Creating a Self-Care Toolkit

I talked with a wonderful woman from halfway across the country this morning about her ongoing battle with depression.  At one point, she asked me so tenderly, “Am I ever going to get better?” My unwavering response was “Yes”. Maybe I had no right to say this. After all, I’m not an expert. But I have talked with hundreds of lawyers across the country who have shared their depression stories with me. Many of them have recovered or are on their way. The woman also shared with me that she was in therapy and taking antidepressants, but was still having a lot of problems with depression. I offered her a little hard won advice which I will share here.

When we think about recovery, we need to envision a Self-Care Toolkit. What’s that? It’s behaviors that you are going to do that are healthy and offer you relief and hope. Certainly, seeing a psychologist and a psychiatrist are self-caring acts. But, there is a lot more that we can do to help ourselves. I call them the pillars of recovery. Here are a few that I shared with my friend on the phone today:

1.    Join a support group for depressed people. Ask your psychologist or psychiatrist if they know of one. If not, maybe they will start one that you can participate in. Alternatively, contact the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance. It’s a national organization dedicated to helping people just like you. Here is the link to finding a support group in your area. Another idea is to contact a Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP) in your State or community. These programs are confidential and are there to help lawyers with problems including depression. They may be able to help you find a lawyers support group in your community. Here is the link to find a LAP in your state. Please note that a support group is not the same thing as group therapy. Here is a great article from the Mayo Clinic about the difference between the two and the benefits of joining a group. One of the biggest problems is the loneliness that we as people with depression experience.  We often think to themselves, “No one understands my pain”. We compound this loneliness by isolating themselves from others. The act of joining a support group is a much healthier choice than walling ourselves off.

2.    Start a journal. Depression often causes us to bottle up our emotions or feel like we just can’t sort them out. In one study , conducted by The University of New England, police officers spent 15 minutes at the end of their shift writing in a journal about stressful events and feelings that had occurred during the shift. In just four days the officers experienced a 28% reduction in stress, anxiety and depression. “Keeping a journal is a good way to start coping with depression”, says Jessie Gruman, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Health in Washington. “It’s not aggressive, it’s something you can do by yourself, and it gives you the chance to see your feelings in black and white and then make plans to do something about them.”

3.     Help your spouse/partner to help you.  Many spouses/partners who love people struggling with depression don’t know what to say or do. Sometimes, although well intentioned, they say something that only makes you feel worse and more alone. What a spouse/partner needs to do is get educated. I have recommend reading the book, When Someone You Love Is Depressed: How to Help Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself, by Laura Epstein Rosen, Ph.D. It’s important for your partner to be on the same page because depression affects the whole family.  I recommend that you buy the book for your spouse as a gift. It lets them know that you care and realize that they struggle with how to help.  Read this article from Psychology Today about how families often do better at recognizing depression than patients. Need online help? Wonderful resources can be found at the Families for Depression Awareness website at www.familyaware.org.

More later. For now, be well.

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