There are days, sometimes weeks, when I feel fantastic. Then there are days, sometimes weeks and months when I feel pretty crappy. On the crappy days, my mantra becomes “one thing at a time”. When my depression was really bad, it was the only thing that got me out of bed. It was my mother who taught me about this. When I was in my first year of university, back in 2009, I would struggle with getting out of bed. My mum’s advice was to just do “one thing at a time”. She also suggested having little rewards to work towards to motivate myself to do the things that needed doing. When I couldn’t get out of bed, my reward was Crunchy Nut Cornflakes – if I managed to get out of bed, I would have a bowl of it for breakfast. I ate crunchy nut for breakfast that whole academic year.
Nowadays, when my depression tries to drag me into despair and hopelessness, paired with despondency and an inability to motivate myself to do anything other than lie on my bed and play Spider Solitaire on my phone, I remind myself of this advice. “One thing at a time”. For this to work, it requires not so much total focus on the task at hand, but more of a passive awareness that I may only manage to do this one thing, without any further pressure on myself to complete another task. Only by taking pressure off myself to do anything more than a single task, will I manage to motivate myself. Often, this is paired in my mind with a small push such as “if I manage to make the bed, then I might walk to the shop to get an ice cream”. Although the reward in itself is also a task (which would have completely defeated me a few years ago), now I am able to work the energy up to take a walk to the shop to get the ice cream.
For those who haven’t lived with depression, it can seem a ridiculously simple thing to be defeated by. Unable to find the energy to walk to the shop? #firstworldproblems. Part of me feels the guilt of this mindset. After all, I’m lucky that I live in a country where it’s safe to take a random walk to the shop, and that I can afford such luxuries as ice cream. I’m aware of this, but knowledge of this only serves to make me feel more worthless, compounding my depression and making it even harder to work up the energy to leave the house.
As I lie on my still unmade bed, contemplating the simple task of getting out of bed and making it look tidy, I realise that writing this blog post is simply an avoidance tactic to delay getting out of bed. Perhaps, when I’ve posted it, I’ll make myself a coffee. One thing at a time, followed by a reward. Maybe, once I’ve had my coffee, I might have the energy to make my bed.