[Content: Mentions of Depression, of Partial Hospitalization programs, and of the feelings/enjoyment/good at charts?]
One of the exercises I learned as a kid about depression involved making a list of the Things I Enjoy Doing. There was also the Things I Am Good At list, and the These Faces on the Chart Match My Feelings Today list. There were lots of other ones, but I’ll stick to these ones because they are the Alternative Coping Mechanism lists.
When I was in a partial program, the day would begin with listing the feelings off the chart of faces on the wall, and this would happen at several points during the day- usually at any transition. Part of it was to track our self assessment, but it was also supposed to help us identify our feelings more accurately, and learn what the facial expressions were for them. If someone showed an emotion “wrong” the teachers would demonstrate “appropriate” ways of showing emotions. If someone chose emotions that flagged their depression screens, we’d have to add an extra thing to the “Things I Am Good At” list. I’ve also seen it listed as a “Strengths” list. Every day, we’d have to come up with 3 things we were good at. It was passable to repeat the same things most days (which I did- I did the same for the face charts most days) though coming up with new ones was a “good sign.”
If I remember correctly, my charts usually looked something like this:
Savannah is good at:
I seem to remember a lot of “Ambivalent” on my sheets after a staffer explained what it meant. And I could list off those “Strengths” half asleep by the end of my time in the partial program.
A lot of time was spent on the identification of “appropriate coping skills.” We had lots of sheets and stories on the differences between passive, assertive, and aggressive responses to things, but like several of the kids in the program I found practicing them difficult- I could repeat line by line the “assertive” response I was taught at home, but if it was my mom’s second husband this was a “behavior” and “manipulative,” so what was the point?
The other was the “Things You Enjoy List.” It was basically supposed to be a list of things you liked doing so that if you began to slip into a depressive episode then you could look at the list and do one of the things to remind you of good feelings- or at least put off the omni-present gloom of a depressive episode for a little while. At the time, my list was essentially as follows:
- Playing with animals
- working with animals
- doing art
Seeing as how this is basically a re-wording of my “strengths” list, I think that I had quite a few frustrated staff trying to figure things out. I had a dog, maybe more, at home at the time (my pet timeline and my treatment timeline aren’t ones I have attached to each other to be sure,) and I sometimes would volunteer with the support of my Theraputic Staff Support at a local hab aide riding facility. (Though I think that might have been after the partial program…) Since they were trying to teach me social stuff too, having me go read to myself in the corner wasn’t exactly feeding into the treatment goals that had been developed, and there’s only so many times I go from group art session into hyper focusing on my own project to completely miss the group part before they throw their hands up in the air.
The one exception was in the summer when an additional word was added: “swimming.” We would “field trip” once a week if we were there during summer sessions, and usually it would be to the pool. While there was some supervision, it wasn’t close enough to tell the difference between playing with other kids and playing in the midst of other kids in the pool. I lined up in lines to jump into the deep end more because of knowing that if I didn’t the life guard wouldn’t let me jump in at all. But as the pavement left my feet and I plunged into the pool, it was heavenly.
I get why they made us do these lists. One of the things that always ends up on the “things to help with your depression!” lists is “do something you love/a hobby.” And it’s good advice- unless your depression manifests itself by making even things you love unappealing. You know that you really enjoy super heroes, or crime shows, whatever, but when you scroll past them on Netflix or Hulu none of them seem interesting, nothing appealing. You got a whole big stack of Forensic Anth style Crime novels, but starting that first book seems … unsatisfying. You have a massive knitting project that you loved when you started, but you went on hiatus and now that it’s been a while you can’t remember why you enjoyed it.
At least, that’s what it’s been like for me for a while. It’s pretty much horrible- I love being able to invest myself in something I love, completely zone into it for hours and hours on end. I like to hyper focus, to learn a ton of facts that only seem important to me, to have access to knowing everything about such and such a thing, to watch every episode, read every book, listen to every song in a completest fashion. And a lot of times when I’m depressed, it robs me of that. I can’t even get started on binge reading the Tudor book I picked up a few months ago and was so excited about.
For a while, I was working on this by baking once a week regardless of if I felt up to it or not. This worked best with cookies- They are pretty basic to make, but you can also make them as complex as you like. I’m a pretty good baker according to the people I feed, and when I complete something there’s a tiny pop of having completed something- almost like the feeling of gaining experience points in an RPG.
