Seriously Excuse Eddie’s Stinky Socks: A Mental Health Order of Operations


Feet_in_socksLast night, I helped my daughter with a math problem:

6 + 8 x 4 % (4 + 3 – 7) – 3 x 4

Her lesson was on the Order of Operations. You know, “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.” First you tackle the parentheses, then the exponents. Then you do multiplication and division. Finally, you solve the addition and subtraction. All of it is done left to right, keeping the right order of those operations.

I knew there had to be a rule, because there were too many possible answers to that problem. Tackling it without any instruction required too many brain cells. I couldn’t remember back to my math days for the life of me, and apparently my daughter wasn’t paying attention in class, so we did what we always do when we’re confused: surfed YouTube for videos.

We found a great tutorial to teach us the order of operations, and now I get it.

It makes perfect sense.

I was amazed at how simple that problem is when you tackle it from the order of operations. My daughter would get confused at first when there weren’t any parentheses. A few times I had to drill it in her head that she should only add or subtract after the multiplication or division is done. PLEASE EXCUSE MY DEAR AUNT SALLY!

This order of operations works for the problem of depression and anxiety, as well. My acronym, though, is “Seriously Excuse Eddie’s Stinky Socks.” That is:


Eating well


Stress management


Sleep. Sleep is my first priority because none of my other efforts is going to make a difference if I am wearing cool dark circles under my eyes. We’ve always known sleep and mood are tightly connected, that depression causes interruptions in sleep and that a lack of sleep makes persons more susceptible to mood disorders. But it’s worse than that. Studies now show that sleep problems can cause the damn mood disorder, that sleep deprivation can rewire the brain’s emotional circuits.

I do not need to read lab studies to confirm this. Last year’s episode of insomnia taught me a great deal about just how important sleep is, and that I need to rearrange everything in my life (everything) to accommodate a solid set of zzzzzzs. For awhile, in fact, I left home and stayed with my sister-in-law because the constant interruptions and requests at night from the kids (bath for leg cramps, Tylenol for headaches, vaporizer for sore throats) had me so exhausted I couldn’t pull out of my severe depression. I have learned that I need eight or more hours to function at my best, not the seven I was getting for years when I swam with a group of friends at 6 a.m. Some people simply require more sleep. I am one of them.

Eating well. In prior years, I would have said Psychiatric Visits/ Medication and Therapy would come second and third in my order of operations. This year that has changed. Making radical changes to my diet—eliminating sugar, gluten/white flour, dairy, and caffeine—has given me an appreciation of how powerful the food-mood connection is, how every single editable item we place into our mouths affects our thoughts, our nerves, our limbic systems (the emotional center of the brain). Especially dangerous is sugar, or anything that increases insulin. That stuff is bad news for anyone fighting a chronic mood disorder. We need to keep our blood sugar as level as possible. Eating whole foods like kale, spinach, walnuts, blueberries, and salmon will give you the nutrients needed for a resilient mood, especially B-12 and omega 3 fatty acids, and will help your sleep.

Exercise. All of my regular readers are probably sick of me harping on exercise, but I can’t help but mention the only thing that gives me a brief anesthesia from the pain of depression. On days where I am really struggling, when I can’t stop adding up the ages of all my ancestors to see how soon I get to die, I know that I will at least be able to feel 60 minutes of calm the hour after an intense workout. That is worth rearranging my schedule for. I don’t have the time to exercise for at least 60 minutes a day. I make the time. The science of exercise gets more compelling with each year. In a US News article, Harvard Medical Psychiatrist John Ratey said “Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning. Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain. I recently learned that it plays a role in stabilizing your blood sugar, which is yet another reason why it helps persons like me who require balanced blood sugar levels in order to stay sane.

Stress Management. This one may not have appeared in the order of operations a year ago. Only in the last month have I realized how quickly too much cortisol, the stress hormone, swimming in your bloodstream can take you down. In December I was militant about my diet, exercise, and sleep hygiene. I didn’t eat one snowball cookie over the holidays, and I worked out hard every day, even Christmas morning. However, I was very stressed, working long hours to launch a new depression community, Project Beyond Blue, on Christmas Eve. I forgot I was a fragile creature, and put my work before my health. For that I suffered the consequences in early January, with a few days of crying and recurrent death thoughts.

Because of that I have started to do stress equations before I bite off on something. For example, I have wondered if I should go back to therapy. My stress equation showed that to pay for the therapy, I would have to work six extra hours a week, plus miss the two hours of work when I’m at therapy. So essentially I’d have to make up eight hours of work. Squeezing those extra hours into my schedule would create enough stress to outweigh the benefits of therapy. I do this simple stress equation with everything now, to determine if an activity is truly worth the toll it’s going to take on my body.

Support. I am lucky in that Project Beyond Blue provides me with so much support in living with treatment-resistant depression. I am working on making our online support grow into a network of in-person support, as well, with meetings all over the world. However, until that happens, I have a handful of people that I know I can call or see, and they won’t run away if I start to cry. I need to make sure that support is there especially in hard situations, like when I’m hosting a family reunion, or when I feel rejected because of the way I expose my illness in public.

I challenge you to come up with your own mental health order of operations, a way to problem-solve and a reminder to put your health before anything else so that you can be your best you.

Join the conversation on “Project Beyond Blue,” a new community for persons with treatment-resistant depression.

Originally published on Sanity Break at EverydayHealth.


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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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5 Responses
  1. I have experienced the benefits of everything you mentioned and when I stay on task the difference is amazing. One questions, why caffeine? Even just a cup or two? That’s a hard one to give up – lol.

    Thanks for everything you do, your suggestions for recovery and remission are great!


  2. Thomas

    There is a saying “healthy body health mind”. The information you provide is good for any person and vital to suffers of disease. People with brain disease tend to live shorten lives, less productive not because the brain shuts down, but because other organs suffer the effects of poor diet, sleep, etc.

    But I am moved to reply because of your statement regarding feeling rejected by family due to your exposing your (physical) illness. The weight of such pressure is more than a little thing. It takes great strength a courage to do so. I think we all can appreciate the price you pay at those times. I hope that knowing the number of lives you effect positively outweighs the cost you pay.
    Thank you again