If you’re struggling with depression, tune in for a great discussion — from two people who have been there and understand what you’re going through. By the end, you’ll know you’re not alone.
About The Not Crazy podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Lisa is the producer of the Psych Central podcast, Not Crazy. She is the recipient of The National Alliance on Mental Illness’s “Above and Beyond” award, has worked extensively with the Ohio Peer Supporter Certification program, and is a workplace suicide prevention trainer. Lisa has battled depression her entire life and has worked alongside Gabe in mental health advocacy for over a decade. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband; enjoys international travel; and orders 12 pairs of shoes online, picks the best one, and sends the other 11 back.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Depression Tips” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Lisa: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a Psych Central podcast hosted by my ex-husband, who has bipolar disorder. Together, we created the mental health podcast for people who hate mental health podcasts.
Gabe: Hey, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Not Crazy podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and I am your host. But with me, as always, is the great Lisa Kiner.
Lisa: Oh, thank you, Gabe. And today’s quote comes to us from Atticus, Depression is being colorblind and constantly told how colorful the world is.
Gabe: This speaks to me in ways that I just cannot explain,
Lisa: I know it’s awesome, right?
Lisa: I like it a lot.
Gabe: I think that people think that they understand depression in the same way that people think they understand colorblindness. Right? Depression is the absence of happiness. Colorblindness is the absence of color. But.
Lisa: Colorblindness actually doesn’t work that way.
Gabe: Well, but you see what I mean?
Lisa: Right, right, right, the analogy is even better than we thought. Oh, boom. Mind blown.
Gabe: Exactly, the average person is like, oh, you see the world in black and white, but that’s not what’s actually happening. Just like depression is not this absence of happiness. It’s a painful feeling. It’s a weighted feeling. It’s being pulled into a dark hole. It’s loneliness, it’s emptiness. It’s shallow, it’s awful. It’s, it feels differently from person to person to person, just like colorblindness appears differently person to person to person and but everybody is wandering around like, well, I know what color blindness is. It’s like the whole world was a black and white TV. There. I got it. Solved the problem.
Lisa: You are stunningly good at analogies.
Gabe: I know, it’s like it’s my job. This leaves the person who is colorblind to think, wow, you don’t get me at all. But what’s worse is you are positive that you do and you won’t listen to me to explain that you don’t get it. I think that’s how people with depression feel. Not only do they not understand you, they’re 100% positive, that they do understand you and unwilling to listen to anything that we have to say to convince them otherwise, which, of course, just deepens that hole. It deepens that loneliness and frustration and, well, frankly, desperation.
Lisa: Yeah, it makes it even sadder.
Gabe: Today we’re going to talk about coping with depression and maybe some helpful hints, because frankly, I just I think that we can only get tips for dealing with depression from other people who have dealt with and manage depression. So congratulations, everybody, your depressed co-hosts of Not Crazy are here to save the day. Right, Lisa?
Gabe: Wow, just the most depressing.
Lisa: I know
Gabe: Absolutely ever,
Lisa: Sorry. Well, because I have some
Gabe: I just, your energy level is garbage.
Lisa: Ok, stop, I want to say something. I want to respond to a point that you made earlier and I’ll figure out how to work it in. You know, I had a friend once who said.
Gabe: You know, you don’t have to work it in, you can just you’re always thinking about how do I make a sound better? I think the audience knows that we’re dipshits by now. I don’t I don’t think we’re fooling anybody with our creative edits. They
Lisa: You’re not helping
Gabe: They know we suck. Make your point.
Lisa: You’re not helping me get in the correct zone for point making.
Gabe: You don’t need to be in a zone. The point is the point is the point. Your feelings
Lisa: Ok, so
Gabe: Are irrelevant to facts.
Lisa: One time I said to someone, I feel like people who do not have mental illness, cannot understand mental illness, and I was specifically talking about doctors, I feel like my doctor who does not have mental illness does not get it. And she said, well, but isn’t that the truth with everyone? I mean, what if you had diabetes? Would a person who didn’t have diabetes understand it? And. Well, on the one hand, I don’t have diabetes, but yeah, I feel like they would. I feel like it’s not the same. And I don’t know why. I feel like mental illness is different than other things. I feel like I do have an understanding of all these other diseases, diabetes, a broken leg that I do not have. But I feel like I do understand it. But is that me doing the same thing that other people do with mental illness? I don’t know.
Gabe: There’s an element of this, right, we’re all arrogant about things
Gabe: That impact other people.
Lisa: That’s the word I’m looking for, arrogance, is this just my own arrogance? I don’t know.
Gabe: Somewhat, right? I think it’s all in how much we scratch below the surface, right? Think of like parenting, you know, how everybody who has no children is the perfect
Lisa: Right, my kids would be perfect.
Gabe: I’m going to pick on my sister because my sister, before she had kids, she just walked around judging everybody’s parents. My kid’ll never throw a temper tantrum in a parking lot. My kid’ll never do this. My kid will never eat that. My kid will never watch this. My kid won’t have that problem. My kid will never back talk me. Yeah. I love my niece. And what I love most about her is that she just proves my sister wrong every single day.
Lisa: That does sound enjoyable.
Gabe: Yeah, it’s awesome as her big brother, but I don’t have kids, so it’s fun to watch, but it’s not that my sister’s a bad person. She thought that she understood. She observed other parents. She thought about her own upbringing and she formulated these opinions. But when parents were telling her, look, lady, that’s not how it works. My sister was like, pretty sure that’s how it works. And yeah, she’s just done nothing but eat crow since little Eva was born. The difference is, is to my sister’s credit and to many people’s credit, they’re like, yeah, I was wrong. I was completely unprepared for this. I was completely wrong. I am just so wrong. And I think we get that in like other illnesses, like you said, a broken leg. I think that many of us have broken a leg or at least respect the thoughts, views and opinions of somebody who we know who has broken a leg. But when it comes to depression, when it comes to any mental illness, really, but the show’s about depression. People are like, look, you’re describing it incorrectly. And they’re like, no depression of mine will ever behave that way.
