Self Care as a Mentality

Sort-of Transcript:

In the year long stream of chaos since Trump’s election I’ve had thousands of conversations about the importance of self care. Social workers, activists and artists have been talking about self care for decades, but sometime in the past few years it entered the mainstream consciousness. Self Care became a buzzword, an almost meaningless short form for a laundry list of things that are supposed to make us feel good. There are millions of articles offering self care tips (over 17,200,000 according to Google), all offering the same advice. Get some exercise. Take a long bath, preferably with an aromatherapy bath bomb to calm yourself down. Rewatch one of your favourite movies. Book a professional massage.

None of this is necessarily bad advice, but there are a couple problems with this approach to self care. The biggest issue, the one we’ll be discussing today, is that the mainstream approach to self care is entirely superficial, acting as an emotional band aid rather than a proper treatment for overwhelming stress or mental illness.

Put another way, these temporary self care strategies are great ways to avoid truly changing your life.  They give you an endorphin rush that makes individual days better so you become complacent about tackling the bigger issues bringing your down. This effect is particularly powerful if you are struggling with an actual mental illness, as eventually the bigger issues overwhelm you so much that no number of temporary self care measures helps.

If you want to drastically and permanently improve your life, you need to dig deeper, to change your entire approach to life. You need to develop something I’ve come to call the self care mentality.

The tortured artist stereotype is killing our best and brightest

Linkin Park QuoteOn May 18th of this year Chris Cornell, one of my favourite singers and a minor rock and roll legend, died by suicide. I wrote part of this article, then shelved it, too heartbroken to finish. I nursed my wounds, the moment passed, and life went on.

On July 20th Chester Bennington, singer of Linkin Park,  was found dead, another suicide. And I knew I had to finish this, no matter how much it hurt. This is a conversation we need to have.

A note before we get started

I don’t presume to know why Chester Bennington–or anyone else–felt suicide was the only way out of his pain. What I’d like to say is rooted in my own experiences as a creative person who’s struggled with depression for almost thirteen years. Several artists and writers I know have admitted to struggling with similar thoughts and issues, but I cannot presume to speak for them.

All I can do is tell you my own story and hope it will mean something to you.

Please stop telling millennials to “pay our dues”, we’re already doing it

Don't I look like I'm about to murder someone? There's probably a good reason...
Don’t I look like I’m about to murder someone? There’s probably a good reason…

Last week I saw a video I’ve seen a thousand times: some older white guy proclaiming that Millennials are all screwed up because we were treated like special snowflakes and then we grew up and realized life is hard. I’m not going to link to that video because I don’t like sharing bullshit, but I want to address the idea behind it. I’ve already gone on a massive Twitter rant about this video, so I’ve Storified the rant for your enjoyment, and I’m going to expand on it below, addressing some misconceptions that came up in conversations around the rant.

It’s not the work we’re upset about

Obviously my rant gained a lot of attention. Most of the people I spoke with were supportive older humans who were also tired of hearing this crap. They talked about the hard working Millennials they knew, and said they wish people wouldn’t make such callous blanket statements about an entire generation.

Of course there were also a couple people whose response was to talk about how much they and their friends struggled when they were young. They mentioned teachers stuck on supply lists for years finally moving across the country just to get a job. And they told me that while their friends struggled through those things, they didn’t complain about it.

Here’s the thing: I am not complaining about having to work hard. Nor are most of my friends. We want fulfilling careers, and we understand that we must work hard to get those careers. This is particularly true for those of us determined to be artists and to have our artistic careers before our 40th birthdays. We understand the work, and we’re willing to do it, because we know the alternative is a lifetime of misery and regrets.

What we are complaining about isn’t even lack of recognition, it’s the lack of monetary payment. The cost of living has risen exponentially, especially if you live in a big city. Adjustments for recent rises in rental costs put the minimum cost of a half-decent life at $2,350/month in Toronto, and there are cities where the number is even higher. And those numbers don’t include payments towards student debt, credit cards or car loans. They also don’t include any kind of savings or investments.

Unfortunately wages in pretty much every industry have stagnated, and so have employment rates. The prevalence of low paying jobs forces Millennials to work two or three jobs, live with roommates until they’re 35, and sometimes choose between eating and paying rent. Of all my Millennial friends, only three can afford to live completely on their own, and they’re all at the upper end of our generation – between 33 and 35. They’re also all in tech, and are the people who were smart enough to get into tech right out of school.

