In Part One of this series I talked about how depression can make you feel that horrible inertia where you lack the desire to do much of anything. In this post I will attempt to give you some tools to combat this lack of motivation in order to get you up and moving.
It has been my experience that if you are experiencing a depressive episode, you need to adjust your priorities and expectations. I switch into survival mode during these times. Any activity which is not immediately essential to my well being or my children’s welfare is put aside for days when I am feeling better. My to do list may only include a handful of items including getting enough sleep, getting the kids to school, and making sure everyone is safe and well fed.
If any of the essential tasks seem too difficult it is time to alter them to make them easier to do and/or to enlist help. If you don’t feel like making dinner you can always order out or as one author, Kristine Breeze, suggests in her book, "Cereal For Dinner: Strategies, Shortcuts, and Sanity for Moms Battling Illness, it is okay to have breakfast for dinner. Depression is an illness and sometimes certain adjustments will have to be made. Another strategy is to enlist the help of others including your family. When things get to be too hard it is okay to ask for help.
It is easier said than done but do try not to feel guilty about the things you are not able to accomplish during a depressive episode. If you expend a lot of energy emotionally beating yourself up, you will have less time to truly recuperate and feel better. I like to use the analogy of depression as a strong ocean wave. If you try to stop the wave it can knock you under the water and quite possibly drown you. But if you allow it to wash over you and even ride it through, you can survive and get to shore safely.
Jane Mountain, MD, in her book “Beyond Bipolar: 7 Steps to Wellness” talks about re-defining goals in terms of mobilization which simply means getting up and moving:
“My goal here is to move, not necessarily to accomplish a task. It is to overcome the depressive mood clues by mobilization. Purposefully initiating a small activity can be the starting point…”
Doctor Mountain suggests that you keep a list of small do-able activities. Adjust your activities, as I have previously suggested, with your level of depression. Then up the ante just a bit. Perhaps one goal during a depressive episode is to take a shower. If you accomplish this task then perhaps up the ante to add making the bed. The key is to keep moving. In essence you are making a conscious decision to act.
The topic of how to handle depression in the workplace is too large to handle within this single post. But suffice to say, some of the strategies I have just discussed still apply. Adjust your expectations and priorities. Which tasks are absolutely essential for you to keep your job? Are there any tasks you can forego for a later time or are you able to delegate some activities to others? Try not to accept any new projects during these depressive times. Keep your day manageable if you can. If your depression becomes severe, one option is to ask for work accommodations. Yet this is much like Pandora’s Box, once you open it, you can never go back. There is a web site devoted to helping people to understand what these work accommodations may involve called JAN. Their telephone number is 1800-526-7234 if you need further assistance.
Another idea of how to break the spell of inertia is to gain a better understanding of what activities and tasks are unusually difficult for you and why. Elizabeth Brondolo, Ph.D. and Xavier Amandor, Ph.D. wrote a book entitled, “Break the Bipolar Cycle: A Day-To-Day Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder” which can help you to gain this understanding. The authors suggest the following:
- Write a list of the activities which are essential for your day.
- Rate each activity from 1-10 of how much effort it requires of you to complete the task. A score of one means that it is super easy for you and a score of ten means that it is something which is extremely difficult for you to even initiate doing right now.
- For those items which you have rated a five or greater, ask yourself why those activities or task seem to require a greater amount of effort. Perhaps some part of the goal is very stressful for you such as dealing with crowds of people or waiting in lines. If you have to go grocery shopping, for example, and crowds bother you, go early in the morning or later in the evening when there are not many people. Use the self scanner if you want to avoid social interaction. There are always adaptations and ways to make things easier for you during these depressed times.
- Next, break up those tasks into smaller and manageable goals. For example, if paying the bills seems overwhelming, how can you break this down into smaller and do-able tasks? If it stresses you out to find stamps and envelopes can you switch to paying bills on-line to eliminate certain steps? Take big chores and break them down into steps that you are able to do. Basically you are answering the question, “What does it take to get these jobs done?”
Life certainly isn’t easy but when you suffer from depression even the simplest of tasks seem to require more energy than we have. The goal is to survive these times with the least amount of mental anguish. Just because we cannot do everything on our to-do lists, this doesn’t make us less worthy. As authors Brondolo and Amandor advocate: “We all need someone who can remind us that it is worth it, that we still matter, even if we don’t achieve all our ambitions.” How very true this is. I am here to tell you that you do matter, despite your worst do nothing days of depression.
I would be so grateful if you could share your experience here with me and others. What helps you to overcome the inertia of depression? What helps you to get moving? You can help others by relating your story. And that in itself can help your depression.