Gabe: And they just walk away with all of the arrogance of a 20-year-old with no kids judging people who have kids because they’re positive that their child raising skills are superior even though they have no children. I think this allows us not to move forward in educating the public because they think they already know it.
Lisa: And this leads to your point of the best place to get advice on how to deal with depression is from people who have depression.
Gabe: Yes, and I don’t want everybody to, like, cancel all of their appointments with their therapists and doctors, right. As somebody who lives with depression, as somebody who manages depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, the first advice that I’m going to give you is work with your therapist and your doctor.
Lisa: For your long, long term management, yeah, you need a therapist, you need a doctor, take your meds, do your therapy, we just want to talk a little bit, maybe more around the edges for when you’re having a bad day or things just aren’t quite where you want them to be. This is not about when you’re really bad, when you’re really sick, you’re really deep in the hole.
Gabe: We also want to give you a few points, maybe, you know, your mileage may vary about how to talk to your therapist, talk to your doctor, talk to your prescriber, because so often, if they are dismissive, we sort of get handcuffed because we have this idea that perhaps we can’t argue with them.
Lisa: Well, yeah, because it’s your fault, it’s on you,
Gabe: Well, yeah, it’s on you.
Lisa: It’s your mistake, not theirs.
Gabe: Yeah, it’s nobody’s mistake, it’s an illness process, I hate this whole oh, my God, the patient is sick. Is it the patient’s fault or the doctor’s fault? It’s depression’s fault. It’s the illness’s fault. Why? Why are we blaming patient or doctor? You know, there’s a third party in the room, dumb asses. It’s the illness’s fault.
Lisa: Well, people with mental illness are in a bad position because by definition, your brain is not working correctly or not working optimally. So when your doctor says something and it’s putting it on you, you’re like, well, that makes sense. I’m the problem here, clearly. You’re kind of stuck.
Gabe: You’re kind of stuck, but I want people to understand that there are things that they can do to advocate for themselves, and the first thing is, is to tell your doctor, I don’t accept that. I don’t accept that this is my fault and I don’t accept that I am stuck. I want real goals. I want you to tell me what I need to do so that I can mark them down. And if I do those things and I’m not better, then we know it’s not me. In the deepest, darkest depression, and I know that’s hard, keep a lot of notes, find an ally, find a Lisa, find a friend, find somebody to help keep track of this. Don’t talk about depression in this abstract way. I’m depressed. What did you do? I went to a doctor. What’s the goal? To be not depressed. We need hard goals. You know, I’m depressed. What’s the goal? To get dressed in the morning? OK, I want to work with my therapist on how to get dressed in the morning. That’s a real manageable goal. And I’m going to give you a hint.
Lisa: Ok, you have a hint?
Gabe: I feel that we’ve beat to death this idea that you should work with your doctor, right, Lisa? Like nobody is saying that the Not Crazy podcast is a replacement for medical advice. Agreed?
Gabe: Ok, good.
Lisa: Strongly agree.
Gabe: All right. Let’s start at the beginning of the day. One of the problems that I often have is I just I can’t get out of bed in the morning. Now, I don’t like mean literally can’t. I’m not, like, laying in bed paralyzed or. I just wake up and I look around and I think I don’t want to do this. I don’t. And you remember these depressive episodes, Lisa. It was.
Lisa: It was difficult, it was very difficult, but I bet that you have some tips for dealing with that.
Gabe: The first thing I want to say is I think this is where severe depression sort of starts, right? This I don’t want to get out of bed or I don’t want to leave my couch or I don’t want to leave my house. Just this.
Lisa: It’s an overwhelming apathy.
Gabe: Yes, yes, and it’s this like you want to cocoon.
Lisa: Yeah, in a big gray blanket.
Gabe: Yeah, I don’t know what color my blanket was, but
Lisa: Well, no, because it’s gray, because it’s depression.
Gabe: Oh, I get it.
Lisa: Yeah, a big gray, wet blanket.
Gabe: Oh, I don’t know what made it wet, but,
Lisa: Though, not really.
Gabe: I don’t think you’re far off, but I have some general tips for this. You know, one of the first things is, as you know, I thought to myself, OK, well, I need to get out of bed. Right. So,
Lisa: Step one.
Gabe: Yeah, step one, get out of bed. But that’s like really easy to say, right? It’s like, well, I’m depressed. What do I do? You just cheer up. Well, that’s not very helpful. How do you get out of bed? And I think there are some hints and tips to help with even that most basic idea of getting out of bed, put an alarm clock across the room. This has helped me because I have to physically get on my feet to turn off the alarm clock. And the alarm clock is so annoying that it overrides this general desire to stay in bed.
Lisa: That is the only way I can get up is if I put the alarm clock on the other side of the room because otherwise, I just turn over and hit it off. But it really annoys my husband
Gabe: Well, and.
Lisa: Because it goes off so much longer than it would otherwise.
Gabe: If you don’t live alone, you can ask a roommate to turn on a light for you.
Gabe: Or open your window or, you know, do something like that. That’s what you would do, Lisa. You would come in and open the windows, turn on the light, open the door. But once you’re actually physically on your feet, like, that’s the least of your problems, right? You’re standing up. I mean, chances are having to go to the bathroom will get you out of bed. That part kind of works itself out eventually. So the big indicator for me was personal hygiene. Was showering, you know, am I taking a shower? Am I shaving? Am I brushing my teeth? And.