We don’t want to be treated like special snowflakes. We don’t want another fucking handout just for existing – we hated those participation medals anyway. All we want is to be paid a living wage for the work we do, and to be treated like the adults we have become. We want to be able to get married and buy houses before we’re 50. We want to be able to afford those luxurious vacations everyone else is always talking about. We want to make enough money to pay off all of our debts. We know tuition and rent and food aren’t getting any cheaper. We don’t expect that to change. What we do expect is that our wages will also rise.

So please, don’t tell us to be patient. Don’t tell us we have to pay our dues. We know that. We are paying those dues. The older Millennials have paid those dues. All we want is to be able to live a half decent life while we pay them.

On looking like ourselves

I’ve also heard Millennials get shit on because we want to be true to ourselves by doing things like dyeing our hair colours we actually enjoy. I have a couple big problems with this idea.

First off, I think it’s disgusting that we’ve built an entire society on the idea that the only route to success is to lose all your personality and individuality. Yes, society’s been this way a long time, but that doesn’t make it any less fucked up. Being different from each other is a beautiful thing. It allows us to form teams filled with people who are extremely good at different things. It allows us to create art of all kinds. We should celebrate our differences, not hide them.

Second off, women are expected to not look like themselves on a daily basis anyway. We’re supposed to wear make up so we look like we’ve never had acne or gotten tired. Oh, and high heels to make our legs more attractive. And push up bras to make our boobs seem bigger. Adding brightly coloured hair, tattoos or piercings to the mix shouldn’t make us less acceptable as human beings.

I do have to add the caveat that women are more frequently allowed to work in the office with brightly dyed hair/tattoos/piercings. This is most likely because we’re already expected to alter our appearance in other ways. It’s obviously bullshit, because everyone should be allowed to present in a way that makes them feel good, but that’s a completely different rant for another day.

A quick note about changing media treatment

A couple people were also quick to point out the number of articles that say Millennials are great. Yes, there has been a big shift in the media’s treatment of Millennials. The media now talks about our struggles more often than it mentions our “entitled and lazy” attitudes. But too many people have already internalized those ideas about us. I can feel them looking down on me as I walk down the street. It weighs heavy in the room during many job interviews.

The damage has already been done. People don’t change their beliefs easily. And all too often the voices condemning us are louder than the ones applauding us.

You may have been at it longer, but don’t assume I haven’t been working just as hard as you have – and don’t tell me I have no right to a decent life.

Understanding resistance

DIYMFA-Book-CoverOver the last few days I’ve been reading the DIY MFA book, a writing book by one of my favourite bloggers and writing teachers, Gabriela Pereira. I’m going to post a review of the entire book next week, but today I wanted to examine a specific concept in closer detail: the idea of using resistance as a guide.

This idea–the idea that resistance is a good thing because it forces you to grow into a stronger writer–is one I’ve heard stated in many different ways over the years(or, more accurately, read stated many different ways on different blogs). It’s one that resonates with me strongly, but to me it doesn’t necessarily mean forcing yourself through the piece anyway. Sometimes it means you need to stop and develop your characters or your world more thoroughly. Other times the resistance is a sign that you need to completely change the direction your story is going in.

Resistance can also mean that you need to stop and take care of yourself. This is particularly true for those of us who live with trauma and/or mental illness. Using our experiences in our writing gives it depth and can be an incredibly cathartic experience, but it can also put us back in those painful places, those painful memories. It’s the most painful when we’re writing about the traumatic experiences directly, but even writing a similar story in a completely fantastical world can drudge up the old hurt.

Here’s the thing: we absolutely must tell the painful stories, but you must not hurt yourself. Our stories have the power to reach people who are still living in the struggle, to remind them that they are not alone. They also have the power to educate people, to show the world what it is really like to live with trauma and mental illness. But we want our stories to be hopeful tales, not cautionary ones, and taking care of your mental health is crucial.

So if you’re struggling with a piece, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you stuck because of a problem with the story itself or is the story weighing you down mentally because it reminds you of something from your own past?
  • Is there a different angle you can approach the story from?
  • Can you psych yourself up for tough writing sessions with the promise of a treat afterwards?
  • Is there somebody you can call mid-writing session and vent to if you find yourself being highly triggered?

