The first thing I want to tell you is that before you’re even a patient living with major depressive disorder, you’re a human.

For many years, I didn’t know that truth. I didn’t know that I was more than a patient, that I was more than my illness, or that I was worthy of this world.

Truthfully, I thought my life was composed only of varying shades of darkness, of my 21 psychiatric hospitalizations, of my endless days in bed, of my weeks not showering, and of my years in sorrow. I thought that was all it would ever be.

Although my perception was valid, it was, and is, not the case.

What I am and what we are is so much more than that. We are more than our emotions. We are more than our bad days. We are more than our darkness. We are more than our depression.

We are a spectacular compilation of little victories that exist in the face of odds not in our favor.

By little victories, I mean waking up, getting up, and taking those extra heavy steps beyond your bed. I mean walking to the bathroom, washing your face, brushing your teeth, and putting on moisturizer. I mean taking a shower, putting on clean underwear, washing laundry, folding laundry, and eating something, even if it’s the cold pizza on the counter from last night. And I mean leaving the house, saying hi to another human, making it to the doctor, talking to the doctor, and returning home to take a nap.

I know it’s easy to trivialize such small acts, but they count. They count because every single thing we do with this illness is hard. These victories are hidden from the world and nobody celebrates how groundbreaking they are. But, they are the act of fighting something inside of us that we have to accept in the face of a society who refuses to, and we still do them.

These are some of my daily practices that have changed my life for the better. I wish for you the same light that I have recently found.

Allow me to introduce “The Positively Kate Depression-Busting Routine.”

1. In the morning, when (and if) I get up, I dance.

I don’t always feel like it, but when I give my body a jiggle, I can’t help but feel proud of myself. Afterward, I say out loud: “Yes, world, I’m dancing, because today, in the face of darkness, I still began.”

2. I walk downstairs and reward myself for getting up.

My treat is to make a cappuccino and snuggle my dog, Wafflenugget. I firmly believe that anyone living with depression needs to be rewarded for getting out of bed. Whether it’s sugary cereal, a cat snuggle, or a bath, do it. You deserve it.

3. I start my daily journal entry.

In my journal, I have three columns that I keep track of: big little victories, back to basics, and my gratitude list.

Big little victories are the “I DID IT” anomalies of my life. Examples are when I bake something, go for a longer walk than my usual 20 minutes, or do something social.

Back to basics are the foundations of my self-care regimen: hygiene, medications, therapy, exercise, meditation, food, social time, etc. I track all of them and celebrate all of them.

My gratitude list is my constant reminder of the gifts I have. I write anything down that brings me a glimmer of joy. Yesterday, I wrote that I liked how my pink sneakers looked in the yellow leaves and that I showered without my partner having to ask me to more than three times. Remember, small stuff counts.

4. I do one thing every day for someone other than myself.

It may sound strange, but I find that when I care for someone other than myself, I celebrate it outside the lens of my depression. To have proof that I can create joy outside of myself and my depression is beyond valuable. For example, I left wildflowers on my neighbors steps with a note yesterday, and the act brought me joy.

5. I do one thing every day for me.

Depression sucks me dry of believing I am worth anything. But when I do something tiny for myself, it reminds me that I value myself. Usually, with my low energy, this means watching my favorite show or indulging in my favorite maple butter popcorn.

6. I do one thing every day that makes me uncomfortable.

Our brains may be complex, but certain aspects are simple. Every day, I do one thing that scares me. Yesterday, I talked to a corporate lawyer on the phone on behalf of my coffee company. It took all the strength in my body and soul to maintain composure, but I did it. The conversation lasted 15 minutes. Afterward, I actually took a nap because it was that taxing. But when I get uncomfortable, I grow a bit more into a stronger, happier, and more capable version of myself.

7. Lastly, I recite, remember, and uphold these truths:

  • Mental health is still health. We should treat our mind as we would a broken leg.
  • Being gentle is still an act of strength.
  • Small steps are still steps forward.
  • Forgiveness of self is the greatest tool for growth.
  • Asking for help is courageous and the greatest tool for recovery.
  • There is no shame in vulnerability.
  • Recovery, while hard, is possible.

So, although I don’t presume to know you or understand your darkness, I want you to know that I am here with you, I see you, and I believe wholeheartedly in us both.

With love and dork,

Kate Speer