Lisa: For unknown reasons, that was something that you fixated on, it just seemed really overwhelming to you. Strangely, you would do other things, but that particular thing just you couldn’t seem to get past.
Gabe: It was so hard. So one of the goals that I made was to get dressed to get like real dressed like.
Lisa: Yeah, not pajamas and robe dressed.
Gabe: Right, like out in the world and here, here’s the helpful hint, guys,
Lisa: Oh, yeah.
Gabe: So many people say, well, my goal today is to get dressed OK, but that’s actually like a bunch of little things, right? Get dressed is the conclusion. There’s actually quite a few steps, right? There’s getting out of bed. There’s shaving, there’s taking a shower, there’s brushing your teeth, there’s washing your hair. There’s putting on clean underwear, clean socks and picking out clothes is even on there. And one of the ways that I helped myself a real great deal was I listed all of those things one at a time in order. Step one, get out of bed, step two, shave, step three, get in shower, step four, shampoo. And you’re thinking, wow, that’s like really cumbersome. But the one it is. But who cares? We’re moving forward. But it let me cross a lot of little things off the list. Now, you remember Lisa.
Lisa: He would literally cross them off the list.
Gabe: And I wrote them on the mirror in my bathroom because most bathroom mirrors, if you buy a dry erase marker, you can just write it right on there. Actually, I was wrong, pick out clothes was the first thing I put on the list. And I could usually cross that one off before I went to bed.
Lisa: Getting a jump start on the day.
Gabe: Yeah, yeah, I’m going to bed with a win. We tend to do this like people say, I want to graduate college, OK, that’s a good goal. But could you imagine if you showed up to college on your first day and you asked the admissions people are like, hey, what do I need to do? And they said, you need to graduate college. OK, but how? By going to college. Graduating college is the conclusion. Getting dressed, getting ready, facing the day. That’s the conclusion. Write it out. Give yourself credit along the way.
Lisa: You did have like a five-point list that you wrote on the mirror almost every day.
Lisa: And it was like shower, shave, brush teeth. And you went straight down the list with the marker and crossed it off as you went. It seemed to make you very happy.
Gabe: I don’t know, there was something cathartic almost about accomplishing things, and you’re thinking to yourself, if you’re like me anyway, well, those are so stupid, those are stupid accomplishments. And if you’ve never been in the midst of really serious depression, I can understand that knee jerk reaction that that writing, you know, shave and then crossing it off is stupid.
Lisa: It worked, though.
Gabe: I’m telling you, the day before, I did nothing. Nothing. So, when all I did in a day was brush my teeth, comb my hair, shave, put on clean underwear, get dressed, that was an amazing accomplishment. And then I started building on the list, go get the mail, drive and get a Diet Coke or a cup of coffee. It just built until one day I realized that I was just doing this stuff automatically in the quote unquote normal amount of time and.
Lisa: You didn’t need the list anymore.
Gabe: I didn’t need the list anymore, and I would usually just realize, oh, huh, I didn’t write the list, life would just sort of move on. And we think to ourselves, well, why should I give myself credit for brushing my teeth? Because it’s hard. It’s hard for people like us. It’s an accomplishment for people like us. Don’t shame your success. Celebrate it. Well, other people don’t need to do this. First off, you don’t know what’s written on other people’s mirrors. All right? You just don’t. That’s number one thing. And number two, who cares? They’re not living your life. You’re living your life. This puts you in the best position.
Lisa: You still do it occasionally,
Gabe: Occasionally I do,
Gabe: It’s still a coping skill that I use, you know, another coping skill that I use, Lisa, that that you taught me
Gabe: That. Yeah.
Lisa: I’m sure this is a good one.
Gabe: This is a super important, are you ready?
Lisa: Ok, I’m ready.
Gabe: Sleep hygiene.
Lisa: We all know how much Gabe loves to talk about sleep hygiene.
Gabe: Anybody that’s been a long-time listener of Gabe Howard knows how much I love sleep hygiene; I cannot overstate that I believe that sleep drives my mental health, my bipolar, anxiety, mania, depression more than anything else. It’s also an incredible predictor. But this all starts with respecting sleep and knowing how to manage it. And normally I give this whole big speech about everything that I know about sleep hygiene, but I learned it from Lisa. So, real treat everybody. Lisa is going to teach us sleep hygiene.
Lisa: Ok, sleep hygiene means having a consistent routine and a consistent waking up and going to bed time, that can be so difficult when you’re depressed. Like Gabe says, nobody respects sleep. You should use your bed only for sleep and sex. That’s it. Don’t have your TV in the bedroom. Don’t be playing with your phone before you go to sleep. None of that. Sleep and sex, that’s it.
Gabe: It’s so simple, it’s almost annoying, right? First off, sleep is just as important as food. Just hear me on that one. It is just as important as food. If you eat garbage all day, you will feel like shit. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will feel like shit. Those things go together.
Lisa: Well, but when people talk about health, they always talk about diet and exercise, but no one ever throws in sleep. Diet, exercise and sleep, they should have equal footing.