Usually I know before I even start a piece whether or not it’s going to be tough on my health, so I always schedule extra social outings and reading time when I’m working on something that’s going to drudge up hard feelings. On the first draft I often only skim the surface of these dark feelings and I take many breaks, but I know the painful stories have the most power, so I always come back to them. In fact, I’ve been working on several painful stories I’ll hopefully be sharing with the world quite soon.

How do you take care of yourself when you’re writing about things that bring up bad memories? Let me know in the comments section below!

Self Confidence For Writers Part 4: Coping with Criticism

Self Confidence For Writers_ A I’ve talked before about the rules of critique courtesy, but there’s a big difference between responding nicely to your critiquer and handling the critique well on an emotional level. There are also many different forms of criticism you’re bound to face throughout your life.

Everybody faces criticism, and we all know how much it can hurt. As such, our first instinct is often to ignore the criticism, let it go like water off our backs.

Sometimes this is helpful–sooner or later you’re bound to encounter unfair criticism or a critique that isn’t useful in any way–but often it’s actually counter productive. Even the harshest criticism often has a grain of truth, and if you ignore the criticism altogether, you don’t learn how to make yourself a better person or how to improve your work.

The best way to deal with criticism is to learn from it.

This is especially true when it comes to your writing, but it’s also true in every other area of your life. If several friends of yours have criticized one of your recent decisions or the way you act when you drink too much, you should probably listen, in just the same way you should listen if four people say the same thing about your story.

Learning from the experience isn’t just about fixing it or apologizing. It’s about learning how to avoid the same mistakes. It’s about using the criticism to become a better person and a better writer.

Next time you write a story, think about the critiques on your last few stories. How can you avoid getting similar comments? What can you do to improve your writing so this time you won’t have so much editing to do?

Remember that having flaws doesn’t make you a terrible person.

Nobody’s perfect. Everybody has flaws, bad habits. I suck at getting out of bed in the morning, which is why I’m so grateful to be a freelance writer–getting out of bed seems much easier in the afternoon. Many writers I know have compulsive junk food habits or drink two pots of coffee a day.

We also all make mistakes. Once in a while everybody, even the most brilliant scientists of this century, misses something that should have been obvious or says the wrong thing during a family dinner. Sometimes people make colossal mistakes that end up costing them a lot of time and money, and while that’s not fun, it doesn’t make you a terrible person. It happens to just about everybody at least once.

Your flaws just mean you have something to work on. Mistakes mean you have something to learn from.

Becoming a better person is mostly about trying to be a better person. Which means you can start right now, today. All you need to do is figure out how to make yourself a better person, which means you might want to start listening to that criticism a little more carefully.

Remember that all writers face criticism–at every point in their career.

Just like every great writer has been rejected by a publisher, every great writer has faced criticism at some point and is bound to do so again if they want to have successful careers. Realistically, almost every single person over the age of six in the modern world has faced criticism at some point. Writers just tend to face a lot more of it than average people.

To be honest, a career in writing is essentially a career in accepting criticism. Every successful writer has to work with an editor before their book can be published. Yes, even self published authors. The best self published authors hire professional editors to make sure their books are actually ready to go out into the world before it happens.

In fact, every book they write will have to be edited. If they write articles, short stories, novellas, even press releases, there’s a good chance most of those will need to be edited too. Even poetry requires a good editor.

Editing is an essential part of success in writing, which means if you want a career in writing, you’ll have to accept that you’ll be criticized every step of the way. The criticism you get from your editor might be useful and help you fix your story, but it’s still criticism, and it’s still going to hurt the first time around–especially when it comes to a novel you’ve been working on for ages.

Once you’re published, you’re left at the mercy of reviewers, and trust me, there will always be somebody out there who hates your book. If you’re lucky, they won’t be online and they won’t bother to contact you and you’ll never know. But you probably won’t be that lucky. Sooner or later you’re going to have to face up to the fact that not everybody likes your book.

This isn’t a good thing or a bad thing. That’s just how it is. Some people think Twilight is the best series ever. I… don’t agree. It’s just how people are: we’re different.

