I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, and it’s ironic that I chose to finally sit down and write it on a day when my greatest accomplishment was getting out of bed at 4 pm. Half mad with hunger and sudden-onset depression (the kind that has no reason, no buildup, just hits you when you wake up and is completely paralyzing), I dragged myself into my car and sat. I had been here before, so many times. I was paralyzed with indecision- should I eat breakfast, or lunch? Should I “get work done” (read: answer a buildup of non-urgent emails) or take a full mental health care day? Did I want coffee or soup? It may sound stupid, but depression feeds off of inactivity and also simultaneously contributes to it. I sat in my car for a full 10 minutes trying to decide which coffee shop to go to, with only enough clarity to realize that I needed to wrench myself away from my house, and no further plan.
What’s my point, and why am I choosing to write this today, in a slightly more casual tone than normal? There are several reasons.
One, writing for me is immensely cathartic. I ended up going to a grocery store with a hot food bar and coffee bar, to eliminate as many decisions as possible- and sharing the process of these decisions helps me compartmentalize why today was unexpectedly difficult. I gain comfort and strength from the process. So, this is for me.
Two, sharing is immensely cathartic- for everyone. My hope is that if this content reaches someone in a moment of intense sadness or struggle and makes an impression on even one person, it will have been worth to have shared publicly, rather than in a journal entry or phone call with a friend. So, this is for you, the reader.
Yesterday, I felt the beginning twinges of a depressive swing, and so with no real work schedule (hello, the beauty and challenge of freelance work) I put on my ragged Vans and went for a walk through my town. It helped, but only for the night. This morning, I woke up worse than yesterday, and with the overwhelming need to PRODUCE something- writing pitches, answered emails, clean dishes, a cooked dinner. Even though I knew the positive effect walking has on my mood, I couldn’t bring myself to do something with seemingly little tangible output.
Actually, that last sentence was a lie- walking doesn’t always have a positive effect on my mood. Sometimes, it’s a last resort, a sort of buffer between me and whatever happens when I stop moving- physically moving- the oppressive fog that makes it hard to breathe, think, process, make decisions, or motivate to do anything at all.
If anyone were to ever ask me what my number one coping mechanism is for battling depression, I would say walking. (No one has asked yet, but there’s always hope, right?)
Walking is non-committal. You can walk in fancy boots, beat up sneakers, sandals, in any weather, for any length of time. Unlike more intense physical activities (running, for example), you don’t need specialized clothing or gear- literally anything you’re wearing is fine (barring snow or rain, but a simple jacket will solve that, and there is something intensely gratifying about walking all melodramatic in the rain; it evokes a movie-like scene with you as the main character with a challenge to overcome).
Walking is non-committal. Almost anyone who is able-bodied can walk, even for a short distance, and on any fitness level. Walking doesn’t make you go faster or slower than you want to- you can walk slowly and quietly, or with energy and purpose. And you can do both on the same walk.
Walking can be more purposeful than driving. When all decisions are hard, sometimes the only ones you can make are which shoes you will wear when you walk to the grocery store to buy exactly one item, but it gives you a reason to start moving.
Walking is exercise & it gets you outdoors. Research has shown the value of both.
Walking is physical movement through space, and for me, the continuous stimulation of imagery can be a welcome distraction, and a series of mini-challenges: will I go on the right or left side of the street? Can I smile at these people? Do I want to walk to the river, or to the park?
For me, especially when I am depressed, feeling that I have to be productive but can not bring myself to be can be a huge trigger for anxiety and more depression. Even if I am not walking anywhere in particular, it can help alleviate the feeling of uselessness.
There is a restlessness that builds up when I am intensely depressed, and walking is a literal “out”- a physical manifestation of an emotional energy.
It may sound self-righteous to recommend a physical activity to someone struggling with depression, because I understand all too well how difficult anything that isn’t passive stillness can be to someone suffering with a bout of depression. But for me, walking can truly be the only solution when I literally don’t know what else to do. I also walk when I am joyful- to share time, energy, or the outdoors with myself or people I love. I walk when I need a chance to think about something, or when I want to be alone. I walk when I want to explore new cities and mountains, and also when I want to explore something I’ve been thinking about. The movement allows me to transcend my frustration at myself, and channel that frustration into moving forward. I also walk when it’s the only thing I can do.
I feel better already for sharing. Hopefully, you do too.
Want to go for a walk? We don’t have to go far. Just to the store and back. Let’s buy a bar of chocolate and eat it together and we can say everything or nothing. Go ahead, give me call.
April 27, 2017