Turning depression around

Lost in lists

Depression leaves us feeling lost, disoriented, empty.  We know what needs to be done, but can’t face it, so we store it all in our head and keep it there, where it torments us, grows arms and legs, and loses all sense of proportion.

I’ve found that nothing seems as imposing when it’s down in black and white, whether it’s how I’m feeling or what I feel needs to be done.  So why not try using a list to help you through your day too?  Not a list of your symptoms, nor of reasons why you think you’re feeling like you do, but of things you want to achieve.

I’m not talking about lifelong plans; that’s obscure enough when we’re not stuck in the “now”,and the future only belongs to others.  I mean small, realistic goals, whether they’re household chores or getting in touch with real friends in the real world.  Your list may well run from the top of the page all the way to the bottom, but where’s the pressure to tick them all off in one go?

Pick two or three that seem manageable, and use them as your goal for the day.  Take as long as you need to build yourself up to them, but once you’ve decided that these are the ones you’re going to focus on, don’t stray from the commitment.  Start small and the sense of achievement at the end of the day will be greater than arriving at bedtime and feeling worthless because another “wasted” day has lapsed and nothing’s changed.

Know your limits, and respect them; don’t surrender to them.  If you reach the end of your daily tasks and feel that you have it in you to do more, choose another one to tackle, but don’t power through them all at once and burn yourself out.  If that happens, the sense of failure will sweep over you again and make you feel even worse than before.

Learning to pace yourself – and it does take time – is one of the keys to regaining the control and sense of structure of which depression robs us.  From one day to the next, the list shrinks as you grow.  That’s not to say that your progress will only head in one direction.  Recovery from depression isn’t a straight line.  The odd bad day or even bad hour will sprout from nowhere without warning, but we can recognise it as just that: one bad day, one bad hour.

One of my biggest obstacles was shopping, whether in a supermarket, the corner shop, or a shopping centre.  Lists helped me manage those expeditions.  From reminding me exactly of what I was supposed to be buying, to serving as a defence mechanism when I got flustered, just having that piece of paper in my hand grounded me.

We can turn the “lost” into a “list”, just by filling the hole in “lost”with “I”.




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The Burden

Our shoulders slouch with the weight of depression.  Our eyes and mouth are pulled downwards by its gravity.  Our mood is plunged to the deepest of depths.  Our heart sinks at the thought of life and living.

The burden can feel dry and concrete.  Cold and unyielding, it’s like boots that stop us from moving anywhere, even if that anywhere is sideways or backwards.  Sometimes it’s more viscous and cloying, like a transparent, oozing gel that sticks us to our bed, sealing our eyelids so that we can’t open them to a new day.  Either way, depression’s burden is physical, and ever-growing.

A phone call that we have to make, an email that we have to send, a form that we have to fill out – they’re all part of that burden.  If we still have the perspective to see every task we’re charged with for the individual chore that it is, we’re less likely to be daunted by our to-do list.  The chances are, though, that each new demand simply becomes another integrated part of the burden, because we allow the list’s shadow to become bigger than ourselves.  The most ordinary banality reinvents itself as a challenge that puts us in our place.

We’re more than aware of the burden we are to those around us, and that compounds our burden further.  The guilt we feel when we see the worry in their faces is magnified by the belief that they have other, more worthy concerns.  We’re frustrated by our own dependence on family, friends, or strangers, but we can’t deal with life without them.

Trying to carry our burden on our own will only get us so far, and in the long term, it will break us if we don’t share the yoke.  There are shoulders broad enough to help carry and ears that are open to hearing.  If we use them and give the burden a voice, it becomes lighter with each word we say, I promise.

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