Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

10 Things To Do If You’re Stuck In a Rut

What do you do when you’re stuck in a rut? Even though I’ve written about this in several posts—“12 Ways to Keep Going,” “Getting Through the Rough Spots,” and “12 Strategies to Help You Recover From Relapse”—I fail to remember the pointers when I’m there myself. My present mood dip isn’t a mammoth relapse, thank God. But it is enough of a wake-up call to go back to the building blocks of my recovery program and see if something is missing, or—even if I’m doing everything right—find a few more tools that can help me get to a better place. I list them here as much for myself as for you.


1. Go easy.

Even though I’ve read the saying “Easy Does It” in needlepoint for 22 years on the walls of twelve-step support groups, those three words have yet to sink in. The only time I stop to consider their wisdom is when I’m hurting and I have to go slower because I can’t function at regular speed. I’m trying to become as gentle with myself as I am with others, but the progress is slow. Whenever I do manage to take the pressure off of myself in any way I can–by giving myself a longer deadline on a piece, or scratching out all items on my “to do” list that can wait until next week–I breathe a much-needed sigh of relief.

2. Cry.

I fight tears because I associate them with relapse. At the worst of my depression, I cried enough buckets to take care of “water day” at the kids’ school for at least a decade. So whenever the wetness begins, I try my best to interrupt the process. However, tears have healing faculties, as I explain in my piece, “7 Good Reasons to Cry Your Eyes Out.” Your body essentially purges toxins when you weep. It’s as if all your emotions are bubbling to the surface, and when you cry, you release them, which is why it is so cathartic. Whenever I allow the tears—a 10 or 15-minute crying fit—I always feel better.


3. Help someone.

This one is tough when you’re not feeling well yourself, but I’ve never walked away from an act of charity feeling worse. I think it has something to do with tricking your mind and body (and the person you are helping) that you actually have your stuff together, so together, in fact, that you are able to offer assistance. I suspect God plops people in front of you that need your help when you want to do nothing but crawl back in bed and ruminate. At least that’s how it happens to me. In the process of extending my hand, I am reminded that, although I feel alone in my pain, almost every human being is suffering in some form or another, and that if we see our pain as part of the collective pain of human suffering, we have each other and are in it together.


4. Keep doing what you’re doing.

Um. Duh? Yeah, okay, this one is kind of obvious, but really freak’in hard when getting through a simple task feels like competing an Ironman…in crutches. When I’ve got that familiar knot in my stomach—which feels as if I have just robbed a bank and must to confess it to the priest that scares the hell out of me at church—I try to break up my responsibility into miniscule pieces. If I think, “You have to compose three erudite, substantial blog posts today,” there is a likelihood that I will throw up or at least not be able to eat all day. But if I say, “In the next half hour, you have to construct three simple sentences,” I’m much better off because that I can do. So instead of throwing my arms up and yelling, “To hell with it!” I can take baby steps and do the thing that I am doing.


5. Look for signs of hope.

Here’s where I sound like a scrupulous, devout, whacked-out Catholic, which is somewhat true, although I don’t wear my hair in a tight bun or have anything to do with polyester. It’s just that I need signs of hope. All around me. Because it’s so easy to sink into despair and sadness and hopelessness. But if you have something small in front of you—for me, it’s rose petals—that signifies hope, then you can always make that jump from darkness to light, even while sitting at your desk.

6. Repeat your mantras.

My mantras change everyday. Today I am going with “You are okay,” and “You are loved by God.” Sometimes I utter them in between sentences, while I try to breathe in deeply and exhale. I almost always repeat mantras while I’m in the car, because it keeps me from shouting something nasty at the car in front of me. They do help.


7. Remember victories of past and present.

I will also list—either on a sheet of scrap paper or on the gray matter of my brain—a few victories in my recent history: recovering from a devastating depression that almost took my life, 22 years of sobriety, maintaining a career despite profound mood fluctuations, and celebrating 15 years of marriage, when the divorce rate among bipolars is estimated to be as high as 90 percent. All those things I have done, which is why whatever it is that’s going on now won’t keep me down.

