When my mother died from breast cancer 14 years ago, I was broken. My husband was deployed overseas for a year, my classroom of children needed all of me, and my sister's lupus got the better of her as her husband was divorcing her, so she and her two young children moved in with me. My world was turned upside down, and without a doubt - I suffered from depression for nearly a year.
I gave so much of myself to others, there was literally no time to do what I needed to do to heal and move forward in life.
Related: Study: Over 20% Moms Hide Postpartum Depression Symptoms
Grief therapy helped me understand what was going on in my life, and I spent nearly two years working on my grief, my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and my anxiety. I came out of therapy stronger, but if honest, still never really spent time on what was termed self-care because I felt I had so many obligations.
When my son died almost eight years ago, my obligations were few. I had already gone on maternity leave, and after he died, no one expected anything of me, but to continue figuring out how to breathe. Though clinicians would classify my depression then as situational vs. clinical, the reality was that I was in a dark, dark place. That was when I truly learned what self-care meant, and why it was so important.
Believe it or not, there's more to self-care than taking some time for a yoga class or treating yourself to a pedicure or what-have-you. Things like that are important, as they give us time to practice being still and being good to ourselves. But true self-care, particularly for individuals with depression is hard. Self-care when depressed requires neural connections and actions that don't come naturally when one is depressed, and yet are so necessary to help combat the depressive feelings.
Self-care in depression often looks more practical in application than luxurious (like treating yourself to spa time or something like that). Self-care in depression means making choices that are in your best interest, and that ensure YOU will be taken care of. Self-care looks like making sure you are getting enough sleep, taking medicines (if prescribed), eating healthy and staying hydrated. These basic tenets of everyday life truly are practices of self-care when one is depressed.
Self-care can also be difficult because true self-care requires you to get rid of toxic relationships and things that may trigger your depression. This is hard, especially when emotionally fragile anyway, because it often requires awkward conversations and the cutting out of people who we really may, but just can't be around. Self-care means giving yourself permission to say, "No," because you just don't want to, and as a mother and a woman, this often goes against our very grain. But, doing so will free you from situations that are not healthy for you, and in doing that, will help you heal.
Self-care during depression also means that you may have to have awkward conversations in which you ask for help. Again, we as mothers tend to fear asking for help because it's so easy for judgment to come when we do.
Asking for help may seem like a weakness, but in actuality, it's a sign of strength. It's the knowledge of your limits and trusting in your tribe to help you meet them. If you don't have that tribe you can ask for help, I'll refer you back to cutting out relationships that don't meet those needs and allowing those who can to come into your life. You'll be better for it, and so will your relationships.
Related: The Stigma of Depression Can Bite Me
Most importantly, self-care when depressed is understanding that the difficulty you may find in doing these things is because of the depression itself. Research has shown time and time again that cognitive functioning and frontal lobe functioning of the brain is impaired when one is depressed. This is important because it means that things like emotional control, insight, judgment, planning, prioritizing, memory, willpower and wisdom (among other things) are impaired. Because of this, self-care really boils down to being gentle with yourself as you work to improve your depression. In doing so, you'll be taking the best steps toward better emotional health.