This article was originally published on May 12, 2016. We're bringing it to your attention today in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week.
Editor's Note: If you've struggled with depression, you've probably heard the typical advice — "try exercising," "eat right," "change your mindset" — all of which can feel dismissive (and impossible) when you're really struggling. As part of our mission to start a more open conversation surrounding mental health issues, Refinery29 created a show with comedian Jacqueline Novak on our YouTube channel, RIOT.
In this series of frank conversations, Novak sits down with famous women from Lena Dunham to Broad City's Naomi Ekperigin for non-precious, laugh-out-loud funny, and truly poignant explorations of mental health issues, like anxiety and depression. Ahead, we're pleased to share an excerpt from Novak's hilarious part-memoir, part-satirical, self-help book that shares a name with the series, How To Weep In Public. Sometimes, you don't need advice, you just need to hear from someone who understands — and no one understands better than Novak.
When you’re depressed, your body feels like a heavy corpse that you’re trapped inside. There was probably a time long ago when you and your body were in a semi-cooperative relationship. But that was then. For now, you’re going to have to develop a new working relationship with this skin-suit of yours.
The first step to reconnect with your body is to breathe into its lungs. This one is still a tough pill for me to swallow, but people who get in the habit of breathing regularly report great things. Since it only takes a few minutes without oxygen to straight-up die, it seems reasonable that even a small increase in the amount of air you consume might make you feel vaguely less dead.
Besides breathing, you’ll want to start cleaning your body really carefully. If you can make it to the bathroom, give yourself a full detailing. Who knows how long it will be until the next time you’re motivated enough to bathe? Employ sea salts, perhaps.
There are ways to substitute efforts you find exhausting with ones you find more manageable. I found lathering shampoo to be a bit too much on the ole triceps, so I’d premix shampoo with water in a big bottle, shake it, and apply pre-lathered. Dry yourself with a boat chamois — a tiny, stiff, profoundly absorbent little square that is much lighter than a terrycloth towel.
Then, once your body is clean, it’s time to use it. I’m not going to actually suggest walking, running, dancing, aerobics, or yoga — as though you’ve never heard of the benefits of doing such activities for 30 to 60 minutes.
As someone who’s depressed, your workouts will likely be drawn out and semi-ineffective — and that’s okay. Anything that works up a sweat is good. Even if it means sitting in front of a space heater until you drip. While you haven’t exercised, it might trigger some positive memories associated with it.
Or try strengthening one muscle group at a time. Tense one of your butt muscles until you’re exhausted. Or do constant Kegels. In mere weeks, you will be the Schwarzenegger of the pubococcygeus. Bonus: When you “get out” of depression you’ll have a vagina like a vise.
Eating a big meal after a good sweat of any sort feels wonderful. That’s why the Russians eat smoked fish in the sauna. I’ve done a lot of unfunded research on pigging out in general and can help you through the tricky parts.
First of all, know you’re going to eat the entirety of anything you buy. Discard the farce that is the “chip clip.”
Don’t ever dismiss the importance of size or quantity when it comes to food. Sometimes, you hear people talk about relishing a small, but rich and luxuriant, piece of chocolate cake. They say it’s all about savoring those few sumptuous bites, then setting down the fork, and feeling like some kind of woman. Not for the depressed. We must go for large quantities of almost every food, enough to move through our body and an entire evening like a slow-moving storm system.
For a while, I thought I could trick myself into eating less by making pasta dishes using shredded coleslaw veggies in place of noodles. Throw that slaw into boiling water for a minute and strain! It’s quite effective when you’re really just there for the sauce and Parmesan.
But one night, as I was contemplating making a pizza without dough, I found my way into the artisan section of the market, where you find a lot of fancy cheeses and olives, and I had a profound realization based on a stereotype: In Italy, there are large men who love nothing more than Momma’s meatballs and don’t sweat it.
It occurred to me that these men don’t think of their eating as a horrifying habit, coping mechanism, or something to master or game. They just do it. And if they can be free of that shame, why can’t I?
The point is, if you’re going to use food to cope with depression, you should do it with the spirit of a gourmet and get exactly what your heart of hearts — not the one with the arteries, but the mystical heart — craves.
Some people think you have to be athletic and physically impressive to be a warrior. Not at all: You just need to have a heroic sphincter.
For example, my hemorrhoids were a highlight of my depression. An SSRI I was taking was making me very constipated, but in my eagerness to keep a blockage from happening, I would rally some ancient warrior spirits to come to my aid and really make it rain on that toilet.
No war is won without casualties and bloodshed. Without hemms, I would never have known I had a warrior within.
You can even become a warrior, a perfect human specimen, without moving. Forget running, forget lifting weights, forget moving at all, except from bathroom to bedroom. It’s all mental.
You’ve probably read the articles, but I’ll remind you of everyone’s favorite study’s conclusion: If you envision doing something, your mind actually believes you’re doing it. The only problem is that mentally going through the experience of crunches can be almost as uncomfortable as doing them.
But keep your eyes on the prize. The exercise routines of the depressive are grueling, but they are worth it. Your body is your temple and your trash can.
Now, check out the latest episode of How To Weep In Public on RIOT:
Adapted from How To Weep In Public: Feeble Offerings on Depression from One Who Knows Copyright © 2016 by Jacqueline Novak. Published by Three Rivers Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.