So I know that actually following through can help stymie a depression spiral. The problem is actually following through on doing things. And when impaired Executive Functioning mixes in, identifying those things in the moment is just that much more difficult.
So I’m going to do a bit of a sad list here of things I know I enjoy, but which I might forget about. I want to take this idea that was used a little awkwardly for me in a treatment setting, and rebrand it as my own and as an assistive tech of sorts. If you are reading this and want to join me, feel free to do so whatever way feels worthwhile for you.
This is about helping you. It isn’t about making others feel better about your depression/anxiety/etc. It’s about having a tool to help yourself. The things you write down only has to be things you enjoy, and as long as it isn’t harming others it doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s flapping and rocking for hours, that’s fine. If it’s meowing in your room, that’s cool. This is about you and what might make you feel good, not any one else. Yes, you may want to have a safe, private area to do them (you don’t want to harm people or subject yourself to undue risk/the law) but they are still for you. You can do them in whatever tense you like. I’m doing third person partially because of familiarity, and partially because I want to break off the connection between writing about my care plans in third person and leaving them in the control of service providers and staff who might or might not have my best interest at heart.
Things that Savannah remembers enjoying that she might forget:
- Baking things. Savannah likes baking things. Cookies are easy.
- Cooking for other people. This sadly requires other people, as cooking for herself is a different set of brain ordering and decision making, so Savannah rarely makes complex dishes just for herself.
- Going to the coffee shop to write. Savannah likes the coffee shop and the people there, and even though Savannah is nervous about actually interacting with people who aren’t on her “safe” list outside of advocacy contexts she does like being around people in small to moderate amounts when non-scripted interaction isn’t needed.
- Writing. Savannah likes writing, but she can’t get started much of the time because of her Executive Functioning issues and/or self-consciousness.
- Savannah likes throwing things when she is frustrated. Savannah has soft things that she can throw in a room safely, so that she doesn’t harm people or objects in doing this when she feels she needs it.
- Savannah likes Earl Grey Tea, especially in the Star Trek Mug. The steps in making EGT are: 1) get out cup 2) get out tea bag 3) put tea bag in cup 4) put water in electric kettle 5) turn kettle on 6) wait 7) electric kettle clicks off 8) Savannah pours water over tea bag 9) tea steeps 10) add a little almond milk 11) drink tea.
- Crime novels. Savannah can either read them or listen to them on audio book from the library. Savannah has a big stack of Patricia Cornwell books to read.
- Sci-fi and fantasy stories. Savannah likes sci-fi and fantasy. Even though she is tired when the TOR.com newsletter comes, she should try to remember how much she enjoys the short stories in there.
- Savannah likes vocalizing. This is not the same as talking, but can including singing. Meowing, purring, beeping, meeping, and screaming all are examples of vocalizations that make Savannah feel better. (The screaming is better for up at Her mom’s house in the woods though.)
- Savannah likes the recumbent bike. It doesn’t put stress on the joints the way that other equipment does. But Savannah both has difficulty getting to it, and has a hard time seeing it as a priority. She also needs to be careful not to over do it, especially when she has stuff to do the next day.
- Savannah likes certain TV shows. This includes, but is not limited, to: Doctor Who; Law & Order (various incarnations); Criminal Minds; CSI (NY or Original); Bones; Agents of Shield; Sleepy Hallow; Project Runway; Castle; Eureka; Warehouse 13; Numerous genre stuff that the BBC puts out; regency-ish period dramas; American Pickers; Oddities; and so on.
- Savannah has a lot of youtube channels she watches. She does like the science ones a lot, but she needs to remember that she also likes the non-science ones she’s subscribed to, so maybe she should watch some of those beyond vlogbrothers and weezywaiter. There’s nothing wring with liking the science channels, but Savannah is often pleasantly surprised when she follows through watching the other channels too.
- Savannah likes genre movies. She often forgets about watching them because they seem like more energy than they really are. It is okay is Savannah doesn’t remember what the movie was about later, too. It’s okay to turn it off half way through if Savannah decides it’s actually bad and it’s not about trying to watch it like normal people. It’s ok to get distracted and wander off while the movie is running.
- Remember: Savannah particularly likes watching Super Hero Movies, Period Dramas, and The Decoy Bride. It’s okay for Savannah to watch Captain America or any movie as many times as she likes as long as she gets her work done and she falls asleep before sunrise.
Okay, that’s my attempt at an undated and more useful to me list. What does yours look like?