I May Be Depressed But I Still Get Sh*t Done

I struggle daily with managing my mental health issues. Somehow my brain and body oscillate between frenzy and lethargy; I’m either totally amped up or completely run down.

What’s also true, is that I still have to get through the day-to-day in spite of what physical or emotional state I’m in. In my case, this means looking after my kids, my pets, my home, and my jobs. Some days, I totally rock it. I have energy and drive; I’m enthusiastic, determined, and productive! I get my shit done and feel good doing it.

Those days, unfortunately, are the exception rather than the norm.

I know that everyone experiences ups and downs, or, as one of my previous counsellors once said, we all experience “stress bubbles” in our lives. But when you suffer from legitimate mental health issues like chronic depression, your capacity to exist and to thrive feel greatly diminished.

First of all, it is EXHAUSTING to be depressed. The lack of physical energy or sense of motivation to do anything is one of the basic characteristics of depression and it’s something I grapple with constantly. Aside from my body feeling tired all the damn time, I also struggle to focus. When I’m depressed, my brain feels foggy; when anxiety decides to take the lead, I feel like a hamster running furiously on a wheel, chasing my thoughts but never managing to make any headway on reaching them. Add to these difficulties low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, lack of purpose, sadness, loneliness, fear, poor diet, poor sleep, and whatever cocktail of psychiatric meds a person might be on (+ associated side effects), and what becomes clear is that people suffering from depression have to manage a LOT in order to perform even the basics in their lives.

So how the hell do I get anything done? In my case, I tend to put things into two categories in my mind, the first being the “must get done; totally NOT optional” tasks and the second being the “could be done now, could be done later; totally optional” tasks. Some things, like feeding my children breakfast, walking the dog, paying my bills, running my tutoring sessions, or preparing meals, sit firmly in my “not optional” category. These are things that just need to be done and I can’t opt out of them (at least, in my mind that’s what I tell myself, because truly I *could* opt out of some of them but that would have dire consequences) so I have to do them, plain and simple. There’s no way that I can avoid them; they just have to happen.

I also use other strategies to get my butt in gear. Things like, having someone hold me accountable for my plans. Writing a list and ticking things off as I complete them. Setting reminders on my phone and calendar for specific tasks. Giving myself something to look forward to once I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, whether it’s some Netflix time, a visit with a friend, or something tasty to eat. I put good music on whenever I’m doing tasks that can have background noise. I try to make sure I’m comfortable while I work. I get outside and let the fresh air rejuvenate me. In short, I do whatever’s necessary in that moment in order to get my jobs done.

This is my “I don’t want to work I just want to binge-watch Netflix and cry but I’m trying anyway” face. The tea helps. A little bit, at least. #shamelessslefie

It isn’t a perfect system—I’m not a perfect person! I struggle constantly with seeing things through to completion and not procrastinating important items on my “to-do” list that need to get done. Some days I don’t do a whole hell of a lot. Some days, I just give in and sit and let the heaviness take over my body and try to rest. But I try hard to have more days that are productive and fewer days that are not. I put effort into moving forward, meeting my goals, managing my day-to-day, and striving for increased wellness and success.

When you’re depressed, it’s hard to be productive. When you’re anxious, it’s no better. Depression is a legitimate disease that causes legitimate difficulties with navigating life and getting what you need and want out of it. But if you’re at all like me, you still have at least a tiny bit of motivation to keep trying, and that’s really the catalyst for making any steps forward, whether big or small.

xxJ

Keep Fishin’, Keep Swipin’

I’ve had “Keep Fishin’” by Weezer stuck in my head all morning for exactly one particular reason: there’s this seemingly universal analogy that compares fishing to dating. Haven’t we all heard the phrase, “there are plenty of other fish in the sea”? There’s even a dating website called “Plenty of Fish” and in fact, a quick online search tells me that the “more fish in the sea” idiom (or similar iterations of it) dates back as far as the late 1500s, so clearly this is something deeply ingrained in our culture.

I’ve tried to fish a handful of times and only ever caught weeds and rocks, which was both frustrating and highly unsatisfying. After these experiences, I feel like I’m able to understand why we try to console ourselves, both about catching fish and about finding love, by promising that a better catch is just another cast away. Because, as I attempt to meet a partner, I’m metaphorically casting my fishing line out again and again, hoping for a decent catch of some kind. But, to continue with the fishing metaphor, despite the bait I choose, or the way I throw my line, I always seem to end up with an empty hook or a fish so puny that it needs to be thrown back.

And this is my point: there seem to be plenty of single people looking for someone to be with, but few are actually willing or able to do what it takes to make that happen and, in general, they seem to treat other people like a stinky boot they just pulled out of the water.

Why are we all making each other feel like shit when we should be trying to make each other feel more connected? I mean, you want to be happy, I want to be happy; you want to connect, I want to connect… There’s no way to get to know someone without having a conversation. And just because it may turn out that we’re not compatible as a couple, it doesn’t mean that we should be dicks to each other.

Dating pokes at all my insecurities; in fact, it puts them all on high-alert. That’s because dating is, at its core, an exercise of making yourself vulnerable over and over again. And when you come from a history of abuse, you’re far more tender and raw than people who haven’t. It’s so much harder to allow yourself to be vulnerable when you come from relationship trauma and the sting of rejection, or betrayal, or even just a perceived threat or slight, is far more potent than it would be otherwise.

