Piecing life back together following a period of depression isn’t always straightforward. There are lots of things to consider and think about. It’s often something we have to work really hard at.
The Straightforward Recovery Myth
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Recovery is usually a wibbly-wobbly line with the odd loop-the-loop. When piecing life back together, there are times when things improve, and times when things seem to be getting worse again. Over time we can learn to manage our depression and many people will reach a point of recovery, but it isn’t usually a straightforward process.
The ‘Returning To Our Previous Life’ Myth
Another myth is recovery means returning to the life we had before becoming unwell, exactly as it was. Although this might be possible for some people, it’s usually an unrealistic goal.
Depression is rough. It puts us through some really awful times, and sends our mind to places it’s never been before. It also teaches us things and can alter our perspective. We might have changed. Parts of our life could have changed. We might have to get used to managing or adapting certain areas of our life to stay well.
We’re not the only ones affected, either. Our depression often affects everyone around us, too. People may have seen us in ways that we hoped they never would.
None of this is to say that we can’t create a meaningful, fulfilling life. We absolutely can. But it’s unlikely to look identical to our life pre-illness.
Making Changes When Piecing Life Back Together
If we go straight back to the environment that we became unwell in, then it might not serve us very well.
Making some changes to our life can help us to stay well longer-term.
We don’t need to give our entire life a makeover. But making tweaks here and there, building in a healthy routine, and thinking about what lifts us up and what drags us down can help us to stay well.
Additionally, we might feel as though we’ve changed as a person. The things that used to interest us might not anymore. We could have developed a passion for something totally new.
Change can be scary, but staying the same can be scary, too.
Take It Slowly
When piecing our life back together it’s often tempting to try and return to our ‘normal life’ as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this can actually be detrimental to our recovery.
Part of recovery is carefully testing various aspects of life to see how they affect us. For example, we might be a volunteer lifeguard in our spare time. Through slowly returning to it, we might discover that we were doing too many shifts and burning ourselves out; so we need to reduce them.
We might find that we cope well with some things and that they’re really good for our mood. But there will also be parts of our life that we need to adjust.
If we return to lots of different things at once, then it can be much harder to tease out the things that are conducive to recovery, and those which are detrimental.
Doing things slowly can feel frustrating, but it enables us to make sustainable changes. It teaches us how to work out whether different activities help or hinder our mental health, allowing us to tweak them as necessary. This can be a useful, life-long skill.
Piecing our life back together can come with lots of frustration.
When we’re really unwell, we often ‘switch off’ from life. We might not be interested in doing anything at all.
As we begin to recover our interest and motivation can begin to stir.
Unfortunately, even if we remember a certain task being ‘easy’, it might feel really difficult and take a huge amount of energy. Depression often clogs up our brain making it hard to think and affecting our executive functioning. Depending on how long we’ve been unwell, it might be ages since we did certain things, making it hard to remember everything involved.
It’s so frustrating and can negatively impact our confidence. The thing is, if we’ve not done something in a really long time then, of course, we’re going to find it difficult; anyone would! We need to try and be kind to ourselves. We will get there, it just takes time.
Confidence When Piecing Life Back Together
Depression can take a sledgehammer to our confidence. It can make us feel useless and hopeless to the extent that we don’t see any value in our life. As we start to piece life back together, low self-confidence often remains.
The Exhaustion Of Piecing Life Back Together
Piecing life back together is exhausting. We’re doing things that we’ve not done in a long time. We might be moving more than we’ve done in a while, trying to make sense of lots of sensory information coming at us at once, and re-learning how to socialise and be around other people.
Depression is exhausting in itself. Recovery is exhausting, too. Put them both together and it’s no wonder we’re so tired.
If our body tells us that we need to rest, then we need to rest. We might be trying to do too much too fast. Some of our early warning signs could start to crop up. We might need to slow down and pull back a bit.
When we’re about to tackle something new, we might want to create a ready-made ‘safe spot’ to come back once we’ve done it. It could include blankets, headphones, and anything else we need to self-soothe.
Guilt And Shame
Guilt and shame can weigh heavily on our shoulders. When piecing life back together, we might remember things that we did or said when we weren’t well. Other people might tell us about things we have no memory of.
We often feel guilty for how our depression affects those around us. We often don’t want them to worry. They might have helped with practical things, like taking us to appointments. We might have lost count of how often they’ve held us as we cried.
When people care about us, they’re there for the good, the bad, and the ugly. We wouldn’t shame our friends if they were feeling low and needed some support.
Depression can creep into all areas of our life. We might feel shame about our difficulties with personal hygiene, or guilty for asking our housemate to help us sort out or medication.
Depression is an illness. It’s not an excuse, and should never be used as one, but it can be a reason for certain things. We didn’t choose to have it and we can’t just click our fingers and make it disappear (wouldn’t that be nice?!). We have absolutely nothing to feel ashamed or guilty about.
Things Seem Pointless
Some of us have experienced trauma pre-depression or during our depression. Our head could have taken us to some really dark places. We might have had some terrifying experiences. This can make conversations about footballers or soaps seem trivial, pointless, and vapid. It can be hard to join in.
We can care about both the state of the mental healthcare in our country and whether or not so-and-so marries whats-their-name on our favourite TV programme. We’re not restricted to only caring about one thing at once. It’s okay to be invested in things that might not seem to matter ‘in the grand scheme of things’. We all need an escape sometimes.
Leaving The House
Starting to leave the house after a period of illness can be tough. It could come with paralysing fear.
Our appearance might have changed; depression can alter our appetite, make it hard to clean our teeth, and generally make it tough to look after ourselves. This can negatively impact our confidence.