8. Pray.

I don’t know if prayer helps. I mean, I can’t prove it. But it certainly makes me feel like I’m doing something proactive, a small thing that could very well help my odds of feeling better. And, like a placebo, having trust in some benevolent deity is going to be beneficial even if there isn’t a benevolent deity. But I do think there is. It goes back to hope—the golden rope out of the pit of despair. If we can keep a grip on that rope, we can never fall too far back.


9. Surround yourself with people.

This one is counterintuitive, as well. The last thing you feel like doing is talking to a person. You might be fine conversing with a computer, a mug of coffee, or a bowl of cereal. People are somewhat unappealing. Unfortunately, isolation never helps you feel better. I have conducted studies in my own life. I always think isolation is the only thing to do, but my brain is just craving it much like my stomach craved a Big Mac when I was pregnant. Whenever I followed through with that one, the flame-broiled thing (or is that Burger King’s invention?) caused me serious heartburn. When you force yourself into a circle of people there is a slight chance of your forgetting how miserable you feel. Not guaranteed. But possible.


10. Say the Serenity Prayer.

When all else fails, pray the Serenity Prayer. Ask God for the strength to accept the things you can’t control: your great aunt’s genes that predispose you to more turbulence in your life than you would like and neural circuits that are firing at each other like the Union army against the Confederates in the American Civil War. Ask God for the courage to change the things you can: surrounding yourself with people when you want to shut out the world for a year; eating almonds, spinach, and salmon for lunch (with lots of Omega 3s) instead of the delicious chocolate cake that is sitting on the kitchen counter; and making an appointment with your shrink to sort out what’s going on. Most importantly, ask God for the wisdom to know the difference.


Click here to subscribe to Beyond Blue and click here to follow Therese on Twitter and click here to join Group Beyond Blue, a depression support group. Now stop clicking.

  • Sarah Callender

    Thank you for this post AND for the reminder that it’s OK to take it easy sometimes. Sometimes depression seems like such a personal failure (that mean-voiced message, of course, is part of the depression). And taking care of oneself (making time to rest and take good care of one’s bod)seems so indulgent. Your reminder feels like permission that it’s not optional. We who struggle with mental health issues must take care of ourselves. I am SO grateful that I discovered your book and your site. Depression’s such a lonely gig, and your empathy and humor and honesty is invaluable.

  • Kim


    I just found your site this weekend — you are the ray of light in my Pit-O-Doom… 😉 It is so refreshing to find that I’m not the only completely depressed person who manages to cope with mental illness with writing and humor…. Dark humor, but humor nonetheless.

    I think I found you because I read something you wrote about Diet Coke – my current drug of choice – and how it can contribute to depression. I had the same reaction to this news that you did — “awesome. another thing I can’t do/drink.” You mentioned that you have been in recovery for 20+ years. My Mom just celebrated her 21st “birthday” in recovery. Her sobriety is the best gift that she could have ever given to me (and my siblings, and my son, and herself) and I am forever grateful to the support system she found in AA. Anyway, not sure why I’m writing this, just wanted you to know that you are giving your children and family a huge gift with your sobriety.

    Thank you for writing about this horribleness that is mental illness and sharing your experiences. I find your advice useful, even though I rarely take it — “yes, Therese is totally right, it WOULD be a good idea to leave my house and be among the living, maybe I will try that sometime….next week/month/year….”

    I’m looking forward to reading your book.

    Peace out.


  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kevin Keough

    Wow. Though you didn’t mention it this entry manifests adherence to the wisdom of simplicity and slow but steady progress.

    There are no flashing lights announcing your imminent transformation to some invented place where pain doesn’t exist and it only costs 29.95

    You assembled equipment, activities, meta-cognitive skills– a pretty long list though you identify 10 things to do to get out of a rut—-even to get out of a depression…..people living alone eventually have to look in the yellow pages, pick the least weird sounding name, with not much hope a psychiatrist is going to be able to help her/him. If you happen to have energy enough to open the phone book, write down a few numbers, maybe even call or at least you’ve taken a step to making the call—-doing something that might well help to get out of a rut or whatever it may be

    You’ve written instructions to oneself and others who find themselves in very unpleasant territory “things to do” that WILL eventually work if you keep doing them.