So in the end, even when someone’s criticism isn’t helpful, it doesn’t matter. That’s just their opinion. Everybody has a right to an opinion, and everybody has a different opinion. You should just be happy they care enough about you and your work to have an opinion.

And remember, the best way to keep yourself from getting too bitter about one project is to start the next one.

How do you deal with criticism? Do you find it difficult to cope when you receive a particularly harsh critique? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below!

3 Reasons to Schedule Time for Self Care

martial-arts-291046_640 You have a job. You also have a couple paid writing assignments, a blog to maintain, friends to visit and a family who seems convinced that they deserve some of your precious time. Oh, and you’re trying to write a novel in your “spare time”.

With everything else going on in your life, it’s easy to ignore self care. When was the last time you read a good book purely for pleasure? Enjoyed a sunset by yourself? Had a relaxing bath? Did yoga?

Odds are you’ve heard about how important it is to take care of yourself, but how deeply have you thought about it? Is self care part of your daily routine?

Here are 3 reasons why it should be:

1. You need your health to write.

This includes your mental health. When you’re too tired or hungry to think, you can’t write. When you’re deep in depression, writing becomes extremely difficult. Refusing to take care of yourself–and take regular time away from your work–can even lead to repetitive strain injury. Scheduling time for your health, especially time to stretch out those wrists, can prevent all kinds of health problems that can interfere with your writing.

2. You’ll start to resent other people.

If you spend all your spare time with other people–whether it’s helping them or just socializing–you will start to resent them. This is particularly true if you’re spending so much time with other people that you’re unable to finish personal projects. Demanding time for yourself can save your relationships by making you a happier person overall.

3. It won’t happen otherwise.

With the sheer amount of things you have to do every day and the number of people and media outlets vying for your attention, the only way you’ll find time for yourself is if you make it. Odds are you probably already schedule your writing time every day–so why don’t you schedule time for self care? If you don’t make time for self care, you’ll fill the day with other activities and soon come to resent your life and the people around you.

It’s easy to forget about self care, but the results are disastrous. Even a small amount of “me time”, say 20 minutes every day, can make a huge difference in how you feel about yourself and your life.

Do you want to create a personal self care schedule that fits YOUR unique needs and personality? Sign up for my newsletter below and receive a FREE 3-part email course on self care!

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Writing through Depression

For the last two weeks I’ve been struggling through a bout of depression, and it’s no secret that this is a common affliction for writers. Many of the most famous writers have struggled with and written about depression, and some of the most famous, such as Hemingway, have killed themselves. Others use writing as an escape, and it saves them from their depression–this seems to be the category most of the writers I’ve met fall into.

No matter which camp you fall into, it can be difficult to write when you’re depressed. Some days it’s difficult to do anything, but you have to push through it. Nine times out of ten, pushing through and writing will make you feel better.

Over the years I’ve suffered several bouts of depression, and I’ve learned several strategies to get my mind back into writing mode. It has been a long struggle, and it will always be a struggle, but I’ve learned to survive and grow stronger each time. If you’re struggling to overcome your depression and get back to writing, maybe it’s time to try a new tactic.

Here are a few for you to try:

1. Stop caring what you write. Sometimes you can’t work on a given story or novel. It happens to the best of us. There have been several times when I’ve motivated myself simply by switching projects, starting a new one or simply brainstorming in my notebook. I often find that writing in a notebook is the best method, because when I write in a notebook I care a lot less about what I’m actually writing. Anything worth salvaging will have to be typed up afterwards to be much use, so it already feels somewhat like discarded work.

This may look different for you. Maybe you need to let go of quality control and accept that the first draft of anything of crap–and usually the second, third and fourth drafts are too–or maybe you need to try a new method of writing. I find I usually only write poetry when I’m depressed, and it’s also always in a notebook. Sometimes depression makes a long story even longer, so it’s easier to work on short pieces than a novel. Try changing up what you’re writing, and maybe it will get you motivated to start writing again.

2. Do a writing challenge. Often a challenge will get you motivated to go again. November is usually a hard month for me because it’s the month my dad died, but I get through it every year by participating in Nanowrimo and writing an excessive amount of words. Maybe you need a smaller challenge and a smaller community, but ideally you want to select a challenge that comes with a community of people you can talk to who will encourage you to keep going.