When we do begin to leave the house again, there’s no rush. We can grade it, taking it step-by-step. ‘Grading something’, means to gradually increase the level of challenge, until we reach our goal. For example, if our goal is ‘being able to go wherever whenever’, then we might start by sitting on our front doorstep for five minutes, and build things up really slowly until we reach our overall goal.
Learning To Talk Again
Depression can steal our voice.
Words can feel thick in our mouth. We might talk noticeably slowly because our brain is on go-slow mode. If we’ve become isolated, we might have gone days at a time without uttering a single word.
When we do start engaging with the world again, our voice might sound quite weird to us. It can difficult to start getting our words out. We’re out of practice.
The idea of ‘practising to talk’ might sound strange, But it can help us to improve the fluidity of our speech. We could chat with our pet, talk to ourselves, narrate what we’re doing out loud, ring friends instead of messaging them, create short videos (such as Instagram stories), or try to talk to any delivery drivers or shop assistants we encounter.
Over time, talking should become second-nature to us again.
Pushing People Away
When unwell, we might push away everyone we’ve ever been close to. Irritability can make us snappy. We might have wanted to avoid hurting them so. We could have wanted to be left alone. This can understandably cause friction in relationships, but with open, honest conversations, we can often reignite these relationships.
If we’ve struggled to socialise for a while then we might feel ‘out of the loop’. There’s nothing helpful like a recap at the start of every chat and it can take us a while to catch up again. To begin with, it can feel more isolating than ever before. In time we’ll get back to being ‘in the loop’ again. It can just take time.
Going through a tough patch shows us who our real friends are, something that’s not always easy to cope with.
When piecing life back together, people who haven’t spoken to us since we became unwell might reappear. Of course, they might have had things going on in their own life that have coincided with our illness. But if they just decided that they couldn’t cope with our depression then it might time to reevaluate our friendship.
Seeing how our depression impacts our family can be tough. They might tell us about the sleepless nights they’ve spent worrying about us, or get frustrated at us for something.
Communication is often key. We’ve haven’t been through this rough patch in total isolation. To stop everyone’s emotions from bubbling over, it’s important to keep communication lines open. This doesn’t just mean talking, but listening too. It probably won’t be easy, but it’s usually easier and more straightforward than the alternative.
One of the most painful things about depression is how it can impact any children we’re regularly in contact with.
We may have our own children, or, regularly helped out with friends or family’s child(ren) before we became unwell. As we start to piece our life back together, discussions around childcare might crop up.
Children can be amazing for our recovery. But they’re also neverending bundles of energy.
It’s really important to be honest with ourselves. Children are a responsibility and we may well need help (especially if we’re caring for them alone).
Where Work Comes Into Piecing Life Back Together
Our job can take some tweaking, flexing, and trial and error until it feels okay. We spend lots of time there, so we need to try and arrange it in a way that works for us.
If that’s not possible, we might choose to leave our job, apply for something else, or to retire altogether. For those of us who do choose to return to work, we do have certain rights. Having an idea of them can be handy.
Adaptations we could ask for at work include things like having a graded return, doing some hours from home, flexitime, temporarily reducing our hours, steering clear of night shifts for a while, using headphones, and having more breaks.
For some of us, work is helpful, for others it’s less so. But even if it’s helpful, it can still be draining. We still need to try and balance it alongside everything else.
The Human Resources department (if we have one), might help us to put any adaptations we might need in place. They might recommend a referral to an Occupational Therapist. We might be able to directly refer ourselves to the Occupational Therapy department.
Where Education Comes Into Piecing Life Back Together
Unfortunately, education is sometimes less flexible than employment. If we’ve had some time off, there might be topics or modules that we’ve missed. We might miss certain lessons due to appointments, and need to catch up on them, too.
Staying on top of our school or university work while living with depression is hard. Trying to catch up any work we’ve missed on top of that adds another layer of stress and can become too much for us to handle.
It can be helpful to speak to a member of school or university staff about what our options are. There might be options that we haven’t considered, such as spreading our work over a longer period, dropping subjects, or going to catch up sessions.
Hobbies often end up at the bottom of the priority pile. We might not view our hobbies as being ‘as important’ as our job, but they can be a big part of our recovery. They can help us to socialise, leave the house, engage with people, and find a sense of purpose and meaning.
Money, Money, Money
When we’re unwell, paying our bills can be tricky.
Firstly, if we’ve had to reduce our hours, take a pay cut, take sick leave, or we’ve been made redundant, then money can be tight.
Even if we can cover our bills, we might still procrastinate paying them. Depression can make it hard to think, especially when doing something that involves multiple steps, such as paying a bill.
Our paperwork pile can turn into a paperwork mountain. Bills add up (and so do the charges for not paying them on time). As we start to piece our life back together, we are often confronted with these piles, payments, and charges. This can be unbelievably stressful, come with a giant dollop of shame.
There’s no shame in struggling with money. We don’t need to struggle on alone. There are people we can talk to such as Citizens Advice, our bank, friends, and family. Places like MoneySupermarket.com have some fantastic advice, too. We aren’t the first and won’t be the last person to struggle with money and we deserve the help and support that we need to help us get back on track again.
Staying Well After Piecing Life Back Together
There will always be difficult things that crop up in life and our recovery is never going to be a smooth, straight line. But we can build certain things in our life to help us stay well.
This could include things like:
- Creating a balance of ‘busy’ and ‘rest’ time
- Thinking about our Early Warning Signs and sharing them with our loved ones
- Meal planning
- Setting a bedtime for ourselves
- Making a note of any skills that we’ve learned to manage our emotions so that we can use them when needed
- Creating a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) and sharing it with loved ones
- Developing a solid self-care routine
- Setting rules or non-negotiables for ourselves (eg. have a shower ever Sunday no matter how bad I feel)
We’re all different so we’ll all have different things that help us to stay well. The things that help might change as we go through life, too.
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