year, especially, the fangs of depression try to get hold of me.

I wrestle with chronic depression.

All three of my children display signs of pediatric depression, and I, who have relatively little “mom guilt” of any kind, writhe over the question of how much of their suffering is because of me, and whether there is another scrap of energy to spend on their recovery in addition to mine.

Why bring that up now? This is a writing blog; I haven’t forgotten.

Writing is a part of life, it will always be affected by your life, and it will develop and train parts of your brain in ways that will, in turn, affect your life.

One of the results of conscientiously planning your novel (or even just recognizing benefits from the planning), is that your mind might take that power and effectiveness and try to translate it onto your real life.

This can be both good or bad, and caution is needed.

On the “good” side is how trajectory can help us with decision-making and motivation. We can be more content with incremental progress (like working slowly toward finishing a novel…) because we know that as long as we keep moving we must eventually reach our destination.

On the other hand, thinking about things we cannot control or change, ruminating and trying to reason our way out of problems [link] that are really “life” — this is the path to crazy.

Researchers Mark Williams and John Teasdale, authors of The Mindful Way Through Depression have some fascinating talks (the links I’m still trying o track down, so check back) on depression, and address this topic specifically.

They use the example of a map, and suggest there is a fundamental difference between reasoning how to get from a physical point-a to point-b, and the effort of reasoning your way from depression to not-depressed.

In the latter case, you are emphasizing your separation from where you want to be with every dig of your mental muscles, essentially fighting your way deeper into the quicksand of depression.

It is, ironically the stillness and waiting of mindfulness  (which Mark Williams and John Teasdale write about) that has been shown to provide some of the greatest symptom relief within depression.

As this month began, I was buoyed by my excitement for NaNo and this series of NaNo Prep.

Doing something you enjoy, and/or something you are good at is extremely important for solid mental health.

If you ever find that the activities you used to enjoy have lost their pleasure, and there is nothing enjoyable in your life: that is a Major. red-flag. I’m not going to tell you to go take a pill (unless it’s a huge dose of D, B-12 or a SAM-e regimen), but I will urge you to start paying attention. Education is not the ruminating I warn against above.

If you have any systemic thought patterns that emphasize your worthlessness as a person, your tendency to ruin things or fail constantly (even– maybe especially– if you have good, logical reasons to reach this conclusion) this is the time to reach out for help.

You don’t need to know all the “right” words yet. You don’t have to wait (to ask for help) until know what you need.  This is the time to catch your thoughts misbehaving, because this is the slippery slope to self-harm, and (no-nonsense voice here:) none of us has time for that.

As the month has progressed I have been fighting my old enemy—chronic depression— more and more, but at the same time I feel some victory: I am doing something I delight in (I get to discuss writing and planning novels!), something I know I’m good at.

I recognize diseased thoughts as they try to creep in, and know what to do about them.

The most common example these days is the “reasonable” reminder that the dishes aren’t done, or the bathroom needs cleaned, or some other legitimate responsibility of mine in the home.

This thought it not the problem. The problem is that it can hold a poisoned fang that kills the narrow strip of enjoyment you can find in a specific thing that is separate from that ought.

I lived for years imagining that writing needed to be treated as a reward I earned after completing all my “real” work. Only, the “real” work of a household is never done.

What I finally learned, and now shapes my behavior, is that I don’t start my day at 100% energy then choose where it goes, robbing “housework” or “homeschooling” by spending time on writing.

I start somewhere between 50-75%, and must either maintain or recharge based on self-care choices: How I eat, sleep and move.

I might someday start at 100%, when my sleep habits are better, but for now I have to make up for that poor energy-management through healthy eating and balancing demanding tasks with recharging ones.

Take a moment, today or tomorrow, to look at your life. Name what you you’re good at. If you’re not confident enough to declare that, name what you enjoy. Call it what it is: food for your soul, and start making a plan for regular nourishment.

You’ll not get through your novel without it.