Obviously it’s not November, but there’s also Augnowrimo going on this month, where you can choose your own goal, and there are tons of other writing challenges based on Nanowrimo. I could list them all, but why would I do that when there’s already a list here?

3. Bring your work everywhere. Right now I have two stories printed up in the bag I take everywhere with me, ready to be edited, and two pens on me at all times(sadly, neither of them are red). This way if I’m ever inspired to work while I’m in transit or out and about, I have something fairly easy to do with me. I find myself spending a lot of time out and about because staying busy keeps me happy, so it’s important to carry this work with me everywhere.

Getting out of the house is a great way to cheer yourself up, at least when the weather is nice. Go for a long walk or just to the nearest park, but bring your work with you so that you can work while you enjoy the weather. I’ve been doing this all summer and not only is the change of scenery good for me, it’s very inspiring. On particularly windy days it can be frustrating trying to write outside, but that makes it a bit more interesting. Once again, challenging your brain to think in different ways is the key.

4. Write about your depression. Sometimes what you really need to do is write through the depression in a more literal manner. While keeping a journal is a good practice all the time, it’s key when you’re suffering from depression. Write about what is making you unhappy and ask yourself how you can fix it. If you don’t know, write that–and then write out the steps you can take to find out.

You can do this whenever and wherever you want, but the key is to write until you start to feel better. Don’t stop until you feel the weight lifted off your chest. You might want to actually turn this into a daily process, where you write for a certain amount of time each day and go through all the things that are making you unhappy. I’ve never been able to keep a daily journal, but I always make sure I have a notebook I can write in when I need to, and my various bouts of depression are all chronicled across several notebooks.

5. Find people who are also struggling. I’ve never gotten therapy, but what’s truly helped me is finding people who understand my depression. People who have also struggled to take rejections lightly, to be optimistic about their writing careers in an unfair publishing world, and people who have lost parents. People who have truly struggled to overcome depression, to continue working at a life that often seems hopeless. Those are the people who have helped me the most. And the most amazing part is that these people are almost always willing to talk and to help you out–I know I would help if one of you emailed me looking for advice or just a listening ear.

Still better are the people on the other side, who have also struggled with it but already overcome it. People who are living the lives they’ve always wanted, who have beaten their depression. In my case it is likely that it will always come and go, that I will never fully be rid of it, but I know that it will get better, that the bouts will come less often, because I know I will succeed. There are thousands of people who have overcome similar problems to live their dream lives and I know that with enough determination I can do the same. You can, too, and maybe all you need is to read the story of somebody who already has to remember that and get back to the work you truly love: writing.

If you are struggling with depression, just remember that it can be overcome. Try everything you can until you find something that works. There are hundreds of resources available through the internet, and many more books on the subject. It’s important to learn everything you can about depression so that you know what to expect and you have several strategies in your arsenal.

The key is to believe that you can do it and to never give up. After all, I haven’t given up, and I believe all of you have the potential to be great authors, so you shouldn’t either.

Have you struggled with depression before? What coping mechanisms have you used?


Last Friday the doctors freed my wrist from its prison. It’s only been a few days but I can already feel the difference in my psyche. I’ll be wearing it to bed for another two months, which is a cakewalk at this point.

I’ve already seen an increase in productivity–though it may be imagined because I’m happier–but it’s going to take me a while to get back into my routine. I never managed to finish my edits of Moonshadow’s Guardian, which is my first priority this month after paid work.

It’s going to take me a while to get back into my routine. My wrist is in a particularly fragile state after a month of disuse, and I’m still battling the depression that came with the splint. Unfortunately this means I won’t be returning to my full posting schedule right away. Instead I’m going to commit to one weekly post on Wednesdays updating everyone on my recovery and my editing progress.

This week, however, I have a couple exciting things in store for you. Tomorrow Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA will be joining us for a lovely interview and on Friday I’ll be participating in the SheWulf Whirlwind tour by Novel Publicity. I hope you’ll enjoy these posts while waiting for me to hit my stride again.

