Depression, Lupus and COVID-19
The vaccines are here to help us. Nevertheless, I feel stuck behind a wall of tiredness. Living outside of my comfort zone for such a long time has taken a toll on me. Living with the pressure of lupus has made me more conscious of my fragility in this world.
When talking to my sister a couple of days ago, she gave me a piece of wisdom, which I want to share with you all, as this phenomenon seems to be faced by many people, not only myself.
Discouraged? Sad? Me?
Sometimes life feels like it has no color. Things that used to give us pleasure are not exciting anymore. That’s when we need to lift the red flag. Depression usually has a very silent entrance, creating a vicious cycle that mainly combines three things:
1- physical symptoms: poor sensations such as loss of energy (mental and bodily) and difficulty concentrating and thinking. Suddenly we lose interest in things we used to love.
2- behavior changes: we slowly decrease the number of fun activities in our life. We avoid and forget to do little things that give us pleasure, postpone activities, turn down responsibilities, and isolate ourselves.
3- mental shifts: guilt, hopelessness, pessimism, self-criticism. Negative thoughts become part of our everyday thought process, and with that, we lose even more energy.
The mental backlash creates new negative physical symptoms and unhealthy behavior changes that generate more mental changes. It is all connected. It creates a vicious cycle that needs to be broken before being repaired.
How to Stop the Cycle?
Cognitive therapy shows a few practical ways to break this negative cycle and improve depression. Below are three simple steps to start:
1- schedule in your day things that please you. Don’t over complicate. Pick something you used to like, such as watching a movie on Netflix, calling a friend, or walking the dog. Choose something healthy – so neither legal nor illegal drugs count, nor overeating either. Pick a time every day and follow through. By creating a consistent schedule of ‘happy’ things, we secure a positive reward in our day; and by doing that, we start to release dopamine in our bodies, which is a hormone that increases energy and motivation. Eventually, we will feel less lethargy and tiredness.
2- Identify and replace: when you silently (or audibly) tell yourself something negative, write down the positive opposite of what you just thought on a piece of paper – even if you don’t believe it. Maybe get a notebook, and start writing down all the positive, empathic thoughts opposite to what you imagined. We reinforce the positive message in our brains by writing it down.
3- Before going to bed, record all the positive things that happen in your day. It may sound hard, as depression distorts reality and blinds us, so we cannot see happy things. Maybe it was a hug you received from your son, a book you read, a meal you ate when you were hungry, or a hot shower. After identifying the positive things in your day, be grateful.
A gratitude journal is a helpful tool to feel better and be happier.
Invite a buddy to do this exercise with you. Changes get more manageable when we use the buddy system, even when it is virtually.
Don’t give up, and if you feel the weight in life is too much for you, ask for help. Depression is real, and it is treatable.