Gabe: They really, really, really should, but for some reason they don’t, so I am going to fix that. Like that’s my mission. A lot of people hear where are you supposed to go to bed and get up at the same time? And they’re like, well, but with depression, I can’t control when I fall asleep. And what if I stay up all night ruminating or, you know, anxiety follows my depression around pretty easily where I just get caught in this feedback loop and I stay up later and later and later. Yeah, it’s really rough when that same time in the morning comes around and I’ve only gotten two hours sleep and people say to me, well but sleep is so important, Gabe, then you should just sleep all day, otherwise you’re going to have a really bad day. You’re going to be irritable, you’re going to be grumpy, you’re not going to get that sleep. Yeah, all of those things are true except for the part where you don’t get up anyway and you’re thinking to yourself, why would I do that to myself for a day? Because otherwise you’re going to do that to yourself for two days a week, four days. You’re going to get your routine all messed up. You’re going to get your sleep cycle off. One bad day is awful. So, imagine seven bad days. I once got my sleep schedule, so out of whack, I don’t think I knew up from down for a month and that all could have been avoided by having one bad day. Now, Lisa, the only use your bedroom for sleep and sex thing really throws a lot of people because a lot of people use their bedrooms as a sanctuary away
Gabe: From children,
Gabe: Roommates. It would be nice if everybody listening had multiple rooms in their house and they could just dedicate a room. But there are still things that you can do in your bedroom to make sure that your bed is only used for sleep and sex. One thing is to have a chair in your room if you can. So if you are going to have a TV in there, don’t watch TV in bed, sit in the chair next to your bed and watch the TV. That way, when you’re in the bed, it still creates this demarcation.
Lisa: Well, it even if you can’t do that for some reason, you have a really small apartment, have a consistent bedtime routine, that these are the things I do before I go to sleep. You brush your teeth, put on your jammies, whatever, sit in that chair and read for 20 minutes. You have a consistent routine that you do every night, no matter what. I personally sometimes do not give enough credit to sleep. When I get really depressed, you just start ruminating on those thoughts. And for me, I think staying up late is actually a form of procrastination. You know how you always tell little kids the sooner you go to bed, the sooner Santa will be here? Well, yeah, the sooner you go to bed, the sooner tomorrow will be here. And all the things that you have to do tomorrow will be here. So if you stay up, you can put that off. Yeah, it always is self-defeating.
Gabe: Well, it’s self-sabotage, especially for you, Lisa.
Lisa: Yeah, I get so much more emotional when I haven’t slept, I’m just on the knife’s edge and I can’t restore my equilibrium if I’m tired.
Gabe: When we talk about managing depression, it would just be ludicrous to not just point out how important sleep is to managing mental health.
Lisa: And no one ever talks about it. Your doctor will ask you about your diet or your exercise, they never ask you about your sleep. It’s weird.
Gabe: But thankfully, Gabe and Lisa are on the case, honestly, you would be crazy not to get enough sleep.
Lisa: And again, it’s one of those things that’s so simplistic. Really? I have this life-threatening illness and you want me to make sure to go to bed on time? Yeah,
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah,
Lisa: I do. Yeah,
Gabe: Yeah, yeah, I do.
Lisa: It’s not bullshit. Seriously, I speak from experience.
Gabe: We also need to think outside of the box. I am very fortunate I can use my bedroom just for sleep and sex. I’ve got the whole rest of the house. But when I travel, for example, if the hotel room has a chair, I sit in the chair to watch TV rather than sit on the bed. Now, if I have to sit on the bed, I don’t get under the covers and I stay in my clothes. So
Lisa: That’s a good one.
Gabe: The idea is to be creative around this so that you are setting up a routine so that when you get into bed, your body knows it’s time to sleep. Another thing that I highly recommend is a white noise machine. Turn on the white noise machine only when you’re ready to go to bed, turn everything else off. A fan is very helpful. Turn on the white noise machine and the fan when you go to bed, that air across your body, being under the covers, being in pajamas or all of these things just indicate this is what you do when you sleep. And then it’s repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat. We can say until we’re blue in the face that Lisa doesn’t respect sleep, but Lisa is not uncommon.
Lisa, along with sleep hygiene, what are some other things that you think that people can do to manage their depression in a helpful and meaningful way?
Lisa: Well, again, the idea of having a schedule is so important, so you’re getting up at the same time every day, and one of the things that might help you keep to a schedule maybe is a pet.
Gabe: Really, you’re advising people to get a living creature. Should we start with a plant?
Lisa: Well, maybe you should start with a plant, maybe a hamster, hamsters are really nice.
Gabe: Well, you know, that’s very interesting, actually, I’m really glad that you pointed that out. You know, in my mind, dog. Everybody is going to run out and buy a 100-pound German shepherd. But you are right, there’s pocket pets. I said plant and you brought up hamster. Do you think that the I’m really trying hard not to say, hey, do you think depressed people can take care of hamsters?
Lisa: Yes, actually, I do, because it gives you something else to focus on, something else to think about, something that isn’t just about you. It’s someone else, something else that is counting on you. And depending on the pet, especially right now, COVID time, if you’re not getting a lot of human interaction, you have your pet. You know, it’s something that provides you with affection and you could get that dog and cuddle with it and pet it and it’s just it’s very soothing.
Gabe: Lisa, you had a hamster.
Lisa: I did have a hamster as a child. I loved my hamster a lot.
Gabe: I was hoping that you would just open yourself up and just confess to the people your love of your hamster. What was your hamster’s name?
Gabe: Twitchell. Tell everybody about little depressed Lisa taking care of little Twitchell.
Lisa: I was a troubled kid, I had a lot of trouble with depression, I didn’t have a lot of friends, I was very lonely and I got a hamster. As I think back about it now, it’s actually really depressing. I’m actually feeling a little bit emotional. I’m 40 and I’m getting emotional thinking about the rodent I had that died when I was 10, but I was ridiculously attached to this hamster. Her name was Twitchell because her nose twitched. I thought that was incredibly clever. It just gave me something else to love, you know, because like I said, I was lonely and there was nobody else around.
Gabe: And it wasn’t just about loving, it was also about the routine of caring for Twitchell.