    So, partly because of your over-familiarity with the territory you’ve become really good at getting important information to everyday people including young people. No, not for nothing do we suffer.

    This list of “Ten Tips for….” is an expression of wisdom translated so it can be heard. Pretty uncommon, truth be told. So major points to you. Just about everybody could benefit from reading this one and putting it in a file for future reference. It ought make the rounds. Chop Chop—who handles such tasks for you ? Get them moving (okay… humor).

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Marc

    This was a very thought provoking list, Therese. The one about being with people is good advise because sometimes I have made a connection that really helped and when I didn’t I could walk away and usually not feel any worse than I already did. I also agree with point four. Some days the small things–getting to work and eating a healthy dinner–can be little victories. I remember some very hard days when I was living with four roommates in a house when the refrigerator broke. Since I didn’t work days (I worked all night) my roommates charged me with the job of finding a used one and getting it delivered. I was like “I can’t do that.” But I did and it felt good. It sounds a little ridiculous writing that now compared the far more serious challenges I have confronted, but, at that time in that place in the head I was in, it was a small victory that said I could still deal with things.

  • Mike,

    A great list, Therese, practical and tested with your own experience. My favorite prayer when I can’t get out of a rut is, “Thy will be done,” knowing now what I didn’t know when I learned the prayer: that God doesn’t want us to suffer and that God wants more peace and good for us than we can ever imagine ourselves. Thanks, Therese, for another goodie!

  • http://iamcharu charu

    hi i am charu saini the tsunami came in japan it is very dangerous…………….
    i see that tsunami live it very i cant tell u for that ooooooooooooo god it is very dangerous n i shocked for see that tsunami…………
    my mom dad n i now still in japan i cannot scared for that tsunami beacause i also read for tsunami,………
    now tsunami cannot came again i knowe that that why i not scared……

  • http://iamcharu charu

    hi i am charu saini the tsunami came in japan it is very dangerous…………….
    i see that tsunami live it very i cant tell u for that ooooooooooooo god it is very dangerous n i shocked for see that tsunami…………
    my mom dad n i now still in japan i cannot scared for that tsunami beacause i also read for tsunami,………
    now tsunami cannot came again i knowe that that why i not scared……

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Serena

    I follow along the philosophy, “Fake it till you make it” Repeating the different mantras are good too. Just doing the best I can to make it through the day can be such a difficult task. I feel I have achieved something if I survived until the end of the day.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment J.J.

    A friend recommended your site to me awhile back. I’ve battled depression off and on my whole adult life. I am going to be 52 next Wednesday. To read how a beautiful woman like you can have the problems that you have suffered really gives an average looking guy like me a lot of strength. Keep up the good work. I really enjoy reading your posts.

  • Depression Treatment Center

    Terrific article! Very sound and practical advice. One doesn’t have to be religious to pray either! for me, just getting outdoors, moving around feels like devotion, and it serves double-duty as I usually find something to be hopeful about-even if it is a beautiful sky or flower. I particularly like your suggestion to help someone. Being of service is one of the best mood-shifters I have found!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Zaplily

    So many times I have wanted to end my life, then i read beyond blue and find hope and real ways of tolerating depression. The hardest is to be social and i would not be at all if i could get away with it. Depression takes every good feeling and turns it into bad feelings.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jean

    Thanks for another terrific post. I battle depession, too, and am sooooo stuck in a rut – stuck in a deadend town with no job, looking after a relative with dementia who can be beyond demanding, and wanting sooooo badly just to get away from this rathole.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Linda

    So surprised to find this gem buried in my mail. Today I laughed at your humor and was comforted knowing again how you have been there and can share HOPE with the rest of us.
    I would sure like to know how to print some of your articles without getting all the sidebars, etc.

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