Writer’s Guide to Self-Care

For the last few months, I have been dealing with depression. It feels like someone is randomly shooting arrows at me. I dodge as many of them as I can, but some have lodged themselves in my flesh. It hurts to move, and the wounds are slowly oozing blood. Removing the arrows is more painful than them going in and every time I succeed with one, I have to dodge a new volley from my invisible attacker. But, as for most things in life the only way out is through, and I am working my way through. Here is my plan, which I am sharing with you. (Note: I am not a health care expert, which is why I encourage you to see your own. )

1. Give the vampires some blood.
One of the first steps in self-care is taking yourself to the doctor. They are going to want some blood; give it to them. There are a variety of physiological situations that can cause symptoms of depression. Something as simple as low iron can make you feel like crap for months. Also, if you are on medications, they can also cause or contribute to depression. Your doctor will be able to figure out or at least rule out some of the physical part of the body-mind connection. They may refer you to a counselor. Go.

2. Eat real food.
One of my medications has a side effect of suppressing appetite. When I realized it, I did a celebratory cabbage-patch. Finally, here is a side-effect that might improve my life! I wasn’t hungry, so I only ate when I needed a hit of my drug of choice, sugar. I would have a couple brownies for breakfast, an ice cream bar for lunch, and some cheese fries for dinner. The problem with eating junk food all day is that whether you feel hungry or not, your body needs food. Plus, all that sugar concentrated at specific parts of the day can cause mood swings. Sugar swings are great at the top, but the bottom sucks. Eating real food makes a noticeable difference in my day.

3. Exercise.
I hate to exercise. I can think of nothing more tedious than standing in a room full of mirrors lifting pieces of metal and putting them back down again. There are lots of ways to exercise; find one that you don’t despise and make it a priority. I went back to Zumba because that works for me. There have been several studies that say that exercise is just as or more effective at treating depression than medication.

4. Read happy stuff.
I am not sure if you can tell by the title, but I am a little bit in love with Junot Diaz. Not in love in the sense that I want to have his babies because I’ve never met him, but in love in the sense that I want to crawl into his stories and revel in the real-ness of his fiction. And Toni Morrison! I could spend the next year teasing out different interpretations of Sula without ever getting bored. But I can’t, not right now. No matter how satisfying it is, I can’t choose to immerse myself in more darkness. Be selective about what you read, what you watch, what kind of music you listen to.

5. Write joyfully.
I spent a semester writing about some of the most horrible times in my life, then subjecting the fruit of that labor to the microscope that is workshop. I spent all my considerable writing time perfecting these essays and immersed in darkness. This summer, I told myself I would work on an essay I had begun during that semester, so I sent it to one of my professors. He told me that he felt like the essay was about me coming to terms with my self-loathing and that I needed to devote a lot more time to the polishing of the essay. I made a decision. I don’t want to come to terms with my self-loathing. And I wasn’t in a place mentally where that would have been a healthy decision. So, I started writing children’s books. All children’s books have happy endings, and I needed to create that for myself, even if it is fiction. I need to live in that world, if just for a little while.

If writing darkness makes you feel better, then write that. If it makes you feel worse, then consider placing that piece on hold. Sometimes you can write the right essay at the wrong time. Stories don’t expire. People do. Depression is a disease which when untreated can be fatal. Don’t put your life at risk for the sake of a good story.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include the following:

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or actions, there are a variety of resources you can access
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline- 1-800-273-8255 (open 24-7)
Crisis Text Line- Text START to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.
The Trevor Project (for the LGBTQ community)- 1-866-488-7386

Use them. You have a unique, beautiful, haunting, inspiring story to tell, but you have to live to tell it.
I wish you love and peace and health throughout this new year.

Crystal J. Zanders is a writer, teacher, and pug owner who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is the current poetry editor of Blue Mesa Review and a second- year MFA student at the University of New Mexico.

Crystal Zanders