Lisa: Yeah, because you had to feed her, you had to take care of her cage, and of course, you want to do that at the same time every day and that you felt this responsibility. I have to be at least up and alert enough to do these things or I’m letting her down, you know, so you have this responsibility to someone else and maybe you don’t have the incentive to get up and get going for yourself, but you do for your pet.
Gabe: Now, Lisa, you moved on from Twitchell when you were a little older, you got a turtle and now I was fascinated by this because when I met Lisa, she had a turtle and she was like, well, I’ve had that turtle since I was 10. I was like, that’s not true, that turtles don’t live that long. And she was like, turtles live like 50, 60 years. And I was like, well, I’ve only seen the little turtles. And Lisa said.
Lisa: You know, I hate that. Oh, when I was a kid, I had the little turtles. Babies? No, no, no, not the babies, the little ones. Babies, those are babies. Everyone’s like, no, no, no. That’s a different breed of turtle that stays small. Yeah, it’s a baby. And then they’ll say things like, no, no, no. I had that turtle for like a year and it never got any bigger. Yeah, because you weren’t taking good care of it. It was a baby.
Gabe: It’s extraordinarily important that any pet that you get, you make sure that you can care for the pet.
Gabe: And that you have a backup plan in the event that you cannot. Now don’t run out and grab a pet thinking the pet is going to solve all of your problems, make sure that you are ready for the pet and that you have a backup plan. Backup plans are very important when caring for living creatures. I cannot stress enough that you might want to start with a plant. This is not advice for the severely depressed. This is an advanced skill. We wanted to mention pets because the research is just clearly there, but we don’t want everybody running out getting a pet that they, you know, slowly torture and kill. I think that’s what we’re trying to say, Lisa.
Lisa: Well, keep in mind, even among pocket pets, they could be a lot more difficult to take care of, especially reptiles and birds, people do not realize the amount of work and effort that’s involved in properly caring for them. And obviously, you don’t want to get a pet so that you can take poor care of it. So this is a bit of advanced skill. Make sure you do your research. I owned reptiles for decades and they just take a lot more work than most people think.
Gabe: As somebody who suffers from depression, I got to tell you, my dog, I love my dog. My dog absolutely helps with my depression. It helps with my routine. I’ve got to care for this dog. I feel a sense of pride in watching him, caring for him, molding him, taking him to the vet.
Lisa: And responsibility.
Gabe: Yeah, I cannot be more clear that Peppy is a point of pride and success for me, but that said, I want to make sure that I do right by him even when I’m sick. It’s of vital importance to understand that. So we have sort of a happy medium, which is volunteer at the Humane Society, find a shelter.
Lisa: Then you could pet things.
Gabe: Then you can play with the pets, care for the pets, be around the pets, but also then you can go home. Lisa, you have, I don’t remember, did you ever volunteer for any sort of animal shelter?
Lisa: Yeah, because I didn’t want to have a dog in my house and I couldn’t afford it, but I wanted to be able to pet them.
Gabe: I remember that I fostered a kitten for a few weeks. Do you remember because when I fostered
Lisa: I do remember.
Gabe: That kitten, you were like Gabe got a kitten. I was like, I’m just a foster. Six weeks, and then the kitten was adopted. But that was a really good experience because, one, it was temporary. And two, I had the agency checking in on me. So fostering was actually a great step for me. And I got to play with the kitten.
Lisa: And also, I’m sure if your neighbor or someone you know has a dog, they’ll let you walk it. Dogs can walk for days. If you say, hey, can I take your dog for a walk? They will totally let you do it because, yeah, no one can walk a dog as much as the dog wishes to be walked.
Gabe: You know, I just thought of a service that Kendall and I use to take care of Peppy sometimes, I’m not going to mention the name, but it’s just an app. It’s sort of like Uber for people who walk dogs, take care of pets, you know, check in on them. You can play with other people’s dogs, walk other people’s dogs and make a little money. Just Google Uber of dog walkers. They didn’t pay us. And I’m not certainly referring them. I just I wonder, everybody so far that’s taken care of Peppy from that service has had a day job. I wonder how many of those folks are like, hey, I get to play with puppies and make a little extra money. Sort of reminds me of, like, people like I don’t join a gym. I’m a mover on the weekends.
Lisa: That is an excellent idea that I might wow, think of all the money you’d save. But pets give you something else to focus on and they’re a source of uncomplicated affection.
Gabe: Back in a minute after these messages.
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Lisa: We’re back, talking about depression management.
Gabe: You know, Lisa, we’ve been kind of doing a combo deal here where we tell you how you can play with pets and volunteer, but volunteerism in and of itself is a way to help avoid, alleviate and lift yourself up out of depression.
Lisa: Studies are very clear that volunteerism works, it gives you that something to regularize your schedule, it gives you a place to go, it gives you responsibility, and it gives you that social interaction.
Gabe: It also gives you success, right? I just I used to be a volunteer manager and I called it the warm and fuzzy feeling. You know, everybody said volunteers work for free. No, they don’t. Volunteers do not work for free. They work for that warm and fuzzy feeling. You must connect their efforts with accomplishment, with success. That’s what they want. And I think this is really relevant and important for people who suffer from depression, because a lot of times we feel like we just feel like we’re not doing any good in the world
Lisa: And volunteering gives you those positive accolades.
Gabe: You know, Lisa, we’re very aware of all of the common volunteer activities, you know, volunteering in a soup kitchen or volunteering with animals. But, you know, the mental health community has so many open volunteer opportunities that I don’t think people look into. Now, you want to make sure that your own recovery is very stable and sturdy before you move into them. But I hate it when people who live with mental illness don’t volunteer for our causes because, well frankly, we do have a hard time securing volunteers.
Lisa: Yes, it is a difficult thing, stigma is everywhere. And so, in your community, do you have a drop in center? Do you have a clubhouse program? Is there someplace that you could go to help out?
