When I’m depressed, even the word “list” is overwhelming. Everything seems too much. I don’t have the focus or the strength or the will to make even the most simple of decisions, and I’m already feeling like an abject failure, so the concept of having more than one thing on a list, and then having to choose which thing is the most important, and then actually do that thing, knowing darned well that at least one of the things isn’t going to happen, and the guilt and emotional self-torture that will result from not doing that thing? It’s too much. Waaaaaaaay too much.
After a lifetime experience with sporadic depression, I’ve learned to keep it simple. Here’s my list:
Do one thing.
Breathe. Our society stigmatizes depression, and seems to assume that it’s just another form of laziness or immaturity, or self-indulgent nonsense that shouldn’t be taken seriously. But I’ve been there enough times to know that doing one thing while depressed is a gigantic accomplishment, and one to be proud of.
That one thing might be getting out of bed. That’s a huge deal and a lot harder than it looks from the outside. And it’s progress. For a while that was my list: Get out of bed. But over time I realized even that was too much. It’s too specific. It sets one up for potential failure. Making the list a bit more vague allows for flexibility based on circumstances, and it increases one’s margin of potential success. So…
Do one thing.
Potential things might be eating something. Showering. Changing positions. Whatever it is, it’s a thing. Things are good. Once you’ve done a thing, then, and only then, consider doing another thing if you are able. One thing at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to think too far ahead.
This list might seem like an unattainable luxury to those out there who have kids or can’t miss a day of work for fear of the financial consequences. Life must go on. I get that. I do. And yes, let’s be honest, you may have to power through and do your “one things” in quicker succession for the pure sake of survival, but your list can still be simple for now.
Do one thing.
I look at my depression as this huge, dark, fetid pool that I have to get across. The less time I spend in these toxic waters, the better off I’ll be. So doing one thing is like throwing a lily pad out there. I did one thing. Great! I hopped to that first lily pad. So far so good. Only then do I contemplate the next lily pad. For me, at least, the process will be slow. Others might have to move a little more quickly. But I usually can get away with slow. Slow and steady wins the race.
Do one thing.
Feed the dogs.
Do one thing.
Brush your hair.
A really good thing to do is ask for help. But that’s a hard one. Imagine, though, how good you’ll feel if that’s the one thing you do. But no pressure.
If you have the energy after you’ve done one thing, maybe consider writing that thing down and then crossing it out. That might be another thing to do. It’s up to you.
Be gentle with yourself, dear reader. Simplify. Remember that hopping from one lily pad to the next is progress. It may not seem like a big deal to those who are observing from the shoreline, but, believe me, I know. It’s huge.
If you’re lucky, and you’ve allowed yourself to just focus on the next lily pad of the moment, eventually you’ll look up in surprise and realize you’ve reached the opposite shore. You’ll have reason to rejoice. You did it.
Even if you suspect there may be other ponds of depression in your future, you now know that you can do this. Hopefully that will make those ponds seem a tiny bit smaller and a little less overwhelming. So hold on to that list of yours, as tightly as you can. Even that is a start.
Do one thing.
If you’re having thoughts of self-harm, dear reader, I hope that the one thing you do will be to click on this link for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, because you matter. You really do. I promise.
6 thoughts on “A Depressive’s Check List”
Since my mid-twenties, due to autoimmune disorders, this has been my life. An endless succession of adjusting to the ups and downs of unpredictable flares that robbed me of focus, strength, confidence and function. With 4 kids, to raise alone, it was more like an ocean to cross and lily pads were a luxury. Drowning was a regular occurrence that I’d spend weeks recovering from. The inconsistency forced me to shred many lists till I learned to not think in terms of a structured list of activities. Any planning is done with multiple alternatives and only my functionality, at a given moment, is given priority. Putting health first requires list items to be mere suggestions and my self worth isn’t tied to completing a set of goals. It may mean I’ll never complete a degree or climb a higher mountain, but everyday I cross an ever changing ocean to swim another day. Every crossing is a lesson learned and I’ve stopped drowning and take advantage of moments I can peacefully float and gather strength for the next turbulent wave. If one must write lists, do them in erasable pencil so you can be flexible and not have a visual reminder of what you can’t do. Focus only on what you did do. Highlight it with shiny stars. Years of powering through contributed to permanent disabilities, so now, on my darkest days, lists are taboo and detrimental to physical and mental health. Lists only come out with the sun. Accepting and working with my afflictions, not against them, is a successful act of self love, not a failure. I drowned in a lot of oceans to learn that.
Dear Lyn, you are so impressive. You have been dealt a really bad hand, and yet you have adapted and play the game in so many amazing ways. I don’t think I could have survived in that situation, and yet you’ve thrived. Peacefully floating to gather strength instead of thrashing about in the injustice of it all is something I need to do much more often. Thank you for reminding me of that. In other news, you won the van Gogh poster contest, so if you’re still interested in getting it, send me your address (I promise I won’t publicly publish that particular comment), and I’ll get it right to you! In the mean time, keep on being a positive example of adaptation and survival.
Of course you would have survived. You’re stronger and more adaptable than you give yourself credit for. In spite of all the obstacles life has put in your way you’ve always cleared the path and moved forward. Look where you are. Twenty years ago you couldn’t imagine you’d survive the dark days to be where you are today. You would’ve used that same strength and determination in my position. As for the poster, maybe I had an advantage due to my Japanese heritage on my mothers side. 🙂 . My abusive ex might still be lurking so thanks for keeping my address safe. Can’t tell you the hoops I’ve jumped through to stay hidden from him all these years. Hence the low social media profile and why I don’t visit you on Facebook.
Thanks for believing in me. I’m kind of in a dark place of late, so the vote of confidence does me good. As for the poster, yes, your heritage might have played a part, but also the fact that only two of you participated in the contest, so it was a bit of a coin toss. lol. I’ll send it out this week. Enjoy!
Often when I’m dealing with darker days I feel out of focus with no clear definition. It’s as if my real personality is shrouded in a dense fog and no one can see me or how I’m really feeling. That’s when I realize I need to find a temporary distraction so I don’t get lost in the fog permanently. This time I stumbled upon ‘The Real Dirty Dancing’ and it’s a great escape. I usually don’t watch reality shows, but it’s Johnny and Baby and a nice tribute to the actors and the movie.
I’ll definitely have to check this out. I love reality shows. (Except the talent kind. Those bore me.)