Like an ocean tide, depression ebbs and flows with the potential to unleash a flood of unwanted thoughts and feelings at any moment. During low tide, life is pretty sweet. During high tide, even the anticipation of doing something fun with people we love can overwhelm us. Depression is inconsiderate in its timing, and I typically find myself feeling worst on the days when I need to be at my best.
Depression is truly the horse’s hindquarters.
Life goes on in spite of our emotional tides, but we don’t have to miss out on it. Even when going through a rough patch, if you know your limits (Rule #1) then you already know you can do anything. That means you can also alleviate some of the anxiety around less-than-desirably-timed socializing with a little planning.
Rule #2: Always have a Plan B.
Choose a strategy or develop your own. The point is to find something that works – something to alleviate the stress of socializing when your depression is at high tide. I typically use one of the following:
The exit strategy
The no, but
The exit strategy is a time to leave, plain and simple. For example, you want to attend your young nephew’s birthday party, but know being around a crowd of children is a bit more than you can stand right now. Plan on going for an hour or two, but also plan an activity for later – something flexible – and use that as your reason for leaving. It can be as simple as shampooing your hair, but if being at the party is making you anxious you can say, “I need to be somewhere at 6:00” and leave. You don’t have to say where you need to be, and if you are enjoying yourself, stay.
Plan B’s are not meant to deceive, but rather provide some flexibility around inflexible people. If people know about your depression and are supportive, then they will most likely understand the need to minimize your visit. However, we all know people who view depression as a self-indulgent pity party – the exit strategy is for them.
The fail-over is a substitute, and especially useful at mealtimes. Have you ever beaten yourself up for burning dinner? In the grand scheme of things a minor offense, but there are days when the smallest mistake triggers a litany of self-deprecating statements from Lobespierre (my depressive brain):
“You can’t even do THIS right.”
“Once again you’ve disappointed everybody.”
“Any idiot can cook…except you.”
I have learned to silence those negative voices by keeping two things on-hand at all times; biscuits and frozen somethings. When a new breakfast recipe goes wrong, I may be disappointed in my inability to channel Julia Child, but I’m NOT feeling guilty or stressed over it: I just make biscuits. When dinner is an epic fail, I fail-over to mini-frozen pizzas.
Pick something you know everyone likes, keep it on-hand and off-limits. Tell the kids it’s your Plan B, and everyone will be cheering the next time you burn dinner. Well, maybe not, but at least there will still BE dinner, and you can spare yourself the mental beating.
Finally, the “no, but” strategy is the proposal of an alternative which suits today’s tide. If going to a dance club is beyond your current limits, offer a “No, but I could meet you for coffee later.” This way you acknowledge your friend’s invitation, confirm you want to spend some time together, but choose a setting you can both enjoy.
Depression does not mean being doomed to a life of Plan B’s, but when circumstances feel beyond our control, Plan B’s give us choices, and choices empower us. You will feel better, the tide will go out, and you will dance again.
NEXT TIME: Do you feel like you absorb the stress of people around you?
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