Gabe: Also, don’t discount volunteering for a fundraiser.
Lisa: Yeah, fundraising is what keeps the lights on.
Gabe: My first foray into mental health volunteerism was for a mental health walk.
Gabe: My volunteerism was I was a team captain. I put together a team, I raised some money. I showed up on Walk day, and then I grew from there. That was the first year, you remember it was called Gabe’s Group.
Lisa: Yeah, we got matching T-shirts.
Gabe: Yeah, we’re original at making names. The next year they asked me to do more, right. Not only was I a team captain, but I also gave a speech training other team captains and like getting people excited. And then the year after that, we volunteered to help organize the walk and put up signs. And there’s always stuff that you can do, like look around when you’re at a fundraiser. You know, at the end of it, everybody goes home, ask them if they need help tearing down, you know, all those sponsor signs that you saw along the walk path? Somebody needs to walk that walk path again and take them down. We love volunteers that can help do this. And it makes such a huge difference. I’m sure you can think of a dozen more easy mental health volunteer ideas that you can do no matter what level of recovery you’re in.
Lisa: Yes, don’t discount. Just because you can’t do a lot doesn’t mean you can’t do a little. There’s all sorts of things you could do. Get on the list to help stuff envelopes, pass out literature. You know, how you go to the library and there’s a bulletin board and it has a flier for that group? Someone had to go there and put it there. Be the person who does that. There are so many opportunities.
Gabe: The most important thing is to get engaged, call up the local nonprofits in an area that’s meaningful to you like mental health and say, look, I don’t know what I can do, but here is my skill set. Here is my available time. Utilize me. Now, remember, it’s not instantaneous right. They’re not going to be like, oh, my God, tomorrow, come in. It’s a slow build. And because you don’t know where they are, especially with COVID and the pandemic.
Gabe: There’s a lot less, unfortunately, right now. But keep an ear to the ground, ask if they have an email list and get signed up for it. The point is, is giving back. It matters. It mattered to me. Lisa, I believe it matters to you.
Lisa: Of course, and there’s actual evidence to back this up, studies conclusively show that volunteering helps depression.
Gabe: One of the advanced volunteer activities, of course, is peer support, leading a support group, teaching classes. There’s a lot of national mental health charities that will train you to be a support group facilitator or coordinator or teach various classes that they offer. Now, I want to be very, very clear. You need to make sure that you are secure in your stability.
Lisa: And you’re pretty far along in your own recovery.
Gabe: Yeah, but it absolutely helps prevent relapse. It prevents depression, it gives you that, you know, that weekly you know, oomph, that success. Now, Lisa is a trained teacher. She taught classes. They were 12-week classes once a week for 12 weeks. I am a support group facilitator. Every Thursday for a year and a half, I sat in a church basement and facilitated a mental health support group. And we both can just not say enough about that. But we grew from smaller volunteerism. Lisa, why did you sign up to be a teacher?
Lisa: The truth? Because I had attended the class and I thought it was great and it helped me so much and I talked to the director of the group and said, oh, my goodness, this class is amazing. You need to have more of them. You need to get more people to take this class. And she looked at me and said, we don’t have more classes because we don’t have enough teachers. And I thought, oh, walked right into that. I’m not going to be able to say no now. And how many years ago was that? And here we are.
Gabe: Oh, yeah. Years and years and years, I just want to set the proper expectations of where you are in your recovery, will determine what kind of volunteer opportunities are available for you. When I first started, I liked the open ended. You know, we accept volunteers between noon and five, you know, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. If you’re here, great. If you’re not, you’re not. And then I built into OK, we’re counting on you. We need you here at noon every Wednesday. I build into that. And some volunteer opportunities, they come with training. Lisa, you had to take a, I believe, a forty-hour training class and like a certified peer supporter is, I believe, a 60-hour training class, at least in the state of Ohio. Different states have different things. To become a facilitator for the mental health support group that I led, I actually had to travel to another city, stay in a hotel for three nights and have a pretty intensive training over three days.
Lisa: So, these are more of your advanced skills, but to get a start, stuff some envelopes, do some data entry, pick up litter on the walk path. There’s always something.
Gabe: And this leads us straight in to stay connected. I know that when I was sick, I just wanted to shut the world out.
Lisa: You didn’t have the energy.
Gabe: I didn’t want anybody to see me and I didn’t want to see them and staying connected was so valuable, I was very fortunate. I did not cultivate a group. A group cultivated me. They were my mom and dad. They were my siblings who checked in on me. They were friends that even though I did everything I could to get rid of them. Well, Lisa kept coming over. I think that sometimes I could have dipped a lot lower, but people were banging on my door asking me if I was OK and I cannot stress how I just I did so little to deserve that. It’s not like something that I worked on. So my advice to you is if you have people that are banging on your door when you are well, thank them. Thank them so much. Just be like, thank you for checking in on me. When things are great, praise them for caring about you enough to show up at your house unannounced after you’ve ignored their phone call for four days. Lisa, thank you for showing up at my house unannounced.
Lisa: You’re welcome.
Gabe: After I ignored your phone call for four days. But what are some things that you can do to cultivate that group if you don’t have one, if you’re not as fortunate as I was?
Lisa: Well, yeah, long term you’re going to want to cultivate that group and basically just go out there and make friends, and you could do that through volunteering, through joining activities that you enjoy, your family, your workplace. So that’s a long-term plan for long term management. But in those acute moments when you’re really sick, force yourself, even though you don’t want to. Get up and go out with the friend who’s inviting you or answer the door or answer the phone call, you just have to force yourself because that keeps you connected to that group.