I’d like to say thank you to everyone who’s still reading. I know it’s hard to bear with a blogger who only posts occasionally; they fall to the back of your mind and sometimes end up completely forgotten. The sporadic appearance of posts is difficult to track. I understand, and it means a lot to me that many of you have chosen to stay loyal readers while I go through this. Dealing with tendonitis has been a long and difficult journey for me and everyone’s thoughtful comments have made it easier. To me, there’s nothing more amazing than knowing that all of you–most of whom I’ve never met in person or talked with on the phone–actually care enough to read what I have to say.

Thank you for all your support.

Dealing with a Crippling Wrist Injury

For the last five years, I’ve struggled with wrist pain. Multiple trips to doctors years apart yielded no results–they just told me to put some ice on it and take Ibuprofen, even when I told them I’d already tried that. The response was something along the lines of “well, go home and try it some more”.

Well, after years of jumping through hoops, I joined up with a health clinic–on a quest to get the free dental service for youth offered there–and lo and behold, the doctor there realized I have a serious problem and sent me to a hand clinic. The hand specialist decided I have tendonitis instead of carpal tunnel (what a relief *rolls eyes*) and sentenced me to wearing a splint on my left wrist for a month.

Now, I’ve dealt with pain in my wrist for years. I’ve had several one or two month periods where I didn’t do anything more than homework and blogging–and occasionally not even blogging–to soothe my wrist. Although the pain has grown more consistent over the years, I’ve kept the worst of it away through ice, stretches and occasionally painkillers. I’ve managed to slow down, if not reverse, the progress of the tendonitis. It took four and a half years to go from occasional searing pain to daily pain.

Although it is helping with the pain, wearing the splint in some ways is worse. I am left handed and being unable to write with pen has completely undermined my brainstorming, plotting and scheduling. I created my daily to-do lists on paper. I created my worlds on paper. I planned my novels, short stories and even blog posts on paper. Having to do without is crippling. Since putting the brace on, I’ve felt depressed and uninspired. I’ve stopped carrying a notebook for the time being because I can’t use it.

While I’m glad they’re taking my problem seriously now, I’m angry because they chose the worst possible time to put my wrist in a splint. I’ve spent this whole summer trying to create a writing income–with minor success–and edit Moonshadow’s Guardian. The week before the splint my computer caught a virus, paralyzing my work for two days. Right when I got back into the groove, they put the splint on me. Now I’m barely more than halfway through Moonshadow’s Guardian with only a week left before school. My non-fiction has slowed to a trickle, and I haven’t been sending out queries. Why? Because without paper to brainstorm on, the ideas have slowed almost to a stop. On top of that, everything takes longer and I’m both depressed about it and worried about time constraints.

What I have managed to do is continue editing Moonshadow’s Guardian. I edited eight or nine chapters last week. I already know exactly where this edit is going, so I can still forge ahead–although I now spend longer getting into the writing zone. I can type with both hands still, but my left is slower and I can’t do it for too long without causing pain(I probably shouldn’t be typing with my left at all, but you try typing with one hand–it’s impossible unless that hand’s tied behind your back). The worst part about all this? I know if I was up to speed I could finish my editing before school starts next week. In my current condition, I probably won’t finish until the end of September.

Dealing with tendonitis is a long, difficult journey. It’s easy to get depressed, and frankly I can’t give you advice to stay out of depression. But I can give you advice to get through it: focus on the idea that one day you won’t be in pain anymore and you’ll be able to use your hand, scale back on your writing and get lost in other people’s books. It’ll give you something productive to do with all that time you spent reading and maybe even take you to another planet.

Next Friday I’ll be finding out whether or not I can take the thing off, so stay posted.

Caring For Your Mental Health

Not long after my dad died, my grandmother gave me a book called ‘Soul Catcher’. A ‘Soul Catcher’ is like a dream catcher, but for the soul. It’s a journal full of inspiring pictures and prompts designed to help you find yourself and escape depression.

While I never really used the ‘Soul Catcher’ for its original purpose, I can’t forget that book. What I can’t forget about the book is the story of the woman who wrote it. She talks about how she reached her professional goals and wrote prolifically for the public on a number of subjects, but that her own writing, her journalling, grew more tortured even as she gained more success.

She reached the darkest part of her depression one day when she uprooted herself, moved to a small apartment in a new country, and went on a journey–through journals and crude art therapy–to find herself.

As a pre-teen suffering from severe depression, I latched on to that story. I still struggle with depression every day, and during my struggles, I often think of the ‘Soul Catcher’ and the story it contains.