I actually loathe the expression “there are plenty of other fish in the sea”. No, seriously; I hate hearing it. (And I hate that this stupid Weezer song is stuck in my head, pounding its catchy pop hook against my brain.) When someone says that to me, I feel like I’m being consoled as a 17-year-old who’s crying after a breakup. Except that at 17, you knew (c’mon, you did know!) that your relationship probably wasn’t going to be “the one” because breakups are part of growing up and we pretty much all go through them in our younger years.

The difference between those breakups and breakups now is that the ones in our youth came with a promise: that you would move on and meet someone better and not feel sad for very long. At that age, most of our friends were going through the same shit and most of them were living lives that pretty closely resembled ours, so you didn’t feel alone and you had plenty of opportunities to meet someone new at school or the mall or wherever.

As you get older, finding love gets a lot harder, and I say that as a person in their early thirties, so I can just imagine that it will become exponentially harder if I stay single into my 40s or beyond. But it also feels like if I have baggage like a history of abuse, a shitty ex-partner,  or a dependence on psychiatric meds to keep me stable, then other people my age must have similar experiences that could help them be compassionate. I accept that these are not the things that we should put in the front window of our dating storefront displays, but I also feel like it’s these experiences that have likely led us to be single, so shouldn’t there be some understanding?

Why not be kinder to each other as we float around in the dating ocean? Let’s allow our fishing lines to get tangled, even if only briefly, and then carefully unwind them with decent behaviour and a shred of integrity. There’s enough trash in the world’s oceans; why add more shit to the pile?

As I wade back into the waters of 21st century courtship, I think I’ll adjust Weezer’s lyrics to reflect our modern times and my own experience…sing it with me, people:

“Oh yeah when they keep ghosting you
keep swipin’ cause they’re not for you
there’s nothin’ much that we can do
to save us from ourselves.”

xxJ

Boundaries, People! Boundaries!

I recently had someone ask me, “How do you get people, women in particular, to recognize [emotional abuse] for what it is early enough in a relationship to drop that person like a hot potato?”

This really got me thinking; if we understand what emotional abuse is (the categorical and intentional manipulation of someone in an effort to create a significant imbalance of power and a strong codependency), how can we avoid getting caught in it? What early warning signs can we look for?

Again, I somehow managed to get my thoughts about this down to a single word: boundaries.

Boundaries are, I think, the fundamental tell-tale in the beginning of a relationship. And what I mean by that, is that people who respect your boundaries tend to be people you can trust. Those who repeatedly push or challenge your boundaries in ways that make you feel confused or hurt are people you need to be wary of.

In all my unhealthy relationships, a lack of boundaries has been key to the relationships’ failures. Both myself and my partners didn’t practice maintaining and respecting healthy boundaries and that got us into heaps of trouble.

A healthy boundary is one in which your needs are met and you feel safe and confident. For example, using a tool like Our Family Wizard to manage communication between me and my ex-husband is a way of keeping a safe boundary between us, especially when there’s conflict.

Safe boundaries are ones that keep you feeling secure and they can be used not just with former partners, but in all our relationships.

Here’s another example: Many people feel overwhelmed after giving birth and having excited friends and family show up to meet the new baby right away. Asking your loved ones to wait a few days, or until you contact them to say you are ready, is setting a healthy boundary.

Telling someone you need time to process a difficult conversation is setting a healthy boundary.

Saying no to unwanted sexual advances is setting a healthy boundary.

Stepping away from a close-talker is setting a healthy boundary.

Doing anything that preserves your sense of safety and self-worth is establishing a healthy boundary and this is a reasonable thing to do, no matter what someone else might tell you.

Okay, but how do you actually set up those boundaries?

Again, my answer to this question is also only one word: assertiveness.

What is assertiveness? Well, I’m glad you asked! The Cambridge Dictionary defines “assertive” as this: “Someone who is assertive behaves confidently and is not frightened to say what they want or believe.”

So this means that assertiveness is when you act confidently and say what you need. And I believe that in order to establish healthy boundaries, you have to be assertive.

But wait! Let’s be clear that “assertive” is vastly different than “aggressive.” I think lots of people get these two things confused, so I want to dispel the notion that being assertive is a bad thing! Aggression is forceful and angry; it doesn’t respect boundaries and it can be violent and driving. Assertiveness doesn’t undermine other people and it isn’t nasty. It’s confident. It’s honest. It’s authentic. It’s the middle-ground between passive and aggressive (don’t even get me started on passive-aggressive!) and is also the only healthy way of expressing your needs and getting them met.

If you’re passive, you give your power away to other people. If you’re aggressive, you take power for yourself. If you’re assertive, you respect other people’s space and power, while maintaining your own.

What I’m saying is that the key to recognizing potentially abusive behaviour from others is to notice whether they have healthy boundaries for themselves and if they also respect your healthy boundaries. And the key to maintaining your boundaries lies in being assertive—not aggressive or passive—about what you need.

Sadly, there’s is no magic method for avoiding narcissists, abusers, or shitty people. I do think, however, that tuning into how someone responds to you setting up or maintaining boundaries can be fundamental in helping to avoid unsavoury or overly needy people. It may seem like you are pushing people away when you act assertively and put up your boundaries, but in the end, you’re not responsible for how others respond to your behaviour and those who stick around are much more likely to be the authentic, quality people in your life.

It can definitely feel scary to place boundaries around yourself, but remember, these aren’t walls; they’re boundaries that can stretch and grow, change and shift. You get to set them and you get to decide who comes in and out of them. You also get to choose how you respond to other people setting their boundaries and if you can succeed in creating a balance between getting your own needs met and meeting your partner’s needs (or your friend’s/family’s/children’s/whomever’s) then you will be poised to succeed in a healthier relationship.

xxJ

Boundaries, Kara! Boundaries!