So today, I carry a cane for the Myasthenia Gravis. People often ask me: ‘Hey, what’s it like to live with 5 diseases?’ And I tell them the truth, I say: ‘Well, I see myself as Rocky and my 5 diseases as Rocky’s different opponents’.
So, bipolar disorder is Apollo Creed, the polycystic ovarian syndrome is definitely Ivan Drago, Myasthenia Gravis is Mason Dixon, asthma is Clubber Lang, and psoriasis is Tommy Gunn. The odds of getting the first 3 of these 5 diseases are 1 in 50 million.
And after that I stopped counting because I just didn’t think there was a point. So, every day I wake up in pain and what I do when I wake up is I play ‘Eye of the Tiger’, and I put on my Rocky boxing gloves, and I pray to God for strength to get through another day. Today, I’m a health activist, a writer, and a speaker, I have my own award-winning blog, ‘Fashionably ill’, which is about surviving pain with style and humor, and I’m a contributor to several other websites, including The Huffington Post, MSNBC did a documentary on my life, Psych Central named me a mental health hero.
And right now, I’m really excited about a project I’m working on; I’m consulting on a project with Rutgers University and University of Massachusetts medical school. We’re developing a program that will help young adults with severe mental illness finish school and find meaningful employment. And that’s the thing I want to talk about today, it’s how to get stuff done when you’re depressed.
The three themes we’re going to address are proactiveness, urgency and difficulty. So, proactiveness. What does it mean to be proactive? Do you have a plan for the next time you get depressed? So, let me give you an analogy: Over the years, my Myasthenia Gravis has gotten better with medication, physical therapy, nutritional supplements, practice. But there are still times when, all of a sudden, I can’t feel my legs, or I’ll lose feeling in one half of my body, either the left or the right side. The other day, I was talking to one of my students, I coach high school debate, and I could sense that I was losing feeling in my legs.
So immediately, I sprang into action. I clutched my cane harder because I knew what was coming. In the same way, when I sense that I’m getting depressed, I spring into action. I call my therapist right away, schedule an appointment, I start exercising more than usual. Because exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones, that help us fight stress and depression.
But, in order to make a plan, you need to know two things: Your symptoms of depression and the strategies that work for you. When we usually talk about the symptoms of depression, it’s a generic list. You’ve probably seen it in a pamphlet or read it somewhere on the Internet. But the truth is, no two people are exactly alike.
So what are your symptoms of depression? Some people, when they’re depressed, they lose their appetite. Other people tend to overeat when they’re depressed. Some people have insomnia. For others, they sleep too much. Some people have outbursts of anger; and still, many people with depression have no temper at all. Know yourself.
In addition to knowing your symptoms, you need to identify now what strategies work for you. So, what do you need when you get depressed? Is it faith, is it family, is it friends, is it exercise, is it reading, is it listening to music? Identify these strategies now so that when you see your symptoms, you can spring into action.
The other day, my niece gave me a pleasant surprise visit, and I was really happy to see her. When she hugged me, she said: ‘Tita Jessica, did you know you have toothpaste in your hair?’ And so I’ve learned that toothpaste in hair equals depression. For me, anyway. Know yourself, plan now, don’t wait, be proactive. The best defense is a good offence. In addition to being proactive, we need to understand the concept of urgency.
Urgency is about drowning out wild noise and focusing on what’s the most important. So, let me give you an example of what not to do. In college I had this class called ‘The sociology of crime’. And once in a while, the professor would show us clips from classic mafia movies, like ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Goodfellas’. And so I had this brilliant plan for the midterm. I mean, I thought it was a great plan. And I was going to finish reading the whole textbook, I was going to review all the lecture notes, and I was going to watch all of those mafia movies.
So, the test was on a Tuesday. I reserved Sunday for watching all those mafia movies: ‘Godfather’, ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Casino’ And Sunday came and went, watched all those movies, I reserved Monday for reading the textbook. Monday came, and I woke up depressed. And then I stayed depressed.
So, Tuesday morning came, and I hadn’t read a thing. I went into the exam, and for every question on the test, I kid you not, my answers were: ‘Well, in Goodfellas, Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, he did this,’ or, ‘Lorraine Bracco did that,’ or, ‘According to Vito Corleone’ Wouldn’t it be great if my professor rewarded me for temerity of my answers? He didn’t.
He said while it was great that I had mastered mafia cinema, he would appreciate it if I read the textbook next time. So, obviously, if I had to do it all over again, studying the textbook was a 100, no, maybe a million times more important than watching ‘The Godfather’. Urgency is about being able to understand what is most important and what is most pressing. So, I keep a daily to-do list. If something’s due today, it gets 4 stars, if it’s due tomorrow, 3 stars, sometime this week, 2 stars, next week, 1 star.