Depression and anxiety are problematic. They have a negative impact on the way I think and feel about things.
Depression and anxiety ebb and flow. Sometimes, I nearly succeed in banishing them; unfortunately, they regroup and swell and try to take over the whole of me once again.
Often, they seem overwhelming, too big to battle.
I become paralyzed at the thought of doing anything. It all seems so pointless. Beyond that, it all seems unmanageable. I become exquisitely non-productive. I’m paralyzed by all the things I have to do, all the demands that life makes.
Consequently, I get nothing done, which then becomes a stick to beat myself up with, which exacerbates the depression and anxiety, which makes executing anything even harder.
A vicious circle.
Getting things accomplished is important. I feel better when I get things done. I feel like I’m meeting life’s basic requirements. Depression makes that hard at times. I look at what has to be done and become frozen under the weight of expectations. Perfectionism definitely plays a part. What’s the point of doing something if it’s going to be half-assed? Best not to try at all then, right?
The end result of doing nothing, however, is that I feel worse for not having engaged.
I’ve developed a work-around, however, since it doesn’t seem like I’ll be turning back into that “I’ll do anything, pile it on my plate, I’m the queen of mental juggling” person I was before my most recent breakdown.
I approach things piecemeal. I break everything down. Big jobs get sectioned down into their component parts. Little jobs, too. I don’t make myself do all the steps in one go either, though sometimes I end up mostly done; momentum is a great motivator.
Take going camping, something I’m doing later this week. I agreed to go, not because I particularly wanted to – I’m ambivalent – but because a friend needed me to. I’ve no doubt I’ll feel better about it once I’m there. Anticipating a good outcome is not a feature of anxiety.
But there’s a lot to do. A lot of things to prepare and organize and purchase and pack. And the more I thought about it, the worse it seemed. Preparation felt utterly impossible. I couldn’t even figure out where to start.
Should I bring up the tent from the basement? Which tent? Should I use the one that is packed in a bag with sleeping bags and chairs, all ready to go, or grab the bigger one and pack everything separately? What about tarps? Do I need one? Is it going to rain? What if I need two? Where is my back up tarp? And where is the coffee maker? The bodum isn’t in the bin with the saucepans and now I’m upset. Things need to be where they’re supposed to be in my world.
Should I bring the shelter up first? I should buy some mosquito repellant. And tent pegs. Do I have enough coffee grounds to pack some up from home or should I buy more? My friend said she’d bring eating utensils. Does she have a cup for me? What if she has plastic cutlery; I don’t like plastic cutlery. Should I bring measuring spoons? We’re taking turns cooking. I should pack the rice. I should buy more rice.
Where are the lanterns? Where is my flashlight? Should I bring a purse or a backpack? Do I need all my cards? There’s no bathroom, it’s outhouses, and that means no mirrors. How will I compulsively check my face? Should I pack a mirror or try and do without? Should I cut up my meds beforehand or just take them all and cut them on site?
What about alcohol? Are we day-drinking? Should I day drink? My mood is tenuous of late but if I don’t she’ll worry about my mood and if I do I risk a crash. Who will feed the cat? I feel bad about asking my daughter to do it, even though she lives with me. Everything is my responsibility. What if she forgets to clean the litter box?
Too much, too many thoughts, too much to do, and I can’t get started. So, now what?
Enter the notebook. Sometimes I use the notes app on my phone but mostly I prefer to go old school, a paper and pen.
Write it all out, step by step.
Bring up the tent bag and put it in the garage. A complete kit is better than the need for a multiplicity of things.
Bring up the shelter and tarps.
Pack a spare quilt and a jacket – I get cold – put that in the garage too.
Bring up the coolers.
Write out a supplies list.
Pack what you have.
Write out a shopping list. Go shopping. Pack what you purchase.
Pack a box with lamps and the radio and reading material.
Put a duffle bag in my room.
Write out a list of clothing-type items you’ll need.
Prepare the medication bag.
Transfer purse stuff into a backpack.
I wrote out, step by step, all the things I needed to get done in order to make the trip a success, at least on the supply level. Writing it down gets it out of my head and stops the hamster wheel. I can see what needs to be done and proceed in an organized fashion.
I do this for most things now. Even the prospect of facing an average day can be daunting. Responsibilities and have-to-dos abound. I end up paralyzed and non-productive, full of guilt and self-loathing at the end of the day. Now, I write out my days in advance. Monday read as follows:
Have a shower.
Eat your meals.
Review camping supplies.
I used to be more specific but found specificity increased my anxiety. If I didn’t do things exactly as written, it was a failure. If I wrote down “write for two hours” but only managed forty-five minutes, I’d berate myself. Specifically-general works for me.
But the planning and list-making gets it out of my head, lets me calm. I know that I have a plan I can follow. It staves off the paralysis that comes from trying to manage it all in my head.
I may at times regret the necessity of doing it this way now – I used to keep all the lists in my brain – but I’m trying to work with myself and not against myself these days.
You do what you need to do to keep the wheels rolling.
What coping skills have you adopted to help manage your mental health?