BEHIND DOMESTIC LINES
★ ★ ★ ★
WHEN DEPRESSION LOOKS LIKE LAZINESS
By Jami Ingledue
It feels like the dumbest problem in the world.
You just can’t get yourself to DO anything. (Talk about first-world problems.)
There’s a certain kind of depression, sometimes called “High-Functioning Depression,” that seems fairly common among moms, and it’s especially challenging when we have our own businesses or work from home.
You’re not weepy or suicidal. You can get yourself out of bed in the morning and get the kids off to school. You feed the cats, you get dinner on the table, you do the bare minimum of what needs to be done for everyone else.
But besides that–you can’t get yourself to do anything.
What It Looks Like
Laura Camacho of the Glimmering podcast (www.glimmering.com) calls it “the total cessation of internal momentum.” Simple things you do every day become the “Impossible Task” that you just can’t face. You can’t find the motivation to do anything that will help you move forward, and it all feels so, so heavy.
When you do complete the most mundane task, it feels monumental, and you’re exhausted. You feel like you walk through the day wearing a 25-pound blanket, and you count the moments till you can sleep.
It’s like you can see yourself and what you need to be right over there, just out of reach; but you are stuck over here and just can’t get to it, for reasons you don’t even understand.
You can fake it amazingly well for your kids, but as soon as they’re out of the picture, you just want to go to bed.
You know you’re not right, but the thought of actually doing something to make yourself right can be so overwhelming that it makes you feel worse. And then you have guilt on top of that for not using the strategies you know you should.
You might feel sleepy at home. When you’re out in the world you can turn up the “I’m fine” pretense. But when you get home, you just crash.
You’re Not Alone
It’s so validating to hear that yes, this is depression, and that it sometimes manifests this way. Especially from strong, smart, accomplished people. (Like Laura above.) Because if these wonderful people can still be successful and live big lives while managing this depression, so can I. And that’s why I’m writing this, so that you can hear that message too.
First, listen to your body and feel what it’s trying to tell you.
I have found that sometimes when I feel this way, there is a big internal shift that is happening. Something is moving and changing; something is in the process of being let go to make room for something new. Like roots in the dark, there is some sort of mysterious growth happening, and something is being pruned away to make way for it. As much as possible, honor that process.
Also: it’s winter, people. Look around at nature; everything is conserving energy, hibernating, resting in the dark earth. There are many plants that will only grow well when they get this cold period of rest. Maybe some of us are like those plants. Many cultures honor this need, but our hyper-capitalist society measures our worth only by our productivity. That means there is something wrong with our culture, not with us.
But we do have to live in this culture, so we still have to muddle through, even while we work to change that culture. How do we do that?
First of all, the traditional advice about depression absolutely applies. Exercise, drink your water, get outside, go to therapy, connect with other people, do something to serve others, get plenty of sleep, create something.
But it is okay—YOU are okay—if none of that is accessible to you without medication. It doesn’t have to be either/or. If you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, then store-bought is perfectly fine. Get thee to a therapist.
Beyond the traditional advice about depression, here are some nitty-gritty details of how some of us still manage to live our lives and get things accomplished.
Validation is key. Shaming in any form does not help. You already feel really bad.
Have a safe place to vent, where you don’t have to pretend everything is fine, you don’t have to worry about being “too negative,” you don’t have to worry about someone telling you to “just look on the bright side” or think positively. (If you’re struggling to find a safe place, check out our “Behind Domestic Lines” facebook group, which we work hard to keep a safe and supportive place where venting is ok.)
Have external but achievable objectives for every day. Write them down. Even if it’s a really bad day and those things are showering and tooth brushing.
Then, just focus on the next thing on that list. Maybe even break it down into several steps. Don’t think about anything else except that one step. Then give yourself a little reward, and cross it off your list.
Give yourself permission to not care about anything for a while. It’s OK to not be motivated for a while, to not care about goals and dreams. Just let that go. Today is not the day for that. Just focus on the one thing in front of you, right at this moment.
Beating yourself up does not help. Stop it. Pretend you’re talking to a dear friend or your child, and give yourself the same grace and kindness you would offer them.
Remember that self-talk is the very thing that is messed up by mental illness. And that’s compounded by the weight of the lingering cultural stigma around it, that tells us we are the problem and we just need to try harder. So find a way to externalize that voice that is constantly telling you are lazy and a failure and nothing matters. Name it. “That’s depression talking.” And then don’t give it your power. Try to just observe it. Meditation can be very helpful with this.
Use triggers and rewards. Use a trigger like setting up your podcast or audiobook, turning on music, setting an alarm, writing your list and putting it in front of you, getting a cup of coffee. Something that helps train your brain to get started at this signal, without thinking too much. And reward yourself after one small mundane task is complete.
Use the Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer for 20 minutes and work continuously the entire time, then when the timer goes off, take a 5 minute break. (On bad days, I might need longer breaks that involve a cookie.) After 4 cycles of this, take a longer break. Adjust this in whatever way you need to so that it works for you.
Have an accountability buddy. Tell a friend the things on your to do list, and check in with them after you complete each one. Ask them to give you a nudge if they don’t hear from you that you’ve completed a task. Let them celebrate you when you’ve completed the Impossible Task.
Create more structure for yourself if you need it. If this is what your brain needs to be productive, that’s ok. Schedule something every morning to help you get moving, set an external deadline that will keep you focused. Move to a shared office where there is more accountability.
Let go of the vision you had for how things are SUPPOSED to be, and go with what actually works for you. We measure ourselves constantly against the perfect, and that is damaging. Life and health are cyclical, fluid, flexible, yet we are constantly fighting against that cyclical nature. Cycles of activity and rest are not only okay, they are completely natural, especially for women.
Get support with the mundane things, not just emotional support. There’s no shame in having a trusted friend or partner do tasks that can feel insurmountable, like calling and setting up an appointment with your care provider.
Prioritize the thing that helps you most, even when it means skipping something else. Exercise is the one thing that has made the most difference for me. And we can use the depression mindset here: it feels like nothing matters when we’re depressed, so what the hell? Might as well go for a walk. But it can feel impossible to start; again, an accountability partner can help with this.
Breathe. This is temporary and will pass. Accept today for what it is, accept yourself for what you are today, and love yourself anyway. Just as you love your friends and family anyway. Give yourself the same grace.
Tomorrow is another day, and everything looks better in the morning.
Jami worked as a librarian for over a decade before choosing to stay home when her son, now 6, was born. She also has a 17-year-old daughter. She makes all-natural soap and body products and sells them through her company, Dancing Bee Farms (dancingbeefarms.net). She also spends a large amount of time ringing her senators and has begun a chapter of MOMS DEMAND ACTION. She lives with her husband, daughter, and son on an acre of land in rural Ohio, where they keep bees, garden, and brew beer.
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