The Little Things

By August 24, 2017Blog

Do you find yourself wishing that you could get some kind of recognition for completing even the simplest tasks? I’m talking about getting things done despite your mental illness. I woke up at 8am to take my meds, went back to bed, and slept till noon, like I have for weeks. I managed to get up later, although I slept half the day away. Even taking a shower was a chore.

It seems to ring true for just about everyone living with a mental health issue; there are days, even weeks or months, when accomplishing daily activities seems huge. Completing them makes one feel like they’ve really done something special, and with good reason—they’ve managed to overcome obstacles that depression has put in their way.

I live with schizophrenia, but depression and anxiety are very strong components of my diagnosis. There are times when, even medicated, depression cuts through and I can’t muster the gumption to accomplish anything. I’ve read that this is common, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. For me, being depressed means waiting out the course of the symptoms. Talk therapy helps, but I’d still like some kind of merit badge for getting stuff done.

I push myself. I promise to meet a friend at the bakery, so I have to leave the house. I walk the mile to meet up, taking some exercise along the way. I make choices about which donuts to buy. I pay the barista. I pick out a table and people watch. I get involved in a conversation. Normal things. Everyday things. Things that non-depressed people take for granted.

Afterwards, I walk home. I separate my clothes and do the laundry. Measure the soap, put in the softener. I could feel like a robot, but I feel like a champ—I managed to create clean clothing to wear. I wash the dishes. I brush my teeth. I answer emails, work on my blog, text a friend, read a book. I fill the void with little things and it feels good, which is so hard to do when I’m depressed. Riding the bus to my doctor’s office is as monumental as fixing dinner as watching Netflix. Exhausting. Tedious. Overwhelming.

I’m not sure what compels me to push forward. I suspect it’s that I know how good life can be when I’m not battling the effects of depression, but that can be hard to remember in the moment. It’s like I have blinders on and can’t see my own history. There was good once, so there has to be good again. It makes logical sense, but my symptoms belie that. I can’t magically muster the strength to overcome depression. I take action, even the tiniest ones, to prove that I have some self-worth when I feel like I don’t have any. Talking about it is key, even when I feel like a broken record.

I’m not suggesting that my methods will work for everyone. Each person has to find their own solution. For me it’s medication and talk therapy. Sometimes I just follow the old adage, “Fake it till you make it,” although that doesn’t work for me when the symptoms are oppressive. Nothing seems to help in that instance. Then I’m back to the Herculean chores that don’t get done and the enjoyment in life that doesn’t come. It’s frustrating, and even frustration feels like a burden. I hate feeling washed out and helpless, but I don’t care, and not caring is the part that hurts the most. I know instinctively that there’s something better, something worth living for. That’s why I press on. To feel something other than nothing.

I don’t want to lose interest in my hobbies or the things I like to do, but depression doesn’t care. I don’t want to lay awake at night and sleep all day, but again, depression couldn’t care less. Feeling worthless or guilty for everything I’ve done doesn’t appeal to me, but it’s a symptom, too, right in there with suicidal ideation, which I can do without.

I’m antsy by nature, but I’ve taught myself patience, the benefit of which is that I can take the necessary time to recover from a depressive episode. The antidepressant that I take helps me get the chemical side of the disorder under control, and therapy helps with the emotional angle. It’s all about finding balance, which is important to me because without it I’m in danger of staying depressed for much longer periods of time.

Will I ever get those gold stars for doing the little things? Probably not. Can I reward myself in some other way? Absolutely. If I can muster the energy to wake up and greet the day, I can accomplish almost anything. Like a walk to the bakery with a friend.

 

8 Comments

  • Laurie says:

    Wow. I don’t think I’ve read anything that describes what I personally go thru. Thank you for sharing. You brought me a lot of clarity.

  • Eileen C says:

    This is so true. Sometimes I want to go in to work and proudly exclaim. “I brushed my teeth and washed my hair this morning.” But somehow I know they won’t understand this accomplishment.

    • Henry Boy says:

      You’re so right, Eileen. Sometimes I feel foolish telling my roommates that I managed to get out of bed and shower. They just don’t get it. At least my therapist does. Thanks for your comment.

  • Elizabeth P says:

    Thank you for your post. I am a psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in which I see many people suffering from depression. I found myself thinking how helpful it would be for them to read your post ….to relate and feel understood. And also how helpful for non-depressed people to read it: to have a detailed glimpse of how hard it can be to get brought the very basic activities of day to day life. You have a gold star from me!

    • Henry Boy says:

      Elizabeth, please feel free to share my blog with anyone you like. That’s why I write – to help with connections. It’s always nice to hear from professionals in the field, so thank you for your comment…and the gold star! 🙂

  • s&r says:

    If everyone is different (including everyone with mental illness), it follows that the gold star or merit badge that rewards each of us is also recipient-specific. I may treat myself a bit like a dog, but it does seem to help me; I gift myself a treat whenever I start to feel down or unmotivated.

    I am on a super-tight budget, but I have found that there is a giant universe of high quality used clothing on Ebay and I can search for things under $15, and treat myself to something I enjoy inexpensively as a reward for getting things done. Vigorous exercise usually annihilates any depressive funk I may slip into, too.

    I am glad you are discussing the anxiety and depression that accompanies your (more scary-sounding) diagnosis. The deeper I am into my own recovery, the more I can see that these two things, depression and anxiety, are like the double helix of the disease. I know that in myself, there is a wall that safeguards me from the critcism and judgement of the world that is made strong with fear of, and anxiety about, rejection. I know also that the same wall that safeguards me isn’t flexible or porous enough to permit intimacy, and that the absence of intimacy leads to… depression. Getting myself to a place of awareness – a place where I can see my way out of the conundrum – is extremely hard to do.

    As challenging as it is to achieve, I am striving to love my own weaknesses and defects (like the fact I owe Navient $55,000 and that my student loan payment makes it extremely hard to pay my health insurance premium!). Or like my age (getting older), my diminishing looks, and other stuff (my illness) all of which I know is problematic to anyone I might go out on a date with. All the shame I feel is locked away someplace and I pretend it isn’t there, but that just means I am working overtime to conceal parts of myself that need love, acceptance, and kindness most of all.

    Intimacy helps ease depression and so unmasking these deeper feelings is worth the difficulty – but it’s hard as hell to do this.

    • Henry Boy says:

      s&r, your treating yourself is something I can definitely relate to – I do the same thing. I can also relate to how difficult the depression loop is, as I go through it from time to time. What I do is try to keep up with my treatment plan and hope for the best. So far, it’s working for me, although, as you point out, it’s hard as hell sometimes. Hang in there.

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