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.
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.