Alright, November is technically the greyest month of the year. But:
If you live in the Midwest like I do, I think we can both agree that February is even sadder than finding a single lady hugging a barfy, bar bathroom toilet before 7pm on Valentine’s Day.
By the time this terrible month hits, 80% of New Year’s resolutions have failed, and despite the days getting longer, the fact that you can’t feel your face after spending more than 10 minutes outside makes Spring feel very much out of reach. Even its two “holidays” bring nothing to the table considering post-super bowl depression is actually a thing (‘MERICA!) and so is broken heart syndrome (Screw you and your overpriced roses and overbooked restaurants, Valentine’s Day).
Not-so-coincidentally, this also happens to be the time of year when the struggle becomes very real for the 1 in 5 U.S. adults who are coping with a mental illness (aka brain disorder) whether it be Seasonal Affective Disorder or year-round depression, anxiety, or bipolar (*raises hand*).
When you live with a depression-related illness, the only thing that’s “magical” about winter is its ability to make you feel as though your brain is even more chemically fucked up, your mind even more illogical, and your body even more energy-sucked than usual.
Suffice to say, sometimes it’s hard enough to continue on as a fully functioning member of society let alone keep your health from going to hell.
Enter this article. I’m not going to tell you to “Exercise, you’ll feel better!” or to “Try packing your gym bag the night before!” Because while that’s a #coolstorybro, it doesn’t really address how to overcome the whole “I feel like shit. I am shit. Life is shit.” thing that accompanies depression and anxiety on the really bad days.
Instead, I’m going to share with you three simple-but-not-easy, energy-saving techniques I had to adopt (that go against the grain of the well-meaning yet unhelpful advice given by people who don’t “get it”) to avoid feeling like a SAD SACK ‘O SLOTH for three months out of the year.
Disclaimer: I’m no expert, and these aren’t substitutes for therapy or medicine. You may need those things too. I certainly do. These are simply three ways I choose to supplement the two (and if you’re in a really dark place right now, please call 800-273-TALK (8255).):
1. Stop trying to “stay positive.” Have zero expectations instead.
Training my brain to think this way has made the thousands of ‘therapy dollars’ worth it. This isn’t to say you should be negative. Rather, abandon all expectations, good and bad. If today sucks, own the suck, and don’t tell yourself tomorrow will be better. And don’t psych yourself out wondering if it’ll be worse. It might not be either. And no amount of speculation is going to change things.
In my experience, forced positivity only leads to less energy, more ugly crying behind closed doors, and regrettable trips to the liquor store.
Ironically, when you stop trying so hard to be positive, you’ll feel more content, and you’ll also have more energy for things like going to the gym, for a walk, or to the grocery store to stock up on some kale. But, still, expect nothing. Exercising and eating well may not actually make you feel any better in that moment (personally, my endorphins only make a handful of appearances December through February) … but I’d be willing to bet it won’t make you feel any worse. And you will be happy you did it. Eventually.
2. Don’t set any long-term fitness goals right now. Build daily habits instead.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the “New Year, New You” bullshit, set unrealistic goals, and end up even more overwhelmed, exhausted, and teary-eyed than before when you’re not measuring up one month in. You know what’s much more manageable and way less tiring? Choosing one good-for-you habit to do daily. And once that habit becomes second nature, add in another. And then another.
If you’re currently in a place where the thought of doing anything at all sounds about as impossible as qualifying for the Olympics, I propose you start with this simple (but not easy), healthy habit Marya Hornbacher suggests in her book Madness:
Go out of your house and interact with another human being at least once per day (and, no, a co-worker, client, roommate, or spouse does not count).
Once you’ve got that one down, consider adding on a fitness-related habit. This January, I actually did a 31-Day Challenge that simply asked that you do one “activity” every day for 31 days straight. It was my most productive and feel-good January in years. Because I kept it simple. And manageable.
3. Have periodic pity parties. Just keep them short, leave the vodka at home, and invite a friend who believes that mental illness is actually “a thing.”
So, yeah, by “pity party,” I do not mean blubbering over a tub of cookies ‘n’ cream and chasing it with a twelve-dollar bottle of red whilst watching the movie Beaches alone in the dark (*looks away innocently*). I mean spending time with friends and family with whom you can be open and honest about what’s going on with you. Because, not-so-surprisingly, acting like everything’s okay all the time will eventually destroy you.
“But, Sarah, I really don’t feel like talking about it.” SPOILER ALERT: You’re never gonna feel like it; but you still need to do it (kinda like laundry).
And if just the thought of saying the words out loud makes your heart race, palms sweat and eyeballs twitch? Know that doing so will bring at least a temporary ceasefire to the exhausting war going on in your brain and make you feel 497 pounds lighter (approximately). And, eventually, it’ll become a casual conversation that doesn’t always involve “pity” because you’ll finally have someone (or, hopefully, someones … with an “s”) to celebrate the good days with too.
SO … MORAL OF THE STORY: Rather than focus on “staying fit,” which can feel daunting this time of year, make it your mission to stop wasting your energy on the unnecessary. By taking that latter step, you’re effectively opening the door to the former.
And if you can find someone who won’t tell you to “be positive,” will listen without judgment, and is also up for being your workout pal?
February: A big, fat fucking ZERO.
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