Disclaimer: I am not a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist. I am only sharing coping skills that I developed along my continued journey treating my depression and anxiety.

1. Journal
Writing is an amazing release even if you've never been the best writer, keeping a journal is beneficial. It allowed me to organize my thoughts and feelings. A lot of time during a high anxiety day, I would write out my worries. Taking time, focusing, and organizing my fears gave me time to think through them. Most times when my anxiety was high, I felt trapped in my mind surrounded by an endless loop of "why" with no answer ever sufficing. Expelling those emotions from my mind gave me a chance to step back, reflect, and process what had me feeling irritated and elevated. I also like that my journal is for me only. I can make spelling errors, write outside the margins, doodle and no one could tell me I was doing something wrong.

2. Appreciate Nature
When I first started treating my depression and anxiety, nature was the first thing to stand out to me. I live in a fairly tree heavy area and I never noticed how bright and vibrant the hot pink flowers on the trees leading up to my Cul-de-Sac were. How tall and full the forest green leaves on the tree in my front yard had become. How captivating the Sun on a late summer evening when it's dipping down into the horizon spilling a mixture of orange, pink, purple onto the blue sky backdrop. Simple things that were always around me but I never noticed became magical and mystifying. That's the point where I started reconnecting with photography and shooting land and cityscapes. I wanted a reminder of how beautiful the Earth can be so on my dark days I knew there was more.

3. Set Goals
Goals are good to have at every avenue of life. A large part of my depression was worsened by not having a goal for what I wanted to do after college. All my life the goal I worked toward was graduating from college. Once I did that, I had no true idea of who or what I was or wanted to be. I did my Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Creative Writing in hopes of being an author and screenwriter but the more I expressed that passion to others, the more I allowed the complacent "oh" of others discourage me to the point I believed writing as a career was far-fetched. That lead me to completely throwing myself into "practical" professions in finance which I grew to despise. I wasn't doing what I wanted. Once I was so burnt out, overworked, and depressed, I had time to revisit my original passion. I watched a lot of YouTubers and followed bloggers who were doing what I wanted to do and they were not ashamed even if it seemed "impractical". Their stories inspired me and from there I started setting small measurable goals, like "write three times a week in your journal" or "do one writing exercise."  I kept in mind throughout goal setting that there would be failure but that wasn't the end. I also had to be gentle with myself. I had to dead all the self-criticism and move on things before doubt had a chance to set in.

4. Find a Hobby/Escape
A hobby or escape can be anything you enjoy that takes your mind away from negativity. For me, it was reading. It's hard to imagine worries when you're trapped inside the well-constructed imagination of a great author. I started with "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou. I found it to be very fitting for the time. This was the first non-academic book I touched since before college. I was shocked I stayed away from reading for so long. I used to read all the time as a kid then I stopped but reading her book reignited my passion for reading. It took me longer than expected to get through it but I was beyond proud once I did. Even if I wasn't at my 40 page an hour speed I once was, I knew I had read more pages than I had, say, a month ago. That's what kept me motivated.

5. Cut Off Toxic Relationships
This was one of the best things for my life and mental health. I was in a slew of toxic situationships and "friendships" that had no substance other than abusing a substance. I was an addict surrounded by addicts. No matter how much I wanted to do better, I couldn't achieve my goal when my social sphere involved people who were not looking to change or better any part of themselves. I had to let a lot of, let's not say friends because they truly weren't, but associates go. I took a break from social media for about two or three years to not be tempted, interested, or curious about reconnecting with those people on any level beyond "hi" and "bye". That time away really allowed me to get away from drinking and also, get closer to my true self. When I was around toxic people, I found myself involved in unnecessary drama and petty bullshit. I acted in a way that was uncharacteristic of myself and I hated that. I hated myself for sinking to levels I knew I was better than.

6. Stop Living In The Past
This is great for two reasons; it's over and not coming back. I had to let go of the past of how things were and how I wasn't able to do everything like I used to. Trust, it's easier said than done. It's something I still struggle with especially when it comes to weight, physical health, and stamina. At one point in time, I was on top of my game. I have since fallen off and it's hard when certain sizes don't fit but I am learning to meet myself where I am versus dream of where I was or coulda, shoulda, woulda been. I am now taking steps towards creating a present and future that does satisfy me and make me happy.

7. Read/Say Positive Affirmations
For a while, I thought this was mad corny. Like, "don't worry; be happy", oh wow, I'm magically better but as I got deeper into my journey I realized how much reading or saying positive things affected my mood. When I recreated social media, I started with Tumblr. Tumblr has an amazing, supportive mental health community for black people. There is so much love displayed on there, it really helped me. When I was drowning in negative thoughts seeing something like "don't worry; be happy" or reading someone's story and experience with mental illness really did help me. I felt less alone on my path. It can be something simple as starting your day of repeating the idea " I will have a good day" or looking at yourself in the mirror and telling yourself "you're beautiful, amazing, smart, etc". Say something you love about yourself and it will change your outlook. Practice forgiveness starting with yourself. Relinquish your shame, fear, embarrassment and tell yourself how wonderful, beautiful, and capable you are. 

8. Take Ownership
This is my path to a healthy mind. I am responsible for doing the work to ensure I am creating the best, most productive and satisfying environment for myself. I have blamed others throughout my journey as people who took from me or made me this way but at the end of the day, this is my life. I have to take back control of my life and my health from this disease. I am responsible for utilizing every option given to me to improve and research ways to make myself better. Doctors are great but a 30 minute session only tells them so much about me. I did a lot of research on how to heal myself. A doctor can give me a pill but they cannot heal emotional wounds.

9. Practice Self-care
This one is my favorite. Self-care is essential. I had to carve out that time to cool down, recharge, and recollect myself. A lot of my self-care is done through treating my body, like I live for wash day. I've always loved doing my hair. It's so relaxing for me to make a deep condition, whip shea butter, detangle, braid and twist. Some days, it's taking a long shower, shaving, greasing up with coconut oil, laying in my satin sheets, and binge watching Flavor of Love. Horrible reality TV makes me happy and I feel no shame it it. Do something completely for you that makes you feel happy and light.

10. Medication Management
To clarify, I am medicated. I take a medication for depression, anxiety, and sleep but before I was on prescription medication I was a vitamin regimen. I won't downplay my psychiatrist, he is amazing. He believes in the power of natural healing. That's in alignment with where I am moving in my life and diet so he was a perfect fit for me. He tested me for every possible vitamin deficiency under the Sun; Celiac disease, Zinc, Iron, Omega-3, everything. He also did genetic testing to see what medication worked with my body chemistry.

Several blood vials later, he saw I had a Iron, Zinc, Vitamin D, and Chromium deficiency and started me on the appropriate doses to treat those. Also, it revealed that I have a genetic mutation with my MTHFR gene. MTHFR is an enzyme necessary for an important metabolic process called methylation. It is this process that converts folate and folic acid into an active form the body can use. The MTHFR gene produces this enzyme, but a genetic mutation can inhibit its function (source). Also, having this genetic mutation can cause PMDD, fertility issues, and depression. This was the heaven sent revelation. This linked why when I started getting my period, I became emotionally erratic in the days leading up to it and my long-term struggle with depression. For this, I take a super B vitamin with Folic Acid and Iron called Enlyte. I noticed a change over the first few weeks of taking my vitamin regimen then I got lazy with it. I started skipping days and I felt the emptiness returning. So, even if it is just vitamin you're using as medication, it is important to remain consistent.

Even with these coping skills, each day can vary from the next. Healing is not linear, there will be a lot of highs and lows along the way but the goal is to reduce the lows and extend the highs.