First: this is my experience. It might not match yours.
I’ve struggled with depression for about as long as I can remember. In relatively recent years, I’ve learned how to manage it.
Mine seems to be connection-related. When I feel well-connected to important people, my brain chemicals stay happy. When I feel disconnected from people, my brain tries to kill me. Occasionally literally.
There is a limit to how much control I have over being connected to people. Everyone is busy. There is no village. (This is a highly destructive side effect of our “rugged individualism” and so many of us struggle with it.)
What can I do that doesn’t involve other people?
I can run. High-intensity exercise in general is helpful, but running seems to deliver the most immediate and most reliable hit. People in my circle know that if I’m struggling, an entirely appropriate suggestion is to go for a run. It doesn’t magically make everything better, but it does improve my mood and tidy my mind.
The thing is—I don’t love running. It vacillates between pretty good and tedious, depending on the day. I don’t run long distances. (Two half marathons taught me that 13 miles is too many miles.)
On the other hand, I love how I feel after I’ve run.
Between the couch (or the bed) and the post-run goodness, I have to get changed (ugh), I have to wear socks (ugh), I have to run (ugh), I need to wait until I’ve cooled off before I can shower or change or I will get out of the shower still sweating* (ugh), I need to get dressed again (ugh).
(*In the summer here, it takes at least 20 minutes after coming back in the house to stop sweating, but since we put in a pool, I just jump in after a run and refresh that way and that’s definitely not at all ugh.)
There are a lot of places for this to get derailed.
As a result, I’m quite used to forcing myself to exercise when I don’t really feel like it.
Speaking of “when I don’t really feel like it”…
High-functioning depression requires so much powering through. Getting tasks done when I don’t feel like it is a way of life.
I will not be in a good head space if I stay in my house all day.
I get up and get dressed every week day. This still affords me “lazy Saturdays” if I want them.
The weather was gorgeous when this all broke in March. It was easy to go for an afternoon walk and a run some other time and a bike ride with the family in the evening.
And then it was summer.
Afternoon walks stopped.
I learned to get up and go for a run first thing in the morning. And to do something outside in the evening when the sun was low or set. Whether I felt like it or not, because my mental health depends on it.
This is what I’ve been doing all along. The what and then when look marginally different. When I go back to working at work, running in the morning will stop, because I have a limit on how early I’m willing to get up. I don’t need to worry about that now, though. All I need to know is that this morning, I dragged myself out of bed and went for a run.