Gabe: Now, when we say force yourself, obviously, if you need medical attention, get medical attention, but if you’re wavering, I cannot tell you how many times I was like, you know what, I don’t want to. And I.
Lisa: Because you feel like it doesn’t have immediate benefit in the moment, and you’ve got enough going on. You’re like, oh, I just can’t deal with that right now. It’s just not worth it. But it is worth it. It will definitely bring you long term benefits and it also brings you short term benefits. So, when you’re waffling, oh, God, do I have the energy for this? I don’t know. I’m just going to stay home. Don’t. It’s a bad idea.
Gabe: And this is where cultivation really, really matters, one of the things that I did in my social circle was, again, when we were well. You know, so many,
Lisa: When you’re well.
Lisa: You got to set this up when you’re well.
Gabe: Nobody wants to discuss mental illness and mental health issues and depression when they’re well, they want to pretend that it’s never coming back. Listen, it’s going to come back.
Lisa: It’s coming back, yeah.
Gabe: So I cannot stress this enough. But Lisa and I, we know when to push each other and we also know when to be honest with each other. So I say to Lisa, hey, let’s go out to dinner and she’ll be like, you know, I just don’t want to leave my house. And I’ll be like, OK. See, the first thing that Lisa did right was tell me the truth. She told me, I just don’t want to leave my house.
Lisa: Yeah, don’t try to find an excuse, because then they’re going to find out that your excuse isn’t real, then it’s going to be a whole thing.
Gabe: Right, step number two is ask some questions. Hey, Lisa, what’s going on? Is there a reason that you don’t want to leave? Is there anything I can do? Is there something that I can do to make it better? You know, I suggested this really loud, busy restaurant late at night. What if we go more low key? What if we go to the local diner? What if we just go to a fast-food restaurant? What if we just go to a coffee shop and just sit and talk? Would that help?
Lisa: Or maybe something super low key? What if I just come over with a pizza?
Gabe: The point is, is by setting this up when you’re well, I know that I can trust Lisa to tell her the truth, which is that I just don’t want to leave my house. And Lisa knows that I have given her permission to push a little and say, you know, look, let’s alter the plan. You know, what can we do? If you don’t want to go out on a Friday night because it’s busy, let’s change to breakfast on Saturday, that kind of thing. And it doesn’t always work. You know, Lisa and I have, you know, certainly pissed each other off a lot by pushing, but it works more than you think. But for me, Lisa, trusting me enough to say, hey, look, I’m just too anxious, depressed, moody, whatever to leave my house, that’s like really meaningful when it comes to cultivating relationships because she trusts me with this. This is not the kind of thing that you tell somebody you don’t trust. This is the kind of thing that you tell a real friend. Your friends will pick up on this. But again, I have to stress.
Lisa: Gotta, you got to cover your bases when you’re well,
Gabe: When you’re well.
Lisa: You’re going to need to build up credit, friend credit in the bank, when you’re well because you’re not going to be able to do it when you’re sick. To find that friend that doesn’t mind your bad moods or your dark moods, you’re going to need someone that you’re really coming through for when you’re well. And how well do you know your friends? If they’re saying, oh, no, I can’t do it, I can’t go out, I’m too depressed, how hard can you push? How hard can you insist? No, look, you need to do this. It’s for your own good. Come on, let’s go. And at what point do you need to back off? It’s a difficult skill.
Gabe: I really can’t stress enough that part of managing depression is managing your support group, cultivating those friendships and managing the people around you, and this means that you need to have conversations when you’re sick, when you’re not sick, when you’re perfect, when you’re, you know, wavering a little bit. It just needs to be this constant communication. And one of the reasons that is, is because of their own boundaries as well. You know, maybe they’re willing to adjust their plans for you. Hey, Gabe, are you ready to go out this Friday? You know, I just really don’t want to leave my house, OK? Look, I’ve got tickets to my favorite music group or sporting event. And you being melancholy or dragging me down is not something that I’m willing to do with hundred- and fifty-dollar tickets. So you know what? I’ll catch up with you tomorrow. I love you. Thank you for being honest with me and thank you for not dragging down my event. They need to be aware of this as well. And you need to not be offended by that, because I got to tell you,
Gabe: I have ruined more than one event for Lisa where she would have preferred that I not tried, that I would have stayed home and she would have caught up with me the next day. That’s why this constant communication needs to happen. It also needs to happen when you screw up. You know, Lisa, one of the things that causes me the most amount of depression is when I know, when I know that my depression has impacted you and not talking to you about it just makes it worse. The important thing to remember here is that you need to have ongoing communication with your support system, with your friends in order to cultivate a real relationship. You need to be talking about this always, not just when you need something, not just when you’re in crisis. It can’t be the elephant in the room. And people wonder when it’s going to wreck the day. You need to weave it into your relationships because it’s just so incredibly vital to who we are as people. We suffer from depression. That’s who we are.
Lisa: We all think it’s not going to come back when we’re well and it is. It’s going to come back and you need to be ready for that.
Gabe: And when you’re ready for it, it really, really lessens its impact and having these conversations with your friends lets you avoid things like biting off more than you can chew and ruining their event. It allows them to help you. But remember, it’s really important that when you’re well, you repay people and repayment is not give them money or buy them dinner. No, when things are going well, let them pick. If you wrecked somebody’s weekend, make up for it later. Don’t dwell on the fact that you wrecked it. Make a plan to fix it. You know, Lisa, I wrecked a great many.
Lisa: Yeah, there was some high points.
Gabe: Yeah, yeah, and one of the things that Lisa and I finally learned is, one, I need to be honest when I can’t do it, because that allows Lisa to make other plans of somebody that’s not going to wreck the plans. Right. We can all agree with that.
