How I handle depression

As I stated way back when, I'm tapering off of my antidepressant. First, I have something I'd like to say to the world at large (anonymously apparently): I have depression and it is a disease. Just because I have chosen to treat said disease does not mean that I am either lazy or have some sort of character defect. And just because I have decided to treat this disease medically does not mean that it is ok to half-jokingly ask me if I exhibit homicidal ideation or to imply that you have the best way to off myself. Thank you. /end rant

Ok, I'm glad that's out of the way. I should also state that I do not discuss this problem in public and refuse to let it be known in my department. This is for two reasons. One, I don't think it is anyone's business. Two, I work hard on not letting this interfere with my life. The second is going to be what my post is about.

I decided earlier this year to try going off the antidepressant I've been on for the past year or so. I have a rather mild case of chronic depression and started taking medication because of various stresses (Dr. Man moving out of state, Quals,... umm... does there really have to be another trigger there?). Now, that Dr. Man is moving back home and I passed quals, I'm hoping that I'll be able to go back to managing without the medication. In the past I've done so in a variety of ways.

The best thing I've come up with for keeping myself aware of my emotions is to track them on my calendar. I make a couple of numeric notations and it allows me to spot trends. I rank my overall feeling of sadness, stress level, and ease of getting out of bed in the morning from 1-10. In the case of the first two 1 being the least sad/stressed and 10 being going out of my mind. In the case of the ease of getting out of bed it's 1 being the easiest and 10 being that it's 9pm and I've only made it out of bed to pee. The first two may seem to be obvious things to track; the latter is my own personal indicator. It's the first sign of things going badly. Every so often I even make a graph in Excel to look at trends (I know, I'm a dork). This also gives more information to my counselor. I can tell him/her exactly how long I've been feeling this way, etc.

I, also, use these indicators to figure out when I need to start taking care of myself. If I notice my stress levels are through the roof, I allow myself to take baths, read non-science related books, or play with my dog. Just to bring it down to some tolerable level for grad school. If I notice that I'm sad for many days in a row, I make sure I eat food. I try to make sure that food is somewhat nutritious. I, also, make myself go out with friends once every two weeks just to commiserate with others. [Sometimes, I exercise more, but not always. That requires a lot of energy that I don't always have. I know that there's a lot of research out there stating that the effects of exercise can be equal to that of an antidepressent. However, if I'm at about a 6 on the getting out of bed in the morning, how much motivation do you think I have to go out and exercise? Exactly.] Overall, I just try to pay attention to how I feel so that way I'm not struck "out of the blue" with great black cloud, so to speak.

The best thing I've come up with for working in the lab is to break everything down into small chunks that have stopping places. That way if in the middle of the day I just feel too overwhelmed, I know I can stop at step X and run an errand or just walk down to the courtyard. On the other hand, on better days, I try to leave something going that I know I have to come in for the next morning (eg. taking plates out of the incubator). Just doing that ensures that I make it in at a decent hour and helps motivate me to make it out of bed in the mornings. (I don't try this during a streak of days in the 7-8s, but maybe when I've had some days of 4-5s.) I employ a variety of motivational tricks to o get started in the lab in the morning. For example, I don't let myself drink any coffee until I've started my first round of experiments (trust me, this is pretty high motivation for me.)

I try very hard to keep my depression under control. These are a few of the things that have helped me both on and off medication. I'm hoping that this list will remind me that I do have these tools as I'm tapering in the next few weeks.