“When I’m Feeling Down and Out, I Do This…”
“Sometimes it feels like I’m taking a 12-mile walk home alone in the dark, winter rain while everyone speeds by me in their fancy cars brimming with hot girls and champagne. I’m just exhausted, cold, and I can’t afford the bus.”
I’m in the midst of a down day — something that happens to many people in general, but possibly more frequently to individuals with ADHD due to our dysregulation of dopamine.
I describe down days as temporary patches (usually lasting one or two days) where you are sucked in to illogical feelings of depression, inadequacy, loneliness, failure, and hopelessness. You may feel weak, tired, worthless, lazy, useless, and dirty. I’ve found that down days may descend out of the blue, or they follow a very emotional and/or stressful stint — usually the latter.
The ADHD brain, which places a heavy emphasis on relationships and may fall victim to rejection sensitive dysphoria, can get easily overwhelmed in emotional territory where neurotypicals seem to tread naturally. It can get truly exhausting when we’re faced with persistent frustrations.
As a single, house-hunting freelance writer in London, I’ve had a few ups and downs in my work and personal life, which have collectively made me feel inadequate as of late. When I fall into this hole, all of my former victories and accomplishments, and even upcoming opportunities just fade out of view.
I’m currently struggling not to compare myself to my neurotypical peers who are settling into houses with their successful long-term partners and have established, high-paying careers. Meanwhile, I wallow shamelessly in self-pity, begrudging myself for wasting so much time licking past wounds raw rather than becoming someone I respect more. Sometimes it feels like I’m taking a 12-mile walk home alone in the dark winter rain while everyone speeds by me in their fancy cars brimming with hot girls and champagne. I’m just exhausted, cold, and I can’t afford the bus.
I get frustrated that my life has not taken the “normal” path from school to white picket fence even though I did everything I was meant to do. I blame this on my ADHD, my poor past life choices, and society and culture I sometimes don’t feel I fit in to, which makes me feel powerless. Simultaneously, I know that my life is actually very exciting. I’ve done things most people will never get the opportunity to do — I was loved by a Javanese princess, rode a whale shark, lived all over the globe, wrote for world-class newspapers, taught talented students, and navigated across Europe on a motorcycle without a map. I’m lucky, my life is beautiful, and I am generally truly grateful. I’m a hardworking, clever, reasonably good-looking man, surrounded by incredible people who love me unconditionally. I also have a cat!
Yet, down days still happen, and they still really suck. So, here are 15 pieces of advice that I would give anyone who is in the throes of a depressive episode like mine.
15 Ways to defeat a down day
- It’s your brain chemistry, not you. My brain tells me I’m a loser. Are these chemicals making me miserable and tired? Yes. Does this mean I deserve to feel depressed and unloved? Absolutely not. I deserve pizza.
- You are not alone. Everyone is fighting their own battle. A lot of people feel like you do and they are having similar anxieties and lows. The world is scary, adulthood is horrible, and we’re all terrified of failure while doing our best to not cry in public.
- Have a good scream. It sounds embarrassing and immature but dear god does it feel good to let it all out! Just do it. Pro tip: Cars are remarkably well sound-insulated.
- Sit like a Buddha, and tilt your head up with your eyes closed. It’s a simple position that somehow lifts your mind set, which makes sense given there’s much more light in the clouds than on the ground.
- You’re a good person, and there is always someone or something that you positively impact. You are not a bad person. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. After enduring my whining for days, my brother once said, “For what it’s worth, I love you. You’re a good person who’s always there for me. You mean a lot to me.” And that misquoted line still gets me through my dark days.
- Get dressed. Put your legs in your trousers, put on a t-shirt. Done. Now leave your bedroom and brush your teeth. Avoid looking in the mirror if you’re feeling ugly. That is all you need to do today, but it couldn’t hurt to think what’s next on the list once you’re up.
- Avoid social media and your phone, if possible. It’s all a sham — no one who is actually having the time of their life stops to take a picture and post it. It’s shallow, mindless nonsense filled with targeted advertising designed to make you feel inferior. Get rid of all phone notifications including message read receipts. Leave your phone in a different room — the urge to check will worsen your anxiety.
- Do not use substances for relief. Think long term: Hangovers and comedowns perpetuate and delay depression. Be brave. Stick on some happy music or a film. Do a few push ups and go to bed early. You’ve got this.
- Chop up some vegetables. Cooking can be a massive undertaking when you’re in a dark hole. Grab a chopping board, knife, and a vegetable. Then chop it up and chuck it into a bowl or pan. It’s satisfying, sparks creativity, and you can eat the veg with your comfort food and not feel guilty afterward!
- It’s Okay to have a duvet day. Take whatever time you need to reconnect with yourself and feel your feelings. Letting your brain catch up with what’s been going on in and around you and process it is the sign of a healthy mind, not a broken person.
- Don’t dwell on the past or people. Memories aren’t fully accurate. You may think your dead dog was amazing, but I bet the pooch pooped on the carpet and barked at night, too. No one is ignoring you, they’re probably driving. Your ex is at home picking their feet and not thinking about you. Never in the history of humanity has looking up an ex on social media made anyone feel better about themselves.
- Everything is a moment that comes and passes to make way for another moment. You will be better tomorrow, even just a little bit. You’ve had these dips before, and you will have highs again, just not this second. Once, I tried surfing. I was on the waves sunburned, battered, and nearly drowned for hours while locals caught waves effortlessly. Eventually I caught one, and it was six seconds of pure elation. You’ll get there.
- Make weird plans for yourself and don’t say “no” to new ideas. What are you going to do tomorrow? No matter how strange something may sound, like a lecture on wool, use any excuse to leave the house. Do a quick Google search to find something interesting.
- Write. Tapping out and editing what’s crowding your mind makes the complexities of the moment easier to understand and communicate. I often also read over my past posts when I feel lost during dark times. It helps ground me, as I can see how I’ve beaten problems in the past.
- Mix up who you lean on. Everyone wants to be there for you, but don’t expect them to drop everything just because you called. Remember that one person’s advice won’t allow you to fully work through your issue, so the more people you talk to the merrier.
How To Get Out of a Funk On a Down Day: Next Steps
- Self-Test: Depression in Adults
- Learn: After the Thrill – Avoiding a Hyperfocus Hangover
- Read: “What My Worst Days with ADHD Feel Like”
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