Lisa: Those were expensive tickets, that’s all I’m saying.
Gabe: But it also made me, when I was well, find things that Lisa wanted to do, you know, how many times I’ve gone to Red Lobster with Lisa?
Lisa: Red Lobster is delicious.
Gabe: I hate this place. Like there’s nothing in there that I like, but it’s one of Lisa’s favorite restaurants. It’s probably her favorite chain restaurant, right?
Lisa: I can’t help it. Yeah, it probably is my favorite chain restaurant.
Gabe: Yeah, I hate this place, it’s awful, it’s awful in every way, but but
Lisa: I’m so sad for you that you don’t have the joy of Lobsterfest.
Gabe: But I go to these things because it’s meaningful to Lisa and Lisa is like, hey, Gabe has no reason to do this. He doesn’t want to. These are the kind of things that build you goodwill. And also an apology goes a long way. So many people are like, why do I have to apologize for my illness? Yeah, it’s not your fault, but.
Lisa: It’s your responsibility. Whose fault is it?
Gabe: Yeah, it’s not their fault either, right? Lisa, doesn’t it suck to have to apologize for something is not your fault?
Lisa: Yeah, something that you can’t control, but, hey, life isn’t fair.
Gabe: It really reminds me, you know, Lisa and I have a really good friend who gets migraines and she’s constantly apologizing when the migraines, frankly, interrupt our plans. But, yeah, it’s not our fault we didn’t give her a migraine.
Lisa: Right. So what do you do with that?
Gabe: Yeah, so she says, I’m sorry, we say we know it’s cool, what can we do to help? But imagine if she went the other way. Look, I have a migraine. It’s not my problem. All right? I didn’t do it. It’s not my fault. Could you imagine the reaction to that?
Lisa: No one would tolerate that.
Gabe: Yeah, we’ll be like, look, I’m sorry you have a migraine, but I didn’t do anything. You can almost hear it now. That’s how we have to be with mental illness. I know it’s rough because it feels like stigma. It feels like discrimination and it feels like one more thing that’s put upon us. But the reality is, is anybody managing any illness would probably have to apologize for it. I mean, look, you know, I threw up on Lisa’s mom. It wasn’t my fault, but I definitely owed an apology for it.
Lisa: Well, longtime listeners know there’s more to that story, but of course, we don’t hold it against Gabe because he was so apologetic after it happened.
Gabe: I felt terrible.
Lisa: He definitely made amends.
Gabe: But could you imagine if I would have said, hey, I’m five days postop, this ain’t my problem?
Lisa: Yeah, screw you. I didn’t mean to.
Gabe: I’m not going to offer to clean your car up. Nobody holds it against me because I apologized and because
Lisa: And corrected it.
Gabe: I was truly sorry and because I made amends and now it’s just, now it’s just a funny story that’s lying in another episode of the podcast that you can dig through and find. And I don’t come off so well, but much like managing depression, I did not manage my post op too well and well, that did give me just a slight bit of culpability.
Lisa: But again, no one is holding a grudge because you apologized in a sincere way.
Gabe: Lisa, to wrap all this up in a nice bow, you know, managing depression is difficult and it’s one more thing that we have to work on. If you could boil this all down to like one piece of advice, what would it be? What’s like the most important thing to remember when managing depression?
Lisa: I don’t know if it’s the most important thing, but something that it was always very helpful to me that a doctor recommended years ago was to make sure that you take time to do things you enjoy. And you’re thinking, I’m depressed, I don’t enjoy anything. Well, try to think of things that you enjoy when you’re not depressed, stuff that you normally enjoy, even if you’re not having a good time with it now. A lot of times when I get depressed, I think, well, I don’t really want to go do that activity because it’s just too much effort. But also, I know I’m not going to enjoy it, and that just makes the depression worse. It becomes this cycle because now I’m not having a good time and I know that I should be having a good time, but I’m not. That’s just really depressing. And you feel like you’re almost wasting your effort. You know, I have a finite amount that I can do this. I’m not going to waste it when I’m in such a bad mood, but it kind of pulls you out of it. I was surprised at how well that worked for me. Forcing yourself to do things that you normally enjoy is extremely beneficial.
Gabe: The reality is, is when we only focus on the things that we hate, dislike or that remind us of being lonely, then yeah, that’s all we can focus on. Find the little things, a rerun of a television show that made you laugh or that you have fond memories of just anything, anything to pull you out of it. It really does matter in just a really, really meaningful way.
Lisa: And keep in mind, if you have reached recovery, you know it’s possible. I don’t want to say something so simplistic as, oh, this too shall pass, but it is cyclical. I have periods of depression and eventually, through treatment, it gets better. So, it can get better. It will get better. And you know that it will because that’s what has happened to you in the past and that will happen again. You just have to wait it out.
Gabe: You know, Lisa, it really sounds like you’re saying that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
Lisa: Ooohh, the best predictor of future success is past success, so you know, what you’ve done in the past that has helped and what has hurt? Try to focus on the helped.
Gabe: Rinse and repeat, just like your favorite shampoo. Thanks, everybody, for listening to this week’s episode of the Not Crazy podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of Mental Illnesses Is an Asshole and Other Observations, which, of course, you can get on Amazon.com. But if you want to get it for less money, if you want me to sign it and you want Not Crazy podcast swag, they’re really cool stickers, head over to gabehoward.com and buy it there. I will personally mail it to you with the help of Lisa.
Lisa: I was going to say, you’re not doing that personally, I will mail it to you. Don’t worry, it will get there.
Gabe: Wherever you downloaded this podcast, please subscribe. Also rank and review, write a review. Use your words and let other people know why they should listen.
Lisa: And we’ll see you next Tuesday.
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