This blog post will not be about the presidential election, but it would be silly not to acknowledge it. As I write this, Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election just a few hours ago. People, including many who were not excited by his candidacy or by the candidacy of Kamala Harris, are literally celebrating in the streets at this very moment. We all have different hopes for the next president. Some of us will want him to fail. Others will want him to make drastic changes and steer the country in a different direction than the one we’ve been headed. Many just want a period of peace and quiet that comes from knowing that serious-minded people are doing the basic work to keep our society functioning so we can regroup and push forward with realizing our ideals. With that as the backdrop, I want to talk about some of the basic work that each of us needs to do to take care of ourselves and those around us so we can make it through the next several months and be there for our loved ones and the causes we care about.
I often talk to my clients who struggle with depression about the “nuts and bolts” of managing their condition. Even as a client’s mood and energy level are deteriorating, there is sometimes a very understandable desire to spend time in session discussing what they can do to find meaning in their life and to make big changes. In those situations, I have to be the frustrating voice who says, “yeah that’s all important and we’ll talk about it, but first: are you eating? Are you giving yourself the best chance of sleeping well? Are you exercising? Are you meditating? Are you taking your medications as prescribed or telling your prescriber why you aren’t? Are you interacting with people in some way that is regenerative for you? Are you doing the basic things you have learned from living with yourself your entire life that you know will help you?” If the answer to those questions is “no,” then now is probably not the time to focus on the big picture and reorientation of one’s entire life. Let’s get the nuts and bolts back in order to give ourselves the best chance of navigating these bigger questions. Those bigger questions are vital as well, and answering them for ourselves can do a lot to reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of troubles in the future, but we have to survive long enough to answer those questions with consideration of our thoughts, feelings, values, and obligations.
I don’t want to sound melodramatic, or like a Game of Thrones character, but winter is coming. It’s going to be dark, it’s going to be cold, and people are going to die. A few weeks ago in Chicago there was a several day period of cold, wet weather. I observed a rapid decline in the mental and emotional well-being of several people including myself. Then we had a return to slightly warmer temperatures, and while it would be untrue to say that everyone snapped out of it and started feeling better immediately, there was a definite shift and an improvement in how many of us were doing. I came to view that cold snap as a shot across the bow. A warning for myself, my colleagues, my clients, and my loved ones that we need to take the coming months seriously.
So I encourage everyone to ask themselves those “nuts and bolts” questions and to take a real inventory of the ways they’re taking care of themselves and those around them. Now is the time to be honest about any of the ways we’re falling short and make corrections. That might include making pacts with friends and family to hold each other accountable for self-care activities like exercise, meditation, and sleep, it might involve talking to a doctor about medication options, it might involve buying a sun lamp to reduce the negative impact of the lack of sun, it might involve reducing your use of alcohol and other drugs, and it will definitely involve several small personal changes that only you know will be. If you don’t know what steps to take, then it might involve talking with your therapist to help identify what has worked in the past and develop a plan, or it might involve finding a therapist so you can begin those conversations.