the hard day plan

Creative Commons 2014 © Matt Deavenport
Creative Commons 2014 © Matt Deavenport

The walls shimmer with shifting blue shadows. The lapping sounds echo off the tile floor. The smell of salt water fills my nose.

I plunge into the cool water without hesitation, letting it envelop me completely, closing over my head, caressing my face, pulling me under, but not against my will. I open my eyes to observe the wavy blue depths I now inhabit.

My feet push off the bottom, my arms propel me, clumsy but somehow still elegant, through the uneven waves. Under here, I hear nothing but the rhythmic workings of the system that keeps the pool full and clean, and, occasionally, when I tune in, the beating of my own heart. My head breaks the surface momentarily so I can suck down a deep lungful of air – the silent, perfect world broken – and then I am under again.

I don’t know what it is about water. Pool water, lake water, ocean water. Bath water, even. It cleanses me, somehow. Washes away my anxieties and fears, the squicky lies my depression tells me, and the tendency I have to ruminate on issues beyond my control. It brings me back to a more primal, more present, me.

Maybe it’s a womb thing. Maybe it’s a childhood thing. Maybe it’s a vestige of some primordial something or other. Whatever the reason, water makes me feel reborn. It is a physical reset that tells me, “Yes. You can do this. You can survive.” Nothing can touch me in the water.

***

When I met with Blake to be photographed and interviewed for her project, We All Believe In You, I didn’t know what I was going to say. For a long time, I have been quite open about my struggles with depression, but suddenly, it seemed like my story was too small. It didn’t compare to the tales of immense struggle and pain that other people had been telling. I don’t self-harm and I have never attempted suicide, and it seemed like that meant my pain and my experience of mental illness were less than.

Blake did away with those fears immediately, asserting, quite forcefully, that everyone’s story is relevant and everyone’s experiences are important. We talked briefly, about when my depression started, about how it has affected my life, about how I have dealt with it. She asked me what advice I had for other people who may be experiencing similar difficulties, and I told her, “Have a plan in place before the hard days come.”

I forget this advice all the time. In the middle of a depressive episode, it is really easy to forget all of the things that I have previously done to make myself well again. So I have posted a list on my wall, entitled, helpfully, Self-Care Cheat Sheet. It lists 12 things I can do to make myself feel a little bit more okay when I feel depression tapping me on the shoulder.

Recently, I finished reading Jes Baker‘s book, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls. (It is a revelation. Read it.) She has a whole chapter dedicated to mental health, which made me do a kind of happy dance. Then, as I read it, I stumbled upon something awesome:

Her main piece of advice for those of us who struggle with hard days – so, everyone – is to have a plan in place ahead of time.

Whoa. THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I SAID.

So that was pretty cool. And it also gave me a bit of a push to revamp my Self-Care Cheat Sheet. Now, instead of 12 items, it lists 53. It’s tucked away inside my journal right now but I fully intend on making a poster out of it for myself, bright and colorful and pretty, so I can put it somewhere where it is very easily accessible. (When those hard days come, they come fast, and I don’t always have time to remember where my list has been stashed before I am curled in bed, unwilling and unable to drag myself out of it, come hell or high water.)

Some of my items:

  • Pet an animal. Visit the SPCA if possible.
  • Sing along to Taylor Swift. Loudly.
  • Light a candle in the dark and watch it dance.
  • Have a bubble bath.
  • Take 5 deep breaths. Then another 5.
  • Wash the sheets and roll around on them while they are still warm and smell amazing.
  • Go to the movies alone.
  • Make tea.
  • Snuggle a baby.
  • Indulge in some (controlled) retail therapy.
  • Swim.
  • Smile. Fake it til you make it.

***

My skin felt too tight, my limbs twitching with barely contained energy that zipped through my veins like tourists in the treetops of Costa Rica. I wanted to crawl out of myself for a while. I could feel my teeth gritting, trying to tamp down on increasing anxiety and restlessness.

I went into the bedroom, changed as quickly as possible, and headed into the hallway. I tapped my foot impatiently as I waited an interminably long time for the damn elevator to arrive. Didn’t it know I was on the verge of collapse?! Finally, it dinged and the doors slid open. I wedged myself in between two other passengers and watched as the numbers rapidly descended. The doors opened once more, spilling us all out into the foyer, and I hurried around the corner, swiping my key fob, and pushing open the door.

The shifting blue shadows. The lapping waves. The smell of salt water.

My whole body relaxed.

***

Do you have a hard day plan? What does it consist of? Feel free to share the things that make you feel more human in the comments. <3

the hard day plan