Ever since I read that book, I’ve also prayed that I’d never need to isolate myself in a foreign country to figure out what my path in life is supposed to be. I often ask myself “how do I stop myself from getting that deep into my depression?”

Over the years I’ve come up with a number of ways to help alleviate the depression I suffer from. Some of them are fairly common methods, others are more unique to me. Today I’d like to share some with you, in the hopes that it will help you in your own dark times.

1. Don’t forget to write for yourself. We’ve all written things for other people. Whether they be home made greeting cards for our friends, love notes for our dates, reports for our bosses, or stories written as gifts for the people we love, they’re there. And while this is writing, and does count towards the goal of writing every day, it’s not writing for yourself.

As I’ve started to earn money as a writer and to work for the Penumbra blog, I’ve learned a lesson about this. We must not forget the projects we love. Writing ten blog posts for some company trying to market themselves might pay the bills, but it won’t soothe your soul. Don’t completely abandon your life-long novel project for paid work. Visit it every day, even if all you do is write a sentence.

This includes journalling too. It’s okay to journal every day. It’s also okay to journal sporadically. Whatever your preference, don’t forget about it. Your journal is your best friend when you’re suffering from depression, because no matter what you say, it won’t judge you.

2. Remember to go outside. As writers, our passion–and for some lucky folks, their job–involves a lot of sitting alone with a notebook or a computer. You might be an introvert, but isolating yourself from the outside world usually doesn’t make you happier. Note that I’m not saying that you need to talk to people.

What I’m saying is go outside. Go for a walk. Find a nice tree in a park to sit underneath and listen to the birds. You’ll soak up some vitamin D, which I’m told makes us happier, and you’ll get some exercise, which I’m also told makes us happier. The sounds of the birds always help cheer me up, and the change of scenery might just inspire you too.

3. Make time for the things you love. I talk a lot about how to make time for your writing, but I’m sure writing isn’t the only thing you love. We can’t just spend all our time working and writing. For one thing, we need time to read. And we all have other hobbies. I like to dance, and even if it’s only once a month or even every two months, I make sure I get to go out dancing. Some of us play video games. Some writers like to knit or sew. Others like to cook. Still others like to garden.

Make sure that you have time for these things you love. Depriving yourself of the things you love is the quickest path to depression. So don’t start. Tonight, take time to do one thing you love–I guarantee you’ll feel better for it.

4. Don’t over commit. There are only 24 hours in a day. We all get THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME. We all work at different paces, so we can get different amounts of stuff done in that twenty-four hours, but there’s only so much even the fastest of us can do. I’m really bad for this, especially with writing projects. I go, hey, I have a really high WPM, I can write a novel in three days, I can write this article and this one and three blog posts for next week and start my next edit of my novel all in one day.

Then I discover I can’t, and I get mopey because I didn’t do everything I wanted to do on a specific day. This is what we call setting ourselves up for failure. I do this all the time, and I know it’s one of my main sources of depression, but I’m always working on it and trying to really assess what I can accomplish in a day. Don’t set yourself up for failure: figure out what you can realistically accomplish in a day without burning yourself out, and limit yourself to that amount of work.

5. Reward yourself for small accomplishments. One of the main reasons why I think most people get depressed is because they don’t realize how major what they’ve accomplished is. Even small accomplishments deserve recognition. Some days accomplishments mean more than others.

So, if you’re struggling to write a single word and you get a whole page down, reward yourself. They tell me the sugary treats lead to more guilt later, so reward yourself with a cool drink and some relaxation time. If you managed to diffuse a tense situation, give yourself a pat on the back. If all you did today was get to work on time, work until the set time, and leave when you were supposed to, that’s still something worth rewarding yourself.

You should always reward your small accomplishments and remember to be proud of them, too, not just the big things like getting your masters degree, but the small things like each individual essay you wrote to get that masters. Remembering these things when your depressed can help remind you that you are an awesome person, full of talent and with many gifts to give to the world.

Most importantly, remember that these tips aren’t just for when you’re feeling down. If you take the time to treat yourself nicely and to enjoy the things you love even when your life is great and you’re happy, it will be easier to remember these things when you’re depressed–and it might even stop you from getting depressed in the first place.

How do you take care of your mental health?