Working with Depression

July 6, 2018

Some days I struggle with my depression more than others. Some days I feel like a horrible human being who is failing at life. Some days I feel motivated and have energy to both adult and play. Some days I run out of spoons early in the day, some days start with no spoons, and some days I feel like I just bought a new silverware set at Ikea (and if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out the Spoon Theory).

I am one of 6.7% of folks in the US who experience depression each year. As a woman, a single mom, and queer person– I am at an even higher risk for depression.

I also work. In fact, I work one full-time job and one part-time job. Balancing work, plus parenting, plus depression is quite a spectacular feat and I try to remind myself daily that I am a rock star for persevering.

I’d love to share some tips that help me work with depression in the hopes that they will help you or a loved one too.

1) Prioritize myself For reals though! If I don’t take care of myself, I won’t have capacity to take care of my child or my job duties. This sometimes means saying “no” or “I don’t have capacity for that.” I avoid overextending myself. I intentionally plan down time before and after big events. I try to be gentle and kind with myself. I remind myself that I am deserving of the same care and kindness I give to others.

2) Take care of my physical health – A consistent system of healthy living does wonders for my mental health. For me this means: eating healthy and regularly (I set alarms on my phone and keep snacks in my desk), drinking plenty of water, joining a gym I can walk to at lunch, not overexerting myself, getting regular adequate sleep, taking naps when needed, and taking vitamins and medications as prescribed.

3) Connect to affirming resources! – Therapists, peer support groups, health insurance, and public aid are all resources that have helped me. Something super important to know is that mental health is included as an essential benefit on ALL Covered California and Medi-Cal plans. There are lots of reasons someone might not want to or might not have access to an insurance covered therapist – don’t despair! There are options – including therapists and community based organizations that offer sliding scale. There are also lots of LGBTQ specific resources you can connect to throughout California.

4) Build a healthy support system – I would be lost without my amazing support system! Like many folks in the LGBTQ community, my support system is comprised of a lot of chosen family. I have invested a lot of time, effort, and energy into growing into the awesome human being that I am now; unfortunately, depression is a liar and frequently tells me that I suck. My #1 rule for people in my life is that they think I’m awesome – that way when depression hits, they can remind me.

5) Seek Out Supportive Employers – I am extremely fortunate to have supportive employers. This isn’t by accident. When seeking employment, I specifically looked for potential employers who clearly communicated their commitment to equity and support of folks experiencing disabilities. I looked into current staff: did they employ women, POC, queer/trans, and disabled folks in positions of leadership? Let’s be real though – as a college educated person in the field of social justice, I was privileged to be able to do this. It may take more time and effort but finding supportive employers is absolutely doable in other fields too.

6) Have the Conversation – If it is safe to do so (just like coming out about your sexual orientation or gender identity), disclosing your mental health to your employer can actually help create a more supportive environment. Personally, I had this conversation during my interview for the position because my lived experience as a mental health consumer and service provider is of benefit to my employer. That’s not comfortable for everyone though – do what works for you!

7) Ask for accommodations – I am super competent at my job and I sometimes need accommodations; the two are not mutually exclusive. Because I have such a supportive supervisor and employers, I generally just ask for accommodations as needed (a special light on my desk, coming in earlier in the morning when I have more energy, working from home when possible, and support prioritizing tasks). Even if you haven’t talked to your employer about your mental health yet, you may be able to get accommodations. Many folks suggest requesting accommodations in writing through HR, particularly if you are concerned about job security. If you want help with this process or need advocacy, Disability Rights California and the Job Accommodation Network are good places to start.

I know that’s a lot of things and you may or may not have capacity for all of these things depending on how you’re feeling today. That’s okay! Some days, I’m doing super good if I can just get out of bed and eat some Fruity Pebbles. You did a great thing just by reading this! My suggestion, just focus on one thing. Then, when you get that one thing managed– and you will! – work on the next one.

Written by Mandy Taylor, MSW
Art by Cloudy Thurstag used with permission